That light at the end of the tunnel? An oncoming train?

Originally posted on July 10, 2012 @ http://www.scottlinscott.com two months after my liver transplant.
by Scott Linscott

Today’s entry was written responding to one of my reader’s struggles and questions in the face of a very difficult set of circumstances. I think we all share similar thoughts when crisis hits.

You’re right. There aren’t many modern day Jobs. In fact, even in Job’s time he was unique. He wasn’t at all common. Then, and now, the Job character type is the same. I look at:

Joni Erickson Tada. Teenager – dives in shallow water – quadriplegic – goes through thoughts of suicide and severe depression – learns to paint holding a brush in her teeth. 1986 marries! Recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She can’t do the most basic task for herself. She loves God, praises him and works like crazy advocating for people with disabilities. She speaks all across the country encouraging people to put their faith in Jesus.

Tony Melendez – born with no arms – learned to play guitar with feet – played for Pope. Today is a motivational speaker, tours with his band and is active in the pro-life movement.

My life is easy compared to Job and compared to these two people. And, if you believe my battle is easier than yours, I cannot argue with you. It could have been so much worse. There are many who have it much worse than me.

But, I will disagree vehemently with conclusions you’ve made about your own ability to affect change. I believe there is always hope! No one is powerless.
Job didn’t praise or serve God because of what he did for Job or for past blessings. Job understood that God is God Sovereign. To not bless or worship Him is a fatal mistake. Job knew that and that’s why he argued so readily against his wife and friends. I pray that should I lose my wife and kids or face rejection of this new liver that I, like Job, will remember that God is God regardless of the state of my life.

I remember the night in March when I coded. I was minutes away from death. A severe reaction to an antibiotic caused my tongue to swell so large that it would not fit in my mouth. It closed off my airway. I remember the alarms and medical staff running into my room. I remember hearing them frantically bark out commands for injections of this and that. It sounded just like TV. I remember them tossing me around like a rag doll to get me into a better position. And then, I remember coming to with a plastic oxygen mask over my face and the infectious disease doctor asking me assessing questions. I saw 12-14 medical staff members surrounding my bed in a solid yellow circle because of the yellow gowns they all wore. Every eye was on me and the tension was palpable. I said something like, “Hello, you’re probably all wondering why I called you together.” The laughter broke the tension and you could feel a collective sigh of relief.

I’d be lying if I told you I was not scared. But, somehow, I also had peace. I was in that hospital bed for 25 days. My condition was deteriorating even more. The friends who visited me looked at me with eyes that told me just how bad I looked. I could see that seeing me was painful for them. I remember my mom crying and saying goodbye to me during a particularly bad patch. It wasn’t a “see you tomorrow” type of goodbye. It had a ring of finality to it.
Losing my job, losing my house, suffering continuously and not even able to remember my own phone number was so painful. I lost driving privileges and my independence. I sat alone in my house day after day and often fell asleep on the occasional visitor. Other times visitors energized me and, for awhile, I felt normal.

I cried out to God, I screamed at him, I sang and read His book, I wanted to die and I wanted to live. But, I always knew that He is God and worthy of my praise. Sometimes I had to make myself give him honor.

God does not exist to serve me. He doesn’t need my praise because he’ll make the rocks and trees give him praise if I don’t. Because he is loving and because he has told me to ask for the desires of my heart, I do ask him to provide, to make me well and give me strength. Like every parent, only perfect and omniscient, he does not give me everything I want. He gives me what I need to mold me to reflect his character.

My friend, I am thankful I have gone through this past year. I’ve grown and changed in so many ways. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but I am thankful. My faith, my trust, my love is somehow deeper or more real now. I can’t really explain it.

Tonight I had a fever of 101.5 at one point. Fevers for transplant recipients can mean anything from infection to rejection. I pray that it is nothing. But, if it is, I am determined to bring my God glory no matter what. Why?

God is God Sovereign. To project human frailties and characteristics onto him and evaluate him by human standards is just plain silly. I DO NOT want God to be like me and play by my selfish rules and expectations. I want to be like him.

I know you are hurting. I know you’ve suffered heartache, I know you’ve lot your job and I know your friends have abandoned you. Your life sucks right now but that doesn’t mean it will suck forever. You will have days when you laugh and love again. You will have time when life is good again. I believe it with my whole heart. I wish you would too.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.
When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.

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Destined to be a short-lived failure as a pastor

By Scott Linscott

image

My morning view

“So, like, what do you actually do all day?”

