Church Behaving Badly

For the most part, I have experienced tremendous blessing through the Church. The church has been a great source of life, love and encouragement. As a pastor, the Church has shaped me and helped form me into the person I am today.

However, there are times when the church has a tendency to behave badly. Most of the time, I think the misbehavior is unintentional. However, there are times in which churches are intentional and methodical in how they cause harm.

There are times when, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the church hurts those it is called to love and care for. There are times, when the people and institution that is supposed to be your biggest support is the biggest cause of pain.

And, I speak not only as one who has experienced church hurt, but as one who has caused harm and church hurt.

To be honest, I’ve never understood the competition that exists between churches. We are on the same team. We desire to point people to the life-transforming love, grace and mercy of Jesus. And, yet, there are times we actively work against one another.

We belittle one another’s methods.
We demean and discredit signs of life in other churches.
We gossip and spread rumors about the leadership of other ministries.
We ignore opportunities for collaboration.
Unfortunately, the list could go on and on.

To be honest, the competition doesn’t just exist between different congregations. Sometimes the biggest competition lies within the walls of individual congregations. Churches with multiple service times and worship styles have set the perfect stage for competition. “My service has more people than your service. My service has better music than your service. The pastor wears a robe during my service…that makes it more holy. The pastor wears jeans during my service…that makes it more authentic and relevant.”

There are times when we actively work against one another. We plan our big events at competing times, requiring people to decide which ministry they are going to support with their presence and gifts. We decide not to promote other ministries and events. And, we can say it’s unintentional. But, the reality is that it’s too often calculated, intentional and hurtful to those who have put their time, energy and effort into those ministry areas.

I know this because I’ve done it myself. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself.

Then, there are the obvious signs of church hurt – when big profile Christian leaders proclaim hurtful, harmful and often unbiblical “truths” that cause pain, division and harm not just to individuals put to entire people groups (immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, LGBTQ, pro-life, pro-choice).

The harm done in Jesus’ name is not reserved for one brand of theological or political persuasion. Progressives do plenty of harm. Conservatives do plenty of harm. Moderates do plenty of harm.

I’m reminded of Mark 9:38-41. “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

Rather than focusing on what divides…rather than focusing on our differences…maybe we should be more concerned with who we can be FOR one another.

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I Appreciate a Good Gimmick

I can often be overly critical of lame gimmick’s that offer the old “bait and switch” when it comes to modern evangelism.

I’ve seen a little bit of everything to encourage folks to “get back to church”. Giveaways that include everything from iPad’s to smart TV’s to new cars. We lure people in with the opportunity to “win big”, but send the majority home empty-handed. Well, not unless they have a life-transforming encounter with Jesus…Then we send them home with “Jesus in their heart” and their “names written in the Book of Life.”

Then, there are the church Facebook ads, postcards and billboards that make any particular congregation look hip…and then you get there and the piano is out of tune, they are using an overhead transparency projector, and they serve Folger’s during the coffee hour.

Or there are the ads that use stock photos, making the church look incredibly diverse and inclusive…then, upon arrival, you quickly recognize that the stock photo was a gross misrepresentation.

Here’s the deal, I know it is all well-intentioned. We greatly desire to get people connected with Jesus and the Church. We are often willing to follow Paul’s sense of mission and “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

I wonder if, in our attempts to “win people to Christ”, we inadvertently misrepresent ourselves. There’s always been a push to be honest, authentic, open and real. So, maybe we should run our ads and evangelism through the old “b.s.” meter? If it stinks, we should go in a different direction.

Of course, the very premise of that “get back to church” platform assumes that people were previously “in” church. With the growing number of “nones”, we can no longer assume that people have experienced “church”.

Now, I started this with saying that I appreciate a good gimmick. I really do. I have an appreciation for clever attempts to attract people to the Church.

Every year around Ash Wednesday, I want to participate in the “Get your ash in church” campaign. Get it…”get your ash in church”??? But, taking my context into consideration, I stop myself before it gets too far.

I’ve also appreciated the “Get your tail in church this Easter” campaign. It’s not offering a prize. It’s not offering some kind of cutting-edge church experience (let’s be honest for a minute, even the most hip and trendy churches still seem like lame attempts to copy the “non-church” trends of music/design/fashion. For example, can we convince worship leaders and pastors that they don’t need skinnier jeans, bigger hats, bigger glasses, and more hair product?)

Here’s the good news…In this “new normal”, it is easier than ever to “get your tail in church this Easter”. You don’t have to leave home. You can just log into Facebook. And, if the power goes out, you can sacrifice and use some of your cellular data to join the fun!

