A Picture of Why Facebook Matters to the Church

Have you seen this image before?  It's currently the cover photo on Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook profile.  Dated September 24, 2013, it shows the friendship connections made through Facebook on a global scale.  I'm sure it's out of date as I write this entry 6 months later, but I think it makes a serious case for the presence of the church on Facebook and other notable social media platforms.

But I'm not just talking about your church's FB page - which every church should have by the way, it's a free website for crying out loud - but I'm also thinking of how we-the-people-who-are-the-Body-of-Christ inhabit this "third space".

Sunday we discussed Micah 6:8, one of the easiest scriptures/commandments from the Lord to remember there is.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.  Short, simple, to the point.  The Gospel in a nutshell, really.  But how do we do that on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like?  We Christians love to dispense various brands of justice on social media don't we?  We're quick to judge and share those judgement.

And people are quick to unfollow those that do.  A click and you're done.  That's it.  I have 871 'friends' on FB (I'm sure many of you have more), accrued over nearly 10 years of usage.  That's quite the potential reach, especially if you count the worlds of people that each of my FB friends also reach.  But we're all just a click away from being unsubscribed to if we're offensive, bully, or generally take things too far.

Right now, there are some 1.26 billion Facebook users out there, many of whom waiting to have the love of Christ to be revealed to them.  Facebook is a global fellowship, how are you like Jesus there?  Do you just seek justice?  Or do you love mercy as well on social media?

Looking Back: 2nd Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Sunday marked the end of our four week series focused on 2nd Timothy.  This week we see Paul's conclusion to this letter ... A letter of dubious provenance to be sure, but at the same time a beautiful summation of Paul's life in ministry.

Does it cheapen it if this letter was written by a student of Paul rather than Paul himself?  I don't think it does, actually.  If it was written by a student in Paul's voice, that might actually magnify it's impact in my eyes.

Wouldn't we all love to have lived the Christian life to such an extent that someone would write for us an obituary like this one?

Paul told his story, he poured and poured into God's children.  That is our closing challenge from 2nd Timothy.

October 27, 2013 - Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

The Call to Keep Things Small?

Have you read Bishop Wililmon's 'procacative' piece for Ministry Matters "The Truth About Small Churches"?  You should.  I'll pause while you follow the link back and do so ...

What do you think?

I myself get more than tied up in the comments on articles like these, comments full of frustration and people that are super offended by the article - which usually means that they didn't read it.  Or that they didn't read it for meaning.

We have a real problem in the UMC.  And I'm not saying that small churches are the problem - and I don't think that the Bishop is saying that necessarily either.  The problem is with churches that aren't bearing fruit.

What is the fruit?

New disciples.  Stronger disciples.  People going out into the world to fish for others, reaching hearts for Christ.

The Kingdom of God is built on multiplication, not addition.

I have many friends working as licensed local and supply pastors in very small churches.  Some of them go against the grain of Bishop Willimon's experience and are changing hearts and opening doors all over town.  And they aren't just in the rural fringes ... They are also in urban and suburban environments right next door to the church I work at.  They are winning the race and running it with perseverance.

But still others aren't.  We aren't closing big churches, are we?

We closed five faith communities last year in Central Texas.  It's a tragedy.  We launched four new church starts.  That's a blessing - full of hard work.

But we can't build our way out of this with new churches.  We have to fight the decline, or we're playing with the Enemy.

We can't justify a lack of bearing fruit.  Seriously, the comments on the Bishop's article ... So much justification.

I'm just choosing to be excited about being in ministry in our day and age.  Our church's lack of growth is an opportunity to try new things to reach new people.  And that's crazy awesome.  I just refuse to justify.  A lot of folks in the Gospels went to Christ for him to justify the way they'd always done things.

Name one time when 'we've never done it that way before' worked for Christ.  We need to fight the call to keep things small.

(Dropping the mic, walking away.)

"Guess who's coming to dinner?"

