Why do you go to church?

why do you go to churchby Scott Linscott

I’ve been doing some studying … mostly because I’m coming to the end of my six months of messages and teachings for the church I serve and am asking God what’s next. In the process I am looking in the mirror and seeing a change in myself that I do not like.

I’ve been at our little church revitalization work for just over five years now. When I started, I was just on the other side of the liver transplant journey that shook me to the core. It was a process that stripped me back to nothing.

When I started at this historic building on Main Street, I was in a place where I was vulnerable and absolutely awed by a God who I came to know more intimately than I ever before. I had been through difficult seasons in life. but I had never been totally broken and desperate. I always had some core strength or belief that I could do something, make some changes and pull myself through. The transplant journey offered none of that. Everything was entirely out of my control. All I had left was my faith and my people. And even some of “my people” distanced themselves from me because, like Job of the bible, I was too much to look at and too uncomfortable to be around.

When I started with this small group of people, all I wanted to do was worship and show others what I discovered. All I wanted to do was tear down barriers so that people could find the life-giving, always faithful, sustaining Jesus I had come to know so intimately. I remember times of singing songs in our gathered worship service and having to take a few minutes to compose myself before being able to speak. I went to worship. Not much else mattered.

Skip ahead to 2018. I am relatively healthy, just having the normal immunosuppressed challenges of catching most every virus and every bug going around. I am reestablished and financially secure in middle class Americana. I have appointments on my calendar, planning meetings to attend and even long-range goals. I remember not being confident enough to even plan things two months in advance because I didn’t know if I would be in the hospital or even alive. I am not desperate for God and the intimacy of suffering has faded. I’m operating on my own strength.

I have been studying why Americans go to church. I’ve been reading blogs, watching videos and studying church growth resources with their formulas for building attendance. I see things listed like:

  • attractive children’s spaces
  • quality coffee, welcome area
  • comfortable and inviting lobby areas
  • quality music
  • engaging stage design
  • practical, upbeat messages
  • parking lot greeters

I am being offered resources for attractive, targeted, direct mailings promising 1-2% response rate.

I just watched a young man make a very good and passionate plea for Christians attending church for the “right reasons.” It was all basically good stuff:

  1. Because Jesus went to temple and the church is His Bride. He values it.
  2. To contribute and serve.
  3. To give your children a faith foundation.
  4. Community – caring for each other and receive care.
  5. Connections – personal and professional networking.

I’m reading a lot and watching a lot of presentations. There is no shortage of materials aimed at helping struggling churches attract people.  That makes sense because the American church is not even keeping up with population growth. The American church is searching for the formula to fill the seats.

Worship, beyond a well-produced musical package, is missing.
I am trying to discover when all-encompassing worship left the equation. When was it that gathering to simply worship God moved from the key reason for believers gathering to not even making the list?

I attended a large church service recently with a few hundred others and though the message was strong and the people welcoming, I was bothered. The band was tight and well-produced and the two large screens gave us the lyrics we needed.. We sang about how we can do anything in Christ, about how much God loves us, about our power in him and we sang about God’s “reckless” love pursuing us and chasing us down.
I sang “boundless” because I can’t assign “reckless” to anything my God does. It was all good in reminding us of our position and standing in Jesus. But, I left feeling like I had worshipped myself rather than my God. Does that make any sense? It was all about me somehow … or, at least, that was my perception. The energy was great and the enthusiasm palpable. It was so good but I still felt like something was missing.

Worship is missing. Worshipping the living God for who he is, worshipping him for his character, his mercy, his love, his justice and his position is missing. It’s been missing in me.

I’ve been going to teach good Truths. I’ve been going to church worrying about who comes and if this person is happy or why that person doesn’t like me anymore. I’ve been going hoping that people will get something out of it and even hoping people find hope in Jesus. I’ve been hoping our children’s program grows and hoping we can see our music team add musicians in key spots. I’ve been putting presentations together and searching for memorable object lessons. But, I haven’t been going to worship.

When worship is my focus not many of the details matter. When worship is my focus I don’t tend to notice who came and who skipped and I don’t leave wondering if my message landed as a 9 or a 3. When worshipping God is my motivation, other things flow out of it naturally.

