Friday, April 27, 2012

Organized Religion: Is it an Oxymoron?

A short time ago, I wrote an article about church health. Since then, I've read a few more things and had several conversations with various people about churches, church organizations and about people that have been hurt by them. As a result, I've been thinking about the things that differentiate Christian denominations and about the things that bind us together. All-in-all, it's not a pretty picture. 

How can it be that the people that claim to follow the same God have so many different ways of following Him?  How can the readers of the same Bible be so different in their beliefs?
How is it that Christianity has fractured into so many different denominations that even non-denominational churches are like a denomination of their own?

One body of believers? I don't think so.

Different Christian denominations have some very different teachings and practices. I'm not talking about what kind of music they have or what day of the week they meet. I'm talking about everything from who is going to heaven (and how they get there) to the social practices and taboos of the organizations.

While all "Christian" denominations claim to be followers of Jesus, it would appear that He is leading us down different paths. There are some that believe that eternal life in heaven is attained through a personal commitment to trust Jesus as Savior and to follow His teachings. Others believe that you must have made the same commitment and be baptized. Some denominations emphasize works as a means of salvation. Some claim that works are evidence of salvation and some apparently think that good works are completely unnecessary and live lives that are void of any evidence of a change of heart.

Some denominations believe that the Holy Spirit resides in the hearts of all believers. Some believe in a second baptism of the Spirit. Some believe in the gift of tongues. Some explain it away as a misinterpretation of the Bible.

Some denominations have no problems with drinking alcohol and some even use it as a part of their worship. Others openly condemn the use of alcohol and harshly judge anybody that may have an occasional drink. 

Even though there are denominational leaders on both sides of the political spectrum and godly men and women that range from liberal to moderate to conservative (I know that some will say that's not possible), some church leaders and people still choose to judge a person's commitment to Jesus on the basis of how they vote or which political party they support. 

I wonder if "organized" religions will ever recognize how unorganized we appear to be.

Over the years, several ministers have expressed their frustrations by stating how they would just like to walk away from it all. 
...And some of them have done just that.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a part of a completely authentic community of believers.
No denominational ties.
No organizational rules.
No ties to a building. 
No bondage to debt.
Just genuine followers of Jesus with only the Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

I wonder...

John <><

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good Things/Bad Things about a night at the races

Yesterday's night at the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland MO was a bit of a disappointment to me. There were plenty of good things about the evening, but also a few things that could have been better. And some things (like wind and technical difficulties) are not in our control.

I'd like to start by saying that the facility is a really nice place. If you're a race fan and in Missouri, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the races at the Lucas Oil Speedway. The staff was great! They did a lot to make sure that we had all of the things we needed for the night. I expected that the races would start with the singing of the National Anthem. I didn't expect that the Anthem would be preceded by a prayer!

The Speedway presented the local Raceway Ministries chapter with a nice donation to help fund their ministry. Then one of the guys from Find It Here ministries led the opening prayer, followed by the singing of The Star Spangled Banner. Well played, Lucas Oil!

I didn't have anything to do with the planning of the night's events and it was my first time to the races so I don't know if things were the way they were and there was little to be done about it or if there were just some things that could have been better planned and organized. We were given a great area to set up our games and tent, but I think that greeters at the entry points would have been helpful to direct people into the area and explain that it was a family area for everybody to enjoy. There were plenty of people that walked through the area and looked as they did, but they continued on without stopping to see what it was all about. The young people that were in charge of handing out the free bags of cotton candy did an excellent job of spotting the kids as they came into the area and making sure they got their treat.

I know there were several volunteers that came that didn't know how they might help and didn't know who to talk to about where they might be of service. It turned out that many of the people that were there in the event area were volunteers that didn't have a place to work. I know that lots of the people that came to my table were members at our churches because it came up in my conversations with them.

I was also disappointed that I didn't get to do any magic and message on the big "Jumbo Tron" viewer. It is the beginning of the season and there were still some technology issues to work out. They tried for quite some time, but couldn't get the feed from the remote camera to connect so that it would feed the big screen. In spite of that, it was a good night. There were giveaways to the race fans and I saw quite a few of them carrying the New Testaments that were handed out.

