“Religion that is contained only within a church building is a weekend hobby, not a personal faith.”James Lankford
Thanks to the wonders of Disney+, I recently watched the three Marvel Thor movies: Thor, Thor – The Dark World, and Thor – Ragnarok. I’m not sure if it’s my Scandinavian heritage or simply my love for good story along with some action, but I really enjoyed watching these movies.
There is a scene towards the end of Thor – Ragnarok the really hit home. I’ll let you watch the scene here and then I’ll explain.
The church I attend has not met in the church building since March when the Pennsylvania governor began setting restrictions on meeting in large groups. Since then, my church (Christ’s Church of the Valley) has been “meeting” through live-streamed church services every Sunday morning. The production quality has been amazing, and it is nice to see familiar faces and to hear familiar voices through the preaching and the worship songs.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who would say I look forward to meeting together again in person.
Back the the Thor movie clip…
Thor’s father, Odin, provides a very good reminder. Just like Asgard, the church is not a place. (In the Thor movies, Asgard is Odin’s kingdom and Thor’s home.) The church is wherever it’s people stand or gather.
I have been blessed to gather virtually with a group of guys every Friday morning. This is the church.
I was blessed this week to share my story with a group of men from my church (G3 – Guys’ Growth Group) who have been meeting weekly for fellowship and Bible study. This is the church.
Almost every Saturday morning since the pandemic started, my wife and I have been meeting with a group of friends to go for a walk. This is the church.
In my talk this week to the G3 group, I shared a verse from Hebrews:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
The fourth discipline in the 7 Week Stretch Challenge is to engage in key relationships. This was a truth before the pandemic, and it is still true during the pandemic. We, the church, are called to meet together – to encourage one another, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
While I long for the day when our church can physically meet in the building many of us call church. I am reminded of the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility we have to find ways to meet as the church whether it’s in the building, virtually, or somewhere else.
I leave you with this passage from the book of Acts. This is a description of the early church. In the passage, it’s clear the “Fellowship of Believers” was not based on a building.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)
To get you up to speed without all the details, Bill Hybels, who started Willow Creek Community Church and led it to become one of the biggest mega-churches in the United States, retired “early” a few months ago following growing allegations of sexual misconduct, affairs, and mistreatment of women.
When reports initially surfaced several months ago, the leadership at Willow protected Hybels (and themselves) while discounting the accounts of several women who accused Hybels of inappropriate actions.
Over the past week in the wake of a tenth woman coming forward with specific details of Hybels’ misconduct the elders and lead pastors at Willow resigned finally apologizing to the women who had been hurt by Hybels (and the board’s previous discredit of their testimony) and to the congregation for poor leadership and even misleading. And they called on Hybels to apologize and state the truth about the accusations.
While we were on vacation, we ran into a couple who go to Willow Creek Community Church. When we spoke to them early in the week, the elder board resignation had not yet happened. It was interesting for me to listen to them as they blamed the women (Nancy Beach and Nancy Ortberg in particular) for the recent problems at Willow. They seemed to have the same mindset of the board prior to their resignation. (We did not see them again, so I don’t know if their perspective changed following Wednesday night’s resignations.)
On the way home from Arizona yesterday, we “ran” into famous baseball pitcher, Randy Johnson, at the Phoenix airport. (I actually spotted him from across the security check-in area. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me.) It’s easy to get excited when we run into someone we consider famous like Randy Johnson, Lynn Swan, and even Bill Hybels (these are some of the “famous” people with whom I’ve crossed paths).
I’ve had the opportunity to hear Bill Hybels preach and speak in person, and I’ve been to Willow Creek several times for small group leadership conferences. I’ve also read a couple of books by Bill Hybels. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church have had a profound impact on many, many people. Thousands of people have been introduced to Jesus as a result of Hybels and Willow. And Willow Creek as been a model for many, many churches across the country and around the world.
This is good on one hand, but it is also scary on the other hand.
I don’t write about these kinds of topics very often. I honestly am afraid to say something stupid (maybe I already have in this post). But I’m supposed to be stretching myself and others, so I think it’s important for me to explore my thoughts on topics like this from time to time.
Here are a few things that scare me and/or stretch me about the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek Community Church situation:
I’m not an expert by any “stretch”. I don’t know the intimate details surrounding the Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church situation. I’ve read some of the news articles and opinion pieces (New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Relevant Magazine). I’d encourage you to read for yourself and STRETCH yourself to think about how you can and should respond. I’d also encourage you to watch this video of Willow Creek Elder Missy Rasmussen: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/100031181-132.html.
