Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why Church Membership?

Perhaps this blog is a piggy back off my blog “Voting....Politics.....BOREDOM!” However, I want to clarify why (at least Radiant Fellowship) has partnership. Again...as I described in my last blog 
I remember when, Tracy and I first got Radiant Fellowship...re-launched after only a year and a half of it’s first launch (don’t ask). With a new leadership team, we wrestled with the term “membership.” I had people on the leadership team (long time church goers) in their 50’s down to their 20’s. All of us agreed we would rather chew on glass than become a “member” of a church ever again. This is when we decided to adopt the wording “partner.” This was an idea borrowed from Mars Hill church (the biblical one in Grand Rapids, MI.). It really takes away the elitist mentality that the word “member” implies..”
Let’s explore the question a little more from a practical standpoint. Let’s be honest...there is no biblical leg to stand on regarding the term “church membership.” We are all part of the church. Now...with that said...let me be a voice of reason because many just poo-poo the church for having this and don’t understand the business side of it. I must say I get it why people hate the very idea. It has been severely abused within the church.
We live in a sick world where people try and sue churches. We also live in a world where people come and go bouncing from church to church if they don’t care for one or many things. It is the culture we live in...I get that. The reason (at least Radiant Fellowship) has partnership is simply to get a commitment out of a person that that they will stick around...perhaps even help. If you have ever trained someone at work only for them to quit weeks after they got there...it can be discouraging. Secondly...if you are going to head up a ministry (or assist with), ESPECIALLY A CHILDREN’S MINISTRY we want to know that you are legitimate. We need to know who you are, and if you work with the kids...you need to have a background check done. Some may still think it is a horrible idea....I would simply respond with a question. Have you been on the staff side of a church and seen some that come and go? You would be utterly amazed at some people who will come into a church to “start a ministry” only to have ulterior motives. From registered offenders wanting to work with kids to people simply joining to spread rumors and tear the church apart from within the inside, I have seen it all. This is why we run people through this filter. That is the only reason. 
Some of the negatives we have seen could range from the church ONLY wanting your money. That is an abuse. ONLY wanting you to jump in and serve...A LOT! That is an abuse. The list goes on and on. It seemed the first church I served at only sent letters to the members when someone wasn’t giving as the pastor saw fit, therefore the member got a letter stating their membership is in question. THAT IS AN ABUSE! I personally like to send out letters/emails to the partnership simply to tell them how awesome they are and how much I appreciate them.
I believe “partnership” should be a positive and enjoyable experience. Sadly....it is not for many. I apologize...it shouldn’t be this way. I can only hope that you would consider letting your guard down and seeing it from a different perspective. At the end of the day...if you are a parent...you will thank your church for having “partnership/membership” when it comes to volunteers working with your children.


Btw...what's up with the picture? Sometimes we can assume once we become a "partner/member" of a church we must look, act or dress a certain way. Not so where I pastor...welcome to Radiant Fellowship.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Have a Credential!


Have you ever noticed at work when someone that was at one time "normal" suddenly turned weird? It happens all the time. Whether a burger flipper is being promoted to shift manager or a factory grunt being promoted to an office position. Now let me clarify that this does not happen all the time. There are many of those who humbly take a higher position and still humbly work at their new position of employment. 
Being a pastor, I can tell you this happens in ministry as well. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of people that get their credential to be a pastor (true...you won't find that in scripture anywhere) and end up turning a little weird. I had a relative that was a pastor and it was the oddest thing. I recall plenty of times when we would go out to eat and he would simply flex his "i am a minister of the gospel" card in order to get preferential treatment or a discount (because that is what Jesus would do). 
A credential to become a pastor is not a credential to become weird. This has been seen in conversations online and in person. It does not mean you have to become even more fluent in Christianese. A piece of paper that gives you a title does not mean you can stay behind your desk and HOPE the church will grow. In fact...if you are reading this and need a little persepective on the "pastor", let me point you to chapter 5 in "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna. The role of the pastor as we know it is not necessarily a bad thing. However...power tripping pastors can really destroy a church body.
I will say this...if anything, what a credential should cause a person to do is to serve all the more. It should cause a person to be approachable and less judgemental. I was fortunate enough to get credentialed around the time the "ragamuffin" idea/movement came out and quite honestly between that and seeing poor examples really kept me in check. I will often times joke around stating that the best thing about being "clergy" is that you get killer parking spots at the hospital. 
A credential to be a pastor should humble a person. Back while I was a youth pastor I remember the kids always referring to me as just Bob. The adults would constantly point out to them that it is PASTOR Bob (thus the title PB). This never bothered me but it must have been an issue for the senior pastor at the time. To have that title must have done something for people...I simply remember that just a year before I was "PASTOR" I was a factory grunt and as blue collar as they come. To be honest with you...I prefer to be viewed as that. A blue collar kind of guy who happens to be a pastor rather than, a pastor who is trying to be normal. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

