Hope

It’s easy to lose hope. Just look around and the reality of our world comes crashing down on us. The word that I have been pondering lately is this:

Relentless.

That’s how so much of what is happening feels. Relentless. As in there is no rest. It is constant. It takes no breaks. It is comes from multiple directions at once. And demands complete surrender or extinction. Relentless.

Relentless is the most appropriate word I can think of right now. Evil is relentless. It doesn’t know what rest is. Evil demands production and tells us the lie that our value and worth is tied up in what we produce. “Make more bricks.” And when we do, evil doesn’t care – it’s never enough. Evil can never be satisfied. It focuses on what we lack, not who we are.

Relentless as in it’s all or nothing. Relentless as in only the strong survive and evil believes it is the strongest. Relentless as in the ends justify the means.

Resisting evil is tiring because it is relentless. It doesn’t stop.

So what are we to do? I think we face evil and name it for what it is and then do something else. I believe we are called to something else. Not to fight evil – not in a normal way anyway. Fighting evil directly usually means fighting on evil’s terms and turf. That’s not what we are called to. Fighting evil may very well make us the very thing we despise.

Instead, I look to Jesus for guidance. Jesus called the thing what it was. He identified evil and called it out. And then did something unique – changed direction. And in doing so, he showed how illegitimate it really was. He changed the field of battle, so to speak. And when that happens, evil didn’t have the upper hand. Jesus told evil that it was not legitimate – that nothing it stands for would be given the time of day.

And then he invited people into a new way of living. He invited people to participate in the unfolding of the kingdom of God. This is what hope is all about.

Jesus offered hope. Hope that there would be rest. Hope that evil would not have the final say. Hope that the means are as important as the ends. Hope that strength looks different than bullying. Hope that the least of these would find favor. Hope that there was an alternative to what the world offered – a much better alternative.

Yesterday I went over to the middle school to see my daughter’s class research presentation. All the students had created these wonderful tri-fold boards on a variety of subjects. Some of the many topics included Immigration, Child Abuse, Divorce, LGBTQ+ rights, Suicide, Child PTSD, Education, many forms of injustice.

These are middle school children who were tackling difficult topics – researching them, highlighting the complexities, showing what surveys of people thought about the topic, and even offering some solutions when they could think of them.

In each case though, what I saw was hope. In each case, what I heard was this generation seeing these challenges in new ways – not getting stuck on old arguments that are currently taking place. Rather, they had hope – hope that the future would be better than the present. Hope that the future would be more adaptive, expansive, welcoming. They didn’t have all the answers. But they did have hope.

Sometimes the unfolding of the kingdom of God shows up in places we least expect it to. For me, the kingdom showed itself in middle school research projects in a public school. I was surrounded by hope. I was surrounded by life. The kingdom unfolds in our midst.

Do you have what it takes?

As is my usual morning routine, I found myself at the gym yesterday. I’ve mentioned before that there are two lines of TV’s showing various channels. One commercial caught my attention. It was a commercial for the Marines, I believe. It showed people in various situations, all moving towards danger and risking their lives. The message at the end read: “Do you have what it takes?”

Great question. Now I’m going to swipe that question and use it for something else.

Do you have what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus? Do you?

How about this question: Do you have what it takes to be a peacemaker? Sounds pretty easy on the surface right? Except when you think about this a bit deeper, it’s not. Do you have what it takes to create peace where only conflict, strife, violence, death, and destruction reign? To be a peacemaker is to risk it all sometimes. To be vulnerable. To be unarmed in the midst of violence.

How about these questions instead: Do you have what it takes to feed the hungry? Do you have what it takes to clothe the naked? Welcome the stranger? Care for the sick? Visit those in prison?

Do you have what it takes to love your enemy? Do you have what it takes to see the other as your brother, sister, mother, or father?

Do you have what it takes to actually do what Jesus calls on us to do?

Do you have what it takes?

The Gospel is dangerous

You might think the title is odd. But in reality, the Gospel is dangerous. I’m not talking about what is often passed around as being Gospel. I’m talking about the message Jesus actually said. What Jesus talked about was subversive. He talked about money and how it becomes a god that we listen to first above God. He talked about picking up the instrument that would kill you and willingly carry it. He talked about loving one’s enemies. He talked about welcoming strangers and outsiders. He talked about expanding who was in God’s kingdom. He talked about feed those who didn’t earn their own food.

