Archive for the ‘post-christian’ Category

I found myself welling up with hatred.  Strange thing to hear from a pastor, but it’s true.  As I was watching a basketball game, the team I was cheering for (my college team) was struggling to stay in the game.  Playing in their conference tournament in what was supposed to be a neutral venue, the fans started turning on “my” team with incredible intensity.  Most of the loud crowd showed up at the end of the game preparing for the next matchup that featured their college team, which happened to be, located only 30 miles away.  So much for a neutral venue!  You see, they wanted my college team, the favorite and number one seed,  to lose so that their team would have an easier road to the Big Dance.

Even watching on TV, I saw how mean these fans were.  They were against the better team winning and I took it personally.  I felt like they thought they were so against us and that really really peeved me.  It even seemed like the officiating was biased.  After all, these were probably some of the same referees that worked the games of the team only 30 miles away from this “neutral” venue.

These are people I don’t know and that made it easier to not like them.  I found myself justifying it in my heart and  I became a hater of the entire state where this game was being played.  “I’ll never step foot in that state,” was one of my thoughts.

As I began to reflect on this, I was convicted and I began to realize something.  What I was feeling was no different from how many people outside the church feel about some of us who call ourselves Christians.  It could be because we often look at ourselves as competitors…and as better than the other team.  It’s the church vs. the world.  I’ve heard from non-believers that they feel like Christians are opposed to them and are “cheering against them.”  Some of this may be because we hold up a standard consistent to God’s Word that causes offense, but some of it may be purely out of our preference.  It’s one thing for me to believe that abortion is biblically wrong, it’s another thing for me to show unbiblical anger toward anyone involved in the pro-choice movement.  Another less extreme example would be the debate over climate change.  Somehow the church has been portrayed as anti-environmental and uncaring toward the earth.

The result…the folks in the grandstands that are not in the church look at all of us who are in the church as enemies.  Many hate us.  The people we are called to love and reach to and bridge the gap for, see us as opponents in the arena of life. I’ve heard that in Israel there are two words that Jewish followers of Jesus avoid using because they have a negative connotation there.  These words are Christian and church.  I wonder if the same is true where we live, and if it’s part of our mission to help people see us not as enemies but as friends.

Have you ever had someone say that “you’re one of those Christians” meaning that you are against them?  What have you done to change that?  Let’s put ourselves in others shoes and see whether or not they feel loved, accepted and forgiven…or if they feel like we are opposing them and rooting for their defeat.

-Peter

It happened to me this past Sunday.  I met a new guy in our church who told me that he and his family had just moved here to New Hampshire from Iowa.  Since my wife is from Nebraska, we talked a little about farms and the Midwest and the Cornhuskers.  Then the big question…how do you like New England?  His answer didn’t surprise me.  “To be honest, the people here are really different.” And he wasn’t just referring to the amount of Dunkin Donuts coffee we drink!

Are we really so different in New England?  After all, people are the same everywhere right?  The same needs, challenges, desires, opportunities and attitudes…right?  Maybe not.  New England is a unique region of the country and if there’s one statistic that can prove that out, it’s in the area of church attendance and how many people identify themselves as Christians.  In fact, a huge percentage of people in New England would fall into the category of non-religious.  Spiritual maybe, but non-religious. 

I was reminded by a wise woman today that the thing that sets our region apart from many other places in the country is that we are still here.  Unlike the pioneers and early-adopters that moved West, our forefathers didn’t budge.  This is as good as it gets.  No need to change.  Maybe that’s why we have such an aging population in places like Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire.  The younger generation is out of here, looking for new opportunity and experience.

Several years ago, I invited a neighbor to church.  His response stunned me, telling me no and asking me not to talk to him about it again.  He was fine.  “All set,” were his exact words.  As a typical New Englander, in his mind I was intruding into places that were private.

I have spoken to friends and others outside of New England that don’t really get it.  They believe that people are people, and New Englanders are no different than Southerners or Left Coasters.  While it is true that we all need Jesus and we all need community, how you go about relating to folks from my neck of the woods is a world apart from how you relate to someone from Dallas (bless your heart) or LA (hey dude). In my opinion the difference requires an investment in the person that cannot be merely casual or temporary.  This costs something that many of us are not willing to spend- our time, our friendship, our trust, and our love.

The neighbor I talked about…well 15 years later, he and his family are a part of our church, they love Jesus and they are serving others.  But first we had to love them and serve them with no strings attached.  Are New Englanders really that different?  What do you think?

-Peter

I’ve always been amazed at how some pastors can seem to manage massive growth in their churches.  We are in New England where mega-churches are more myth than reality.  Often I’ve thought if that has more to do with the post-Christian landscape of the northeast, but lately I’m wondering if it’s more to do with a higher emphasis on community and being real than some of our big city and Bible belt neighbors.

I can’t imagine being a pastor that is unfamiliar with a vast number of the folks who I am called to lead.  I know that some would say that I really have to change and get over the fact that if we want our church to grow into the thousands then I have to look at my role as more of a pastor of leaders or CEO type than a shepherd/teacher.  I just can’t do it.  Yet for some strange reason we have seen our church continue to grow and now are moving into a multi-site model of ministry that keeps our pastors knowing the people who we serve.

Have you ever felt like you have to compromise who you are as a pastor to grow the church?  I like knowing people’s names, although I am not really great at it, especially as we have seen growth.  So should I just face the fact that I can’t know everyone and stop trying?  Instead I encourage the church as a whole to be relationally driven. True, I can’t take everyone out for coffee, but I can some.  Andy Stanley recently said in a message I heard, “do for one what you wish you could do for many.”  To me, that’s the heart of a pastor.

I want to be normal, not supernatural or separated from the people I am called to pastor.  I don’t want to run backstage after the service or be whisked away by bodyguards because I’m so in demand.  Yet, I desperately want to see our church grow with new believers who are becoming followers of Jesus.  Growth is good when it’s not about me.  So maybe I do have to get over my tendency to want to know everyone and just get on with breeding a culture of community that includes my limitations.  Growth will never take the pastor out of who I am.

-Peter