ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICE at 7:00 P.M., FEBRUARY 18
PASTOR'S ARTICLE OF THE MONTH / JANUARY
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
My children at my funeral will probably recall with laughter and annoyance my refrain, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." By that point in time they will probably have figured out that I was quoting the Chinese philosopher Laozi. (I have let them believe that I made those words up all by myself.) I like the words, and say them a lot, because they point out that big things take effort, that almost nothing happens by accident. Because I hold that very dearly, I plot and plan both personally and professionally.
In 2015 I hope to work through four initiatives here at the church that will help us grow: spiritually, functionally, and in participation. A small portion of the initiatives I can, as the pastor, just make happen, but the majority of them will require the entire congregation. That is to say, I have some explaining and persuading to do.
The first initiative, because the Session members are the spiritual leaders of the church we will devote part of each meeting to study. We will read the book What Christianity is Not by Hall. I read it last year and it is one of the most powerful books I've read in years. (I encourage all members of the congregation to read it as well.) This initiative will help the Session lead from both their head and their heart.
The second initiative, I will ask each committee in the church to do two new things in 2015. I will not prescribe what the new things are, instead I will rely on each committee to discern the two things for themselves. Churches, like all institutions, automatically focus on doing what has been done before. This initiative will encourage us to try new things.
The third initiative, in the months that have a fifth Sunday our worship service will include elements that are unusual for us. Here are some possible examples: including hymns that we have not sung before, I will include time within my sermon for dialogue, decorations that reinforce the theme of the worship service. This initiative will expand our expectations for what can be part of worship. It will also provide a way for me to include members of the congregation in the planning of worship. In my previous congregations I have been able to create Worship Planning Teams. It is amazing what happens when it is not just the pastor creating the worship services.
The fourth initiative, we will go through a process that creates a ministry plan that is relevant for our neighborhood. (This is not an updated Mission Statement.) I am convinced that context matters. We need to know exactly who we are as a church, what our neighborhood is like, and how the gospel is the bridge between the two. Specifically, I have been impressed and moved by Rick Morse in his book From Our Doorsteps - Developing a Ministry Plan That Makes Sense. I have not yet figured out how to do this initiative. I do not know if the Moving Forward Team is willing and able to take this on, or if gathering a new group for this is best. So even though 2015 is very different from say 1965, it is still filled with promise, because we can step-by-step find ways to engage our neighborhood. I'm excited about tomorrow, and I hope you are too!
FROM THE PASTOR / FEBRUARY
I think it is very important that we force ourselves to comprehend what other people see. My article this month is about that. Instead of my words, I am presenting an article that I read. Please ponder it and then wonder what visitors to the First Presbyterian Church in Johnstown see and experience.
MYSTERY VISITOR "I AM STILL NOT CONVINCED."
A 20-Something FemaleVisits a Mega-Church in Omaha, NE
on August 10, 2014 at 9:00 A.M. Overal Score 3 out of 5
What was it like when you entered the building?
A greeter at the entrance shook our hands. another greeter by the worship area was preoccupied. I requested a bulletin from him. Overall, I observed the hustle and bustle of people going where they needed to go, but I had no interaction with them. 2 out of 5
Was it obvious where the children's ministry was located and that it was clean, secure and well-staffed?
When I left my daughter at the nursery, I felt very comfortable. The friendly people at the desk were interested in my daughter. They handed me a buzzer in case she needed me. When I picked her up, she was in a great mood and had a diaper change. I noticed a large children's area for all ages that the children enjoyed. 5 out of 5
Did you observe anything that would lead you to believe that the church values diversity? The demographic in the service I attended was middle-aged, middle-class, Faithfully, Caucasian folks. A Group of elderly Caucasians attended a traditional service in another part of the building. They announced an upcoming special baptismal service at a park. I was mostly interested in the Human Trafficking awareness event. They care about people outside the church and don't turn a blind eye to darker realities. 2 out of 5
Describe the service.
The musicians played contemporary music and the vocalists had good voices. The songs, however, seemed hard for the average person to sing. The opening speaker asked the congregation to greet each other. No one approached us. The hour-long message began with them hyping upcoming events. The message was about not judging those who come to church because everyone sins and has a past they want to hide. As long as everyone is in it for the greater good, people shouldn't nitpick each other. The speaker was easy to understand, well-prepared and relaxed. 4 out of 5
Overall, how friendly would you say the church was to you during your visit?
While people appeared rushed, I welcomed the pleasant interactions I did have with individuals. 5 out of 5
Would you return to the church?
I would accompany someone if they wanted me to come with them, but I will not return of my own accord. I am still not convinced religion benefits me. 4 out of 5
Adapted from a report provided by Faith Perceptions, which has evaluated more than 3,500 worship services across the United States.