And there were a lot of volunteers! Thanks to everybody that showed up with a willing heart. Even if you didn't find a place to work, your presence was noted and your being in the event area also helped others to want to come over and see what was going on. It may be that other booths had some great successes and were able to minister to some people in need.

Another bonus of spending the evening at the Speedway was that I was spared from watching the Cardinals lose to the Pirates last night. Of course, I also missed the Blues come from behind win to take the series and advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ah well, that's just how it goes sometimes (and there is always Sports Center to catch the highlights!).

All-in-all, I was glad for the opportunity and learned a few things about how I might better prepare for the next similar event that I'm invited to take part in. It is always fun to share through magic and a great treat to see the reactions from the people that are watching. I need to increase my repertoire of effects for these venues and become more comfortable with building a small crowd. I'm sure that a more experienced street magician would have done quite well given the same same circumstances.

Live and learn, right?

Celebrate the day with friends. Worship our Lord. Give thanks.


Friday, April 20, 2012

More (Questions) on Social Networking

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post on Social Networking. Since then, I've continued to build my LinkedIn connections and tried to be more focused about both magic and ministry. I'm still a novice at the marketing part of networking so I'm looking for input from those that have been using social networks for promotional use.

I wasn't really expecting the calls and emails to start pouring in from the few connections that I've made. I'm just wondering if this type of marketing is worthwhile. So far, it would seem that I'm building good contacts; the kind that could actually call me directly or have some significant influence with those can. I also realize that many of the church organization decision makers are woefully behind the technological power curve and still consider email to be the advancement of the century. The generational gap in networking is growing greater with each technological advancement.

I am not (at all) a generational exception. I have a minimal cable package and no DVR. My home internet service is the slowest cable cable speed available and I rarely download anything that would require more bandwidth. I don't own a smart phone or an iPad or any other kind of tablet device. In spite of that, I am still taken by surprise when I request an address or information by text and am met with an "I don't have text messaging."

It's actually a little bit humorous that all of the Missouri Baptists Directors and employees seem to have LinkedIn accounts...but most of them have only a handful of connections, if any at all. It would appear that somebody is trying to get them connected but seems to be meeting with the old "you can lead a horse to water" problem. To be fair, there is a minority that is well "connected" but it is a very small minority.

Which leads me to my question(s)...
While social networking seems to be good for business, is it good for ministry?
Can sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and others be effective tools for evangelism?
Or are we (am I) wasting time using these tools (as well as blogging and others) for the purpose of reaching others with the gospel of Jesus?

I've always felt that the ineffective part of evangelism happens when we sound like we are pitching Jesus or marketing our faith. Using social networks somehow makes me feel like that's what I am doing. I don't want Jesus to be the latest, greatest thing until something else comes along. Jesus isn't a fad or a commodity to be sold or traded. Sometimes I feel that's what we've reduced the gospel to -- a pitch, and we are like carnival barkers or snake oil peddlers that are hired to gather a crowd in hopes that a few suckers will buy our wares.

Can I effectively market myself; my ministry of sharing the gospel, without marketing the gospel?

Just wondering...

John <><

Friday, April 13, 2012

Time for Some Magic!

Next Saturday, the 21st of April, is the weekly series spring opener at the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland MO. It is a family event and the Missouri Baptist Convention will be there with games, bounce houses, face painting and give-aways for kids and all. There will even be a strolling magician that will be roving the crowd and having some fun. I just found out that in addition to the walk around stuff, I'll be featured on the Jumbo Tron sharing some effects from the booth! How cool is that!

I'm looking forward to this event as well as looking forward to the camps that are starting in June. It looks like it will be a pretty busy summer! I'm glad that I've been working on some new things that are outside of my normal venue of stand-up magic. I am excited about doing some of the new things and using some of the science of magic to share some real world truths.

We are having a Magic Show fund raiser for our church's Nicaragua mission trip on May 18th. I hope if you are in the Ozark area, you'll make an effort to attend and help raise the money to build a home (or two) in Nicaragua. Bring your friends and family and enjoy a great evening of fun.