They Say I am Crazy

I have been seeing a trend the last few weeks that surprises me a bit. Well, okay, actually it doesn’t surprise me. Just the other day I received a private message on Facebook that simply asked “have you gone crazy?” I thought they were referring to parenting because, I think all parents tend to go crazy at one point or another...well, that simply wasn’ t the case lol. This person read my first book “My Life in a Blog: Real Thoughts From a Real Pastor in the Real World.” According to this person, I have become so “watered down that I am not the same person I was back in Milwaukee.” I would like to explain that they are correct. It is quite possible from an uber fundie standpoint...yes...yes I have gone crazy. 
One of the hardest and yet most liberating things I have ever experienced in my life was leaving an institution where a hard line, legalistic message was being preached. I was on staff for eight years at a place that had many ups and many downs. There were many good times and many not so good times. Why is it the negative times always seem to outweigh the good times?
I was part of a church that has since done a complete 180 and really I am happy for it. However, back when I was on staff it was a church where the dress attire for Sunday mornings were a suit. There were many rules that were in place that “joe churchgoer” would not have seen. There was a time when, I was thinking about doing a wedding for a young couple that came to me. They asked if I could perform their marriage after hearing me speak at the, Milwaukee Center for the Performing Arts at their college commencement ceremony. This couple was living together and quite possibly had a kid on the way. I asked the pastor I “worked under” what should I do? He simply responded “tell them that if you do the wedding that you will be looking for a different job.” Can you just feel the love and grace in that response? 
I was part of a church where the pastor publicly (from the pulpit) chastised a teen in the church for getting pregnant saying “We will not celebrate this. This young lady does not represent our church!” Again...love and mercy is just oozing from this statement.  Could you imagine, Jesus telling the prostitute "You filthy whore! You deserve everything you have coming to you." There were so many things wrong with this institution that I was on staff at. I basically became blind to it and stuck to the youth/college ministry which was growing rapidly. I was surprised to notice, I grew in this ungodly way of doing church only to find myself being liberated towards the end. This growth in the youth group ended after being asked to attend a board meeting where I was basically torn to pieces. You have to be very careful of people who show such little grace and mercy to others. Little did I know this person was dealing with their own “personal demons” and admitted to an affair. Ironic isn't it? The phrase always holds true that hurt people, hurt people. Sometimes you simply cannot understand the psyche of a person who will rip one person apart for their mistakes...meanwhile they are hiding a ton of garbage. 
So where did I go crazy? It was when I left that church and experienced something very similar only a year later working under another person. After that, I took a personal stance that I am going to try my best and live out my life like the red letter Jesus of the Bible. To truly believe, I don’t care where people have come from. I don’t care what a person might be dealing with. I don’t care what lifestyle a person may be living. Jesus loves them and so should I. I don’t get hung up on issues that some churches may come out hard against. It is my job to be a pastor and love people. It is my job as a pastor to give thought provoking messages each Sunday. A message where I hope it will prompt a person to begin thinking about a possible change IF needed. It is NEVER my job to judge a person...only to love them. It is NEVER my job to try and convert someone through a message...that is the Holy Spirit’s job...IF change even needs to take place. I do not write off groups of people as “not being a Christian” simply because I do not understand their life. I have come to grips that “being a Christian” looks very differently than the cookie cutter mold I was a part of and believing. 
I have discovered that some people really become uncomfortable with people living out true love and grace. Why is it that when we talk about love and grace some become very irritated? A great example of this, is when, Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” hit the bookshelves. It really really stirred up a lot of hatred. It is as if some clones...I mean people, are so used to hard-lined dogmatic messages, the minute a little love or grace is shown...we feel guilty. Case in point...I had to attend many services where if you were yelled at by the pastor...made you feel like worm that somehow God’s presence was really there. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sadly, we mistake oppression through a fairly unbiblical message that manipulates our emotions as a soverign move from the Holy Spirit. 
So am I crazy? I guess by definition of these folks....YES! Yes I am crazy. I actually believe a message doesn’t have to be resolved at an altar necessarily, but rather in their and His timing. I actually believe secular music can be just as Christian as some of the Christian songs out there. I literally believe some Christian music is more ungodly than music that does’nt claim to be Christian. Am I crazy? Yes. Join me won’t you? This will require you to follow your heart...but that's for another blog. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Voting...Politics...BOREDOM!