It’s a fair question. People call me “Pastor.” It’s not a title I especially want but, it’s mine because of what I do now. When I worked with students, few people called me “pastor” because, for some reason, youth work is somehow perceived as less pastorlike.

Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely love my life and what I do, it’s just that a lot of odd thìngs cling to the pastor title. For example, my head tilts to the side in disbelief when someone calls me a “man of God” or a “man of the cloth.” I have no idea what to do when my catholic friends call me, “father” and ask about mass.

I’m a guy who snaps at my wife when I’m tired, gets angry when people cut me off in traffic, says naughty words when I stub my toe, craves cold beer with buffalo wings, covets cool new electronics and likes violent movies with lots of special effects and explosions.

I feel the same awkward inadequacies in finding the words to say when I hear someone has cancer or lost a loved one. You know how you feel empty and don’t know what to say when that happens? Me too.

But here I am, approaching two years of enjoying the privilege of sharing life, – messy, exhilerating, exhausting, ever-changing, grace-saturated life – with a bunch of people who, just like me, are doing their best to navigate life by living like Jesus. They asked me to take the point position, the head coach slot, and with that came the title I wear uncomfortably: “Pastor.”

When I read the ancient writings that shape my life, I see the “pastor-shepherd” position and I think, “yeah, that’s what I want.” But when I look around and see pastors making self-elevating moves, demanding respect by position or believing they truly are God’s annointed messengers, I cringe. I don’t want any part of that.

“shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5

I get that. I especially am growing to understand “eagerly.” This flock that I lead is imprinting on my heart. Though I am away on vacation, my first thought as I woke today was, “I wonder how Brady is feeling today after his surgery?” It’s a strange thing, really. I walked the dogs and prayed for my daughter Shara right along with little Brady. I prayed for Josh and Kristen and then Shelby came to mind. Then, “Lord, give the Morton’s an awesome summer of bonding in that little camper.” I prayed for my wife for a relaxing vacation and for my Mom’s shoulder pain.

They weren’t long, wordy prayers but more of a running conversation. The thing is that my “flock” is right there with Shara, Josh, Kristen, Robin and my mom. I’m not related to little Bradyman, or Shelby or the Mortons but they are right there on my mind with my family. I think the shepherd piece that the bible describes, writes people’s names on your heart. It’s the exact opposite of the counsel that a wise, old pastor gave me right after I accepted this position. He told me that the key to longevity and being a successful pastor is “to keep people at arm’s length. Don’t get too close.”

I’m eager to connect with the people who call me pastor but the thing is, the title does not create that eagerness, it is the eagerness that brings the title. I was a pastor before I got the title. Does that make sense? We have a number of “pastors” in our church family who care, shepherd, guide and invest in others without pay. I just happen to be in the point position.

But, this pastor gig still puzzles me after nearly 2 years of getting up every Sunday morning wondering what it is about me that qualifies me to stand up in front of the 120 or so people who will come sit on hard, wooden benches for an hour.

Reading from The Message this morning I came across Ephesians 3:8-10

7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.

Bam! That’s it exactly.

So, back to my friend’s question asking what I do all day. The truth is, sometimes I have no idea what I do. I’ll get to the end of a busy day and then feel like I didn’t accomplish anything. Sure, I have my routine things that happen week after week on certain days but most of my schedule is pretty fluid.

I joke that I only work 30 minutes a week and then sing for another 30 on Sunday mornings. Pastors only work on Sunday, right?

So, what do I actually do? I’ve been trying to figure that out so I know how to answer the question. I’m starting to think there is no easy answer.

I spend a bunch of time working on what I am going to say on Sunday mornings. I read a lot, look for resources, plan illustrations and outline it all in Powerpoint. Sometimes I’ll spend as much as 15 hours shaping, reshaping, tossing things out and then starting over. Other times I’ll spend maybe 5 hours total when everything just flows.

Then, I get the luxury of having time to spend on relationships. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t count, or maybe shouldn’t count. Does that make sense? I mean, I get to go out to breakfast with people who I care about and now call friends. I get to ride bikes and sit around campfires. I get to do things like hangout at picnics and ballgames and organize fun, connecting events. What do we do? We just talk about life. We talk about relationships, conflicts and businesses. We talk about parenting and finances and decisions. We talk about faith and following Jesus. It happens in person, online, by phone and through text messaging sessions. Being a sort of life-coach comes with this pastor gig and I love it. But, a lot of times it leaves me feeling totally inadequate when all I can do is shrug and say, “I have no idea, I’m struggling with that too.”

