Nov 22, 2009

The Revenge of the Poets

About a month ago I made a comment with regard to Job that I just did not like poetry that much. I feel like a “big time reader” and take that part of my responsibility seriously. However I was simply trying to help the congregation understand that for those who are like me—not all that proficient at poetic form—that reading Job is work.

I asked the congregation not to say anything to one of my favorite English teachers—I think I called her the “president of the English teachers union”—but unfortunately, numerous people called her and this is what I received from her that next week:

There once was a preacher named Dave,
Who wanted the whole world to save,
But he insulted the poets
And wouldn’t you know it,
When the plate passed, nobody gave. –BR

Okay, Bev, I surrender.

Nov 13, 2009

Go the Second Mile

Someone asked me recently why the name for this blog: “One Mile Mosser?”

One reason I suppose is that last year Ken Diehm and I came up with an idea for a ministry focus that had to do with ministry near our churches. We called it a “One Mile Mission.”

Our church, FUMC Arlington Texas, is a large urban congregation whose membership is gradually trickling out toward the suburbs. For several decades our congregation and our immediate geographical neighborhood has been in a severe change mode. Some have noticed it; many have not. Yet we have many people here—in Hebrew Bible terms “a loyal” or “faithful remnant” that has boldly (and inconveniently) decided to continue to worship here in the heart of urban Arlington. For those dedicated to this congregation and the mission area in which we find ourselves we now focus on others as much as ourselves. Radical? Perhaps. Like a good Rabbi, this church’s radical loyalty reminds me of a story.

Before dying, Rabbi Zusya said to his disciples, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses? Why were you not David? Why were you not Abraham?’ No. In the world to come they will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ ”

As is a constant and legitimate question of Jesus’ disciples, we ask ourselves who and what we should be. Maybe subsequent to that question is another: Why have we not been what we should? There is much for us to learn from Rabbi Zusya’s question.

Church members ask me intermittently “why can’t our church be more like White’s Chapel UMC (in Southlake) or more like FUMC, Mansfield?” Granted we used to be something like those churches—maybe better (?)—then. But now—we are much different. Now God calls us to respond to our neighborhood community and to offer the gospel as a “regional church” might offer the good news of Jesus Christ. We have not been in reality “a suburban” church for at least twenty-five years or more and perhaps it is an act of faithfulness to notice.

To paraphrase a rabbi: “In the coming world, they will not ask FUMC, Arlington: ‘Why were you not Arbor Lawn UMC? Why were you not First UMC, Plano? Why were you not First UMC, Wichita Falls?’ No. In the world to come they will ask: ‘Why were you not FUMC, Arlington?’ ”

Thus I propose to our entire congregation, via Church Council, that we adopt a strategy that goes even beyond what we called the “One Mile Mission” last year. In the year 2010 I want us to explore what it would mean for our congregation to “go the second mile.” As Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:41-42). Can we “Go the Second Mile” for Jesus in 2010?

Nov 7, 2009

Wal-Mart verses Brookshire Hospitality

As I was perusing ideas during the sermon series “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” I ran across an attention-grabbing quotation too painful to share in worship from a book titled Deep and Wide: Hospitality and the Faithful Church:

Within a year of officially joining a congregation, 62% of new members are less active in the church than at the time they joined. Twenty-five percent simply stop coming within the first year of official membership. Evangelism and outreach are important, and growing churches have learned how to practice warm hospitality to new people. But new members don’t continue involvement unless they are thoroughly assimilated (Steve Clapp, Fred Bernhard, and Ed Bontrager: 1 January 2008, no page number given).

Most people say they want to receive a warm welcome, but the truth is that not everyone is a “welcome sponge.” I once watched a family visit a particular church a few times. They complained that people were not friendly. After watching a few Sundays, I could honestly say something like (slightly tongue-in-cheek): “I understand we all want people to be friendly, yet I notice that you folks sit on the back pew, arrive after the announcements, leave during the benediction, wear running shoes, have your car backed into its parking space . . . and leave the motor running—maybe people don’t get the opportunity to be friendly to you.” This happens, of course—but not often.

How is it we want to be welcomed? On my day off I often go to one of two places to buy groceries in Midlothian, Texas. I also notice how they handle customer relations—if we were at church then we might call it hospitality.

At Wal-Mart, after the initial greeting “Welcome to Wal-Mart,” the shopper is pretty much on his or her own. You hope you can find what you are looking for—or you hope you can find an employee who can find it for you. You have the “self-check out” option and then you roll your groceries to your vehicle and head for the exit. “Please put your cart in the cart rack to help us keep our costs to you to a minimum! That’s the Wal-Mart way!” Wal-Mart also specializes in exclamation points! No matter how often I go to Wal-Mart I never get the feeling that anyone knows me—not necessarily a bad thing either! (I also specialize in exclamation points!)!

By contrast, at Brookshire’s—the local-feel grocery store (also a conglomerate—just not as obvious) they are more hands-on with the customer relations. “Self-check out” is not an alternative and generally the store is small enough that people like me can track down someone to help me find the blueberries because someone moved them from last week’s location. The bag-persons insists on transferring your groceries to your vehicle and this way they bring the cart back—in case I wanted to abscond with one to add to my large collection at my house—Ha! Ha! At Brookshire’s you have a passing acquaintance with many of those who work there and know which ones to avoid because of their obvious low tolerance of tomfoolery.

What this has to do with church hospitality is simply this: there are many ways to make people welcome and the best way is to make them feel welcome the way that best makes them feel welcome. That is all—the groceries get eaten in either case. So be it!

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