Million Minister March

There was the Million Man March, the Million Mom March, and now the Million Student March. You’ve probably heard of the first two, but the third has just recently burst onto the scene. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the following video will give you a pretty good idea.

Cavuto Interviews Keely Mullen

Learn here about Million Student March

The emergence of this last one puts us on a trajectory for the new movement I propose. That would be the Million Minister March. I can’t wait.

This would have to happen on a Monday because most of us have to preach on Sunday. (Although, we might need Monday as a travel day, so we’d better make it Tuesday.)

Three Demands

Inspired by the college students, I have come up with three demands for a fairer and more equitable system of ministry. They are as follows:

  1. Free seminary education and cancellation of all existing educational debt
  2. $100,000 minimum salary for all ordained clergy ($75,000 for lay pastors, et. al.)
  3. Redistribution of members from all mega-churches to smaller congregations

These demands can easily be met if we rise up and educate the church to the plight of clergy in this country. Such goals are reachable and could be realized through the one percent of people who are hoarding their offerings. If we would institute a policy of a 90% giving rate for them, we would see immediate progress. These people, of course, need to be held accountable.

Administrators can work for free.

Seminaries have overcharged and sucked students dry for many years. They can now empty their coffers and liquidate their holdings to cover the unseemly debt many seminarians have had to carry for so long. Seminary administrators can certainly work for free (it’s their duty).

Seminary professors can become tentmakers in the tradition of the tentApostle Paul so classes can be offered free gratis. Not only would it be cost effective for students, it would be much more Biblical. We need a restoration of these fundamentals (as well as a lot more tents).

Mega-churches certainly don’t need all those members. They don’t deserve them anyway. Every small church should immediately be supplied with an extra two hundred members from the nearest large church until the larger churches are down to two hundred members themselves. This would place everyone on an even playing field. Jesus only had twelve disciples. Why do these people need 10,000?

Some have suggested that the one percent mentioned above might leave if these things were instituted in the church. To them I say, “Don’t be ridiculous.” We all know there’s always going to be a one percent. And just in case (as a sort of hedge) we should place at least one millionaire in every local congregation.

There is one caveat, however. There are only 600,000 clergy persons in the United States. In order to reach the one million mark, we’re going to have to fly in a few hundred thousand ministers from second and third world countries.BrokenPane

Maybe we should push it back to a Wednesday.

Wi-Fi-Bi: The Morning Text

DSC_0086A few years ago, I was going about my own business of preaching the Sunday sermon when I kept noticing someone in the congregation playing video games on his father’s cell phone. I won’t go into all the details, but it was really distracting (to both me and our congregants).

After it was all over, some of the church leaders decided to take action against such shenanigans. We wanted to avoid any future distractions of this ilk. After all, it’s God’s Word being preached here.

We decided the best course of action would simply be to place a permanent announcement in the bulletin. The announcement politely suggested that cell phone usage during worship was less than acceptable and that all such devices be powered down by kick-off time (I mean, opening prayer).

This seemed to work like a charm for a few weeks. Then, my wife and I took a trip out of state. During our travels, we worshiped with some friends.

“We were slightly blown away when it came time for the sermon.”

We were slightly blown away when it came time for the sermon. Lo and behold, the preacher suggested that everyone take out their cell phones, pull up their Bible apps, and click on the text for the morning.

My wife and I looked at each other rather sheepishly as we pulled out our antiquated paper Bibles. Everyone around us was reading the Scripture on their phones and electronic tablets while we were still paging through our clunky Bible books looking for the appropriate verse.

Where policies go to die…

When we got back home, the first thing we did was reverse our new policy. The permanent announcement disappeared from the bulletin. Such malfeasant things were never mentioned again.

Morning Text

This poignantly brings up an ongoing point of contention in the church. We seem to hate new things. We also seem to hate change. Since new things ARE change, I guess they go hand in hand.

While I’m part of that “hate change” crowd, I’m not sure why. We use these things outside of worship like it’s life and death. Why would we leave them at the door (so to speak)?