Stretching is not just about growing our brains by filling them with more information. Stretching is about challenging our minds and hearts and about taking actions that take us out of our comfort zones. Stretching also happens when we pray. I’d encourage you to pray for Bill Hybels, Hybels’ family, Willow Creek Community Church, and the women and their families who have been impacted by this situation. I believe God works in the midst of our messiness, and I believe God will work in this situation.
If you are a pastor or are in church leadership, I’d encourage you to talk about this. Even if your church or ministry is in a healthy place right now, you can learn and grow.
I certainly don’t have all the answers related to this situation. I’d love to read your thoughts. I’d encourage you in your thoughts and comments to seek to be productive and healing. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Think about it. Who would be on your list of people who don’t deserve a second chance?
Jeffrey Dahmer? Dahmer, a serial killer and sex offender, raped and murdered 17 people in the Milwaukee area between 1978 and 1991.
Ted Bundy? Bundy, another serial killer and sex offender, murdered several people during the 1970s.
Richard Nixon? Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, who resigned in light of the Watergate scandal.
Bill Clinton? Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, who had sexual relations (despite lying about it) with a White House intern during his presidency.
Timothy McVeigh? Charles Manson? Adam Lanza? Lance Armstrong? Barry Bonds? Jose Canseco? Michael Vick? Jerry Sandusky?
Alex Rodriquez? Rodriquez, New York Yankees third basemen, suspended from baseball for a year for breaking rules regarding performance enhancing drugs.
Justin Beiber? Beiber, Canadian pop singer, recently arrested for drag racing and driving under the influence.
Lindsay Lohan? Lohan, actress, repeatedly arrested for drug and alcohol related offenses.
Pete Rose? Rose, all-time Major League Baseball hits leader, thrown out of baseball for betting on baseball.
We could go on and on with names of people in the limelight who have made critical errors. Do these people deserve a second chance? It’s a great question. Each of these people have committed crazy crimes or done something pretty stupid. Each of them is left with the consequences of their actions. Some face death. Most face public ridicule at a minimum. Others faced fines, jail time, or other punishment.
Here’s the deal. Just like this people above, we all make mistakes. We may not have killed anyone (at least I hope not). We may not have been caught for breaking the rules or doing something so stupid. But we all mess up. And we all have consequences to our actions. Do we deserve a second chance?
What yard stick are we measuring ourselves against?
Sure our “sins” make seem quite minor compared to the “sins” of those on the list above. But what happens when you compare our sins to God’s holiness? Suddenly, we begin to much worse.
The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It goes on to say that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) With this in mind, none of us deserve a second chance. We have all screwed up.
If this was the end of the story, it would be pretty depressing. Don’t you think?
But there is more to the story.
The Bible tells us in John 3:16 that God loves us so much, he sent His son for us. In Romans 10:13, we are promised that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This sounds like a second chance to me.
Our church is doing a series about second chances. On March 30th, Pete Rose will be on campus all three services to be interviewed. It’s hard to argue with his playing skill, but many could argue about his place in baseball and in life based on his past. I’m excited to hear what he has to say. If you live anywhere in the Philadelphia area, I’d encourage you to make your way over to Christ’s Church of the Valley in Royersford, PA to hear what Pete Rose has to say and to see how are pastor responds. I think you’ll be challenged and surprised. For more information, check out our church’s website at moviechurch.com. If you plan on coming, let me know. I’d love to say hello.
The local church is God’s designed instrument for impacting the local community and for living out the Great Commission. And I believe short-term missions is a key tool for pursuing this command. If you’ve been reading for very long, you know that short-term missions has had a huge impact on me – an individual. But I believe there is something greater to consider. Short Term Missions can also have an amazing impact on churches.
In today’s post, I’d like to share some thoughts on short-term missions and the local church. I’ll present five reasons the local church should engage in short-term missions. I’d love to get your thoughts and feedback. Do you agree with these reasons? What other reasons would you add to this list? And how have you seen short-term missions work (or not work) in your local church?
Do you agree with these reasons? What other reasons would you add to this list? And how have you seen short-term missions work (or not work) in your local church?
What is a small group?
To those outside the church world, a small group might be defined as a tiny grouping of something – a small group of rocks, a small group of kids, or a small group of something else in common.
Inside the church world, a small group is kind of like a mini-church. A small group is a way to make a church small and intimate.