Then there’s the awkward stuff that leaves me fumbling with no idea what to say or do. Weird stuff sometimes happens after “Pastor, can I talk to you?” One woman told me God sent her to speak that Sunday morning at our church. One guy vented about idol worship in America and told me to get rid of the flags. Another guy told me all about what he called “the modern Babylon” and how he is sure that Jesus is returning this year. Um … okay, what do I do with all that?

Uncomfortable stuff often comes after, “Pastor, can I talk to you.” Nothing prepared me to stand with an elderly woman and hear her say, “I found out this week that I am dying.” None of my seminary classes gave me the words to say. I feel so unprepared so many times. My quick prayer of desperation is, “God, help me out here!”

Nobody trained me or taught me what to say or how to help with situations I get invited into simply because I wear the title “pastor.” I feel so inadequate when someone calls to ask me to come pray for someone I’ve never met because “they need a priest.” I’m not a priest. My prayers are not more weighty or powerful. I’m glad to pray with people but not as some type of prayer specialist to swoop in and save the day. I’m still trying to figure all that out.

Imagine yourself getting a call to conduct a funeral for a family you’ve never met. Or how about a random call from someone you don’t know asking, “will you marry us?” I get it. It’s part of the pastor role. I’m just so new at it all that I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m totally comfortable with people I know but I feel like an invited intruder with people I’ve never met … like I shouldn’t be there. Does that make sense at all?

My older pastor friends tell me it’s a privilege that comes with the position. Honestly, for me, it still feels weird.

And then, I spend time on a wide variety of leadership stuff. My position means I have input in just about everything that happens around our church. On any given day I might have a conversation about facility repair or how to find the best price on coffee for the hospitality area. I might be defragging computers one day and editing video the next. One day I am meeting with a network of other pastors and the next I’m updating the website. I love the variety.

Sometimes I bring my laptop and sit in my office on Main Street and other times I lug it to Panera just to be around other people. Oftentimes I sit in my recliner outlining my message and sipping coffee in the early morning while the rest of the world is waking.  I love that what I do is not locked to one spot.

Stress creeps in when I take too little down time and my blood pressure creeps up when my schedule gets too full but my work rarely feels much like work so it’s tough to hold back.

I feel kind of guilty sometimes because so many people hate their jobs and can’t wait to get away. Here it is, day one of my vacation, and I am working hard to make myself disconnect. I know it’s healthy for me to rest, I know everything is fine without me but still, it’s a challenge.

One of my mentors summed it up for me like this. “We have the luxury of having our bills paid so that we can spend our time helping people find Hope in Jesus. It is a gift we can never take for granted.”

I see what he means. I also now understand what Paul meant when he wrote “I long for all of you with the affection of Jesus Christ” in Philipians 1:8.

If “longevity” and “success” as a pastor requires keeping people at arm’s length and not getting too close, I’m going to be a short-lived, major failure.

I guess that’s okay by me.

 

Do you pray? How? When? Why?

Echo Lake and Cathedral Ledge

Echo Lake and Cathedral Ledge

By Scott Linscott

When I was at my lowest,before my liver transplant, my prayers seemed intimate and somehow powerful. They seemed like a two-way interaction, I often sensed God’s presence and comfort like a sudden, warm, summer downpour – the type that makes you throw out your arms and spin in circles.

Things are back to “normal” now. That makes me sad.

This little church that I strangely find myself leading now days is a great group of people. We’re trying hard to be transparent with each other and figure things out. We’ve worked on stripping away layers of religion to get to Jesus with a desire to follow Him close, in relationship and become like Him. Most of us are not satisfied with the social club approach to church as just something good to do. We want more. I certainly want more.

In prayer, I’ve had more but it that was during the darkest season of my life. My days, except for medical appointments, were empty. Though I felt closer to my God than ever before, I simultaneously felt useless to Him.

Useless to Him.

Typing that just now just triggered a flood of questions. Am I ever truly useful to God? Is that what this is about? Is that what I am trying to be? Does God need me to be useful? Is that His goal?

God does not need. God is God. I’m the one who needs. God has not changed. I’m the one who has changed.

Now my days are usually packed full. I often run from one appointment to the next and hand out apologies for running “a little late.” My list is full of people I want to connect with, have over and get to know. My goal list is long and my dreams are big. My task list is divided into structured priorities of A, B and C with target completion dates beside each task.