I want to stand up and say, “hey, if we’re here for something other than worshipping the living God, we’re here for the wrong reason” because that’s true of me. My God saved my life and preserved me not to revive a little church in Westbrook; that is not my primary purpose. He preserved me, saved my life so that I might worship him, give him all and then stand back and see what he brings out of that worship. This privilege I have to shepherd here in Westbrook is not about me at all, it’s an outflow of worshipping my God.

We’ve been fooled into thinking that our evaluations and our opinions are what matters more than anything else. We give our reviews and feedback immediately on Google or Yelp. Waitress too slow? 2Two stars. Meat overcooked a little? Two stars. Temperature in the theater just right and popcorn good? 4 stars. We really believe our personal opinions, preferences, likes and dislikes are the most important thing. We write our blogs, tweet our thoughts and compose our rants on social media fully believing that our “right to be heard” is tantamount.

And then, we bring that mindset into our churches where we evaluate everything, Children’s program? 1 star. Music, 3 stars. Coffee, 1 star. Decor, 1 star. Preaching, 3 stars. People, 4 stars. It goes on and on.  It’s about us. It’s our job and responsibility as reviewers. We are the consumers.

I’ve been doing the same thing. It’s not unimportant to have quality programs. Cleaning is important and comfort is not a bad thing. But worship is to be our primary motivation.

I am not talking about ‘worship music,” if there is such a thing. I am not looking for a 4 star, tight, energetic, get-them-on-their-feet, great lights and sound, “worship experience.” What I long for is a total focus on being in the presence of God to worship him.

I’ve been blessed to worship singing along with a terrible guitar player trying her best. I’ve been blessed to experience powerful, authentic worship inside a large, hot, very uncomfortable big-top, tent. I’ve been moved worshipping with believers with no PA system and no electricity and I have worshipped in a setting with 5,000 others lead by a song-leader who became almost invisible, directing everything to God. I’ve been immersed in worship where the speaker was not polished or funny or energetic. In each circumstance nothing mattered except for gathering to worship the living God.

I’ve gone to our worship gathering for the past two weeks refocused on the immense privilege and mystery of joining with other believers, as the church, to simply worship. It has been good to get back to what matters. I haven’t worried about anything. In fact, I forgot my watch Sunday morning. I don’t know if I finished on time or started on time. But, I do know that I sang my prayers to my God through lyrics that focused on worshipping him. I know that I sang songs reminding me of my position in him as his child. I didn’t really notice much else. And I didn’t worry at all about the teaching time and who would like it or not like it. It was part of worship.

“Worship” is the word we use. But the Greek and Hebrew languages use a bunch of words to describe all the elements of worship: aboda,  latreia, latreuo, latreia, leitourgia,  proskyneo, shachac, gonu, gonupeteo,  histahawa, shachac, proskyneo, homologia, thusia. Somehow we’ve reduced all of it into a 60-90 minute block of time that we attend when nothing better is pulling us away. For many people, it’s reduced even further into just the music portion of that 60-90 minutes. Somehow, worship is now about us and what it does for us. Did we sing songs I like? Was it the right length? Did it move me?

Worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways. ~ Lee Campbell, PhD

This relationship with God is so much bigger than a Sunday morning event. Worship is saturating, shaping and defining every day. Worship is not about me at all. Worship is my response to an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who holds everything and is worth everything.

Worship is response, praise, sacrifice, obedience, fear, service, adoration. Worship is confession, testimony, study, conforming and bowing. Worship is always.

Sunday mornings are just part of worship. Gatherings of believers is when the supernatural mystery of God’s pleasure, power and presence meld when two or more show up to focus all on him together. He indwells corporate worship for his glory and his purpose.

Worship is not about me at all. And that, in itself, has freed me from so much of the pressure I was carrying.

Why do you go to church? To worship? Or, is it about you?

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Do we repell or attract?

By Scott Linscott

I prefer vibrant colors over earth tones. I prefer vibrant people over the lackluster.

Lackluster: “lacking in vitality, force, or conviction; uninspired or uninspiring.” As I see it, people have the same potential to shine. I’ve even seen dull, dark individuals transformed to vibrant.

It’s matter of habits, disciplines, and choices. I’ve met vibrant, inspiring people living in the darkest of circumstances, facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. And, I’ve met the uninspired &repelling inside health, wealth and with an impressive mountain of toys.

Are thankful people happy or are happy people thankful? Are vibrant people thankful or are thankful people vibrant?

