Here’s an explanation of the plan.
The daily Bible Studies gathered into individual Bible books.
Here’s an explanation of the plan.
The daily Bible Studies gathered into individual Bible books.
The first church I pastored had about 35-40 people in it. In five years I probably had only two really sad events – a baby born with disabilities who died shortly afterwards, and a member’s nephew who died in a motorbike accident. There were other illnesses, cancers, deaths, etc, but they were more related to the “normal” aging process. Still sad, but not heart-smashing.
My next congregation was somewhere in the region of 230 people with a subsequent increase in crises and tragedies, including road traffic deaths, miscarriages, and, most painfully of all, a suicide.
The next congregation I was associated with was one of over 600 people, although I was not a pastor in this church. I immediately noticed a massive spike in the number of really, really sad events. Every church bulletin had long lists of sick and dying people. Almost every other Sunday, there was somebody in the congregation, or related to someone in the congregation, who had received terminal diagnosis, lost a child, died in tragic circumstances, or had been in a terrible accident.
I’m now pastoring again, and I have no idea of the size of this church (never counted), but comparing it with the last church I pastored in, it looks quite similar, let’s just say 200+. I’ve immediately noticed that although there are many trying situations for people, there are far less sad things than in the big church I was a member in.
This raises a big difficulty for larger congregations. How do you make people aware of the prayer needs of people in desperately sad situations without totally depressing the whole congregation all the time?
The bigger the congregation, the much greater likelihood there is of there always being some major sadness (and often more than one) in front of people’s minds. That kind of thing, week in week out, can take a massive emotional toll on people, especially those who are tender-hearted and sympathetic, who can all too easily feel the pain that others are feeling.
In other situations I’ve seen ministers who in some ways revel in the constant drama of it all and almost seem to live for the next crisis in order to hype it up and position themselves as indispensably important and involved.
Balanced Burden Bearing
Now, of course, we don’t want to be hard and unfeeling towards suffering people. We don’t want to resent them “disturbing the peace of our little lives.” We must be willing to carry the burdens of others who are suffering; carry them mentally, emotionally, spiritually, prayerfully and practically.
But most of us can’t carry all the burdens that are associated with being in a large congregation. And I don’t believe God expects us to either. It’s so crushing. So what can be done to get the balance right here?
First, congregations must give equal weight to celebrating the good things. Births, marriages, graduations, and healings shouldn’t be ignored or demoted to a tag-on in bulletins and prayer requests. We must rejoice with those who rejoice. If we don’t, then we present not only an unbalanced picture of life but also of God.
Second, pastors have to be careful not to share too much information with the whole congregation. The more details of a certain case that are given, the more painful emotions the hearers will experience. Much of the details should be reserved for people who are intimately involved in the situation – family members, close friends, elders. Otherwise, we are gratuitously afflicting people’s ears, minds, and hearts who can do nothing about the situation and who may not even know the people involved.
Third, most large churches are divided into districts or areas. If you are a member and you are finding that you just can’t handle all the agonizing prayer needs from so many people (and you can’t), why not mentally limit yourself to thinking and praying about only those who are in your area. It’s probably still a hundred people or so, but it’s a lot more “normal” a number to be concerned about.
Fourth, except in exceptional cases, maybe the public prayer could cover sick and needy people in general rather than sounding like a doctor’s report on a large ward. And maybe district prayer meetings could cover the sick and needy in more personal and detailed terms. That will cut down the number of needs to cover and carry in the congregational prayer.
There’s no easy answer to this. We don’t want to create a false impression that life is great for everyone and no one has any trouble. On the other hand, neither do we want to create the false impression that everyone is dying or suffering. Both create spiritually damaging climates that eventually depress and demoralize God’s people. The unbalanced overemphasis on suffering and sadness also leaves indelible marks on children and young people.
America in 2013: As Told In Charts As the New York Times put it, here are “10 charts to illustrate a depressing first year of President Obama’s second term.” Highlights (lowlights?) include:
I wonder what God’s charts for America in 2013 look like? What does he measure and how do we shape up? Ten charts for each of His moral laws? And one chart above them all entitled “Faith in Jesus Christ”?
What’s Next for Gay Rights in 2014 (Warning: Offensive picture)
And you thought there couldn’t be anything left for them to win? Well, you’re wrong. Although 2013 was “the biggest year ever for gay rights,” they are not resting on their laurels. Sometimes you think they won’t rest until they rest their feet on footstools made of Christians. The goal is to reach “beyond the civil rights framework of mainstream integration, and beyond the partial equality that it delivers, to imagine and create a different movement whose goal is genuine social change.” On the basis that four out of five families fall outside the “traditional nuclear family,” the author says:
To have our government define as “legitimate families” only those households with couples in conjugal relationships does a tremendous disservice to the many other ways in which people actually construct their families, kinship networks, households, and relationships.
