Friday, December 3, 2010

Eavesdropping at the Church Building

Allow me to set this fictitious scene for you. This scene could happen in any church where the elders are trying to lead a congregation to being more productive. 

The elders, Kirk and Phil, have noticed that the attendance has been falling off for the past several years. They are deeply concerned because each number represents a soul that should be growing and making new Christians. These men know they are responsible for those souls. They have a good tool with Preacher Vick, who feeds the congregation well. 

This night they met with Preacher Vick to discuss the situation and how they, as a three-some, could change the course of the congregation. As we approach the preacher's study, we stop and begin eavesdropping in on a conversation already in progress.

Kirk: "Well Suzie is a good example of several others. She works swing shift and often pulls doubles."

Phil: "She is a good example. I don't know why she thinks she needs to work so much. As an RN she makes good money, and Sam (you know he is Suzie's husband) is an auditor at the steel mill and makes more than $70,000 a year.

Kirk: She thinks she has to drive that black Lexus, and he loves traveling in that motor coach every holiday. I think if he could get the time off from work, he might just travel all the time.

Vick: What about Troy?

Phil: He is so worried about the Taliban, Afghanistan, military actions and all the politics involved. You do know he is an OIF vet? When he is not working, he is watching CNN, Fox News, BBC America news, or reading the papers. He is a 'local authority' on America's middle east policies. He is expecting another 9-11.

Kirk: Don't our members remember what happened to Rusty and his family?

(You remember how hard they worked, scrimped like Scrooge, and invested everything looking toward retirement. Everyone in town knew they were rich. Then 9-11 happened, stocks went south, Rusty was divorced, then went broke, and someone in town said he was homeless and staying at the Union Street mission at night.)

Phil: And don't they remember what happened to Ed and Charlotte? They were rich, but they were killed in that terrible accident. Don't our members remember all the kids fighting over the money, the court battles over property, the hatred the split up the kids. All because Ed and Charlotte thought wealth could fix anything.

(The silence between them is long. Then you hear Phil again, his voice sounding like it has a large lump in it.)

Phil: Vick. Kirk. I just don't want my brothers to struggle like I have. Kirk, you are the best brother I could ever have. I remember the night you came over and talked with me about how much time I was spending on motorcycles. You knew how much I enjoyed them. The ride, travel, talking about cycles, making long-weekend trips, going to bike shows, and so on.

Kirk: I remember how hard it was to talk to you.

Phil: It was you that showed me how much time and effort I put into this 'hobby' and how little time I gave to God. Even with your constant help, it was so hard to re-adjust my life. I was losing my soul and not being a productive Christian by making other Christians. What is accomplished if my brothers are doing what I did. It was so hard to change.

(You note the long pause, and feel a lump in your own throat as you remember Phil's changes. You know you are doing the very same thing. You think about how much time you spend going to yard sales, then selling your 'treasures' on Ebay and Craigslist.)

Phil: Where can I find the warnings or teachings in the New Testament about riches and stuff? Kirk, do you remember the passages you showed me?

Kirk: Phil, I'd have to look them up again. But, I can find them. Vick, hand me that Cruden's Concordance in the shelf.

Vick: (Getting up to get the concordance) One set of scriptures is in 1 Tim. 6. It talks about how rich people should work on being rich in good works.

Phil: Isn't there one over there close to it that tells rich people not to trust in their riches?
Vick: Here you go Kirk. Yeah, Phil there is. It is 1 Tim 6:17. I was talking about verse 18.

Kirk: Ah-ha! Here is a good one. 1 Tim 6:8 then 9, and 10, too. They are about being content with basics because the rich face traps that kill their souls. Remember the 'love of money' passage'? It's here too.

Phil: I remember a story of the rich young ruler. He walked away sad.

Vick: I read a blog the other day...

Kirk: (interrupting with a joking tone) YOU read blogs??

Vick: Well, not just any blog. It is by this brother of ours over in Arkansas. I believe it is called TheStruggle. He had one a few days back on the soils of Mark 4. It was on the thorny ground.

