KOH2RVA: Day 336

preacher-camp-012If this is Day 336, it means we’re less than one month away from the end of our year-long, every-member mission trip. In fact, today is August 11, and KOH2RVA is scheduled to end with a big celebration on One Sunday—September 8. So if you haven’t gotten off the bus yet, then for heaven’s sake, do it! And don’t wait until September 8 to celebrate:

Do it today.

I’ve had email from a group of people who live in Kilmarnock, way over on the Northern Neck, who are planning to drive to Richmond so they can be at church today. I got voicemail from a couple who said they plan to join the church at the 8:30 service and email from another couple who plan to join at 11:00. I know that Fred and Julie James are going to sing “How Firm a Foundation” at both services and the choir is going to sing “Keep Your Lamps [trimmed and burning]” accompanied by Clark Norton on djembe (an African drum). I’m going to preach a sermon called “Have No Fear, Little Flock!” which I hope will be just as encouraging as its title.  If you can’t join us in person, join us on the live webcast at 8:30 or 11:00.

At 3:00 this afternoon Rachel Cobb is being ordained, and ordination is always a special event. After working most of her life as a nurse, Rachel has found a calling as a hospital chaplain that she is excited about answering. I have a feeling that most of her friends from the Mustard Seed Sunday school class will be there to support her. I hope you can come as well.

And then, just as soon as Rachel’s service is over, I’m jumping in the car to drive to “Preacher Camp” in the mountains of North Carolina, where I will spend most of the week working with five other preachers to plan our preaching for the next calendar year. Have suggestions? You can comment below. I’ll take a look before I get to work tomorrow morning.

I won’t be blogging next week, but please stay tuned. I’ll be back before next Sunday, full of fresh ideas and filled with enough energy to push on through to the end of KOH2RVA. Just do what you always do when I’m away:

Make me proud.

KOH2RVA: Day 283

Al AstleAl Astle will be 97 on August 30, but he’s still so cool that when he walks past you can feel a breeze. I’ve heard him play the vibraphone. Think Lionel Hampton or some of the other jazz legends of his era. The man can groove.

At least, the man could groove.

I’m not sure Al plays the vibraphone anymore, but this much he does: Sunday after Sunday, when he is able, he sits on a stool in the East Balcony and welcomes the people who come to church. His son, Chris, often sends me updates on his dad, and he sent this picture in an email titled “Father’s Day, Part I.” Chris says, “Here is Papa Al as he passes out the bulletins before the service at First Baptist Richmond.” I don’t know about you, but if I were coming to church on a Sunday morning, tired and a little bit grumpy, the sight of Al sitting on his stool would cheer me up. It might even bring heaven a little closer to earth.

If that’s all Al did it would be enough, but if tradition holds I will also see Al at Community Missions this morning, sitting in a chair behind a table helping our homeless neighbors check their bags so they can take showers and receive other services. I filled in for Al one Wednesday recently when he was in the hospital and gained even more respect for who he is and what he does.

There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth. Al Astle, at age 96, is practicing at least two of them, and maybe more.

If I close my eyes I can almost hear his vibraphone.

KOH2RVA: Day 267

PastorShaunKing-133It’s Monday morning, friends, and after a big, exciting, celebratory day in worship yesterday it’s time to get on with the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth, right?

Well, maybe not.

Steve Blanchard forwarded an article recently about a pastor who resigned from his mega-church in Atlanta two years ago because people loved the dynamic Sunday worship experience he had created but didn’t love “caring for people and meeting the needs of the city” on the other days of the week.  Let me warn you: this example is extreme, but I do think there are some lessons here that every church–and every pastor–could learn from.

Take a look at this post from John White’s “Stories of the Revolution” blog.

—————————————————————-

Mega church pastor: “We are completely off base with what discipleship means”

Shaun King stepped down on September 1st [2011].

Shaun resigned from the church in Atlanta that he started three years ago. Called “Courageous Church”, it was, in Shaun’s words, a “super cool Sunday worship-service-centered church with 700 people”. A mixed race congregation, it was seen as one of the cutting edge churches in the city. Highly “successful”!

Leonard Sweet, scholar and author, called Shaun, “One of the most dynamic, entrepreneurial, creative and passionate leaders on the American scene today.” How could this guy possibly fail? What would cause him to throw up his hands and give up?