I grew up surrounded by small groups. My parents were part of small groups for as long as I can remember. They hosted small group at our house sometimes, and I can remember sneaking out to the dining room to grab some of the delicious snacks set out for their friends. As I grew older, I started to understand the importance of small groups in my own journey. In college, I was part of a couple small groups that challenged my faith and pushed me to grow in different areas of my spiritual life. Since getting married, my wife and I have led and participated in all kinds of small groups. As a result of these groups, I have seen connection and life change.
This week, I’m excited to announce the launch of a new book by Ben Reed. In Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, Ben shares some practical advice for taking small group ministry at your church to the next level. Whether you are just starting a small group ministry at your church or trying to figure out a way to get new people plugged into small groups at your church, Starting Small will give you some ideas for moving forward.
Having been part of small group leadership at my church, I can vouch for the content of this book. It’s practical. It’s inspiring. And it’s helpful. Starting Small will get you thinking about what you can do next to build your small group ministry. It will refocus you on the purpose of small groups in your church. And it will inspire you to do something new today with your small group ministry.
I’m a big believer in the power of small groups to connect people to each other and to God, and I believe Starting Small can help you towards this goal. For this reason, I recommend Starting Small to small group champions, leaders, and pastors who are interested in taking their small group ministry to the next level.
Does your church have small groups? Are you in a small group? How have small groups impacted your life?
Please note: I received a copy of Starting Small for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to like or recommend this book. My recommendation is based on my belief in the power of small groups and in the ability of this book to help people find connection through small groups. Ben Reed speaks from an experience I can relate, and I find his book helpful in your own small group discovery and journey.
Also note: There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a copy of Starting Small as a result of clicking on one of these links, I receive a small “commission”. Any “commission” received will be used to support The Stretched Blog and to support continued ministry in Guatemala. Thank you!
Today, I’m thankful for my church.
Our family has been part of our church for over 12 years. I’ve been challenged by our church. I’ve grown as part of our church. I feel welcome by my church. It’s not just about a building or a get together on Sunday. Our church is a community and a difference maker in our area and around the world. It’s not perfect, but it’s doing its best to help people far from God to become fully devoted followers of Christ.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
Why are you thankful today?
We were gone for two Sundays while we were away on vacation which meant we missed church at our home church two weeks in a row. It would have been easy to skip church all together and simply enjoy the time to relax. But we didn’t exactly do this.
The first Sunday we were away, we visited my brother’s church, Milwaukee Mennonite Church, in Wisconsin. The church meets at 4 PM on Sunday afternoons in the building of a local Lutheran church. It’s a small family oriented congregation where we felt very welcome. It was definitely a different experience than we are used to at our church, but the change was okay. It was exciting to see how God was working in this community of believers. The singing part of worship included a couple of songs in a capella followed by a couple with piano accompaniment. They do not have a paid pastor, so the preaching duty is shared by the congregation. Following the sermon, there is a time of open reflection by those in a church. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but it was interesting especially once I understood what was going on. Leanne and I both commented that it felt like a small group.
The second weekend we were away, we actually went to church on Saturday night at Charter Oak Church (where we were married 17 years earlier). This is a growing United Methodist congregation which is clearly trying to find ways to reach the community. The singing part of worship featured several guitars, a drummer, a keyboard, and a few lead vocalists. It was so cool to witness a couple of baptisms while we were there. There was a watering trough on the stage filled with water on the stage or platform. The pastor knelt beside the trough while those being baptized took turns getting into the tank to be immersed by the pastor. I really enjoyed the sermon at this church which was themed based on the popular NBC TV show, The Voice. The sermon started with a Francis Chan video clip that I’ve included in past blog posts. I really appreciated the way the pastor used the YouVersion Live feature to go along with his sermon. I was able to take notes and look up Bible passages from my iPhone. We received a friendly reception at this church as well.
Visiting other churches can be a very healthy experience while you are on vacation. Here are five reasons for visiting churches while on vacation:
I don’t know what your vacation plans are this summer. Maybe your sticking at home or maybe you’re traveling to far away lands. I’d encourage you to take the opportunity to visit a different church this summer. When you do this, let me know how it went.
Do you visit other churches when you travel? Tell us about your last experience at a different church. Why do you think it is (or isn’t) a good idea to visit other churches from time to time?
I grew up in church. My dad has been a pastor for nearly as long as I can remember. My parents were both very involved in church. They encouraged me to be involved in church. I’ve been in church since I was in diapers. I greatly appreciate my church experience and the friends I’ve made through a life time of “church-centered” relationships. I don’t think I would change those experiences and relationships for the world. I love the church!