He was a threat to the powers of the time – both religious and political. To the point that they killed him. Here’s what I know, religious and political authorities don’t kill someone because they are nice and harmless. They kill someone who threatens their power.

The Gospel we proclaim is dangerous. It is costly. Yet, too often we think the cost doesn’t apply to us. Why?

Advocacy

Yesterday was “Lutheran Day at the Capital” where Lutherans from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania came together to worship, to learn, and to do advocacy with state legislators. Yesterday we focused our attention on programs designed to alleviate hunger and the state budget.

Having been on three sides of government, I had many thoughts on the experience. Three sides, you ask? Yes. One side is as a citizen. One side was working for elected officials. And the last side having worked for a lobbyist.

Advocacy isn’t the same thing as lobbying. There are certainly things about lobbying and advocacy that overlap. Both try to influence how legislators will vote. Here’s a way that I define the difference between advocacy and lobbying: who’s it about? Lobbying is about getting something for yourself or the group your represent. Advocacy is about getting something for someone else. That is a simplistic definition, but it works.

Advocacy is also an extension of faith. This is important. Faith isn’t just a private matter. Some religious folks (and some denominations) try to tell their followers that faith is only a private matter. Except it’s not. Jesus never said it was. Our faith should have a public impact. It should impact policy. I’m not arguing for a theocracy though. If your faith causes you to advocate for policies that force people to conform to your religious belief, that’s moving towards theocracy. That’s about you and what you believe and how it benefits you ultimately. That’s not advocacy according to the earlier definition – that’s lobbying, but in a bad sense. There are times when lobbying is actually quite good – especially when it not only impacts you, but also empowers others. MLK, Jr. is a great example of this. Changing the Civil Rights laws certainly was a benefit for himself, but also empowering for many others.

On the other hand, if your faith causes you to advocate for policies that empower people, you might be on to something. Again, I’m making generalizations here – there are always exceptions to such generalizations. But that isn’t reason to throw out the whole definition.

Advocacy is an act of faith. We see people doing advocacy throughout our own history.

Yesterday was a day of advocacy. Today we advocate in other ways – providing food, connecting people to housing, visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger, connecting with the outcast. Tomorrow will bring more advocacy in other ways.

Abortion

Abortion is a hot topic right now. Throughout the year, states have been passing laws related to abortion – some passing laws making abortion more restrictive (like Alabama) and other extending when abortions can be performed (like New York).

And with each new law, statements are made. Here’s what Gov. Ivey of Alabama was quoted as saying:

“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” 

The problem with a debate on abortion is that it quickly becomes an emotional argument. People want to know who’s side you are on right away. When they know, then they can determine if they should listen to you or come up with opposing arguments right off the bat.

And as is usually the case with most emotionally charged arguments, the arguments end up being truncated down to simple tweets or memes designed for social media posts.

Too often, issues like abortion remain theoretical issues to be debated – removed from actual people that we know. We end up in heated debates at the macro level. At the macro level, wide-sweeping statements about the whole of the issue are made. And the problem is these wide-sweeping statements and arguments are often full of holes in logic and reasoning. They lack nuance. They become more like statements of faith, rather than anything that can be practically applied. They are the essence of philosophical arguments. There is a time and place for such arguments of course.

But the challenge with the debate about abortion is that these simplistic arguments often ignore something – the complexity of people’s lives. Too often we refuse to see how messy people’s lives really are. We think we can compartmentalize something like abortion – so that the debate is only about one thing. As if that is even possible. It’s not. It’s just one piece of the bigger puzzle. Until we are willing to look at the bigger picture, we’ll never solve abortion as an issue – we’ll just keep debating it, changing laws, etc. But never really dealing with it. The same could be said of many issues that we face – guns, violence, crime, drugs, criminal justice system, etc. These are really complicated issues that often intersect with each other. One law isn’t going to change much. We should be realistic about that. And we could if we really understood that changing a law isn’t futile, it’s just a small piece of a larger puzzle.

Here’s what I know – we’ll never get to the point where abortion isn’t needed, regardless of what the law says. Because that would take a lot of work and a lot of change. That would take us removing the emotion we attach to the issue and actually start figuring out how to make a better society where abortion isn’t even really needed. It would require us to look at many policies in order to actually show what Gov. Ivey said – “…that every life is precious.”