Shaun stepped down not because of any scandal but because he was disillusioned and burned out. He had followed the advice of church planting experts on how to develop an exciting, growing church by focusing on a dynamic Sunday morning “experience”. He writes, “I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and I could never quite get it back.”

Over time Shaun came to understand that “the overwhelming percentage of our time, energy, skills, budget and creativity were spent preparing for Sunday morning services, getting people to our Sunday services and getting them to volunteer for our Sunday morning services.” Then, Shaun made a big “mistake”. He tried to change all of this. He tried to create a discipleship oriented church where the “time, energy, skills, budget and creativity” went primarily into caring for people and meeting needs in the city. And, since he was the senior leader, he could make this work. Right?

Shaun planned to move the whole congregation into small missional groups with one large meeting each month. He worked with his leaders to develop the new structure. He preached a whole sermon series on the new vision (Preaching changes people. Right?). He reports that, as long as he was preaching about it, the people loved it.

But, once the “shift” took place, in his words, “all hell broke loose”. Three months later, 85% of the congregation wanted to go back to the “super cool worship-service-centered church”. Four months later, Shaun stepped down as the lead pastor. Here’s his evaluation…

“What I am saying is that church attendance, Sunday morning services, sermon-listening (or even sermon preaching), song-singing, hand-clapping, amen-saying and all the other things that “Christ-ians” have lifted up so high look so little like Christ himself that I am utterly convinced that we are completely off base with what discipleship means. Considering all of this, I think I have given up on church as I knew it. Big buildings. Hugh crowds. Few disciples. I’m not with it. It’s inefficient and just doesn’t feel right with my soul. This is not a rejection of big buildings or huge crowds, but an indictment on how few disciples are being made in the process of it all. A better way has to exist.”

Well, Shaun, welcome to the growing number of traditional church leaders (perhaps 1500 a month by some estimates) who are coming to the same conclusion. That is, that the building-centered, Sunday big worship-service-centered “experience” (one mega church here in Denver calls this “the big magic”) is a great way to entertain people but an inefficient way to make disciples. Not only that, but it takes a terrible toll on the pastors and on their families. (In my next post, I’ll tell you what Shaun’s wife wrote about this whole experience. I’m telling you… this lady shoots straight!)

And, yes, Shaun a better way does exist.

–John White, September 19, 2011

 

I remember telling our Minister of Christian Worship Phil Mitchell nearly five years ago that one of the things that was so important about his ministry was giving us a little taste of heaven on earth, so that we would know what it’s like. Last Sunday he, and the choir, and accompanists Becky Payne and Eunice Kim, did exactly that. They brought the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, through a piece of music by Johannes Brahms called, “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” I hope you will take the time to close the door, quiet your thoughts, turn up the volume, and lose yourself in the beauty and power of this anthem. Or maybe you’ll plug your earbuds into your iPhone at Starbucks, and just let the music wash over you like ocean waves.

It’s glorious.

On a run with my colleague Wallace Adams-Riley this morning we were talking about how some statisticians and sociologists have almost given up on the church. They say Sunday morning worship is on its way out, and will soon be a thing of the past. I don’t think they were in worship at either of our churches last Sunday. I don’t think they recall that the first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. What better way to do it than through corporate worship? And what better place to do it than in church on Sunday?

I say that partly to remind you that this Sunday, March 10, we “spring forward” by setting our clocks ahead one hour when we go to bed on Saturday night. I wouldn’t want you to get to church on Sunday and find that everybody had already gone to Sunday brunch. So, do it: spring forward. And then get up, get dressed, and make the effort to participate in the most important event of the week—Sunday morning worship.  If you can’t come, then tune in on Channel 8 at 11:00 in the Richmond area, or join us by webcast at http://www.fbcrichmond.org.  It’s not the same as being there, but it’s the next best thing.  Either way…

…I’ll see you in church.

KOH2RVA: Day 155

KalenaYesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

I left my house at 8:00 to walk the four-and-a-half blocks to “Mission Central” (that’s what Billy Burford, our administrator, calls the church campus at the corner of Monument and the Boulevard. I like it). I got there in time to meet with our worship leaders and clip on my wireless microphone before the service began at 8:30. It was Commitment Sunday, and at the end of the service people streamed forward to lay their pledge cards, tithes, and offerings on the altar. And Cari DuVal told me that yes, she thought she would like to become a full member of First Baptist.

