Thursday, February 25, 2010

still here

Been way to long. Out of the blogging rhythm for sure. Lots of thoughts to share, but I've been having such a hard time finding time to put it all down.

Anyway, let's give it another go.

Here are those couple of books I mentioned in my February 7th message entitled, "The Blessings & Benefits of Covenant Membership."

Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck


Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris

Both are great. If you're still struggling or unsure about our move toward covenant membership, I urge you to read one or both. If you've only got time for one, I'd recommend, "Why We love the Church."

They are also available in the church library, if you'd prefer to borrow instead of buy.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Grieving for Haiti

As we send over $17,000 to help meet physical and spiritual needs in Haiti, it seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming needs. My daughter recently brought me $50 cash and asked me to send it to Compassion as they also seek to meet needs. This morning I was moved by this World Mag article. Loved the balance. God is sovereign and in control. He is accomplishing things we cannot see or now know. And yet we grieve. We ought to grieve. Let us pour out our hearts like water before the Lord. . . .

An indecent grief

First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz

Just off a transatlantic flight from covering the 1999 Izmit earthquake in Turkey—which killed over 17,000—I ordered coffee at Starbucks. I was dust-covered, unkempt, exhausted. I had come straight from the quake zone, watching all-night rescue efforts lit by generator-driven spotlights end in grief.

The barista set before me one of those really tall coffee concoctions, and I couldn't pick it up. The cartonboard cup with its creamy white cleanness assaulted my senses. It was an affront to the dust-laden, broken-up, shaken-down cityscape I'd inhabited the past week. Coming out of it—back to where rebar held to concrete, where buildings stood with glass intact, where china and stuffed animals stayed on their shelves and children slept in their own beds—felt like a betrayal. I stood frozen at the Starbucks counter and wept.

We Westerners excel at getting on with it, at binding up wounds and fixing what's broken, or paying others to do it for us. We do less well with pausing to grieve, feeling the pain long enough, letting the pain be pain and do its work.

"Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to Him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street," lamented Jeremiah (Lamentations 2:19).

The list of Haiti's needs, while brutally long, can be named and numbered. So can and should its lamentations. A death toll from an island the size of Massachusetts to rival a tsunami that spanned an ocean and 14 nations. Ten thousand quake victims per day dumped without name or record into mass graves. Thousands beneath the rubble awaiting a rescue that did not come. Each is an individual sorrow and together an unfathomable calamity.

"Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" (Jeremiah 9:1).

Jeremiah knew a "pain unceasing, an incurable wound, refusing to be healed." The prophet himself lived a life full of indecent grief, a persistent heartbreak the men of Judah found obscene, excessive. They derided him as the "weeping prophet," God forbade him to marry, and he died a captive in Egypt. Yet he wrote not from base self-pity but because he understood the risk: If we fail to see the depths of pain inflicted by disaster, we will fail to bind up the wounds properly. At the same time, the pain is a powerful reminder of our limits. We must not fail to see like Jeremiah that ultimately the wound is incurable and the pain unceasing. In this life all binding and curing is temporary.

So beware the man with quick answers: Pat Robertson dismissing the calamity as part of "a pact to the devil"; Rush Limbaugh declaring that we gave already. Beware the man with wrong answers: Max Beauvoir, Haiti's high priest of voodoo, telling Haitians that the quake's unexpected deaths only disrupted the normally peaceful transition from one life to the next. "We believe that everyone lives 16 times—eight times we live as men, and eight times as women. And the purpose of life is to gather all kinds of experiences," said Beauvoir. Or the team of Scientologists, who went from makeshift shelter to makeshift shelter claiming to heal through touch. "When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we reestablish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch," said one volunteer.

Comfort that treats the bereaved as pets or as losers is no comfort. Comfort designed less to empower than to ease is short-lived. The old English defined comfort as "strengthening, encouraging, inciting, aiding" while the Americans refined it to "soothe in a time of distress" (see Oxford English vs. American Heritage dictionaries). Haitians, made in the image of God and like His Son sorrowful even to death, need strengthening comfort, the kind that fathoms both the depth of the loss and the length of the work ahead.

Haitians amid the rubble have a better sense of this. "Dye pi fo," some sang out from the shelters. "God is stronger."

Monday, February 01, 2010

Ken Sande on covenant membership

Ken Sande is the author of The Peacemaker and the founder of Peacemaker Ministries. Our elders have read this book and found it so helpful as we mediate conflicts and wage peace among God's people here at Grace.

(I posted earlier about The Peacemaker HERE.)

Here's an interview with Ken Sande from Leadership Journal on the value of covenant membership. It reiterates some of the things I stated in yesterday's message, where we looked at the biblical basis of covenant membership.

Taking Church Membership Seriously
Why it's time to raise the bar.
An interview with Ken Sande

Monday, April 18, 2005

Membership is not all that important at our church, about a third of respondents to a recent Leadership Weekly poll said. While 38 percent said attenders were frequently urged to join, and 34 percent said the membership appeal was occasionally given, the remainder said their church placed little or no emphasis on membership. That trend, according to many experts, is a mistake, the costly result of a casual, come-as-you-are attitude.

