Monday, May 20, 2013

Keeping Your Church Growing

I read a blog post a couple of weeks ago. The post was titled something like, "We're Going to Stop Being a Welcoming Church." Sounds terrible, doesn't it? But as the post went on to explain, it was actually a good idea. His point was that his church was welcoming. They had coffee, they had greeters, they had people to help direct visitors to the right place. But in his view it wasn't enough. They needed to be an inviting church. That is, a church that the members invite people to. This pastor had stumbled on something that growing churches have been doing for a couple of millennia. People inviting their friends to church.

Now maybe you don't have any friends to invite to church. Maybe all your friends are  already in your church, or in some other church. Then you need to cultivate some new friends. Maybe they won't be friends that you can invite to church right away. But give it time. Pray for them. Be a real friend to them. Then one day, maybe you can invite them to church. Sounds simple. But many of us don't do it. And that's a shame, because there are plenty of people out there who need friends, and who need the church. They just don't know it yet. So get started.

While I'm on the subject, is your church a church that you'd want to invite people to? Is your church a welcoming church? I don't mean coffee and donuts. I mean a church where a new visitor feels accepted. Do people at your church interact with visitors? I don't mean a simple, "Hello" before moving on to someone else. I mean taking an active interest in the visitor. Not in an overwhelming, smothering fashion, but in a way that says to the visitor that you are interested in them as a person, not just a number that can be added to the "we had X number of visitors this month." Are the people in your church going to forego talking with their friends in order to converse with a stranger? If they're not, you don't have a welcoming church. Visitors won't come back. If they won't come back, there's less chance of them meeting Christ in your church.

Granted, some visitors don't want to be noticed. They'll come in late and leave early. They're probably not sure they really want to be there. Not much you can do about that. But that's not most visitors.They hope, even if they're not fully conscious of it, that someone will take notice of them. You be the one to do it.

This doesn't happen by accident. It happens by intent. If other people in your church are ignoring visitors, make sure you don't. Even if the visitor is someone you know will never join your church, such as a family visiting while on vacation, make sure you speak with them. Let them know that this is a church that welcomes visitors, that invites people, that wants strangers who will become friends.

If your church doesn't welcome visitors in this way, by drawing them in, letting them know they've been noticed, and that the church is interested in them, your church is already beginning to die. It may look good. It may have a lot of people. But it's already dying, because it's closing out those who need to be drawn in.

Think about it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The 17:18 Series: Acts

A few days ago, I read this story:, which I encourage you to read before continuing with this review. It was a perfect set-up for reviewing this book.

For those not familiar with this series, it is a series of essentially blank journals published by Reformation Heritage Books for the purpose of encouraging Christians to write out their own copy of the Scriptures. It is based on two considerations: first, that the king of Israel was required to write out for himself a copy of the book of the Law (Deut 17:18, hence the 17:18 in the series title); second, that those who write out notes learn better than those who merely listen or merely read.

The book gives the reader/writer a place to write out, book by book, a copy of the Scriptures for himself. There are some sixteen volumes of the series already in publication. As it says in the opening pages of the book itself, the Journible (I suppose this is a conflation of journal and Bible) “is a profoundly simple attempt to aid a person’s ability to engage the Word of God by slowing down the process of simply reading the text.” There are some helpful comments at the beginning of the volume to encourage and give direction to the writer. The journal is set up for the writer to write his copy on the right-hand page, leaving room for annotations on the left.

Granted, you don’t need a specially published journal to do this. You can buy your own journal, or a notebook, and do the same thing. But most good-quality journals cost more than this volume does, and most contain fewer pages. The aim is not to produce a work of art, as in the report I linked at the beginning of this review, but rather to own the text of Scripture in a way that the writer has not done before.

Now most people who use this will probably intend to copy out whatever translation of the Scriptures they currently use. However, I would suggest considering copying out the King James Bible, if for no other reason than to familiarize yourself with a translation that has gotten lost in the last forty years in most of evangelicalism. The modern translations have their place, and their us; even the “see Spot run” simple-language versions. But there is a beauty and rhythm to the language of the King James Bible that it would do many modern Christians good to rediscover. And it would give you reason to write explanatory notes on the left-hand page about archaic words and other such considerations.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory, Jeremiah Burroughs

Published in the Puritan Treasures for Today Series from Reformation Heritage Books.

This is a deceptively small book. But first, something about the author. Burroughs was a Puritan pastor (1599-1646). He is perhaps best known today for his treatise The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This present book began as an appendix to that work, originally titled Four Useful Discourses. The Jewel focused on learning to be content in impoverished circumstances. This work focuses on being content in enriched circumstances.

This book is a careful abridgment of the original treatise, which was delivered as a series of sermons to Burroughs’s congregation at Stepney. The abridgment is very well done. The language has been modernized, and difficult language has been smoothed out. It has been reduced significantly in size, from a 284-page seventeenth century printing, to 119 pages.

Burroughs begins by making the point that contentment is in many ways more difficult for the rich than it is for the poor. We trust in our riches, rather than trusting in God. Riches become idols for us, so that we are unwilling to let them go. We abuse our riches by using them to indulge our lusts rather than by using them for the service of God. The chapters lead the reader through these considerations, teaching carefully not only the dangers, but the glorious possibilities for the rich Christian, if he will only learn to be content in his fullness.

I began by saying that this is a deceptively small book. It can be read quickly, being only 119 pages in about a 4 x 6 page size. But the reader will be better served by reading it slowly, a couple of pages a day, savoring the richness, meditating on Burroughs’s applications. The set-up of the book aids in this “slow read” approach, as each of the ten chapters is divided into smaller sections of a page or two each. Thus, while it could be read in a couple of afternoons, or even a single evening for the faster reader, it will prove more profitable by being savored over the course of a month or so of daily meditation.

An illustration of the kinds of dangers of riches that Burroughs warns about: I read a story online a couple of months ago. A woman had won ten million dollars in the lottery several years ago. Where was she today? Broke, back in the job she left when she won the lottery. All the money was gone. She did not know how to be rich, or to be content in her riches.

Since most American Christians are rich, especially by Puritan standards, most would benefit from giving this book a careful read. And for those who are not rich, an understanding of the dangers of riches may help them to be more content in their poverty.