That’s another story altogether, but a good one. Cari grew up in another denomination. She’s been one of our most committed Watchcare members for years now. The recent change in our membership policy allows her to join without being re-baptized but she told me yesterday she would like to be immersed in the swimming pool in Helena, Arkansas, where she has been participating in an annual mission trip for the last several years. The catch? I have to come do it.

I’m checking my calendar.

Between our two morning worship services Dot Smith brought me coffee and a plate full of treats to keep me going. She does it every Sunday, but yesterday it was especially appreciated. The day was just getting started.

The third-grade Sunday school class knocked on my door around 10:15. They were on a prayer walk, and wanted to pray for me. How sweet!

The 11:00 service followed the same order as the 8:30, but the two services are never the same. At the end of the second service people streamed forward again with pledge cards, tithes, and offerings, but this time Rob and Katie Courain told me they were ready to join the church.

Rob and Katie are the young couple who head up the powerful city-wide worship celebration called RVA United, and it felt like a great compliment to First Baptist that they would choose to join a church that doesn’t worship with drums and guitars (usually), but instead sings hymns out of a book (gasp!). There must be something good going on at First Baptist. Rob and Katie say it’s our mission, that they, too, are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

After worship I went to a three-hour meeting of the Ministry Planning Team, where we worked on a mission, vision, and values statement for First Baptist Church. It’s hard work, but good work. We spent a lot of time talking about who we are, what we’re trying to do, and the challenges we face as we do it. We didn’t finish our statement, but we came a lot closer.

My next meeting was with the Communication Team, thirty minutes later. They wanted to hear my thoughts as we anticipate David Powers’ retirement in September. David has been doing this job nearly twenty years. He is the driving force behind our television broadcast, our webcast, our website, our in-house publications, and our printed pieces. It’s hard to imagine the post-Powers era, but we did. We spent a full hour talking about the ways technology is changing and how it impacts communication. Jim Norvelle told us how he tuned into our webcast from the west coast last week (at 5:30 Pacific Time), watching the service on his iPhone even before he got out of bed. What will it be like five years from now, ten, fifteen?

From there I went to the Prayers for Healing service in the chapel, and spent a little more than an hour in that candlelit room praying, singing, listening to Bev Carroll talk about the work of spiritual rehabilitation, lighting a candle for my dad, praying with those who requested it, serving communion, and offering the benediction. It was a solemn, holy experience, followed almost immediately by…

Crazy dancing in the youth suite!

I had been invited to drop by for Kalena Porter’s surprise birthday party and when I got up to the third floor I found the youth line dancing. I watched as long as I could stand it and then just jumped in, much to their delight (there is nothing quite so funny, apparently, as seeing the senior pastor dance). Just before Kalena arrived we turned out the lights and waited to yell, “Surprise!” I think Kalena was surprised. The picture above was taken seconds afterward, as she was being rolled down the pink carpet created by Chloe Buchanan (at left in the photo).

Kalena has a terminal illness. She’s not going to be in our youth group much longer. But last night the youth poured out all the love they could on her and she was able to receive it gratefully. I couldn’t have been prouder.

Yesterday was a full day for the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I didn’t get home until 7:00. But this morning I find myself savoring almost every detail of a day that was filled with worship, work, and witness.

A day when heaven came to earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 145

handshakeThanks for your good feedback on yesterday’s mission/institution analogy quiz. I got some excellent responses. The one I was thinking about during my run this morning was Douglas Johnson’s, which I remembered as: “Mission is to institution as electrical current is to electrical cord.” That wasn’t it, exactly, but it was enough to remind me how important the mission is to the institution. Without an electrical current an electrical cord is useless (except maybe to tie a mattress and box springs onto the top of your car). Without an electrical cord the electrical current can’t flow.

So, the church needs an institution that can carry the mission, and the question every church may need to ask is: “Do we have one?” Do we have a mission, that is, and do we have an institution that can carry it?