For every life to be considered precious, we’d need to move past convenient political rhetoric to examining policies that would actually move us in a direction to ensure that every life was cared for and valued. And that would also require a significant investment of money, time, and energy, among other resources. Such policy changes would send a clear signal that lives are far more important than money, or control, or power, or rhetoric, or politics.

If every life is precious then we should be looking at pre-natal care for pregnant women. We should be looking at contraception and sexual education so people are armed with reality around sex. We should be looking at family leave laws. We should be looking at funding education and updating how we do education. We should be examining how we provide health insurance for everyone in a way that makes sense. We should be examining how retirement happens. We should explore ways to end homelessness through housing first programs. We should be doing what we can to ensure no one is hungry. We should be doing what we can to promote peace in the world and in our neighborhoods. We should look at ways of strengthening families – all families. We should be honest about the effect of racism on whole segments of our society. We should be doing what we can to be better stewards of creation to ensure that people are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water. We should be doing what we can to end human trafficking. We should examine ways we objectify women through our advertising and entertainment. We should be looking at ways to curb and treat addictions like alcoholism, drug, porn, etc. The list could go on and on, if we are honest. That’s not an excuse to throw our hands up in the air and give up because it is too much. If every life is precious, then we owe it to ourselves and these precious lives to do what we can to improve their lives.

Instead, we end up fighting about issues that separate us. It’s just much easier to fight and it costs us nothing. Except, in reality, it costs us a great deal – it costs us lost opportunity, a whole lot of money, relationships, trust, and more. When we prefer to fight instead of hashing out how to move forward, we are rejecting responsibility. Arguments and zingers and tweets may feel good – because we think we are right. But they do nothing to move us forward. They do nothing to show that every life is precious. They do nothing to move society towards the ideal that abortion would not be necessary in most cases – regardless of what the law is – because we have changed society in such a way that people know that every life is precious. All they have to do is look around them and see. Isn’t that what everything is claiming they want?

So where do I stand on abortion? It’s complicated. I don’t see a nice easy answer. That’s what I’ve discovered from talking with women who have had abortions – those who I’ve had the opportunity to do pastoral care with. Every single one of them feels the weight of the world on their shoulders for the decision they made. It was not an easy decision for them. In fact, it was gut wrenching. When I have sat with these women, sometimes years after the abortion, I listen to their stories. I hear them talk about how they have kept silent and lived in their own world of torment. They have questions – serious questions of faith. Can I ever be forgiven? Is my child in heaven? These are painful questions. If only there were easy answers to these questions. If only there were easy answers for women who face difficult situations and decisions – regarding abortion and so many other aspects of life. If only. But that’s not how life works. Life is complicated and messy.

As a pastor, more often than not, I sit and listen to people as they struggle with difficult decisions – life and death decisions. Often I sit with people who are living with the consequence of decisions they made. Many times people come to me because the decision they made was not a good decision. I don’t have all the answers. Too often I feel as though I don’t know the answer because there are/were no good options. And it is in that time that I am reminded, and I remind those I sit with, that we have a loving and forgiving God. I don’t think God is looking for perfection out of us. I certainly hope not. The bible is full of stories of people who made bad decisions – some that cost people their lives. Yet, God keeps coming back. And we are promised forgiveness. We are called to repentance – a radical reorientation back towards God. That certainly isn’t easy. It’s complicated and messy. Just like life.

Where do I stand on abortion? It’s complicated. It’s messy. Instead of the easy way out by picking sides, I’m interested in working with people who want to change our society so that abortion isn’t needed in most cases because we have done what we can to show that every life is precious at every stage of life. If all we do is pick sides, then no one will win the abortion debate ultimately because we will never make the changes that need to be made – we’ll just keep fighting. Frankly, I’m tired of fighting. I’d rather move towards improving lives. Abortion is complicated and messy. It’s time to start cleaning up the mess instead of scoring political points. Lives are dependent on it.

Child sacrifice?

If you were to look up the term “child sacrifice” you would find something like this:

“Child sacrifice is the killing of an infant or child as an offering to a deity or deities. It may be conducted as part of a religious observance, ritual, or service.”

(Source: https://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-child-sacrifice.htm)

According to dictionary.com, a deity is defined as: “A person or thing revered as a god or goddess.”

To take this further, the same site defines a god as: “One of several deities, especially a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.”

Sounds pretty serious. And straight forward. Yet, it’s not. Too often we have this notion that gods are something that existed only in the ancient world.