I suppose an argument could be made that a ringing cell phone during service time would be rude, distracting, and unholy. But that’s why we have airplane mode (I wonder if we could get Apple to change that to Worship Mode).

We really have no good excuses for our rejection of all things new. Most of us are simply old fuddy-duddies and can’t help ourselves.

Another thing that out-of-state preacher did was preach from his iPad. I really wanted to try that, but I just couldn’t bring myself to part with my Bible. Ultimately, I gave it a shot. It took a few weeks, but I finally got used to it. Just between you and me however, I still print up my sermon outline and put it in my brief case. I just don’t trust it yet. Who knows when the battery will die?battery

Clergy Candy: Azor to Zoloft

It’s been widely known for some time that many clergy types are under stress. For whatever reason, many of us wind up in that well publicized state called burnout.

I heard recently that two of the most Azorprominent drugs used by clergy folks in the United States are Azor and Zoloft. I’m not totally sure of the accuracy of this statement, but I don’t doubt its veracity. I’ve watched many of my colleagues fight high blood pressure and depression (maladies for which Azor and Zoloft are often prescribed).

I, myself, tend to be so laid back that my tendencies toward such things seem to be minimized. Thus far I’ve been on the lower end of that spectrum. After thirty-five years of ministry, I suppose I’m somewhat safe (although, high blood pressure tends to run in my family.)

I’ve been a tentmaker for the past twenty years. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that term, it’s a reference to the Apostle Paul who made and repaired tents for a living. It has come to mean anyone who works another job to support his or her ministry.

“…the leeway of saying no.”

Serving from that perspective allows me the leeway of saying no. If something doesn’t fit into my schedule and is not important enough, I pass. Some of my full-time clergy brethren don’t have that luxury (or at least don’t feel like they do).

I once heard John Maxwell relay the following story concerning a time when he served in a denominational setting. As is usually the case, there was an annual pastor’s report. One of the lines on his report asked how many visitations he had done throughout the year.

He began to wonder if anyone ever read these reports. One year he answered by saying he had done 15,000 visitations. No one said anything, so the next year he filled in the blank saying he had done one. Still, no one said anything.

“That little story changed my life.”

That little story changed my life. Up to that point, I was a big numbers guy. No more. I began to look at what was important and what could be jettisoned. I ended up jettisoning a lot.

More importantly, in thirty-five years of pastoral ministry I’ve observed something of extreme importance. Every time one of the congregations I served had a spurt of growth, it was laity inspired, laity led, and laity fed (although I’m sure the Holy Spirit had a little something to do with these windfalls).

I learned, sometimes the hard way, to step back from time to time. I’ve seen that congregations will gladly allow the pastor to do everything if he/she is willing. ZoloftI’ve also seen that they will fill the void when the “hired help” isn’t doing what they think should be done.

Ultimately, that’s our big problem. We clergy types see ourselves as hired help. We look at ourselves as professional Christians who need to earn our keep. The result? “Pass the Zoloft please.”

The Five Faces of Christianity

manyfacesA few days ago, there was a well-publicized terrorist act in which an American journalist was brutally beheaded. The next day, our Secretary of State rushed to a microphone to inform us that this was not “the real face of Islam.” While I could write an entire series on that statement alone, I’ll leave that up to my more political brethren.

John Kerry’s carefully chosen words, however, did spark an entirely different line of thought in my meager brain. What if the tables were turned and a Christian had perpetrated some dastardly deed? Would some dignitary stand up and unabashedly pronounce that it was inarguably not the face of Christianity on display?

“My quick answer to that is, no.”

My quick answer to that is, no. No one would bother to do that. The reason is a positive one. The reason is that no one would feel the need.

No one would feel the need because everyone understands that this kind of act is not the face of Christianity. Everyone understands this because Christianity has proven over the past 2000 years that her face is totally different. Hence, she would not need any outside defense to reinforce that assertion.

If that is true (and I think it is), it begs another question. What IS the face of Christianity? Who are we? What do we look like? How are we generally perceived?