Some people spend 90% of their time ranting, complaining, opposing and being angry about one thing or another. We see them walking toward us and think, “oh geez, what now?” I wonder if they know the repellant they wear?

There are others we see coming toward us who immediately lift our mood. We’re fairly certain our interaction will be energizing and encouraging. Vibrant. Life-giving.

Do you attract or repel?

Repellant dominant traits: critical, complaining, angry, ranting, draining, tearing, gossiping, negative, unhappy, thankless, life-draining.

Attractional dominant traits; helpful, positive, supportive, engaging, complimentary, encouraging, happy, thankful, life-giving.

I remember a colleague who always carried criticisms. When I could take no more, I stopped him before he started to speak and said, “Before you say something critical, negative or tell me a problem, tell me one thing positive or good, that you like.” He paused, thought, and then turned and walked away. I didn’t stop him. I watched him go.

The ancient manuscripts that shape my life include this counsel, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

A daily choice to live from a place of thankfulness and a positive mindset transforms the lackluster to vibrant, the repellant to attractive.

Why does it take so long?

By Scott Linscott

We all love to get a piece of mail from the child we sponsor. I love it like Christmas morning!

But it doesn’t happen very often … sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Why is that? Is the child that I’m sending money for even real? How do I know?

Robin and I have three children that we sponsor. Well, one is not much of a child anymore – he just turned 20. We are helping him to complete University so we have him for a couple more years. One is sponsored through Compassion International and the other two are through AMG Ministries. Our Compassion child is in Ghana and our girls are in Guatemala.

We hear from Vincent quite often. But that’s because his situation is entirely different. Most of our contact with Vincent comes by way of the computer. The Compassion office in Ghana is setup to scan correspondence from the children and then electronically send it to sponsors. I get a notification in my inbox to sign into my account to see a letter from Vincent. It’s cool, but if he was 8 and coloring pictures I would still prefer an actual piece of paper.

I have been to the center in Oratorio, Guatemala where my girls are from. “Fancy” is not a word that we would use to describe their situation. In fact, for my Guatemala girls it might even be more of a challenge to have markers and crayons and paper to color on.

So how does the letter writing process work? When you write a letter what do you do? You put it in an envelope, pop a stamp on it and go to the mailbox, right?

But the problem is in Guatemala, at least this past fall, that there was no National Postal Service. That’s right, because of crime and corruption the post office was SHUT DOWN. A shipping company? It costs about $100 for a 10 lb package to Guatemala with no guarantee it will make it! Crazy, right?

My point is that it’s easy for us here to communicate. We even overnight mail but that doesn’t exist in other parts of the world … especially third-world parts!

So, picture a hundred and fifty to 300 kids coming to school for letter writing day. That picture you have in your mind? It’s totally off-base. I’m sure you’re picturing our schools and our students sitting at nice desks, in well-lit classrooms, with everything they need to complete the project. Maybe a few students are missing with a stomach bug but their parents have taken the time to let the administration know that they would be absent.

Now let’s go to Guatemala. You’re never quite sure how many students are going to show up on any given day. It depends on what’s going on in the household; perhaps mom got a job as a day laborer and couldn’t manage walking the children to school. (I know, I know, you’re thinking of school buses, cars and ride shares, right? Nope, not an option there.)

Maybe 80 or 180 show up for letter writing day. You never know what you will have. But, you do your best to track who has written and who has not and try hard to track down the students who missed today to get their letter done by the end of the month.

At the end of the quarter, you take your stack of letters to the AMG Guatemala headquarters 2.5 hours away. There, they get added to a stack of 8000 other pieces of correspondence to be translated by a single office worker who also has receptionist duties.

Do the math … 8000+ children writing two letters a year is 16,000, right? They need to be translated, sorted and packed for the next part of their journey. That means the receptionist/translator has 64 letters a day to handle! Would you like her job?

Taking all that into account, I am amazed and thrilled if I get one letter a year! Still, I go online at the start of each month and write to my kids on the Internet. I know my messages and attached pictures normally reach them in just a month or two. I’m more interested in making sure they know they are loved and prayed for than I am in getting a letter back.

If you sponsor a child in Oratorio, come with me on my next trip! Meet your child. We’ll be like the Pony Express and deliver messages and goodies. 😃

#missions #childsponsor #missiontrip @fbcwestbrook

Missions or just glorified tourism?

By Scott Linscott

Wouldn’t it be better to just send them the money?

