Learning Together

dog_on_computerfeature“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is a saying that most of us have probably heard.  But, we are not dogs!  We are followers of Jesus.  We are people who continue to grow and learn until our lives are over.  The cartilage in our bodies continues to grow, including our noses and ears.  We also can continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge of God.

This spiritual discipline is an act of piety.  It allows us to reflect upon our lives and God.  These acts of reflection prepare us to receive God’s grace more fully.  Study allows our minds to grow.  When we study with a group of other people, we are able to grow even more because we have the benefit of their knowledge.  We can learn more when we study together.

We also have the chance to grow our relationships with others which is an added benefit growing-in-christ-300x200to becoming involved in a study or small group.  Church membership is not required to get involved.  Below are some of the types of classes and groups:

Bible Study:  God has given us the Bible so that we may learn about God.  There are many ways to study the Bible.  Some of these studies occur during a morning class such as Sunday school.  Some of these are long term studies.  Others focus on a specific biblical theme.

Virtual Classes: These on-line classes offer a digital class experience.  Some of the course are at a specific time and offer interaction with the group while others are done at your own pace and in your own time.  Many of these are offered through the United Methodist Church.

Workshops: These are usually one or two days and focus on a specific topic.  We often have workshops with outside trainers and teachers to gain new knowledge.

Book Study: The number of times these groups gather can vary.  Some will meet once to discuss a specific book while other groups will meet over a course of weeks to glean insight from a book.  These are great opportunities for those who like to have time to process information before sharing thoughts about the information presented.

Thematic Study: Sometimes we want to delve into a topic or theme.  These studies can vary in length, but they are usually focused around a specific topic.  Our church is focusing on spiritual disciplines, so we will have a study on prayer as well as Sabbath.

There are many types of classes and ways to get involved.  The important thing is that we never stop growing.  In order to grow, we must find time for growth, study, and fellowship.

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Habit of Connecting

I recently read that a congregation should be following up with guest for six weeks.  That is a long time.  I have seen some churches that connect with guests for three weeks, but six weeks is the longest follow-up that I have seen.  It makes sense, though.

Imagine being a first-time guest at a church.  Perhaps you have been to church before, but maybe you have only gone to churches for weddings and funerals.  It could be that you have memories of being shushed by well meaning adults while wearing uncomfortable clothes.  Perhaps you remember the formality of weddings or the grief of death.  No matter what the memories, it takes courage to visit a church for the first time.
Before you even walk into the building, there are decisions to be made.  What will you wear?  You don’t want to be overdressed, but it would be worse to be under-dressed.  Maybe you are not someone who is comfortable in a suit or high heels.  Will it matter?  Finally you decide on the outfit.  You see that the service starts at a specific time.  You don’t want to walk in late, but you  have to decide what time to arrive.  Where should you park?
Finally, you make it into the building.  Hopefully someone welcomes you.  They have a program, so you can have a clue about what is going on in the service.  You find a seat.  Did you sit in someone else’s seat.  Maybe you have heard that some chuch folks always sit in the same seat, like in school.  You sit in an aisle seat because you want to be able to make a quick exit.  You never know if things are going to get weird.  (Maybe you have seen some documentaries on snake handling churches.  You don’t think this is like that, but you want to be able to leave if neccessary.)
The service starts.  There may be a pastor leading it.  There may be a worship leader.  There may be a kid who comes in to light candles.  There is music, and there is a good chance that you don’t know the music.  There is someone reading from the Bible.  It is starting to get interesting.  Hopefully the sermon or message from the pastor connects with your life, but there may be things you don’t understand.  Everyone else seems to know when to stand or sit.
Maybe the service is something that you enjoy, but you are not sure if it is for you.  You have plans the next week for brunch.  The church sends you a gift.  That is nice.  You decide to go the next week, but you over sleep.  The following weekend you go visit family for the weekend.  You  have to work the next weekend.  You wonder if they will notice how long you have been gone.  You don’t go because you cannot decide what to wear.
They are still inviting you.  They do care and want you there.  You make your second visit.
Six weeks is not that long when you are following up with guests, especially if their decision has eternal effects.

Show UP

Churches are concerned about attendance, especially the mainline Protestant denominations.  We know that attendance is less than it used to be.