But I sometimes wonder….
Are we focused on the experience? Or are we focused on the mission?
We live in a day and a land of religious consumerism. So called Christ followers wander from church to church trying to find the “right fit” – the place that makes them feel good. People want to find a church where they fit in. They want the biggest, coolest church or they want the smallest, most intimate church. For so many, it’s all about the experience. “Is my church giving me everything I want?”
I think we so often get it wrong. As Francis Chan shares in the video clip below, we’re called to be on a mission to make disciples. We’re called to go out and find the lost and lonely – those far from Christ. And we’re called to help them become disciples – fully devoted followers of Christ.
Is that really what the church in America is trying to do? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are many churches who are actively trying to live out the Great Commission. But I have to wonder if we are more often doing more harm than good when we try to Christianize America by shoving our beliefs down others throats instead of showing them the love of Christ in a practical, approachable, and life changing way.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
I wonder what our country would look like if we really got it – if we really lived like we were on an urgent mission to introduce people to Christ and to help them grow in their faith. I wonder if Evangelical Christianity would stop getting such a bad reputation. And I wonder if we would begin to experience the kind of community that we were really intended be.
Just some thoughts. (This isn’t directed at my church or any church specifically. It’s just some thoughts that are running through my head – stretching me.)
For other great articles on the church in America, check out these links:
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Randy Frazee speak at a Willow Creek Grouplife Conference, and I was challenged and inspired by his teaching and his book, Making Room for Life: Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships, which challenges readers to restructure their days to make more room for relationships and for life in general.
In The Connecting Church 2.0: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community, Randy Frazee does it again!
Frazee challenges readers to rethink church, small groups, neighborhoods, and community in general. The Connecting Church 2.0 starts with the premise that we were created for community. In the book, Frazee starts with God as he shows that God models community through the trinity. He then shows how the early church provided a great example of community as God intended it.
Obviously, things have changed quite a bit since the early church. And over the past few decades, neighborhoods and community as they once were has deteriorated as people have moved out towards the suburbs with larger yards, longer commutes, and less time to hang out with others. We’ve become a society of individuals instead of community.
In The Connecting Church 2.0, Frazee challenges the recent trend with new thinking about an old model. He offers ideas for how the church can help restore authentic community in the busy, “me-first” society in which we all live.
I would definitely recommend The Connecting Church 2.0 as a place to start in challenging your thinking about church, community, and life in general. If you’d like a chance to win this book, click here. Or you can purchase the book, my clicking the link below.
How would you’re life be different if you decided to live your life within five miles of your home? What is one thing you can do TODAY to foster community in your life? What is your church doing to encourage authentic community?
[I received this book free of charge from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for a review. I was not required to provide a positive review.]
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
I keep coming back to these verses. I posted about these verses back on October 13, 2011 and August 15, 2010. I remain convinced that plugging into a small group of people is absolutely essential to our faith and to our spiritual health and growth. The Bible clearly presents this as a model for Christ followers. Yet, many Christians shy away from this type of relationship with other Christians. Are we afraid of intimacy and transparency? Are we afraid that others might learn that we’re not perfect? Are we so independent that we believe we can do it on our own? Are we just introverted and the thought of opening up to others is terrifying?
I’m not sure, but I know from my own experience that my involvement with a smaller group of Christians as brought me through some tough times. It has pushed me to grow and think. And it at times has made me uncomfortable as I ponder challenges and deal with the ups and downs of those in the group. This may not sound attractive to some, but I’m telling you – it’s worth it!
If you’re not in a small group of some type, why not? What’s stopping you from getting involved today? I would encourage you to take your own leap of faith by getting involved in a small group this week. Don’t let it wait until all the stars align with your schedule.
Today, at my church, we are rolling out the spring groups. If you go to CCV, this is a perfect opportunity to jump into the mix. There are groups for everyone at every stage of their walk. There are exercise groups. There are service groups. There are foundations classes and groups designed to go over the basics of what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Christ. And there are in-depth Bible studies. Check out the groups catalog on-line, and sign up today!
If you’re not from my church, seek this out at your own church. You’ve had enough time to sit on the side lines. If you’re church doesn’t have small groups or a small group ministry, start a group yourself. Grab a few other people and start one today. If you need help figuring this out, send me a comment. I’d love to help.
Okay, that’s enough spurring on for today. Have a great Sunday, and keep STRETCHING!
What’s your story? Are you in a group right now? If not, what’s stopping you?