Americans think that money is the answer to everything. Human touch and relationship has little value. We are totally out to lunch on that one.

“For God so loved the world he sent everybody a million dollars so they could buy whatever they wanted and needed.” At least, that’s how we Americans think the gospel should read.

But despite our desire to have no one ever infringe upon our three-foot-personal- space bubbles, the Bible is a book of relationships; relationship with God and relationship with each other.

But I do understand where the question comes from. Lots of American churches promote both mission and poverty tourism. I’m not interested in that at all. If there is no lasting partnership involved, I’ll pass.

But, still the question remains … wouldn’t it be better to send $30,000 rather than take a team of 18 people? Simply, no.

Why not? First, it’s never going to happen. If I asked you to send me money to forward to Nicaragua, how many of you would do it? Very few. I’ve tried it numerous times. I think my most successful fundraiser, without me going and serving directly, was around $1200.

Second, writing checks

meets immediate needs but does nothing to build lasting relationship. Relationship encourages, helps, prays for and carries each other’s burdens.

Third, partnerships are lasting. Thirty children in Oratorio, Guatemala now have relationships with monthly sponsors as a result of our April 2016 trip. That’s $11,520 per year in support of children, not including special gifts for birthdays and Christmas. It also does not include any of the extra that some sponsors send monthly or quarterly for family needs. But treasured most by the children is the letters they get from real people. None of that would be happening had we not travelled to Guatemala and formed partnerships.

So, no, it would not be better to “just send the money” even if it were feasible.

Lastly, let’s not forget what that $30,000 in support of developing lasting relationship also yields. A lodging house miles away from tourist destinations will have a week with up to 24 guests when we visit. That’s an influx of $15,000 or so that employs cleaning staff, guards, property maintenance, cooks, and serving staff. Local merchants see income from food purchases and work project supplies. Even the Latin American airline we are using benefits to the tune of almost $12,000 paying pilots, flight crews, mechanics, custodial, gate agents … Do we even need to talk about how important jobs are in depressed economies?

We are purchasing 130 two-year water filters, made there in Guatemala, by Guatemalan workers for another $4500, to deliver to families in third-world poverty. How important is clean drinking water?

Lasting relationships with these people we’ve come to love are the result of our trips. A real, lasting, partnership with a school of 300 children is now in place. Thirty children now have educational support, nutrition and healthcare support. Thirty families are now witnessing strange love and provision for their children and hearing it is all due to amazing love of God.

So, no, it would not be better to “just send the money” even if it were feasible.

Are we making a real and lasting difference or is it just another bunch of Americans engaging in hit-and-run missions/poverty tourism?

Missions tourism excitedly asks, “hey, where are we going next year?” True mission asks, “how can we serve and encourage our partners in the gospel next year?”

It’s not about a trip. It’s about a mission. By their fruit you will know.

#missiontrip #missions #povertytourism #missionstourism #adventure #church #travel @fbcwestbrook

Two visits with Jesus

By Scott Linscott

Now we can get back to normal life. We did the Easter thing, paid a visit to Jesus, sang a few songs, listened to a preacher and now we can get back to normal life.

We’ll bring up his name again when we stub our toes on the coffee table or someone cuts us off, but that will be about all until Christmas rolls around and we pay Baby Jesus a visit.

Neither Christmas nor Easter ask or expect anything of us. We just open our gifts, eat big meals, and go on. Hanging out around the Jesus story makes us feel good.

“Wow, look at what at God has done for me” sure feels good.

It’s like a wedding ceremony where only the groom makes his vows and the bride smiles, nods and says, “sounds good” but makes no vows in return.

I suppose that’s why an annual visit or two are enough for so many. If we go beyond that, Jesus is probably going to ask some things of us, right?

“Hey God, I’m totally okay with focusing on what you’ve done for me but let’s leave it right there, okay? I’ll let you know when I need something. You just sit quietly out of sight.”

Do we really believe that God exists for us? Do we really believe he created us and showed us such love but doesn’t mind being shelved until Christmas and Easter?

We live as though God exists for us apart from relationship. We’ll let him know what we want or need when our kid needs college money, or our spouse is getting more and more distant or the doctor finds a mass or …

I’ve got some people on my contact list who only call when they want something. They don’t call to chat or to tell me they have something for me or to volunteer to help with something. You too? Feels great, huh?