My … my … my. I sure do say “my” a lot.

When I experienced those times of deep, intimate connection with my God through prayer I had no lists, no new friendships and no tasks. My biggest goals, other than surviving to transplant, were to solve Portal 2 on my son’s XBOX video game system. My relationships were few because even some of my friends didn’t want to tire me with a visit or could not handle seeing me in such weakness. My time with God was my top priority because it was all I had. It was a highlight, not a discipline or task to check off.

God healed me. He gave me life. He restructured my heart and gave me eyes that see things differently now. I’m thankful for that. Really, I am. I prefer the new me over the old me … I just want more in my prayer life again. I think that’s okay.

Yesterday somewhere near 100 of us gathered for worship and I did what I find myself doing every week here in my new life. My responsibility is to stand at the front of the room and talk. I tell you where I feel God stretching me and challenging me and I wonder if He’s challenging you in similar ways. We turn the pages of Scripture and look to find answers in the life and words of Jesus. I feel uncomfortable being the one to talk. I often feel like there has to be someone who is doing life better than me who should fill this role. But, for this season of life, God has me here. Yesterday, I told you I feel like I stink at prayer.

Stink at prayer? Yeah. In common core terminology, I don’t feel like I am “meeting the standard” right now. But what is the standard? Who sets it? Is it based on a certain amount of minutes in prayer every day? Is someone checking of my vocabulary words or timing my prayer words per minute?

Of course not. I know that’s ridiculous.

I think it’s more like every other relationship. When my wife and I start feeling distance between us we’ve learned that we just need to make time together our top priority again in order to remember how much we love each other. It works every time.

Top priority.

“While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed.” I came across those words last week when I spent a couple days cycling in the mountains. It was Mark 1:35 in the ancient book that has shaped my life.

I stuck on them and replayed them over and over. The passage is talking about Jesus and a time He prayed. It doesn’t say He did it every day and it doesn’t present it as a formula. It just says Jesus got up early, got away from the distractions and prayed. He did it on His own because He wanted to. It made such an impression that Matthew, John and Luke wrote about it too.

Clearly, He also prayed other times and in other ways just like I do. He offered running, through-the-day prayers, prayers for immediate needs and prayers for people. I do that too. You? They are not as deep or intimate but, nonetheless, they are real and important.

The passage pulled me to other passages where Jesus withdrew, left His iPhone behind, to head for solitude and stillness to connect with God.

When I was so very sick, solitude was not a choice. I was forced into it for hours every day. Now, thankfully, I have a choice. When I don’t choose it, when I live in the quick and busy world of prayer through the day, I’m missing out on a vital part of prayer. Solitude.

Yesterday, I challenged our church family to seven days of doing what Jesus did on that day. I challenged us to get up early, even 5-10 minutes early, find a place with no distractions to pray for God’s presence and direction in the day ahead.

This morning, on the first day of my vacation, my daughter’s golden retriever started whining at 4:23. (We are dog sitting.) No, I was not happy. But then those words came to mind that while it was still dark, Jesus got up, found a quiet place to pray and spent time alone.

So, I did.

It’s 6 am. I’ve fed two dogs, prayed, sipped coffee and connected with God. It feels good.

This is what I need to do to live like Jesus. I need to make time not because I have to in order to gain points with God or feel like I am “meeting the standard” but because I am hungry for that closeness, that intimacy, that two-way street. Early morning, mid-afternoon, moonlight … Jesus made time to hang out with the Father despite all the demands and pressures of life.

I need to do that too, even after my needy granddog goes back home.

Then the shepherds said, “Nah, we’ll pass.”

ChristmasGood News

Imagine if, on that first Christmas, the angel described what Christmas would become in the 21st century…

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Because of today, future generations will add two to three family parties, two staff parties, three to four church programs, one school performance, many days of shopping at crowded malls, daily deliveries of boxes, fifty greeting cards, and at least one night of wrapping gifts. Their children will go to practice upon practice to prepare for performances and they will watch them at school, at church and at civic events. They will sew costumes and rehearse lines. Their friends will host a dinner party or two to add to the festivities. And there will be lots of baking to do.

They will cut down trees and hang pretty bobbles on the branches. They will place giant, inflatables of a jolly bearded man in a red suit on their lawns. Nearby there will be a green, monsterish plastic creature people will call a “grinch.” And, much will be made of a deer with an illuminating nose.

