TOO MUCH CHURCH?

Jan and I went to three worship services at three different churches this past weekend. Not that I needed to go three times (maybe Jan did), but we did have reasons for going to each one.

The churches and their services were all dramatically different. One had less than 20 in attendance, one had a few hundred present, and one had thousands worshipping. The music in one was almost like a concert, one somewhat contemporary, and one used a piano and organ.

One of the pastors read his sermon, one used notes, and one spoke without notes except when reading the Bible. One preached for 40 or more minutes, one around 30 minutes, and one about 25 minutes. Two of the preachers stayed with one Bible passage and the third used multiple passages.

One church building was quite old and traditional, one was an older building with a somewhat traditional set up, and one was new and contemporary. We were warmly greeted at all three, and we participated and worshipped at all three churches. Was going to three different churches and services too much church? I don’t know, but I was reminded of some important things.

Churches are different—no two churches are exactly alike—and that is a good thing. People have different preferences when it comes to style or philosophy of worship. Pastors and preachers are also different—and that too is a good thing. Not every church is suited for every person. The church and style of worship you like is not necessarily right and best; nor is the style of worship and church you do not prefer necessarily wrong or bad.

The church universal is incredibly diverse in terms of local congregations and believers who make up those churches. The three churches we attended are all in one city within a 10 mile radius; how much more interesting it would be to go to three or more worship services in churches in three or more different cultures. Some readers have probably had that experience, but I have not. But even within the same city, circle of friends, or family there is a great diversity of “tastes” among followers of Jesus. I wish we all would be more open to the differences and less critical of that which is not exactly suited to our taste.

While I was writing down these thoughts I received and read an article by Karl Vaters on this very subject. I especially like his observation: “There are at least as many ‘right’ ways to do church as there are congregations.” Later he challenges, “Let’s stop looking for a one-size-fits-all way to do church. And stop insisting on it for others.” He rightly acknowledges “There are definitely some wrong ways to do church.” But I would add that just because we don’t particularly like something doesn’t make it wrong.

I think the two most important things I was reminded of this weekend by going to three different churches and worship services are these: the Church is God’s idea and we need it. And while I’m not interested in doing it every week, I don’t think there can be too much church. Disregard the photo at the top–its purpose was to get your attention; while I too have my preferences, I wasn’t bored in any of the services.

Feel free to reply below and share these thoughts on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: cseeman <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7702423@N04/27846427391″>Flappy on a Lazy Saturday in Saline</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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IT’S EASY TO CRITICIZE THE PASTOR

It’s easy to criticize the pastor and I know that for two reasons. One is I was a preaching pastor for almost 40 years in two churches; and the other is that on many Sundays the last 20 months I have been listening as a worshiper in a variety of congregations. That means I have been criticized, and I have also criticized.

The reality is that like all positions of leadership and being up front pastors will be criticized. As has often been said: “it comes with the territory.” Pastors should not be surprised by criticism. And the criticism, of course, is not limited to their preaching. In my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters I have a chapter entitled “Troublesome Letters” in which I include a variety of critical letters I received. To be fair I received many more letters of gratitude and appreciation than I did criticism, but the “Troublesome Letters” chapter is important.

Why do people criticize pastors? For many reasons. Charles Stone, who has written a lot about pastors, suggests seven reasons church people criticize pastors: they lack spiritual maturity, they feel they are losing the church they once knew, they don’t feel they have a voice, they don’t deal with change very well, they need to find something or someone toward which to vent their hurt caused by other life issues, they are truly malevolent people committed to your demise, and they have a point. Reasons two, three, and four in Stone’s list are all pretty much the same and do account for a lot of criticism. I have no personal experience with regard to reason six. I think reasons one, five, and seven are worth greater consideration.

We could probably attribute most criticism of pastors to a lack of spiritual maturity (Stone’s first reason), but not all of it. And if we look beneath the surface we will see a lot of venting of unrelated hurt (reason five) in people’s criticism of pastors. That’s a good thought for criticized pastors to keep in mind. But the reason I am most interested in is number seven: they have a point.

Pastors are not above or beyond criticism. No one is. In the introduction to A Pastor and the People I suggest “Perhaps the bottom line in receiving criticism is to ask if it is valid.” That requires a measure of humility, but the uncomfortable truth is that the critic may be right. In the opening to the chapter on “Troublesome Letters” I acknowledge “Not all of these letters are troublesome because they are critical. Several of them are troublesome because they are true” (p. 79). Pastors need to admit it when they are wrong without thinking the admission will diminish their status. It many cases it will enhance it.

To both pastors and those who criticize them I would encourage making a real effort to understand the other. Keep in mind that although it is not a spiritual gift, there is a place for constructive criticism. None of us is perfect. Criticism is rarely pleasant, but it is sometimes needed. As Pastor Jason Byassee notes, “it is comforting that God only has, and has ever had, sinners [imperfect people] to work with.”

Please share these thoughts with others and consider leaving a reply below.

If you would like to read Chapter 8 (“Troublesome Letters”) in my book send me an email at bobmmink.com and I will send you a copy of that chapter. Or if you would like to check out the book or order it click on the picture below.

pastor n people

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/44452897@N05/14792848066″>PALCON 2014 – PLNU</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN PREACHING?

Since I stepped down after 44 years of ministry 13 months ago Jan and I have visited numerous churches and listened to a variety of preachers. I’m guest preaching again this Sunday and am working on what I will say. Putting these two together, I’ve been thinking about this matter of preaching.

From the beginning of our church plant in Moreno Valley I had a commitment to significant Bible teaching. And to use the word significant suggests at least three things. One is that the teaching would be significant in terms of time allocation. Through the years I determined that while some preachers took more time, I would limit my Sunday messages to 30-35 minutes. A second aspect of significant Bible teaching for me is that we interpret the Bible in terms of its original intent and meaning. I never was a preacher who read a verse or passage from the Bible and then left it to say whatever I wanted to say. Bible teaching means teaching what the Bible says. Finally, the third aspect of significant Bible teaching is application. To teach the Bible in a Christian context is not only to consider its content, but also to apply it to life today.  Simply stated in the words of one author, “Interpretation is sterile without application.” Some of the messages I gave were more oriented to Bible content and its original meaning, and some were more focused on application for today, but every message had both.

Significant Bible teaching for me did not mean I could only preach straight through a book of the Bible or only preach what are called “expository sermons.” An expository sermon is teaching from one passage in the Bible and basically staying with that passage and going through it. In addition to expository sermons I often also preached what are called “topical sermons.” A topical teaching does not deal with only one passage of Scripture, but refers to and draws from a variety of passages that deal with the topic. In my mind to suggest the only kind of real preaching is expository preaching is to needlessly limit the preacher from dealing with many topics that should be addressed from throughout the Bible. 

In II Timothy 4:2 the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” What a powerful challenge then as well as today!  Teaching the Bible is to include correction, rebuke, and encouragement, and it is to be done with patience and care. Some preachers go overboard with correction and rebuke with little encouragement while others are heavy on encouragement with little rebuke or correction. Some are lacking in patience and some are not careful enough in preparing and presenting biblical instruction. No two preachers do it exactly the same, but this verse gives all those who regularly teach the Bible some important guidelines.

What do you look for in preaching? Let us know below.

(This article is adapted from chapter 6 of my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters.)

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