I will be in northern Missouri the first weekend in June, two churches on Sunday (3rd) and a kids camp on Monday (the 4th). The TriCounty Association camp will be in session through the 7th, and I hope to make it for a night or two of that event, as well. The following weekend is the Hopedale Kids' Camp -- one of my favorite weekends of the summer! At the end of June I'll be at a youth camp for a full week. I am really looking forward to that camp as I'm working on some new material just for them. Mid July will find me back in northern Missouri for another Sun/Mon event, this time the Monday will be a one day event at another youth camp.

Although I don't have anything currently scheduled, I usually end up preaching for a vacationing pastor a couple of weekends during the summer.

I mentioned in a previous post about building towards retirement. If I could stay this busy through the spring and fall, I'd be about where I need to be to hang up the headset.

It is time to head to the Red Cross for a platelet and red blood cell donation. When was the last time you made a donation? I'm sure that you know of somebody going through chemo treatments. They will need platelets. Somebody will need blood for a surgery or perhaps because of an accident. You CAN make a difference!

John <><

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Newly Fashioned Revivals!

I admit it.
When it comes to doing church, I'm not much of a traditionalist.

That may simply be because I didn't grow up with a Southern Baptist tradition. However, I believe that I am a moral conservative and hold fast to the doctrine of salvation in Jesus and Jesus alone. And I think that we still need to teach this truth of the Bible.

However, I also believe that we may need to adapt (or scrap and reinvent) some of our methods for sharing this message from time to time. For many of our non-traditional church plants, the old fashioned week long revivals are impractical. We might as well face it, for many of our traditional churches the old fashioned week long revivals are impractical. Even so, many traditional churches cling to tradition (duh) by holding the same revivals but just not for a whole week--generally Sunday through Wednesday. I won't say that these are ineffective because I have seen many life-changing decisions made at these four day revivals or crusades. But for the non-traditional churches, I believe that there may be other ways to reach the busy families in today's world.

If a friendly wager wasn't taboo in Southern Baptist life, I'd wager that most of the church plants that are less than 10 years old have never even considered having an old fashioned revival or crusade. Most of them are unlikely even to have a guest preacher except for the few weeks that the pastor might be on vacation (and even then, most often it's a staff member). In one sense, there is nothing wrong with that--a pastor should guard the pulpit with great jealousy. However, I also believe that it discounts the gift that God gives to the church in those that have been called as evangelists.

If we, as evangelists, are no longer to be used in the traditional revivals (complete with potluck dinners, Pack-a-Pew nights and Sunday School emphasis nights), then how can we adapt to events that are still effective in edifying the church, encouraging the members and evangelizing the lost?

Do we shorten the duration even more (to a weekend event, Fri/Sat/Sun)?
What about an area wide event where several churches in a community (or neighboring communities) work together to reach the unchurched and to glorify God? Or is it asking too much of churches to have to share the harvest?
Can we be innovative enough to bring the gospel message to the people rather than having to bring the people to the church? Could we host events away from the church's normal gathering place?

Maybe the newer churches have just outgrown their need for evangelists. Or maybe they haven't yet grown into a need for an evangelist.

The reality of the gospel is that all of us that profess Jesus as Lord and Savior are compelled to share the message of Salvation. The fact that we are not all sharing the message indicates that we have some pretty unhealthy churches and that our churches are packed with people that are not compelled to share the gospel and with people that have no real relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Maybe that's the ugly truth that we don't want to address--that if we can't even reach the people in the pews; how are we supposed to reach the people outside of the church?

I realize that this little rant asks questions and offers no real answers. I guess I'm looking to the experts for some help on this one. How are evangelists to be used in today's church? Are we still a gift to the churches to glorify God or have we outlived our usefulness?

Really. I need to know.

John <><

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Social Networking and Self Promotion

As I look to the future and to retirement from my career as an air traffic controller, I am beginning to try to set myself up for more work in the way of ministry and magic. I know that much of my work in ministry includes magic, but I would also like to do more preaching without the magic and more magic gigs without the preaching. The magic work would include schools (which I have done in conjunction with church events) and I would also like to do more corporate events (I've only done a few of these).