People will sing songs about a “Silent Night” and a “Holy Night” and sing about peace while having no idea what true Peace is.

It will all be so much fun! People will borrow money to make it all happen. People will work as hard as they can to provide something called, “the perfect Christmas.”

Elves, reindeer, snowmen, a baby in some straw, boughs with red berries and fa la la la lah. Yes! That is the miraculous “Good News” we’ve come out here to tell you about tonight. Pretty exciting, don’t you think? People will even be rude to each other and God’s people will get angry at people who wish them “Happy Holidays.” Most won’t really care much if people know this Savior born today but it will be very important to them that people say, “Merry Christmas.” They will make memes and share them on something called “Facebook.”

Now hurry off, you shepherds. Get down there to Bethlehem and find that baby. If you don’t you’re going to be messing up nativity scene pictures for all eternity! We can’t even imagine Christmas plays without those little kids in bathrobes with towels over their heads! Go, go now.

I think the shepherds probably would have rolled over and said, “Nah, we’re all set. We’ll pass.”

Good news. Great joy. Emmanuel. God with us.

With you. With me. God: available, present, guiding, shaping, comforting, rescuing, rebuilding, renewing and defining. Hope. Purpose. Peace. Meaning.

Is that Jesus present in your life? With you right now?

Wise men still seek Him. Wiser men follow Him.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus


Scott Linscott is lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Westbrook, Maine.

Why I am not a Baptist

labelsBy Scott Linscott

What’s with all the labels? In the last three weeks I’ve had at least five conversations where people either try to pin a label to me or ask, “What are you, anyway?”

What am I? I mean, what kind of question is that? Can’t you see what I am? I’m a human male.

I understand what people are looking for. If I were a can of soup my label would tell people if I was what they were looking for. When I sort through the cans in my cupboard looking for Tomato I quickly dismiss the Chicken Noodle and French Onion. It doesn’t hurt their feelings.

But I’m not a can of soup. You’re not a can of soup. We shouldn’t dismiss each other with labels that can’t begin to tell what’s truly inside.

“I’m a Catholic,” I’ve heard from several during conversations about what’s happening at FBC. They’ve said it like it’s a limiting thing that keeps them from being able to walk through the front doors of our building.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get the labels. I mean, I understand the aim is to identify how we think or what we like but I think that is less and less true today.

Look at the “Baptist” label for a minute. Somehow I find myself pastoring the people at First Baptist Church in Westbrook through an undeniably providential series of events. We’re “baptists” in a “baptist” church. Cool?

I see the infamous Westboro Baptist Church on the news picketing funerals all the time and want to vomit. They wear the same label. Our church signs are similar. How can I convince you that I am NOTHING like them? They are so very different from the Jesus I follow, but their label is the same as the one that some want to slap on my back,

I reject labels. I’m not a Baptist. I’m not a Nazarene. I’m not a Methodist. I’m not Catholic. I don’t have much use for labels that allow us to make quick judgments of one another.

All I want to know is if you follow Jesus and believe that the Grace of God makes all things new. Do you like His style? Are you intrigued by His radical love?

I’m not willing to just shove you aside because of the label on your can. That’s an awkward way of saying that I believe it’s better for us to value one another and get to know each other. Then, after we get to know each other, we can decide if we want to hang out.

I know, I’m a simple man with a simple faith. I don’t see all these labels in the early church. I see the major ones defining the core values – Jews, Christians, Gnostic, etc. – but I see so much of this book we read encouraging unity that I have a tough time with all the denominationalism of today.

I’m not a Baptist. If you ask me what I am I will tell you I am a son, brother, husband, father, cousin, uncle, friend who is doing the best I can to follow the example of Jesus Christ and become like Him.

We gather every Sunday morning in a big white building on Main Street in Westbrook to check into Jesus and you are welcome to join us regardless of the label you have worn or inherited. You don’t have to be “a Baptist” to come look into Jesus with us. I know, I know, the historic sign out front identifies us as “First Baptist Church” but that doesn’t mean only people who wear the label can come. I don’t wear it. I won’t.

Come join us. Peel the label off your back. Come check out the radical, unconditional, life-changing love of Jesus.

My Confession: I don’t want to go to church.

Enjoying Phil & Jan's pool.

Enjoying Phil & Jan’s pool.

Sometimes I feel like a school principal. It’s weird. People miss church and then send me a note through social media, text or email, “Johnny missed church Sunday because he had a fungus growing in his ears.”