After our meeting on Tuesday one staff member asked, “So…congregational care…is that part of the mission or part of the institution?” I answered quickly, “It’s part of the mission. It’s that part where Jesus says, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ It’s one of the clear commands of Christ.” And even as I said it I remembered the experience I had on Sunday.

I didn’t preach last Sunday. Knowing that I would be flying in from Arizona late the night before I had asked Bart Dalton, our minister to students, to preach in my place (Bart did an outstanding job, by the way, and if you haven’t heard his sermon yet click HERE when you have time to give it a listen). But I woke up in time to make it to the 8:30 service and found a place on the pew just before Ralph Starling’s welcome. Ralph always asks us to stand and say hello to the people around us, and I was pleased to find Jerry Michael on my pew. I’ve written about Jerry before. He’s the one who comes to the 8:30 service and then goes home to cook breakfast for his “Microchurch,” which includes his whole family and a few others he invites. They watch the 11:00 service on television and Jerry does his best to help them “be church” to each other.

So, I greeted Jerry, and told him how nice it was to just sit in church for a change and worship with everyone else. It was nice. I loved it. And I loved the message I got from Jerry that afternoon:

Hi Jim,

Today I felt even closer to FBC than ever. I was sitting and reading the bulletin before service when I heard “Hello Jerry!” My initial thought was who knows me here…especially by name. I can name many from seeing them on TV but who knows me? To my delight it was you, Jim. When Ralph did the stand up and greet people thing I started to cringe as usual but then I thought…Jim is in my pew. I know someone to say hi to. Furthermore, Bart’s sermon spoke to me. He said all are welcome, all have a blessing they can pass on. I felt at home today at FBC.

I first chose to physically attend FBC to give thanks and praise to our Lord for everything he has blessed me with. I had an epiphany last summer. God healed me and I thought I can do better to praise him than TV church and our micro church. That’s why I come every Sunday. I’m working on getting the micro church to just show up one Sunday. When they do there will be no room for you in my pew, you’ll have to take the pulpit that Sunday.

God Bless You Jim!

Your friend,

Jerry

Is making people feel welcome at church a way of loving one another, of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia?

You bet it is.

KOH2RVA: Day 130

singing-in-the-rain1I don’t know how many 20-30somethings were at Richmond’s First Baptist Church last night, but it seemed like a lot, especially under the circumstances.

It was cold and rainy outside, but as I stood in the hallway to greet people they kept coming in, shaking the rain off their coats, folding up their umbrellas—some of them looking a little confused about what to do next.

“Are you looking for RVA United?” I would ask (the big, flashy worship service for 20-30somethings in the sanctuary, complete with wailing guitars and thundering drums).

Some were, some weren’t.

“Are you looking for the Bible study?” I would ask (the Capstone Community Bible Study on Genesis, offered to 20-30somethings, which meets in the youth suite up on the third floor and includes a snack supper. Yum!).

Some were, some weren’t.

“Are you looking for the food truck?” I would ask (the old, pink school bus parked in front of the church, where Ed Edge, a friendly vegan with interesting tattoos, was selling tacos and cupcakes to 20-30somethings or anyone else who could come up with $2, including me).

Some were, some weren’t.

And, finally, “Are you looking for the Boy Scouts?” (the regular Tuesday night meeting of Troop 443).  The scouts were not looking for their meeting. They knew exactly where to find it. And if not they could pull out their maps and compasses and locate it in about two seconds flat.

That’s just how they are.

I went up to the youth suite eventually to see what the Capstone Bible Study looked like. It looked like fun, with two “core leaders” serving up supper and about twenty young adults catching up with each other after a busy day at work.

I went to the sanctuary for most of the RVA United worship service and it was spectacular, with a worship band put together from six or seven different churches in the area and a message from Dave Allam about how the ancient words of the Bible can speak to us in ways that are astonishingly fresh and relevant. I didn’t count how many people were there, but I was surprised by the number on such a cold, rainy night, and fairly certain that those who came were glad they did. I was.

So, the Kingdom of Heaven came to Richmond, Virginia, last night, right there at “Mission Central”—2709 Monument Avenue. Stop by and visit sometime, on a Tuesday night or even on a Sunday morning. The food truck may not be there, but I believe you’ll find something on the inside that will nourish your soul.

Yum!