After four weeks as the new Director of Communications and Young Adult Ministries at FUMC Arlington, TX, I received my first opportunity to preach the good news at the Celebration worship service.

My text was from the 11th chapter from the Book of Acts, as Peter is called to task by the Jerusalem Church for thinking it was 'ok' to sit and eat with a Gentile family.  "But wait, there's more!", he says to the Church, "Salvation is theirs as well!"

Our very own entrance into God's Kingdom as Christians today was opened and had a doorstop permanently put in by Peter (with the power of the Holy Spirit) in our passage for Sunday.

Below is the video of my sermon, "Guess who is coming to dinner?".  What a blessing it was to have the opportunity to preach!

Other sermon videos from our awesome preaching staff as well as other promo videos for our ministries can be found at FUMC Arlington's Vimeo channel here.

Wait, we're all invited?

My first sermon at the new church will be on April 28 at the contemporary service.  As a church during the Season of Easter we're following the scripture lessons from the Book of Acts, discussing the formation of the church known as "The Way".  You know, the actual first church.

My given reading for the day is Acts 11:1-18.  A really cool reading where Peter lays it on the new Christian converts in Jerusalem that evangelism is the new name of the game.  That's something that they already knew a little bit about, except there was a new wrinkle to God's plan that they hadn't realized yet - the Kingdom is open to the Gentiles.  The Way was open to all who were ready to choose Christ.  This should have been old news at this point, but the people needed a little sermonizing from Peter to get the point.

To be truthful, (and Peter does admit) Peter initially balked at this call from God.  God had come to him with a vision, showing him the new life open to the world, and when Peter didn't understand, God said, "Never consider unclean what God has made pure."  The table is open, Planet Earth.  We're all invited to the Lord's party.

Probably the most striking verse of this passage to me, though, is the final one when the apostles and other believers praise God, saying, "So then God has enabled Gentiles to change their hearts and lives so that they might have new life."

I just want to say here that Gentile hearts had been changed throughout the history of the nation of Israel.  Gentiles had always been drawn to God's people, there are even extensive rules on their inclusion in the community.  Many heroes of the early faith were Gentiles.  But they were never reached out to, evangelism wasn't the thing.

It's not the Gentile hearts that needed changing so much as the hearts of the new believers to reach those outside of the family.

But, really, how UMC is this reading?  It's an actual scripture about an Open Table (and hearts and minds that were being opened).

Kind of leaves me thinking about this:

OT Reflections: Kicking the Can Down the Road

Progress.  It's a tough concept; but it's always the goal ... maybe.  What does progress look like?  Or to answer my question with another question, what does the word 'traditional' mean?  Or how about the word 'contemporary?'

These are all words that have different definitions according to different people.

When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, progress was finally made for the nation of Israel.  Finally, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were on their way to the Promised Land after a long stay in Egypt complete with a harrowing escape.

But through it all, they grumbled.  A lot.  To Moses.  To Aaron.  To one another.  To God.  God carried them through many great obstacles as a way to build up their faith, but when ever things got difficult, the Israelites doubted.  And they disobeyed.

Because of their doubts, the generation of Israelites who led the charge out of Egypt would not be allowed to see the Promised Land.  The nation of Israel would wander, though they would be led by the Lord, for 40 years - until the generation of disbelievers passed away.

There's much to glean from the story today, but I find it particularly relevant as we look at a UMC, particularly in the US,  that appears to be in a wandering period.

What makes me say we're wandering?

The denomination isn't growing in the US, its home base.

The wandering of the Israelites began with unfaithfulness, so where is that we haven't been faithful that got us to this place?  Maybe right here:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I've received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I've commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Gospel of Matthew, 28:16-20
As the church doesn't grow, and in some places refuses to, the church wanders.  The thing for us, however, is that it doesn't appear that we have a 40-year sentence over our heads.  In fact, we don't have 40 years to waste.  The UMC today can't afford to kick that can down the road for the next generation to clean up.  And it's happening from General Conference all the way down to the local church.