No, it’s not that extreme but I feel a little weird when people feel like they need to tell me why they weren’t in church. It’s like they want me to know they aren’t just playing hooky but have legitimate reasons.

The whole “going to church” mentality is, as far as I can see, off the mark. I think years of perfect attendance pins and gold stars on Sunday School attendance charts have undermined what should pull us out of bed.

Here’s my confession: I don’t want to go to church. Really, I don’t.

What I do want to do is gather with my friends to worship our God, hear about their lives and make plans. I want to make their kids laugh. I want to kiss Ruth on the forehead and have Helen hand me a cough drop. I like Kip’s morning hug and teasing Vicki about her Cowboys. I love sitting in the lobby laughing with Cam and Sean, high fives and hugs from Sara and Shelby and hearing Sara call me “dude.” I love connecting with that row of Anthony, Kylie, Nicole and Adam, seeing Obrien smiles and teasing Kim. I could go on and on and list a hundred names from sharing baseball stories with Sally to seeing Nancy’s smile, from talking cameras with Al to laughing with Pam and Larry, name after name is popping into my mind right now. I like that.

I get up Sunday morning not to go to church; I get up because I want to gather with the church, the people, my family. I want to worship with the church, learn with the church and grow with the church in this big white building where it meets.

I hope that is, or becomes, your motivation. I don’t want you to feel guilty for missing “church” but I do hope we continue to build such a loving community that you miss gathering with the church when you are away.

Yes, I believe gathering regularly with and being connected with the church is vital. I think it is much more difficult to grow and navigate life without connecting with others who share our beliefs, values and purposes. When I do not make gathering with the church a priority, it impacts my life and my attitude negatively.

Summer is here! It is time for vacations, family cookouts and canoeing with friends. I love that. Please shake off the church guilt complex and kiss the perfect attendance pin goodbye to enjoy the beach house. Breathe deep, reflect, read a book and enjoy sabbath rest. I am thrilled you are getting away to be refreshed. I am happy that you are building memories that will last. I love seeing the smiles in the pictures you post on Facebook and I know my God loves it when you laugh and relax.

Know that no one is taking attendance here and know that we do miss you when you are gone but please don’t feel like you need a note or that the pastor is going to be upset because you missed church. This pastor is thrilled to see you loving your family enough to vacation and loving your spouse enough to take out the kayaks to head for the water.

I know that September is coming and I know that we Mainers need to grab these brief summer days while they are here. I can’t wait to welcome you back and hear about your summer fun.

I remember hearing someone once say, “Yeah, I felt so bad that I hadn’t been to church in so long that I never went back. It would be awkward hearing, ‘where have you been?'”

That’s silly.

When you get back just know that we love you and have missed you like crazy. We want to hear about your adventures. We’ll just pick up right where we left off.

Deal?

I hope you are having a great summer. I hope you are squeezing out every drop of vitamin D each day offers.

I’m looking forward to seeing you when you get back whether it be next Sunday or this fall.

We don’t go to church, we are the church.

– Scott Linscott

Ten things we REFUSE to have describe us at FBC Westbrook! Right, church?

millTen Reasons Churches Are Not Reaching Millennials

By Frank Powell (reblogged form here)

I am very passionate about the Millennial generation. I know much has been said pessimistically about this generation, but I hold to the belief that the Millennials are poised to change the culture for the good in this country and impact the world. But for many churches and leaders, Millennials are (to steal from Winston Churchill) “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I would agree with this on some levels, but I also believe the riddle can be solved. Millennials are a unique generation, but once you find out what makes them tick you realize they are not that puzzling. They just have a unique set of passions, interests, and viewpoints on the culture and the world.

The problem is I believe the church has largely failed to take stock in this generation because they are different. A lack of knowledge breeds fear, and this is true of the church in relation to the Millennials. Many churches do not take the time to know the next generation, so they are stuck with attaching stigmas (many untrue) to them. This is problematic. There are churches, however, that are thriving with Millennials, and if you did some investigation I believe you would come out with similar results, regardless of the church locale.

So, what differentiates a church culture that attracts Millennials and one that repels them? There are many factors, but I want to highlight ten really important ones. If you are a church that has been asking why it is so hard to get the next generation to become part of your culture, the following reasons might shed some light on your struggle.