But I don’t think that is the case. I think we have plenty of gods in our modern time. Money could easily be identified as a god. All too often, we allow money to make decisions for us. This is the more common way of saying “presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.” And I would argue that we still offer sacrifices to these gods – yes, even child sacrifices. The only question is – which gods are we offering child sacrifices to and why. I don’t say that lightly or in a flippant way. Stay with me on this.

I don’t know how else to describe such things as when children die in school shootings. And we do absolutely nothing to prevent the next one from happening. I don’t know what else to conclude except that we are clearly, as a society, offering a child sacrifice to some kind of deity. Why?

I don’t know how else to describe such things when we allow abortion right up to the moment of birth. Yes, I understand abortion is a complicated issue. But right up to birth? Why?

Maybe you think I sound extreme. Great – give me an explanation as to why these children’s lives are worth less than whatever rights you claim to be protecting. Seriously, give me an explanation. Because I’m struggling with all of this – really struggling.

In the case of school shootings (or other mass shootings), I keep seeing children as the ones who are paying the price with their blood and lives. The only question is for what god are they being sacrificed. And why? What god are we really protecting by allowing more blood to be spilled? What god are we just unwilling to name for what it is?

But then again, maybe I’m crazy. Maybe there is some rational reason I’m missing as to why this goes on. Maybe there’s some kind of easy explanation. Maybe there are easy solutions. Maybe – but frankly, I doubt it. If it were easy, I’d like to believe we would be doing it already.

We think we are advanced as a society. The idea of worshiping gods sounds ridiculous. The idea of offering child sacrifices sounds insane. Yet, I’m stuck – I just don’t know how to make sense of what our society finds acceptable by our lack of action. I don’t know how else to describe children dying.

Gun violence and abortion are complicated issues and challenges with no easy solutions unfortunately. There are complicated stories. They are messy issues to deal with and even consider. Tempers flair when you touch these issues. When you talk about them, you risk touching something much deeper than just some issue. You risk touching a person’s identity and what they hold dear. These are issues that can be confused with our identity – a critique of the issue is too often perceived as a critique of the person holding a belief about either one of them.

I’m currently leading a bible study on the book of Hosea in the Old Testament. It’s quite a book. It describes God’s relationship with Israel using Hosea’s life. God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute who is whoring herself out (not my words – it’s Scripture. Just start at verse 2 and you’ll see what I mean, especially if you read the NRSV translation). The idea being that Israel has been unfaithful to God for a long time – worshiping other gods, and offering sacrifices to these gods, and seeking out assistance and salvation from foreign powers and gods. God offers an indictment of Israel and declares a punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Ouch.

Instead of making the easy claim that we are no different, what I’m left with is this – oh how little we have changed in thousands of years. The names of the gods we sacrifice to might change, but we still struggle with being faithful to God. This is true for humanity across time and nation. Why though? Why do we resist God and God’s love? Why do we seek out other gods? Is it because we think we can control our lives and control these gods? Yet, what they require is costly. What God offers is costly too – but comes with a promise of hope and love, mercy and forgiveness. What God offers is costly – our lives. We are called to die to self so that we can be transformed.

All we are doing right now though is offering up our children’s lives, so we don’t have to change – so we won’t be transformed. We’ll pretend that we are in control. And we keep lying to ourselves. And we’ll suffer the consequence. See, God doesn’t have to smite us or actively do anything to punish us. I think God loves us so much that God will accept our rejection of God for other gods – I doubt God likes it though. I think God loves us so much that God will allow us to take our own path, which leads to destruction at our own hand. Again, I doubt that God likes this. Doesn’t sound very loving? Actually it is. Love isn’t about using force. Love is invitational. God doesn’t give up on us. God keeps the invitation coming because love is patient. And when we finally do respond, then we are embraced by God. We will be transformed. But it starts with God’s action.

It would be easy for me to cry out to God and say – “Why don’t you do something!” But I have a feeling God would respond by saying – “I have and I am. I keep offering a loving invitation. And you all keep rejecting me. I don’t like the consequences, but because I am love, I will not force myself onto you and turn you into robots who do everything I command. No, rather “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, NRSV).

Is there something to learn from this?

I saw this short paragraph in my LinkedIn feed a couple of days ago:

“Beyond the few national newspapers that have managed to stabilize their businesses, digitization has devastated the industry, The Wall Street Journal reports. Local publications have seen steeper drops in revenues from circulation and advertising — even outlets that have digitized struggle to turn readers into paying customers. Some 1,800 newspapers have shuttered across the U.S. since 2004. The entire 161-member staff of the Times-Picayune will be laid off after being acquired by a New Orleans competitor.”