In worship at another faith community a couple of weeks ago, I heard the pastor pray, "Lord, we pray for our children to have faith, but we also pray for our faith to have children."

Look around at your faith family ...Are you wandering?  What will you do about it?

Christmas Eve Evangelism

'Tis the season ... for planning!  If you're anything like me, and I have no illusions that you are, you've been thinking about the Advent/Christmas season since June.  Really, I start visioning and planning for the season in June.  And my pastors love me for it...

A few months back I had heard of this idea, Christmas Business Cards for the church.  It's all pretty simple, draw up a business card with your Christmas Eve service times on one side and generic info about the church on the other (regular service and Sunday school times, website, contact info) and then scatter them to the wind in your local community.  Super simple evangelism ... But not particularly intentional.

A theme that I've been following in conversations lately is the true importance of Christmas Eve in the life of families, and not just in the churched - but also in the unchurched.  For many, Christmas can be a hard and lonely time, and a time of big questions.  Even in our secular understanding of Christmas, it's a time of gift-giving, family meals, and taking stock of our blessings.  Has it become ultra-consumer driven?  You bet.  But I'm of the mind that the heart of the season hasn't drifted so far off course that it can't be put back on track.

But what's the track it needs to be put back on?  That the reason Christ came to the earth was to bring the Good News of Salvation to the least, the last, and the lost.  God started things off with the very family Christ was born into ... a blue-collar, working-class family.

Most of our congregations have an influx of visitors on Christmas Eve, people looking for answers.  Sure many of those visitors are family members who've travelled in for a visit, but if we look around, our first-time visits are way up.  But what if we didn't wait for Christmas Eve to get people inside our doors?

This year our Evangelism and Worship teams will be partnering to do something big.  The idea is building off of something that the Downtown Campus of Church of the Resurrection began a couple of months ago with their E.P.I.C. idea to simply, intentionally, share random acts of kindness around the local community - through simple business cards.  And if you know anything of the Church of the Resurrection evangelism model, they do a lot of work to bring their A-game on Christmas Eve.  As a faith community they make themselves ready for their guests on this special night, making sure everyone knows about the faith community before leaving worship and they are so very welcome to come back to their regular worship services - even going so far as to advertise the upcoming sermon series and studies in the New Year (imagine that).

So what are we at FUMCD going to do to make the season special?  We'll have our simple business cards made, with the Christmas Eve services on one side, and generic info on the other.  Then, on December 16 we'll hand them out to the congregation, ask each member to take just one card and give it to somebody they know that is unchurched.  It's kind of hard in today's climate in our churches to remember that the idea of the Gospel is to spread it, and in our increasingly secular time, we are growing up more unchurched than churched people.  And yet - through our retail-based lives Christmas is still relevant.  So why don't we take it back?

The idea here is to be intentionally invitational ... And that will make a lot of people uncomfortable, but there's another term here we need to take back for all Christians, and that is evangelical.  It's the job for all of us who call ourselves Christian to be evangelists - it's not meant to be a political term.  I'll get off my soapbox on that one now.

But, what if we encouraged each member of our congregations to seek out one person or family that they know to come to church on Christmas Eve?  And not only that we encourage them to invite that family, and then sit with them.  It's so simple, and God will reward us even if we just try.  Just imagine that good that could happen.

As I've gone around a few turns in the road here, here's our Christmas Eve Evangelism plan in a few easy steps:

  1. Draw up the Christmas Eve Business cards.
  2. Early in the Advent season, encourage the church to pray for the unchurched in the local community and even to think of a few people they know.
  3. On December 16 (just early enough) hand the business cards out to the church, encouraging them to invite one unchurched individual or family to Christmas Eve worship with them.
  4. On Christmas Eve - be ready to welcome the guests with a little gift and plenty of info about the church.

It doesn't have to be hard ... Sometimes we just have to do something.  What is your local church doing to bring people to Christ during the Advent/Christmas season?