Thursday, 28 January 2016
Community Church

I like to read. Almost everything I read is non-fiction related to my interests in the Church, theology, education, leadership, and culture. I know I'm weird, and for many people that kind of reading wouldn't be recreation, it would be torture.

That being said, I want to tell you a little bit about a book I just finished. It is The Abundant Community; Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight and Peter Block. It was published in 2012 by Barrett-Koehler. McKnight and Block approach the idea of community from a completely secular point of view, but I found many of their ideas directly apply to the unique community of a local Christian congregation.

McKnight and Block talk a lot about a distinction between citizens and consumers. This quote sums up their point:

"A citizen is one who is a participant in a democracy, regardless of their legal status. It is one who chooses to create the life, the neighborhood, the world from their own gifts and the gifts of others. … A consumer is one who has surrendered to others the power to provide what is essential for a full satisfied life. … Consumerism is not about shopping, but about the transformation of citizens into consumers." (p. 7)

The question this raised in my mind is this: Do we have consumers or citizens (members) in the church? I think much of what McKnight and Block say about citizens in a community applies to members of a local church. Citizens participate in the life of the community in a positive way. Church members participate in the life of the congregation to spiritually invigorate themselves and others.

Consumers make church into a commodity, and the nature of a consumer, whether in a community or a church, always makes for a buyer's market. Receiving good customer service, not spiritual growth or meaningful service to Christ, is the driving force that draws a consumer to a church.

The good news is that Jesus died for both citizens and consumers. The good news is that God loves both citizens and consumers with an everlasting love. The good news is that both citizens and consumers are sinners who find forgiveness in the mercy of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.

God calls us all to repentance for our consumer attitudes because we are all consumers at heart, and we equally require God's grace to turn our hearts from preoccupation with our needs (wants). A member/citizen of a Church not only believes, he or she belongs. A Church is a Christian community and her member/citizens belong not merely to the organization, but to Christ and, through Christ, to each other.

I can hardly do McKnight and Block's book justice in these few words. I have not attempted to review their book, but to transpose a couple of their points to the lives of Christians in community. I invite your comments and thoughts; I also suggest you consider reading Abundant Community from your own perspective.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

Posted on 01/28/2016 7:59 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
Monday, 11 January 2016
Church Arithmetic

When I was in grade school, I had a subject called "Arithmetic." I found spelling the word, "Arithmetic," harder than working the problems. I learned to spell "Arithmetic" after someone taught me a silly sentence: "A rat in the house may eat the ice cream." To this day, I can only spell "arithmetic" correctly by saying that sentence to myself and using the first letter of each word as my guide.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped having Arithmetic as a school subject. It all became Math. Math is more complex than Arithmetic and takes more critical thinking skills. We still do Arithmetic in Math, but Math is a "bigger" subject.

I mention that NOT because I am advocating that we go "back to basics" in schools, but because I think Churches often do arithmetic when we should be doing something else. I don't think Math will provide the answers we need either.

We like to count things in Churches. We do a lot of Arithmetic in Churches. Numbers isn't just a book in the Bible, it's one of the forces that can drive our priorities. We count what counts and what we count will start to count.

We should be counting the offering every week and how many people are in a worship service. But those two metrics won't answer some of our most important questions.

Is attendance up or down? How is the giving? How do this week's (month's, year's) numbers compare to last week, month, or year? Those things matter, but how much?

Let me offer a little disclaimer. The Church where I serve saw worship attendance go up 11% from 2013 to 2014 and 10% from 2014 to 2015. That is good news for our congregation and I feel much better about those increases than I would if the trend had been reversed. I'm also convinced that we need to look at more than how many seats are filled in our sanctuary on Sunday morning.

I wouldn't propose a sophisticated new formula for Churches to use to assess their health. I think the real key is people telling their stories to someone who is listening.

Telling our stories (the real ones!) is much more difficult than counting and listening (really listening) is hard work. I think it's worth it and will give us important information about what's really important.

What's really important can't be counted, averaged, or plotted on a graph. What's really important is God at work in the lives of people and His love in Jesus Christ working through people to touch the world.

So, how is God at work in and through you? Where do you see His grace in your life? How is Jesus connecting to people through and around you? Feel free to use the comment section below to tell your story. I really want to hear it.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

Posted on 01/11/2016 2:42 PM by Pastor Daniel P. Czaplewski
Tuesday, 5 January 2016
Behind the Scenes

If you have ever watched a play from back stage, you know that things look very different from a different perspective. A play, after all, is produced so that it will be viewed from the audience's point of view not from back stage.

Most of us recognize how important what happens behind the scenes of a play is to the entire production. Sets and props need to move on and off stage at the appropriate time; characters need to enter and exit on cue; and sound effects need to be produced at the right time.

I wouldn't want you to think that a worship service is a dramatic production, but every church service has a lot of people working behind the scenes to make it happen. In a small congregation, like the one where I am Pastor, the weekly worship service requires more volunteer and staff time than any other ministry we have.

A group that works diligently behind the scenes at our church is called the Altar Guild. In teams, they set up the communion ware and clean the chancel. I think they enjoy what they do, but they do take their work very seriously because they are precise and careful in performing their duties.

This past Sunday, one member of the Altar Guild took her last turn at preparing for the worship service. The limitations of age have made it too difficult for her to continue. What is interesting about her retirement is that the first Sunday she ever prepared the church for a service was January 3, 1966 fifty years to the day before her last Sunday on Altar Guild.

I am at a loss for how to best recognize Pat's fifty years of service to our congregation. It almost seems like a contradiction to be too noisy about such quiet acts of service. I know there are others: ushers, choir members, and communion assistants, who are serving and have long tenures of service. They also serve in similar fashion: quietly, conscientiously, and behind the scenes.

However we mark these years of service, what I know for certain is that God sees these efforts. More importantly, God sees our hearts. As much as it is mine to know, I believe that Pat and many others have served for decades in response to God's goodness shown to them in Jesus Christ. Their service is the product of God's grace at work in them.

For all the human work it takes to have a worship service, God is at work when His people are generous with our time and effort. And, when God is at work, we are all blessed.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

Posted on 01/05/2016 1:10 PM by Pastor Daniel P. Czaplewski
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