Thursday, October 26, 2006


Picking a church home...

I should have written this sooner, but have been to Portland and getting ready to be at Shiloh Road in Tyler, Texas this weekend. Besides that, I am still not sure how to speak to this issue. And I know that in many parts of the world it is not even an option. There are not multiple congregations to choose from. So at this point, let me offer a thought or two. The first is that most decisions about where to attend church are relational. People go where they can connect. If they don't form solid relationships, it is not long before they go somewhere else. Those relationships can be found in family, youth groups, Bible class, friends, work friends, or sometimes in other group structures (Shepherding groups, care groups, life groups, etc.).

I don't think most people select churches based on doctrine. Most of my sheep don't wander away because of doctrinal issues, but because they can't connect. In fact, we have people who stay at Southern Hills in spite of doctrinal issues. They stay because we are their family and because we do a good job of helping people understand the difference between important truth and first importance truth. I don't think people select chuches based on the preacher. He may help with the initial impression, but unless you just want superficial involvement, the preacher is not going to make enought difference.

So perhaps the key to growing churches is developing relationships. The way to keep people active and involved is to see them in healthy relationship to others in their church family. Isn't that what fellowship really is...healthy relationships. The issue in my mind is how do we connect people? Do we artificially assign them to a group? We have often tried that and it just doesn't work. Do we expect them to form their own relationships? What if they are shy, or not good at relationships, or don't know how to form them? Can you be so large that it becomes easier to get lost in the crowd than to connect to others on a real basis?

I cannot imagine not worshipping at Southern Hills. Our family is there, our best friends are there, we have lived thru good times and bad with so many people there. In many ways, Southern Hills has been home to us for over 35 years (even when we were going somewhere else).

So help me out here. How do we become a church where everyone is connected?

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Consumer church...

It seems as if two families recently visited Southern Hills and decided to place membership elsewhere. Abilene has lots of church choices and it is inevitable that not everyone will want to worship with us. However, it was interesting to see the reaction of some to these decisions. One family went elsewhere because their kids didn't "fit" in the youth group at SH. That's happened before and it will happen again. And we have families who worship with us because of our youth group. But some seem to think that we have to make changes in our youth program so we do not lose families like this one.

The other couple did not choose us because they could not find an adult class they really liked. Well, once again, it happens. But I was told that we have to make things "better" so we don't lose families like this. I don't think I agree. How do we please everyone? What if we lose families because we don't sing enough contemparary songs and/or because we sing too many? Maybe we should have a lecture/discussion/fellowship heavy/textual/need based class so everyone will like us and want to worship with us.

And our youth program needs to be more open/more fun/more serious/more evangelistic/more growth oriented/at the building/in homes....and so forth. After all, there is surely a magic bullet that makes everyone happy. We need to be sure and meet everyone's needs/hit their sweet spot/worship in ways that please them/have ministries that they like/and so on.

What if church is not about us? What if we construct our programs in ways that we feel God is leading us to do? Is it possible that we don't need to cater to what people want in a church? What if we do intentional ministry that reaches non-believers? I know everyone will not choose to worship with us, and some will even leave in search of "greener pastures". But just maybe that shouldn't be the driving force behind all our decisions.

So what do you think?

Friday, October 06, 2006


Elder Guilt...

I seem to spend a great deal of time in elder's meetings talking about members who have dropped out or who are not involved. As I talk to elders at other congregations they face the same struggles. And we all feel guilty about it. I want to be clear that I believe we should do all we can to keep the flock together and herd them all into heaven. But it just is not going to happen.

I have been reading the parable of the sower quite a bit lately. Jesus seems to be saying that some Christians will not last because they have shallow roots, some will not be productive, and then there will be others that will be productive. Maybe we should realize that there is nothing we can do to insure that everyone is faithful and productive. New organizational stucture for shepherding groups, new programs, new ministers, new shepherds, or new (fill in the blank here), are not going to be the magic bullet to keep all the flock faithful and productive.

So maybe we should not stress so much. I am resolving to be faithful to God, faithful to my family, and to be a good example to the flock. I want to be available to the sheep who need me and I will do the best I can to see that everyone at Southern Hills gets to heaven. But Jesus says that some will fall away and some will not be active.

So to my fellow shepherds around the world: live victoriously, enjoy the flock, help all you can, and let's not beat ourselves up over the ones that don't make it. Maybe we ought to rejoice over all the ones that do. None of us can do everything for everyone, and I don't think we have to.

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