That’s the God relationship status for so many. He has and wants so much more for us but we just show up to visit a couple times a year and hit him up with our wants.

It amazes me that when we finally do call, wrecked or ruined, stressing or worried, God always picks up, gladly. Me? Honestly? I see the “wants-something” number pop up and often let it go to voicemail. I don’t like being just another resource apart from real relationship.

My heart aches for the “chreaster” population. (Christmas + Easter) If only they could discover the fullness of life that comes in following Christ daily rather than visiting twice a year.

#easter #christmas #Jesus #faith #chreaster #church #christian #family #parenting

When Easter Compels You

A roadside business in Guatemala

By Scott Linscott

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make? Does it even matter?

Roman and Hebrew historians recorded the events of a tumultuous time in history. Jesus came into Jerusalem to an excited crowd anxious to see the Roman oppressors driven out. But, it quickly became clear that this popular prophet, on a lowly donkey, had no plans to lead an over throw. They turned on him pretty quickly.

Pilate, sick of the threats of Jewish rebellion and wanting to keep the religious-politic leadership happy, capitulated and let the people decide the outcome. It was crucifixion for a man who had himself broken no Roman law, only Jewish law. What a strange outcome.

The disciples scattered, afraid for their lives. They figured, as associates of Jesus, they were next to be tortured and killed. Scared, cowardly, timid and hiding. But then, all that changed.

Resurrection. Consider this, they went from wimpy, to bold messengers of Grace. They went from silent to so bold that no one could shut them up.

All of them, except for John, died very violent deaths because they would not deny the resurrection. They were killed because they would not stop talking about Jesus and doing what he taught them.

Think about it. What would it take to move you from scared and hiding, afraid of power, to standing face-to-face with that power, looking it in the eye and saying, “go ahead and kill me but I won’t deny the Truth of what I saw and what happened?”

Resurrection took them from afraid of the power of man to fearless. They went from being scared of death to their literal death. Why?

The resurrection changes everything. It compelled the disciples to complete change. It compelled them to come out of hiding all give everything for the cause of Christ. It proved everything Jesus had spent 3 years teaching them beyond even a hint of doubt.

Worship with family in Santa Rosa.

In two weeks I’ll head back to Guatemala. Why? The resurrection compels me. A good part of my income is given away. Why? The resurrection compels me. My free time is often spent in a variety of volunteer efforts. Why? The resurrection compels me. Our table normally includes a guest who will be alone for holidays. Why? The resurrection compels me.

My life is entirely different because I believe in the resurrection. Had it not happened, none of those men would have gone on to their deaths. They would have simply gone home and gone back to living without the Hope of new life.

They didn’t. The resurrection changed the course of the planet so that more than 2 billion people today hold to what they witnessed.

The resurrection, when investigated, accepted and understood, compels an entire realignment of life. It has to.

How can it not?

#easter #resurrection #devotional #Jesus #christian

Easter is more than an event

By Scott Linscott

I think I’m allergic to hype. Words like “biggest” and “best” and “life-changing” turn me into a cynic. I gotta admit, I hear them and think, “oh really?”

It’s church hype season. Easter brings out the big guns of hype. One church rents a helicopter and drops thousands of eggs and another advertises free gas cards for visitors. You’ve probably heard of the drawings for free stuff, right?

Church hype makes my stomach feel like I just bought 5 burritos for two dollars and ate them all.

I got a glossy, direct-mailer invitation to go to a church to attend one of their Easter “experiences.” I bet they will sing some songs, take an offering and have someone talk for 30-45 minutes. “Experience” sounds so much cooler than “church service.”

I wonder how much money we Christians spend collectively on bouncey houses and direct mailings trying to attract the once-a-year crowd? I’d rather spend those dollars for just about anything else instead of another annual production.

I read an article a few years back that said the most depressing Sunday of the year for ministers is the Sunday after Easter when attendance drops back to normal or even less than normal.

I feel the pressure to rev things up and put on a great show for Easter. Let’s play the Easter hymn hits, hide eggs for the kids and see if we can wow some people into actually coming back before Christmas.

But there’s that bad burrito feeling again. For me, the hype machine reduces Easter to just another annual event to attend.

The resurrection of Jesus is so much more than an annual production and performance. It changed everything. It made me an entirely different person than I would be otherwise.

Hype fades and goes away. The reality of Jesus does not. Let’s not let the eggs, helicopters, production and performances become our focus.