This caught my attention. I started wondering if there was something church could learn from this. I’m not sure. Newspapers and church aren’t the same thing, but then again, there are some commonalities.

Congregations, especially small, local congregations have struggled. Many churches have closed over the last decade. I saw one stat claim that between 3,500 and 4,000 churches close each year.

It raises many questions. I just wonder if there is anything in common between newspapers and churches.

Do newspapers decline because they never made the changes that needed to be made early on – but rather only when they were forced to? And by then it was too late? Do they decline because people are used to free content online and once something is free and expected, you can’t charge for it and have it succeed? Is news in general in decline? Is the model of a local paper just outdated? Is it that local news can’t compete with the large outlets?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But I think the same type of questions can be asked of churches. They may sound something like this:

Have there been a slew of church closings because they never made the changes that needed to be made early on? Did the changes come only when they were forced to and by then it was too late? Do they close because people are used to worship being a certain way and expect it that way and so you can’t change it? Are churches in decline in general? Is the current model of a church outdated – as in how it is operated and organized? Does church size matter when it comes to church closures?

Again, I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I think they are worth asking – no matter how uncomfortable the questions might be. I think we need to be open to asking such questions and seeing what the truth really is. And adapt as needed. Living things do that – they adapt. Churches aren’t just institutions. They are movements. They are the living body of Christ. Adapting, changing, and transforming should come naturally. After all, we claim to believe in life, death, and resurrection. And if we really believe it – then it means we are open to change and transformation. And it is in transformation that the church will do what is needed to adapt to the new reality we find ourselves in. And no, larger isn’t better or doesn’t equal a more successful church. Those are just numbers. Changed and transformed lives – that is a much better measurement for the church.

Baptism or Funeral?

At the beginning part of last week I attended a stewardship conference. There were keynotes and a presentation. And plenty of opportunities for connections.

One of the speakers made the following statements that caught my attention:

“We are either headed toward a funeral or a baptism. Pick which one and choose your leadership appropriately.”

Wow. And so true. These are strong words that the church can stand to hear. And they are grounded in great theology too.

As a church, we are headed towards funerals and baptisms. Funerals acknowledge the reality of death in our midst. And they offer the promise and hope of resurrection. Too often our churches claim resurrection, but in reality, are frightened of death. This is why churches are often change-resistant. They believe that a change will lead to death. And that’s not totally off either. Any change is a form of death. It’s letting go of the way things have been done. But as Christians, we cling to the promise of resurrection – new life. But do we actually believe it? Or do we just voice the words while doubting it at its core?

Churches are living bodies. And all living bodies die at some point. Are we afraid of that? Does death have the final say when it comes to the life of our churches? Or is death something that any living thing has to go through in order to experience resurrection? The challenge I think we face with this is that resurrection is out of our control. It’s in God’s hands entirely. And letting go of control is not something institutions are very good at doing – including the church.

What about baptism? Baptism is a form of a funeral also. It is dying to self so that we can be reborn by God. But we think of baptism in much more positive senses. Baptism is just the beginning of our journey of faith. It is full of promise. There is much growth yet to come.

So which are we going to be celebrating? A funeral or a baptism? Both involve change or transformation. Both deal with life, death, and resurrection. Both offer a promise. Both are theological in nature. Both also have something else in common – a re-identification of those involved. The relationship changes and so do the positions in that community. There is change and transformation. And it impacts all in the community.

So what’s it going to be church – a funeral or a baptism? I’m ready to celebrate.

What church can learn from sports

This past Sunday I had off. As a pastor, this is rare. I had considered what I would do on Sunday – mostly debating where I would be worshiping. But then a field hockey tournament was in the works for one of my daughters. It happened to be on Sunday morning. And so I decided to take her to the tournament. I would get to see her play and I needed a rest from the routine for a Sunday.

I didn’t expect to have a religious experience at a field hockey tournament, but that’s one way to describe it.

Let me set the stage for you. It was rainy, windy, and not warm at all. We left at 7:30am to make the one hour trip down to the tournament. My daughter would be playing in four 25 minute games throughout the morning.

Given these circumstances, I was wishing that I had been in worship.