The church should be less like a cruise ship and more like a battleship, says Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries. Rather than emphasizing their casual atmosphere and fun activities, Sande says it's time for churches to raise the bar, to focus on a serious mission, and ensure that every person aboard serves a vital function. To make the shift, Sande says we must recapture the importance and meaning of church membership. If nothing else, emphasizing membership can protect the church from the growing threat of lawsuits.

Can you give an example of how deemphasizing membership can be perilous for a church?

I counseled a church where an attender used his relationships within the church to persuade people to invest over $2 million with him. The money was never returned to the investors. The church leadership struggled to respond because the man was not a member. If they said something publicly and warned the congregation about his actions, they risked a lawsuit for slander and defamation of character.

The church leaders finally asked the man to leave, but said nothing to the congregation. As a result he continued to scam people in the church for another year. When the victimized members discovered that church leaders knew about the man's actions but failed to publicly warn the congregation, they in turn threatened to sue the church for failing to protect them.

Several courts have ruled that churches may not discipline people who have not specifically consented to discipline. In this case, church leaders could not publicly warn the congregation about the man's actions without threat of a lawsuit because he was not a member, and had not consented to discipline. By not emphasizing membership, the leaders were prevented from fulfilling one of their most important biblical tasks—protecting the flock.

Why are more churches no longer emphasizing the importance of membership?

First, we've given in to our culture's antagonism toward commitment and accountability. Like parents who are afraid to discipline their teenagers, church leaders are afraid they will be unpopular for emphasizing commitment and accountability.

Secondly, there is a concern that if we create a barrier at the front door to the church, not as many people will enter, and the pressure leaders feel to grow the church is enormous today. But what we don't realize is that by not emphasizing membership we may have a wide-open front door, but we also have a wide-open back door. Numerical growth is really not helped by deemphasizing membership.

Many see membership in the church as similar to membership in other community organizations. How do we help people see it differently?

It requires very good teaching, and we need to use the terminology found in the Bible rather than our culture. The Bible speaks of the church as a family, or the household of God. If we emphasize this family language it will help people see that church membership is not like joining a country club, it is about joining an organic family.

The concept of the Body is also very helpful. The church is called the Body of Christ in the New Testament, and you don't just casually amputate a thumb. In fact, if the thumb is hurting the whole body goes to its aid. This metaphor shows the commitment, the accountability, and the interdependence of the church. Church leaders need to draw these concepts from scripture and clearly teach them.

How can leaders ensure that they have protected the church legally through a membership process?

You must achieve what lawyers call "informed consent." If you can show your people know what your church's disciplinary practices are, and that they have consented to them, that is a virtually ironclad defense against lawsuits.

You can achieve informed consent in a few ways. First, maintaining an attendance for the membership class so you can prove who has received the teaching. Second, a higher level of proof is to have new members stand before the church and actually verbalize membership vows and commitments. A third level, which gives you the best protection, is a signed membership covenant.

What should be included in a membership covenant?

The covenant itself can be kept fairly simple. A statement as basic as, "I have received a copy of the church's policies of redemptive discipline, and I consent to be bound by them" is sufficient. The church needs to have their disciplinary policies outlined somewhere and accessible to members, but the covenant only needs to refer to this other document to secure informed consent.

Apart from securing legal protection, what else is vital to include in a membership process?

At my church we have a twelve-week membership course, and our first priority is making sure a person has a credible profession of faith and understands the gospel. We also cover the theology of the church, our polity, our vision, how we handle conflicts, and an understanding of church discipline. Finally, it is helpful to discuss expectations for members regarding giving, respecting leadership, and serving in the community.

The membership process will be different in every church, but it is important to treat it as a significant event. When we treat it casually it sends the message that membership is casual. We highlight membership by having a special service, a membership Sunday. It is a serious ceremony that communicates the importance of membership.

What about retrofitting? How do churches with loose membership expectations, or none at all, begin to change and achieve informed consent?

Retrofitting requires a process that may take one to three years of educating the church to think more biblically about membership. I recommend preaching from Deuteronomy where there is a restatement of the Law.

Our church did this. We said to the congregation, "Times have changed from years ago when you could have a loose relationship with the church. Our society and our laws have changed. It's time for us to renew and tighten up the covenant."

Our people were very responsive to that because we took the time to educate them. We held a congregational meeting where revised bylaws and policies were presented, along with new procedures for accountability and conflict resolution. We met in small groups to talk personally, and over several months there was a lot of dialogue. That culminated in a church meeting where the new policies and bylaws were accepted. At that time we handed out a new membership covenant to be signed.

The last thing we did, to make sure we had informed consent, was send out a letter to everyone who did not sign the covenant. It said, even though we have not received a written covenant from you, we will interpret your continued attendance at our church, beyond a specified date, as your affirmation and consent to these policies. We didn't have a single family leave the church.

An attorney and engineer, Ken Sande is founder of Peacemaker ministries, a mediation and counseling service for churches and couples.