We are multifaceted, multicultured, and multigenerational. We have myriads of theologies, tenets, denominations, and sects. We come in all colors, worship styles, and daily life practices. So what is our face?


Are we known as Christian fundamentalists? Are we legalists? Are we theological liberals, or conservatives? Are we known as Bible thumpers or proponents of the social gospel? Are we known by our TV ministries, our work among the poor and homeless, or our hospitality to strangers?

The fact is, we are known by all these faces and more. So what is our face? Do we even have one?

The answer to that (in my estimation) is, yes we do. It is quite simply the face of Jesus. It is his face we must show. Our lives and practices must reveal his persona. We can, of necessity, be who we are; but we must learn to get out of the way enough for people to see the real Jesus.

“The Real Jesus…”

JESUS OF NAZARETH -- Pictured: Robert Powell as Jesus -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
JESUS OF NAZARETH — Pictured: Robert Powell as Jesus — Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

The real Jesus is the one whose “love covers a multitude of sins.” He’s the one who prayed that we would be united, just as he and the Father are united. He’s the one who told the Pharisees that he had other sheep not of their fold, and that he would call them and they would hear his voice.

We can discuss (even argue about) our different theologies, practices and styles. It seems to me, however, that the arguments stop at the foot of the cross. The blood of the Savior washes all who seek him there, regardless of our differences. It’s his face we must show the world.


Mt. Zion: Chapels, Cemeteries and Judgment

The Old Testament prophet, Obadiah, said, “On Mount Zion will be deliverance.” When I was a kid, I lived near a place called Mt. Zion.  I assumed at the time, that it was the only Mt. Zion in the world.  It was at the top of a hill (imagine that) and was the site of Mt. Zion Church and Mt. Zion Cemetery.  Some of my relatives are buried there.

As I entered into adolescence and Bennezette Elkadulthood (as I’m sure you’ve guessed), I began to run across dozens (maybe hundreds) of Mt. Zion’s.  They seemed to be everywhere…especially churches. You’ve seen some. They have names like Mt. Zion Church, Mt. Zion Chapel, and Mt. Zion Bible Fellowship.

It wasn’t until I was almost sixty that I had the privilege of standing on the real Mt. Zion–the first one.  On that holy hill, my life was changed. It changed when Jesus died upon it two thousand years ago.

“My original Mt. Zion was in Elk County, PA–one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

I remember feeling as a young lad that Mt. Zion was a special place.  Little did I realize then how special it truly was.  I didn’t realize how special the real Mt. Zion would become to me a few years later.

Like most things, however, Mt. Zion has its darker side. Obadiah, like many of the Old Testament Prophets, didn’t have a lot of good things to say. That’s probably because the prophecies were about (and geared toward) people who weren’t doing a lot of good things.

“None of us like to be negative.”

None of us like to be negative. (Well, I guess some of us do, but contrary to popular opinion, I’m not one of them.) Yet, it’s the negativity in Scripture that sets up the positive message of salvation.

Obadiah is one of the shorter books in the Bible. It’s so short, it’s not divided into chapters as most of them. It consists of twenty-one verses.

The message of Obadiah is a call to arms. The call is against a little place named Edom. Apparently that’s where Obadiah called home. Because of that little fact, he knew it well, and he knew it needed to go down.

Live ItIt’s a tough thing to pronounce judgment against your own. Maybe that’s why his writing is so short. It could have easily gotten lost among the volumes included in Scripture. In fact, it is indeed overlooked much of the time.

Obadiah’s call for warlike deliverance on Mt. Zion must have been hard for him to deliver. It’s no small thing to postulate, predict, or prophesy. And yet he did.

There are times in the church when we are faced with the same dilemma–times when we sense the need to come against our own. These days there are in-church battles over abortion, homosexuality, and a variety of other major topics.

It’s not easy to take a stand against your own. I would simply suggest we do what the Presbyterian brethren like to say—do it “decently and in order.”