1.) There is a strong resistant to change

This generation does not understand a refusal to change a program, activity, or even an entire culture if it is not working. Traditions are not something most Millennials hold close to their heart. In fact, for many (myself included) traditions are often seen as the enemy because many churches allow their traditions to hinder them from moving forward at all. Is this right? Maybe not, but it is a reality nonetheless. One that must be understood.

Millennials are removed from the era of doing everything because “this is how we have always done it.” That answer is no longer acceptable. A very strong value of this generation is changing the world. Many times traditions hold them back from doing this. In addition, the next generation understands change is necessary to remain focused on the vision and being externally focused, among many other things.

2.) Compelling vision is lacking or non-existent

If your goal is to create an environment that is totally void of the next generation, especially those with any initiative and talent, refuse to cast vision in your church. That will drive Millennials away faster than the time I saw a rattlesnake in the woods and screamed like a little girl (don’t judge me…I hate snakes…and cats). It always baffles me when a church does not place value in vision and planning for the future. There is virtually no other arena of life where we refuse to vision and plan, but for some reason the church is different.

 

If your vision doesn’t compel, move or stir people, your vision is too small.  -Craig Groeschel

Millennials will not invest in a church that refuses to dream big because they see example after example of an infinitely powerful God doing amazing things through normal people. You might think they are naive, but most Millennials do not believe they have to wait until they receive a certain degree or reach a certain age to start non-profits, plant churches, or lead businesses.

So, go ahead and believe “the Spirit is supposed to guide us, not a man-made vision” or just allow sheer laziness to lead the way, and your church will continue to be void of the next generation.

3.) Mediocrity is the expectation

Quite simply…the next generation is not content with mediocrity. They are very optimistic about their ability to excite change in the world. Good or bad, they have a strong desire to do something extraordinary. Failure is not going to drive the train for most Millennials. This also seems like a foreign concept to many in previous generations, but Millennials are not scared to fail and they believe churches should operate with a similar mindset. They hold to the mentality that failing and being a failure are mutually exclusive. Failing is not viewed as a step back. They dream often and dream big because they understand we serve a God who works beyond our ability. The Millennials have a collective concern for making the world a better place, and mediocrity fits no where in those plans.

4.) There is a paternalistic approach to leading Millennials

This is one I have experienced personally. If you want to push the next generation away from your church, refuse to release them to lead. Simply giving them a title means absolutely nothing. Titles are largely irrelevant to the next generation. They want to be trusted to fulfill the task that has been given to them. If you micro-manage them, treat them like a parent, and refuse to believe they are capable of being leaders because of their age and lack of experience, wisdom, etc., they will only be at your church for a short season.

Millennials will not allow age to keep them from leading…and leading well. If you refuse to release them to lead, the next generation will quickly find another church or context where they can use their talents and gifts to their full capacity.

5.) There is a pervasive insider-focused mentality

Traditional or contemporary worship? High church or low church? Plurality of elders or board of directors or staff-led church? While generations past invested a lot of time and energy in these discussions, most Millennials see these conversations as sideways energy. There might be a time and place for talking about acappella versus instrumental or high church versus low church, but the time is very rarely and the place is not from the pulpit or small group.

What is important to Millennials? How a church responds to the lost in the world, both locally and globally. How a church responds to the poor, homeless, needy, and widowed. If you want to ensure your church has very few Millennials, answer the questions nobody is asking, spend most of your resources on your building, and have a lot of programs that do little to impact anybody outside the church walls.

When the faithful saturate their schedules with Christian events at Christian venues with Christian people, the world has a hard time believing we hold the rest of the world in high esteem.  -Gabe Lyons

Millennials are not going to give their time and resources to a church that turns around and spends massive amounts of money on programs and events that are inefficient and ineffective. The reality is most of the next generation has a very pessimistic attitude towards institutions…the church included. Church leaders can get mad or frustrated about this reality, or they can change some things. The churches who value reaching the next generation emphasize the latter.

6.)  Transparency and authenticity are not high values

Despite what I have often heard, I believe most Millennials value transparency and authenticity. If your church portrays a “holier than thou” mentality and most of the sermons leave everyone feeling like they are terrible people and the preacher is perfect, your church will be largely void of the next generation. Why? Because they know something the church has largely denied for a long time…church leaders are not in their position because they are absent of sin, temptations, or failures. Millennials have seen too many scandals in the church (i.e. Catholic church scandal) and witnessed too many instances of moral failures among prominent Christian leaders. Millennials are not looking for people to be perfect…Jesus already handled that for us. Millennials are looking for people to be real and honest about struggles and temptations.