One of the reasons, maybe even a large reason, is that members of a church do not attend church as regularly as they used to attend.  The members are simply not showing up as often as they used to show up.

There are lots of reasons that people attend less.  There are many competing events for our time during traditional worship times.  There are many leisure activities that pull at us during the weekends.  We have things we want to get done, and church cuts into our time.

If our faith is important to us, the most important thing to us, then why would we not make our worship attendance a priority?  Maybe it is because we don’t think about our priorities as much as we think about the noisy gongs and clanging symbols that clamor for our attention and our time.  We don’t stop to consider what matters.  Maybe we should.

It matters if we show up for church.  It matters if we gather with the body of believers to praise God and hear God’s voice.  Showing up matters.

Showing up matters for church and other things as well.  It matters if we show up and spend time with the people who matter to us.  Telling someone they are important is not nearly as significant as giving time to that person.  Showing up at work matters, because we know that in-person meetings are often much more productive than phone-in meetings.  It matters if we show up at the wedding of a friend, the funeral of a family member, a meeting with our boss, and all sorts of other things.

Show up for church.

Bouncing Ideas

Len Wilson writes about a lot of things, including creativity.
Recently he posted an article about giving structure to our creativity. (http://lenwilson.us/find-structure/).  Some of us have lots of  wonderful creative ideas that are bouncing around in our minds.  The ideas are everywhere, but we struggle to capture these ideas into a practical thing such as an idea, a plan, or an event. Len suggests that we need a structure to channel these ideas from the room of bouncing balls to executable designs.

This is one reason churches have committees and teams.  These groups come together to sort through and think through all of the ideas.  The group then decides how to channel ideas to a plan and action.  For example, the finance committee has a meeting.  They determine that they need to increase cash flow.  They have identified an issue.  The next step is to enter the bouncing ball phase.  How can this church increase cash flow?  Monthly flea market?  Spaghetti Dinner?  Fundraising night at a local resturant?  Charge a fee for Vacation Bible School?  Host a bull riding competition? Have a lemonade stand?
Sometimes churches skip the idea phase.  They don’t let the ideas flow.  Instead they keep a tight hold on what is possible.  They limit theselves to the things they have already tried.  They look only to conventional activities.  Afterall, who has ever heard of a church hosting a bull riding event?  The put a ceiling on the bouncing ball room.  They make the room more of a box.  If an idea is to “out there” then it is discarded.  If the idea is too new, too untried, too unconventional, then it does not fit in our box.
We need to give those bouncing balls as much room as possible so that we can have an incredible amount of possibilities.  There will be time as a committee to decide how to funnel some ideas into possibilities, but let’s give the ideas a chance to bounce around.  At your next committee meeting, why don’t you spend time on brainstorming rather than just lamenting the current situation?  You may discover that God has some new ideas for you.
Once you have let the ideas bounce for a while, then start looking at a structure for the ideas.  Consider what ideas are good for now as well as ideas that need more time.  Consider what ideas are worth investigating.  The process for getting the ideas to reality comes after the ideas have been expressed.
Be brave – let the ideas bounce.  Be brave – give the ideas a structure to become reality.  Be brave!

For Sale

Image-1FBFC196CB7111DA

Image-1FBFC196CB7111DA (Photo credit: c8132)

 

There is an 8,000 square foot former Church/Synagogue building for sale.  According the realtor’s postcard, it is an ideal location for school, day care, or special events.  The congregation has apparently left, and there is room for something else.  It seems that there is always something to replace our spiritual life.  There are things to take up our time and attention so that we do not have to think about faith at all.  In fact, we can get so good at filling up our lives that we don’t even miss our spiritual life.  We become convinced that we don’t need it in our lives.  We can ignore it.  God can be put on the shelf and never considered again.  Sell that space to something else in our lives.  Sell the space to learning, whether it is a new language or the latest celebrity gossip.  Fill that time spent in prayer with other important life events.  There is more time for shoe shopping, television viewing, and video games! So, we fill our lives up with things that entertain, educate, and amuse.  We do what we can to feel good.  We seek our own pleasure.  Then, when we find ourselves at a significant life event, we realize it is not enough.  The pleasure, the education, the entertainment, is not an anchor to hold onto.  When we have a significant life event, such as a birth , death, marriage, divorce, job loss, terrorist attack, or major health issue, we find ourselves adrift.  We find that there is nothing to hold onto in our distress. We want for something to cling to in the midst of our distress.  That is when it becomes abundantly clear, we have neglected our spiritual life.  The things with which we filled our life are not enough.  We feel lost and alone, and we have offered up our spiritual life for sale. Before a major life event, examine what claims your time and attention.  Have you ignored your spirit for too long?  Is it time to re-prioritize and evaluate?  What do you have to hold on to when things start to crumble?  Have you sold your faith?