Imagine There’s No Heaven

Sermon titles often come out of the blue. Sometimes the preacher doesn’t even Imaginemention or explain where they came from.  It’s a mystery of the faith.  You may recognize this title.  It’s a line from John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.”

When I was a kid and had thick, brown hair I loved the Beatles and their music.  They were like gods to me.  Lennon was my favorite.  I wanted to be just like him…hair, guitar, song writing…the whole package.  Obviously, since he was a god and I a mere mortal, that pinnacle was slightly out of my reach.  But I could dream couldn’t I?

“When I was twenty years old, I heard the call of God (the real one).”

When I was twenty years old, I heard the call of God (the real one).  I dedicated my life, as best I knew how, to serving Him and Him alone.  As the years went by and I gave serious consideration to the various facets of my life, I began to realize    some of my heroes and “gods” were less than worthy.  John Lennon was one of them.

To tell you the truth, I was crushed.  Lennon was still a great song writer.  He was still a talented rock and roller.  The impact he had had on my life was unmistakable and undeniable.  Yet, his philosophy of life…well, as many people would say today…sucked.

LennonA lot of people, including many Christians, love the song “Imagine.”  They think it’s a beautiful song.  Well, musically, I can’t and don’t deny that.  Philosophically, it’s awful.  Why would one want to imagine there’s no Heaven…no God…no faith?  Lennon’s second line is, “It’s easy if you try.”

I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I can’t imagine there’s no Heaven.  It simply makes no sense to me.  I might be naive, but it just simply does not compute for me.  Lennon says he wants us to live for today.  I guess that’s the only way his belief system would work.  When today is gone, where are we?

We certainly wouldn’t be the kind of people he wanted us to be.  If we’re just biological machines, why concern ourselves with all the things Lennon wanted us to do and be…world peace, unity, sharing everything.  Lennon was a millionaire.  As far as I know, he never shared anything.  When he was asked about it, he answered that he would if he could find a worthwhile cause.  Apparently there isn’t one.

“History shows we aren’t simply altruistic without a reason.”

The history of the world shows us we aren’t simply altruistic without a reason.  If there’s no NY LennonHeaven, I’m in it for ME.  But there IS a Heaven, I want to go there, and Jesus is the only way I know to realize that goal.  Because He wants me to work for peace, unity, and to share what I have, I will.

My old hero, John Lennon, said, “You may say I’m a dreamer.”  Yes, John, you were.  Dreams are great, as long as they’re based in reality.  Heaven is real, and I can’t imagine life without that reality.

Sin Boldly: What a Great Legacy

Though I’ve been a United Methodist for many years, I went to a Presbyterian seminary.  A good third of the student body there was United Methodist as well.  We had no seminary near us, so many of us gravitated to PTS (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).

But we weren’t the only ones who did reformation-sunday-2012-boldly-smlthat.  There were smatterings of many different Christian denominations there…Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God, and Episcopalians to name a few.  Among that motley crew, there were some Lutherans.

I remember one young Lutheran in particular who had a shirt I loved.  It was simply a white T-shirt that had two words printed on the front.  In big, black, defiant letters it said, “SIN BOLDLY.”  If you ever see a shirt like that, buy it for me.

Luther must have been quite a guy! (In case you’re wondering, that little phrase is attributed to Martin Luther, the great Reformer). Of course, he didn’t mean that we should go and look to get into trouble with God. Maybe we should look to get into trouble FOR God, but that’s a whole different topic. In short, we shouldn’t be looking to sin as a general practice.

But Luther reformation-day-germany   wanted us to be sure and steadfast in one, solid truth. That truth is we have a Savior who can actually save us. He loves us, atones for our sins, and we can count on him.

That always leaves us in a somewhat precarious position, of course. It’s precarious only because we’re lousy sinners. If we would just quit sinning, we’d be okay. He’d forgive us and that would be that.

Because we can’t seem to do that, we’re always living in a tension between our lives as saints and as sinners. We’re saints because we’ve been set apart for God’s purposes. We’re sinners because…well, we just are.