7.)  Mentoring is not important.

This is a common misconception about the next generation. While they do not like paternalistic leadership, they place a high value on gleaning wisdom from generations past. I have a good friend who lives in Jackson, TN and he occasionally drives to Nashville (about two hours away) to sit at the feet of a man who has mentored him for years. He does this because this man has some knowledge that my good friend values highly. He is not an exception. I have driven as far as Dallas to spend a weekend with a family that I love and respect. I had no other reason for going than to watch how they parent and let this man give me nuggets of wisdom on following Jesus and loving others. Many might think this is ridiculous, but this is what makes the Millennials unique. We value wisdom and insight. We see it as a valuable treasure, and we will drive any distance to acquire it.

The Millennials are not standoffish towards those who have gone before us. They place a high value on learning from people who have a strong desire to be a sage instead of a dad. If your church is generationally segregated and refuses to pour back into the next generation, you can be sure your church will not attract Millennials.

8.) Culture is viewed as the enemy of the church.

I have so much to say on this, but space will not allow (lightbulb moment…maybe my next post will be on this…boom!). Anyway, Millennials are tired of the church viewing the culture as the enemy. Separationist churches who value creating “safe” places for their members and moving away from all the evil in the city are highly unlikely to attract the next generation. The next generation is trying to find ways to engage the culture for the glory of God.

The next Christians believe that Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people FROM something. He wanted to save Christians TO something. -Gabe Lyons

Millennials are increasingly optimistic about the surrounding culture because they see Jesus loving all types of people, loving cities, and engaging culture. They also know the church does not stand at the center of culture anymore, and reaching people only comes through engaging culture. In generations past, preachers could stand in the pulpit and talk about the evils of the surrounding culture because the church was the shaper of the culture at large. Today, this is not true. The church needs to stop believing the goal of Christian living is to escape the evils of culture and finish life unharmed and untainted. To reach people in 2014, the church must be immersed in the community for the glory of God.

9.) Community is not valued

This might be one of the greatest values of the Millennials. Community is a non-negotiable part of their lives. And they are not looking for another group of people to watch the Cowboys play football on Sunday or play softball…the next generation desires a Christ-centered community. They value a community that goes beyond the surface and yields transformation. Community keeps Millennials grounded, keeps them focused, and challenges them to reach heights never imagined alone. They see Jesus living in community with twelve men for most of His earthly ministry. They see Jesus spending much of His time pouring into people and initiating transformation. Community is not a passive, optional part of a Millennial’s life…it is essential.

Personally, I have seen the value of community on so many levels in my life. Without authentic Christian community, I would not be in full time ministry today. I would not have overcome some serious sins and struggles. I would not have been challenged to live fully for God.

In a culture that is becoming increasingly independent and disconnected, I believe the Millennials are modeling something important for the church. There is power in numbers. As an African proverb states,

 

If you want to go fast, go ALONE. If you want to go far, go TOGETHER.

 

Millennials want to go far and want their life to have meaning. In their minds this is not possible without deep, authentic, Christ-centered community. I agree.

10.) The church is always a source of division and not unity

Nothing frustrates Millennials more than a church that does not believe unity should be a very high value. Jesus’s final recorded prayer on earth in John 17 is one church leaders have preached on for years. What many churches miss is one of the central themes in that prayer…unity. On four separate occasions, Jesus explicitly prays for unity. It was important to him. He brought together tax collectors and Zealots (read about both of these groups if you want to know how difficult it would have been to bring these two together). He talked to prostitutes. He brought people together. This is why places like coffee shops are grounds (like my pun?) for scores of Millennials. They provide an atmosphere for all to come and feel welcomed and accepted.

Churches that value racial, generational, and socio-economic unity are the churches that are going to attract Millennials. Why? Because most next gens believe the gospel is most fully reflected when all of these groups are brought together, and most of them are just crazy enough to believe the power of the Spirit is sufficient to make it happen.

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I know there is a lot to digest in this post, but I believe it is vitally important to understand the Millennials. They are unique and different from generations past, but the next generation has a lot to offer the church and the world today. I also believe the generations that have come before us have much to offer.

Some churches and leaders do not see the value of changing to reach this generation, but the sad thing is once they realize this mentality is wrong it will be too late. The Millennials constitute a huge part of the population today (about 80 million strong), and if your church is serious about the Great Commission, your church also needs to be serious about understanding this generation.

Who is Frank Powell? (click)