But then we arrived at the event. And I saw the multitudes there. They were dressed in a variety of outfits – some in jeans and boots and winter coats. Some in shorts and rain ponchos. All with umbrellas. Parents as far as the eye could see – hundreds of people. They were all there, waiting, watching, cheering. And getting wet.

As I looked around, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that here were hundreds of people who went out of their way to get up early, drive a good distance, stand in the rain and wind, and be there for multiple hours. All without complaint. There was swag to buy – on top of the fee we all paid to have our daughters play in the tournament.

I thought about this in relation to church. Would these same people get up early on a Sunday, drive a good distance to get to church, sit through a long service (or heaven forbid, a long sermon), and put their hard earned money in the offering? What was different about the field hockey tournament from church?

Here’s what I concluded – if church wants to be concerned with drawing more people in, we could change church to be more like an sports tournament. We could also make it more of an entertainment experience. In some ways, sports and entertainment are the same thing.

We could give people something to cheer for and against. We could focus on the us versus them aspect of religion. We could have refs to yell at. We could have swag for people to buy to show their support for their religion.

We could do all that in an effort to get more butts in the seats and more money in the offering. We could and I venture to say that there are some who actually try to do these things.

But a church isn’t a sporting event or an entertainment experience. Nor should it be. Thank God for that.

When church is focused primarily on filling the pews or how we are doing financially, we have forgotten what we are about and what our measure of success is.

We aren’t called to fill the pews. There’s nothing wrong with filling the pews. My hope is that more people will hear the Good News of Jesus, so I certainly hope for more people in the pews. However…

We aren’t called to fill the pews like a sporting event or entertainment experience where people passively watch, or at most they yell or cheer at what is going on – never really being a true part of the sport or entertainment, but always just watching.

We aren’t called to fill the pews with passiveness.

We are called to make disciples. Discipleship is costly – far more than a tournament fee and some swag. Discipleship takes way more time – far more than an hour drive one way to an event. Discipleship causes us to go through storms – far more than rain, wind, and cold, rather the storms of our own life and the lives of our community of faith.

Discipleship isn’t passive. It’s very active. It calls on us to take what we learn in worship and use it in the world. We are invited to take what we experience and hear in worship and use it as part of the unfolding of the kingdom of God in our midst. Discipleship isn’t about a set time period or location. It is a way of life. Discipleship isn’t about us versus them – it’s about loving everyone. Especially the people who will not reciprocate our love.

Discipleship often isn’t about drawing in large crowds either. It is building relationships and sharing lives. It is building community.

Not a news flash

I read an article on the Ministry Matters website that was titled, “Gallup: Number of Americans who belong to a church or house of worship plummets.” No offense Ministry Matters, but I don’t think this is news anymore. This has been going on for some time now.

I don’t know how long churches have been using the membership model – the idea that churches have members and membership. I know there weren’t members in the early church.

I also wonder if the way we think about membership in a church has changed over time. Right now, membership in a church is similar to membership in any other social organization.

You can also think of membership another way – we are members of the Body of Christ. This causes us to think a bit differently about churches.

I think it is time that churches look at other ways of being church, and what we should measure. Right now, churches measure attendance and offerings. That’s ok, but those are lagging indicators. Plus, I often wonder if we measure these things because we’ve been measuring them for a long time. Why is worship attendance the measurement standard for a church? Attendance doesn’t equal discipleship. It doesn’t equal lives changed. It doesn’t equal commitment.

I think the other reason we stick with measuring worship attendance and offerings is because they are easy to measure. There is no guessing, no subjectiveness. But we are missing out.

But for the church to start to measure different things, we would have start by thinking about the church differently. Not as a membership organization, but rather as a movement. Or maybe as a disciple making machine. Or maybe as being in the business of life change. Or making followers of Jesus. Or something of that nature. Once we shift our thinking about what the church is, then we can change what we measure. Until we are clear about why the church exists though, we’ll never be clear about what we should measure.

This much I know – the days of the church being a membership organization have run their course. This way of thinking is not helpful to the church. It isn’t helpful in launching new missions. It isn’t helpful in adapting to new dynamics. It is inside the box thinking.

We can’t afford inside the box thinking anymore. Or else our churches will end up in a box, buried six feet under the ground.

It’s time for the church to move from thinking of itself as a membership organization to something else – making disciples of Jesus. Until that happens, we’re going to continue to experience decline without much hope. The numbers and the trends don’t lie.