October 25 was Reformation Sunday

This past week, we (at least we Protestants) celebrated Reformation Sunday. I’m sure the Lutherans do it up a tad better than the rest of us, yet it’s a pretty important day on the Christian calendar. In my opinion, we should always be reforming. So, this has to be a good day.

To be fair to Luther, there’s a second part to his quote. It didn’t make the T-shirt in question, but it’s equally important. He apparently said, “Sin boldly! But let your trust in Christ be bolder!” That second part, of course, balances it all out.

With our trust in Christ, we can be assured that our sin is forgiven. We can be bold in the assertion that he not only knows how to save us, but will save us indeed.lrose_stainedglass300

We’re sinners saved by the grace of God. Nothing, or no one else can pull this off for us. We can’t do it ourselves, and there’s no other human being around who has the where-with-all.

So my friends, sin (and trust in Jesus) boldly.

Pumpkin Spaghetti Sauce

It’s October, it’s autumn, it’s harvest season… You know what that means. It’s all pumpkin all the time. It used to mean lots of pumpkin pie. Then someone added pumpkin bread. Then there was an explosion.pumpkin-isolated

Coffee shops with pumpkin lattes, salons featuring pumpkin spiced hair, and stores with pumpkin scented lotion. I went grocery shopping and saw some pumpkin spaghetti sauce (no, I didn’t buy it). Is anyone a little pumpkin weary at this point?

There’s an old saying, “You can never get too much of a good thing.” There’s another old saying that goes, “You can get too much of a good thing.” Imagine that.

We can’t make up our minds. I’m in the boat with everyone else. I love pumpkin. I didn’t think I could get too much of it. I was wrong.

Pumpkin Spaghetti Sauce sounds intriguing.

I must admit. The Pumpkin Spaghetti Sauce intrigues me. I may even try it one day. I’ll have to be in the proper state of mind, however.

What is it about we humans? We love to jump on the bandwagon. If something works, we exploit it. If something tastes good, we have to overdo it. If something becomes stylish, we have to fill our closets with it. Is there no end?

I know by now, some of you are asking yourselves, “How is he going to relate this to the church?” Well, here goes.

We do the same thing in the church. If something works for the church down the street, we have to do it. I don’t know how many times over thirty-five years of pastoral ministry I’ve sat in meetings and heard this mantra.11999659_1063107853700084_1851421374755003260_o

“It worked for them, it will work for us.” “All the other churches are doing it, so should we?” “That looks like a cool ministry. Let’s try it!” It’s the pumpkin harvest all over again.

We are such followers. I guess that’s the nature of sheep. But how about we follow Jesus instead of the flock down the road? Do you think it might be a good thing to have an original thought? Might we take a slightly different path than “what worked for them?”

“A lot of church traditions began when we saw a need…”

A lot of church traditions began when we saw a need, worked to address it, and filled that need. It was such a success; we had to do it every year (whether the need still existed or not). Then the church down the street had to copy it because it looked like a successful program. Then the entire denomination adopted it as a mission program because…well, who knows why? But obviously, everyone should do it.12182763_1003345439685612_8139003419264814306_o

We’re the church. The Great Shepherd leads us. We’re wired to meet needs and serve others. Needs change and causes rise and fall. Yet, we often are plugged into the same program we’ve been doing for twenty-five years.

What say we all make some pumpkin spaghetti sauce and sell it to fund our building program? Who’s with me? (Sorry—got carried away…)

I Can’t Hear You!

There’s a recurring theme in the coverage of major sports that bothers me. If you watch these things, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The scene is the outside entrance to the players’ locker room or stadium. There is a traveling estate (bus) parked near the door. Players are disembarking and heading in. There are fans and reporters standing along the perimeter of the walkway.

martin-lutherAs the adored athletes stroll by, they act like there’s no one else around. They can do so quite easily because they are wearing state-of-the-art headphones.

I often wonder what they’re listening to: Mozart, rap, the latest Christian teaching on social justice? Then I think, “Are they listening to anything at all?” Maybe they just put them on so they don’t have to interact with anyone else.