Anyway, here’s where I’ve found myself…just be true to yourself. Don’t try to keep up with the church down the road. Be who you are called to be in this time and place. And, if that means you are going to use catchy gimmicks and give away a new car, go for it!

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A Grocery Adventure

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. ~Philippians 2:3

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I found myself being mindful…not only of “social distancing”, but also of the general mood of the store.

Let’s be honest, things just feel different.

The grocery seems quiet…almost eerily quiet. Background noises are reduced to the sounds of carts and PA announcements. I’ve noticed the absence of typical store elevator music. I have noticed the absence of the typical “buzz” of families, customers and staff interacting.

People are definitely more focused. While we seem to be focused on our task at hand, it also appears that we are noticing one another more…mostly in order to stay out on one another’s path. But, at least we are taking notice of the presence of our neighbor.

On this trip, I was wearing my Death Wish Coffee Company bandana as a makeshift mask. I find that the skull and crossbones are intimidating and motivate others to keep their distance. If I had been thinking, I would have worn a Harley Davidson hat and jacket. With that, people would have thought I was some rough and tough biker dude. Those who know me, well…

What I noticed were people’s eyes. I thought it might be difficult to read the mood of the room while the majority of shoppers were covering their faces. However, our eyes can tell a story. While I could not tell if people were smiling or frowning, I could get a sense of joy or burden, calm or chaos, peace or anxiety, fear or strength just by observing my neighbors eyes. To be honest, I’ve not been that observant in the past.

As I made my way to the checkout line, the power went out. My first thought was, “Now what?” Shortly after the initial darkness, the backup generator kicked in and the even number lanes opened to serve customers.

The lane I had been standing in (9) closed and the cashier asked everyone to move over to lane 8. As we were making our way over, a woman who had not been in the previous line, rushed to the front.

The young cashier (I know she was young because she had to have a coworker scan the “communion elements” for the adult members of our family!), said to the woman, “Excuse me ma’am, these folks were ahead of you.”

The woman basically ignored her as the cashier spoke to the gentleman who had been at the front of the line, “Sir, would you like to make your way to the front.” The man calmly said, “That’s okay. She can go first. She’s obviously in a hurry.”

The woman offered no apology, no signs of remorse, no attempt to play it off as not paying attention, no offer to move to her appropriate place in line…Just a self-righteous, “get out of my way, I’m more important than you” attitude.

I found myself being proud of the gentleman in front of me. He could have made a scene. However, he made the decision to extend a bit of grace.

We’re all in this together. Maybe this time serves as an invitation to slow down and recognize what truly matters? Maybe this is a time to take the words of Philippians 2 seriously – to consider others as better than ourselves?

I recognize that maybe the woman was in a hurry because she just wanted to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Maybe her fear, rather than selfishness, is what really drove her to disregard those around her.

I hope that as we continue in this “new normal”, we all will be more like the gentleman who extended a bit of grace and less like the self-involved woman who was only looking out for number one. We’re in this together…and we are better together.

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These Are Strange Days…

I had stepped away from blogging for quite some time. The last post on this page was dated in 2018, when I had briefly used this old site as a place to collect thoughts and prayers.

However, I’ve decided to renew my use of the “Tuesdays with Morris” page. Who knows what that will mean?

What I can say is, these are strange days!

In this time of “social distancing”, our “new normal” is far from “normal”!

This week is Holy Week. I can honestly say that this is the most bizarre Holy Week I’ve encountered. Figuring out how to offer meaningful gatherings online has presented a new challenge.

Yet, I welcome this challenge.

You see, I am one who has long believed the Church needs to be challenged to find new ways to present the message. It’s that old adage of finding new methods to present the message.

Consultants have been saying for a long time, “we need to find a new way to be the Church.”

Well, the time is now! We really do not have the option to just “keep doing what we’ve always done.”

Many of my colleagues are venturing into the world of online church for the first time. Some who have already been offering online options have expanded those options. Some of my colleagues are currently offering daily Bible study and prayer times. Some colleagues are trying to offer hip, slick, and high-tech options. Some are just trying to figure out how to use their web cam!

My hope is that these new online offerings will continue once things “get back to normal”. The reality is, I don’t know what “normal” will look like post-Covid.

However, whatever “new” things churches and pastors are offering during this time, don’t let that fall off when we are able to gather in person. We are discovering new ways to “be” and “do” church…and we shouldn’t stop.