To this point in my career, I have done no marketing -- at all. I have participated in several evangelism conferences that did provide some good exposure to churches and pastors, but I have not actively pursued bookings for preaching, camps or magic events. Repeat engagements at churches and word of mouth recommendations have kept me as busy as I can really afford to be when you consider that I still have a full time job.

For a business after ATC retirement, I think I'm going to have to start doing some self promotion. I recently went to a seminar on using LinkedIn and Twitter to promote your business and have plans to attend a similar seminar on setting up a business Facebook Page. I'm beginning by building my LinkedIn connections with the idea of making connections that can book me for events or recommend my work to somebody that can book me for events. I haven't worked toward that end on Twitter yet, but will eventually do that, as well. I will also continue to build a Facebook Page (I've already started one) in addition to my personal Facebook. I'm also on Google+, but haven't really figured out how to use it to my benefit.

In addition to the promotional stuff, I'm setting up my 'man cave' in Aaron's old room and hope to work on some new magic for new venues. I've already booked some new types of events for the year and incorporated a couple of new effects. I'm really looking forward to stretching myself as I prepare for the next phase of life. I hope that Chris will be available and willing to travel with me on some gigs, but understand that she gets bored with seeing the same effects and most of my jobs are not at particularly exciting destinations. I sometimes drive 10 or more hours in a weekend for a morning service and an evening show. I don't mind the drive time, but understand that somebody else might not think of that as a great time!

I fully expect that the majority of my work will continue to be Christ centered and through churches or church organizations. I hope to do more camps and maybe more youth rallies or college events. In any case, if you are a pastor, youth minister, children's worker, camp director, educator (teacher or administration) or business owner, please consider connecting with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Google+. I hope to keep you posted on what's happening in both magic and ministry.

I am very appreciative of those that call me for work and doubly so of those that invite me back! I have received a number of great comments and recommendations and these mean a great deal. Your input has a far greater impact than any self promotion might have.

Time to practice...

John <><

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Final Lenten Report for 2012

It's late on the night of Easter. It was a good day.

This morning I was in Joplin at Forest Park Baptist Church for their kids' services. I thought the first program went very well. The second service was different since about half of the kids had also been in the first service. I knew that there would be some of them in both sessions but was really surprised that it ended up being so many. It really changed the dynamics of the program and I think that it was less effective the second time around.

I really didn't want to do two completely different programs (and still don't think I would) but some variation or an insistence that some different arrangements be made for the second time kids would have been better.

In the end, I hope that FPJoplin was pleased with the product delivered. There were kids in each service that will be talked to about decisions that were made. In any case, I had a great time (I usually do!).

I finished out the Lenten season with only two breaks in the fast food category (and that's counting a Sunday break which really doesn't count, right?). I managed to reduced intake and eat more healthful choices for most of the six+ weeks and am getting pretty good at taking the stairs at work.

For the first four weeks, the weight came off nicely. Week 5 ended up with no loss (and no gain) and in week six I managed to put a couple of pounds back on. In the end, I am 16 lbs lighter that I was a few weeks ago and was able to wear a pair of slacks today that I haven't been able to wear in a little while. My plan is to continue with the stairs, still abstain from the garbage fast food and eat more low calorie density foods. I've been adding a meatless day (or two) to my weekly routine. I don't know if that helps much, but I figure that it doesn't hurt and I wanted to try something a little different. I hope to drop another 10 lbs by the end of April bringing the total loss to 25 or more by vacation week in May, 40 by my birthday in June. I'll keep you posted.

The nice weather should help with outdoor activity, even if it's just taking an occasional walk.

Back at it tomorrow.

John <><

Friday, April 06, 2012

Gas Prices

I was thinking that I haven't heard much about the rising price of gas recently. Here in southwest Missouri it has remained at around $3.59/gal for several weeks. I expect that it will go up as summer gets closer and we tend to want to use more of it.

I have to say that it's been nice not to be hearing too much about it. One of the things that I did notice as the price was climbing--the people that make the most over the high cost are the the people that drive the SUVs or larger gas guzzling vehicles. The people that drive hybrid vehicles or high gas mileage vehicles are more likely to brag about the mileage they're getting than complain about the price. I've become one of the second group now that the Del Sol is running better and has a new set of tires. Hwy mileage on the trip to Chicago was 41+/gal and normal back and forth to work is around 38mpg.