When I was a kid, there was a TV series (a comedy) called Hogan’s Heroes. One of the main characters was a Nazi soldier named Sergeant Schultz. His famous line was, “I see nothing!” He used this every time he heard something he wasn’t supposed to hear.

There are loads of examples we could site of people refusing to hear for one reason or another. Sometimes we call that selective hearing.

“Selective hearing can be experienced everywhere.”

Selective hearing can be experienced everywhere. It’s probably most disturbing when it’s found in the church. At this point, I must admit I’m probably as guilty as anyone.

We end up in the church to begin with because we somehow heard the call of God upon our lives. Regardless of how we heard it, it drew us like a magnet. Then things got tough.

We began to realize that being a Christian is a whole lot different than saying we’re Christian. We began to experience a call to discipleship—a call to commitment—a call to DO rather than to simply SAY.

“Once we heard the call, it became hard to avoid.”

Once we heard the call, it became hard to avoid. Eventually it became a lot easier not to hear the call at all. We put on the state-of-the-art headphones, and we went our merry way.

Oh don’t get me wrong. We still do a lot of the right things. We still have a sense of what the call is all about. But we’ve gotten really good at hearing it when we want to hear it and blocking it out when it’s inconvenient.

Jesus Did His PartI’ve gotten really good over the years of wearing the headphones when the call draws me into areas where it’s going to cost me my pride. I want to be who I want to be, and I want everyone to know how good I am. Sometimes answering the call threatens to strip me of that pride. How dare the Lord put my status in danger.

I’ve spent thirty-five years in pastoral ministry. Much of that time, I’ve played it safe. I’ve placated those who could (or would) make it hard on me. I’m guessing it’s time to begin slipping off those headphones.

Go to Church (or Not)

Glen HandThere is an entire segment of the church that doesn’t “go to church.” Just to make sure you know what I’m talking about, please allow me to explain.

We all know that the church is not a building–it’s a people. It’s the gathering of believers. Literally, it’s the “called out ones” or “called together ones.”

There always seems to be a number of people who identify as Christian, but don’t seem to take part in the process. They don’t attend services. They don’t give of their time. And, apparently, they don’t give of their money either.

This, of course, is nothing new.

In many Christian denominations, pastors and other leaders are happy when a third of the members show up. It’s an age-old story. Sorry folks, but that’s just the way it is.

More recently, however, I’ve come face to face with a whole new population of dropouts. And when I say dropouts, I mean that in a very literal sense. These are people who have just gotten fed up and left—period.

The reasons for their leaving are myriad. I won’t even begin to list them here. Suffice it to say, a lot of those reasons are legitimate. They tried for a long time to “go to church.” They’ve even tried two or three or seven different congregations. They’ve done this over long periods of time. Now they’re just done.

These are not people who, as one might Smith Chapel 3suppose, were just hanging around the fringes of the church. This new segment (at least new to me) is comprised of leaders, standouts, elders, pastors, and diehard church folks. Now they’re gone.

When I say gone, I mean gone. I’ve listened to some of these people. I’ve heard their stories. I’ve spoken to some of them. Not only have they left, they have no intention of ever coming back.

If they’re gone for two months, you may as well cross them off the list.

When I was a young pastor, I remember attending a clergy meeting where absentees were discussed. The statement was put forth in that gathering that if someone was MIA for two weeks, you had better check up on him or her. The ensuing statistics indicated if they were gone for two months, you might as well cross them off your list.

That sounds a bit harsh. As a pastor, I can’t bring myself to cross people off the list (particularly after a mere two months). But alas, those are the statistics.

This is a dilemma for those of us left behind.

All this leaves a dilemma for those of us left behind. Do we spend our time trying to re-enlist the services of the dear departed, or do we move onto more fertile ground? Do we attempt to learn why such devoted people leave and then proceed Church IIIto plug the dike? Or do we go about business as usual and consider their absence an anomaly?

These are not questions we can take lightly, nor are they easy to answer. There’s only so much time. Where is it most appropriately spent?