Kirk: Yeah, that it a good reference. Here it is. Mark 4:18 and 19.

Vick: That blog writer reminded me of three ideas. Let's see. First, there was the anxiety over the times or ages people live in. Second was how riches trick people into a false sense of security. Now, what was that third one?

Phil: (with a little chuckle in his voice) Kirk, did you hear that? He forgot something he read.

Vick: Oh! Now I remember! He said the Greek words indicate how one can crave the things they do not have. It is like the desire for what has been forbidden. He said we spend our time and effort chasing what we are not supposed to have.

(Knowing these there men, you can just see them stop talking and begin looking at each other for a long time. They don't speak. You know the wheels in their heads are turning.)

Kirk: Vick, we invited you to meet with us tonight because Phil and I have been noticing our attendance has been falling off. And we have seen how only a few members are evangelistic.

Phil: Kirk, I think the Holy Spirit has just given us an answer.

(Another short period of silence)

Kirk: You may be right. The very people we were talking about have experienced the three ideas.

Vick: So an answer to our attendance AND church growth is found in the thorny-soil part of the parable?

Kirk: I thinks so.

Phil: I do too.

Vick: Ok. So how do we get this 'new' discovery into the minds and hearts of the congregation? You want me to do a sermon on the subject?

Kirk: I don 't think it will be fixed that easy, do you Phil? I mean, we are talking about several families making a major shift in their attitudes and actions.

Phil: Yep, you are right. Three big ideas and more than just my family, Kirk. So, how are we going to get this done?

(This silence is extended.)

Kirk: Phil, this may take a combination of several things, not just one separate action.
Phil: Yeah, and some longer-range planning.

Vick: Are you talking six months or a year?

Kirk: I think a year or so. (Brief pause). Phil, I have several things in mind. What do you think about a combination of two sermon series, a classroom curriculum focused on these three ideas, plus you and I doing selected home visits.

Phil: For a rough framework, this sounds good. We could start with these. What if we combined a few of these into a special event, say, a retreat for the men as heads of households?

Vick: A retreat? Has this congregation ever done that before?

Kirk: I don't think so.

Phil: I don't think so either. But I have heard of retreats being done by congregations before. And I know of seminars, like Marriage Enrichment, that does almost the same thing. But at a retreat we could have a set of guest speakers, and learning activities, small-group discussions, and meals together. It would be an intense effort to cause men, and their families, to change.

Vick: You realize that the people you were talking about earlier would be prime targets for such a retreat. And that will take at least six months of prep to get them ready and committed to attending this event. You certainly would need to visit with each of them very early in the effort.

Phil: (to Kirk) He's right. So who would do this with us?

Vick: I could visit with some teachers at the two Christian Universities to learn more. Then I could get back to you. Would that help?

Vick: That might work. Let's finish up tonight by jotting some notes and begin planning this.

(You realize how much these men care for the congregation. And you realize you need to stop eavesdropping, and go home where you can pray for these men and their plans for the future, whatever they decide to do.

Would you please rate this blog? Is it meaningful to you? What are some solutions to the problem of Christians focusing on the things of this world and not on Jesus and His ways?


  1. Perhaps the answer isn't in retreats and sermons in attempts to get people in the door.

    Perhaps it's about relevency. Perhaps the nurse doesn't value a sermon over the satisfaction she gets out of doing good for people at her job. Perhaps the veteran isn't engaged in Sunday service, but in the issues of his day, trapped in the high drama of his time in service.

    This generation, in my opinion, is more about relevency, experience, service, and context...and less about attendance, learning denominational concepts, legality, and bible classes. Your hypothetical post is true of today's churches, they're all top-down elder/preacher lead approaches. There's little or no bottom-up listening, reacting, or debating.

    Perhaps church services are dwindling because they're more talk and less walk. The good news is that this generation still believes in community. If this church were to do some community projects, have discussions on contraversial current events and topics, and/or invent something brand communal confession, or round-table or panel style debates instead of regular Sunday sermon, you may even see those rich folks attend once in a while to be a part of the community.


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