 

 

 

Connections

West Virginia Annual Conference of the United ...

West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Photo credit: WVUMC)

This past week, I was at an annual event that I have been attending for fifteen years.  For many of us, it is a homecoming experience.  It is a large event, so it is impossible to know everyone.  There are many I do not recognize, but they may know someone that I know.  We feel a sense of belonging and connection.  We are together, united by a common denominator.  True, the connection with some of the folks is indirect, but it is a connection none the less.

 

We all want to feel a sense of belonging.  We want to be a part of the group.  Even if we are only indirectly connected to the group, we still want to belong. we want to feel a part of our town, our community, or something. Our modern lives often make these connections more difficult.  We live in large cities and shop at large regional centers, so there are a lot more people.  Having more people means that it is less likely we will have a direct connection.  Many of us commute to work, so we may work with people who live in other communities.  Our working life takes up a lot of our time, so we end up having very little personal time.  We often use that personal time to handle the care and keeping of ourselves and our families.  Our health care providers maybe in a regional health care center, which means that they are not a part of our community.  We get our hair care and other things done in the regional center.  All of this leaves us feeling very disconnected to our neighbors.  We don’t know them.  We rarely see each other.  Only a handful know what is going on with the local government.  We are disconnected. We are isolated.  We are lonely.

 

One of the things that church does is provide a community.  Churches are regular gatherings of people.  These regular gatherings are ere we can experience community.  These gatherings are where we can feel sense of belonging and connection.  This sense of belonging is a part of the experience of being church.  Those of us who are a part of a church, our job is to make sure that those who are with us feel connected.  We are to help everyone, those we know and those who are strangers, know that this is a place we want them to belong.  This is more than welcome, this is accepting and sharing.  This is connection.  I was re-connected at an annual conference, I hope you find ways to connect in a more local way.

People Notice

My mother is a regular Facebook lurker.  I have never actually seen her post anything, but she does keep me up-to-date on a lot of people that we know.  Given these updates, it is no surprise that she looks at my Facebook.  In a recent phone call she mentioned that I had not posted about worship at my church.  Apparently, I always put something on Facebook inviting people to worship at my church.

 

This motherly observation got me to thinking.  People notice what we do and say.  They may not always voice their observations, like my mother, but they do notice.  They notice if we are not inviting them to worship.  They notice even if they do not plan to join us for worship.  They notice Facebook status updates, but they also notice our lives.  They notice if  our lives are a testimony to the faith we profess.  They notice if our lives are lived in praise of God.  They notice if we live our faith.

 

Next time you are tempted to skip doing something, remember that people notice.  People notice if you do not invite them to church.  People notice if you profess faith, but then you constantly worry.  People notice if you put more value in things than relationships.  People notice.  What are they noticing about you?

these updates, it is no surprise that she looks at my Facebook.  In a recent phone call she mentioned that I had not posted about worship at my church.  Apparently, I always put something on Facebook inviting people to worship at my church.

 

This motherly observation got me to thinking.  People notice what we do and say.  They may not always voice their observations, like my mother, but they do notice.  They notice if we are not inviting them to worship.  They notice even if they do not plan to join us for worship.  They notice Facebook status updates, but they also notice our lives.  They notice if  our lives are a testimony to the faith we profess.  They notice if our lives are lived in praise of God.  They notice if we live our faith.

 

Next time you are tempted to skip doing something, remember that people notice.  People notice if you do not invite them to church.  People notice if you profess faith, but then you constantly worry.  People notice if you put more value in things than relationships.  People notice.  What are they noticing about you?