It’s that time again isn’t it? Do you sense something in the air? Do you feel the anticipation as people are beginning to process who they will vote for? Have you begun to notice certain individuals brown nosing with the powers that be so that perhaps they may get elected or appointed? Yes...it is that time of year once again when some people begin taking interest in issues they could really care less about the rest of the year. But, because it might give them a voice or a place of “power”...they will make something out of nothing. Well...if you said yes to any of these things then you must know that I am talking about how it is time once again for annual church and denominational business meetings to begin. What did you think I was talking about? 
That’s right...those of you that have been in church life for any amount of time know what this time of the year brings. I remember when, Tracy and I first got Radiant Fellowship...re-launched after only a year and a half of it’s first launch (don’t ask). With a new leadership team, we wrestled with the term “membership.” I had people on the leadership team (long time church goers) in their 50’s down to their 20’s. All of us agreed we would rather chew on glass than become a “member” of a church ever again. This is when we decided to adopt the wording “partner.” This was an idea borrowed from Mars Hill church (the biblical one in Grand Rapids, MI.). It really takes away the elitist mentality that the word “member” implies. 
Politics are alive and well in churches today...I could write a book about my first youth pastorate position...oh wait....I am! Politics are alive and well throughout many denominations as well. I have had people politic to me about being a part of “the board” at Radiant Fellowship. Sadly they don’t see that this is not impressive to me. In fact, to me, it reeks of a person wanting to be a controller. These are the ones that usually end up leaving to pull a power play somewhere else. Again...the very thought of a normal church board makes me throw up in my mouth a bit each time I talk about it. Typically, what a person equates a church board to, is a group of stodgy men NOT doing ministry while making decisions that effect ministries within the church. Think about that for a minute. EPIC FAIL! What inevitably happens when it’s annual church business meeting time? People begin to nominate others they would like to see on the church board. After a few weeks of “prayer” the church votes which really turns into a popularity contest. Someone is going to win and guess what...someone is going to lose. This is not healthy for a church. In other words...someone is going to be encouraged and likewise someone is going to be let down. 

I am happy to say that at Radiant Fellowship we do not nominate and vote. Last year at our church business meeting it was unanimously voted that I appoint our team. We changed our bylaws to reflect this change. If you think we are a bunch of yes people...you obviously have never been to one of our staff meetings. Creative differences are what makes ministry flourish if “the chair...usually the pastor” is willing to back down once in awhile. The same implies for others on the team. You know what came of that decision to appoint? Those DOING ministry (pd. staff and spouses) are now the board. We have another person who is not on staff as an acting board member to bring insight from outside of the bubble. I am pretty loose on a lot of things but am a raging stickler that if you are going to be on the board than your life and family life must be exemplary before God. I am so happy to say that these families/individuals are living that. Each one unique and yet honoring God in a way that works for them. Remind me to someday talk about how I view the word “exemplary”. 
Annual church business meetings can be one of the greatest meetings held within a church. They can also be, for some, the most ungodly, non-scriptural, power-hungry meetings someone will ever attend. I literally have prayed with other pastors that go into these meetings because they are living on Malox due to the stress. This is not of God. 
I am so thankful for a church that gets it. We have a great time and love God. We keep the main thing the main thing which is serving and reaching out. This makes this pastor VERY happy to serve and quite honestly I do not and cannot see myself being anywhere else.