The other thing that always makes me shake my head at the gas station is hearing somebody complain about the price of gas as they pay a dollar or more for a half liter of ...

I wonder if they ever think that they are paying about $8 per gallon for water that they can get for free in a cup while they complain about gas that is less than half the price. In a way it is funny that while a third of the world's population doesn't have a clean, safe source of drinking water and in the US you can drink the water from just about any spigot at any gas station without worrying about getting sick, we pay to have our water put in a land polluting plastic bottle with a fancy label. Definitely falls into the category of a first world problem.

Just a thought...


Is There a Doctor in the House?

A few years ago, a booth at the Missouri Baptist State Evangelism Conference (I know it was at least three years ago since we haven't had a State Conference for the past two years) was set up to look like a medical station. There was a "doctor" and a "nurse" and a bunch of medical tools like stethoscopes, sphygmomanometer (blood pressure machine), those kinds of things. There were also books and pamphlets that were about church health.

Healthy churches have been a great topic over the past few years--and they should be. The real problem is that there are lots of churches, but very few healthy ones. There are approximately 2000 churches affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, but most of them are either stagnant or declining. All of us that are in ministry in some form are very much aware of others that are hurting or have been hurt by the practices of unhealthy churches.

I know of churches that have lied to pastors and/or staff or forced them to lie about why they were leaving to protect the decision makers from looking bad or having to answer questions about why they were being let go.

I know of members that have withheld their tithes and offerings in order to get their way or have certain staff members let go.

I know that even the threat of monetary action is often enough to bring an innovative pastor back into the status quo and leave the lost souls of the community to fend for themselves.

Churches and church members often find themselves too uncomfortable to make the necessary changes to get healthy and thrive in the way God desires for them. I have talked with pastors that ache for their communities and are paralyzed from helping them. I know pastors that are told how they should preach, how long they should preach and which parts of the Bible they preach! Churches will all tell you that they want to grow, but they won't tell you that they only want to add people that are like themselves. (Surely, there are other churches for those "other" people.)

This morning, church health is on my mind for a couple of reasons. First because there are just too many people that have left churches because they've been hurt by churches and church people. Most of them are just regular people that are looking for a place to worship and belong. Some have been called to ministry and are beaten up and abused by those that they serve. Many of these people (both laymen and ministers) have decided that they'll never go back to church life. How sad for them. How sad for us.

Other than contacts that I've had in the past several months with people that have vowed to never go back to church for a variety reasons, just yesterday I was talking with a church staff member about guests that weren't being welcomed at his church in the manner that guests need to be acknowledged. Then I received an message about a minister that had been let go suddenly after reaching youth for Jesus and changing the make up of the congregation. I've had conversations about staff changes in churches and religious organizations that make me cringe.

As is often the case, when a certain matter seems to grab my attention, I seem to find articles or people that are also addressing the same issue. Here are two that I just found last night and this morning.

The first is from Ed Stetzer. I really like his blog and his thoughts. Through his work with other denominations, he is able to offer a unique perspective on church/religious organization health.

The second is a well written post about the way we treat people that are a little different than us. The post is long and was written several months ago. Read it anyway.

If we can address some of the things in these two posts, we can go a long way towards better relationships with each other and better health in our churches. If we cannot love our own, we cannot love others. If we do not love one another, then we have no part with our God that commands us to love one another.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

It's a Small Thing...

I know that the beginning of the Major League Baseball season is a small thing. It goes unnoticed by most of the world's 7 billion people. 

But for some of us, Opening Day is more than a moment to mark the passing of time. 
Opening Day is the official end to winter. 
It is when the New Year really begins. 
It is a sign that all is right with the world.
It is a day that means we can set aside the political differences of the far right and far left and enjoy a hot dog together while cheering on our favorite team.
It means that for a few hours everyday we can forget about the battles that rage around the world and focus on the rivalries between the Cards and Cubs, the Red Sox and Yankees or just worry about the team that is opposing your beloved home team for the day.

America's Pastime for more than 150 years!

I am looking forward to the first ballpark dog of the season!