And she concludes with this rallying cry:
We should certainly celebrate the great leaps forward for gay rights in 2013, in marriage equality but also with cultural markers and especially polls showing that the public is becoming more accepting. But in 2014, we must revisit the guiding philosophy of the gay movement and whether our strategies and tactics are pursuing liberation for all—gay and straight, black white and brown, women and men and trans—or merely some. This debate, more vibrant in decades past, is in urgent need of revival. If 2013 was the year that Americans of all stripes and social movements joined the careening bandwagon for gay rights, may 2014 be the year in which the LGBT movement returns the favor with a vision of liberation for all.
The War on Poverty Turns 50: Why Aren’t We Winning? Given that the poverty rate has only dropped from 19% to 15% in 50 years, it looks like this is going to be a very long war. The poverty rate remains stubbornly high because “the government’s best efforts to get cash to working families have been offset by the fact that Americans are—for a variety of reasons—working less.”
Reason 1: The Recession. The poverty rate for full-time workers is very low: 3 percent. For those who don’t work, it’s very high: 33 percent…Even with unemployment falling, the share of working-age people who are actually working has retreated to its lowest point since the 1970s, partly because America is aging and partly because people have dropped out of the workforce.
Reason 2: Family arrangements—in particular,the rise of single-parent households—make it all but impossible for many parents to work full-time.
Why it matters when we rub our bellies and say “So long as it’s healthy”
I won’t be saying that again, for sure.
The Difficulty and Glory of Adoption
Owen Strachan reflects on a recent NYT piece on adoption: “Parenting in general can be summed up in two words: self-sacrifice. That’s what being a father and a mother is at base. Every day, every single day, calls a father and mother to die to themselves in order that their children might flourish. Parents who adopt children from terrible circumstances will face this reality even more than “normal” parents do. They will also, however, experience unspeakable joy as they honor their adoptive heavenly father by caring for those whom the world did not want.”
Stephen Altrogge launches his new book today. Launch price 99c!
Scholarly Review of The Law is Not of Faith
Dr Cornel Venema’s important and lengthy review.
A Christo-Yearning Hermeneutic
This is quite similar to Dr Bryan Chapell’s Fallen Condition Focus. Here are another couple of helpful reminder/refresher articles on expositional preaching. 7 Qualities of Expositional Preaching and Text Driven Preaching and Pragmatic Analysis.
Confessions of an Obese Pastor
A admire Thom Rainer even more after this: “I am a Christian. Some may say I am a Christian leader. Some people look to me as an example. Frankly, I have been a poor example, a poor witness. I have had a lifestyle of sin of gluttony and slothfulness. I have no right to be a leader, if I am one, with the awful model that I am and have been.”
5 Ways Physical Training Helps with Spiritual Training
Ron Edmondson: “Let me close with this challenge. Test my claim. Spend some time addressing the physical needs in your life for a period of time long enough to make a difference. Try it for at least thirty days. Then you decide if it is worth your attention. I am confident you will find it well worth the time and effort you put into it.”
Healing Patients as Whole People
Looking forward to the rest of this TGC series on how Christians integrate their faith and work in various callings.
Growing up I always wanted to know how much money my Dad was making. I never found out and didn’t even have the neck to ask him. It was an unspoken rule that you simply didn’t speak about that.
My own kids are not so shy, especially my teenage sons (17.9 and 16 years old). In ways subtle and not so subtle they’ve tried to find out my salary through the years, and I’ve always gone to great lengths to conceal it from them. Shona and I never do our budgeting within earshot of the kids, and I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to hide and shred wage slips, bank statements, mortgage statements, etc. That’s right, I wouldn’t even tell them how much my mortgage was.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stopped and asked myself, “Why are you doing this? What’s the point in being so secretive?” I suppose I didn’t want them blabbing about it to their friends, but they’re “big boys” now.
Any other reason?
I couldn’t think of one, and realized that I was really only doing it this way because that’s the way my own parents did it. “Don’t ask; don’t tell.”
Then, as I thought more about it, I concluded that I was missing out a real opportunity to teach my kids about how to handle finances. I find it incredibly frustrating that schools spend so much time and money on teaching Algebra and Physics, and yet so little if any on teaching about how to handle time and money. I didn’t get one lesson on money at my public school. Thankfully, I entered the world of financial services and qualified eventually as a Chartered Insurer. Mortgages, Mutual Funds, and Life Insurance were my bread and butter, but that still didn’t make me an expert on personal finance and budgeting.
I feel it’s only in the last few years, mainly through listening to Dave Ramsey, that I feel I’m beginning to get to grips with debt-free living, zero-sum budgeting, and planning for the future. I don’t want my kids to take 30 years to learn that lesson.
Shocks at the Top and the Bottom
So, two weeks ago, I decided to put it all on the table. I got my two boys to the computer and took them through exactly how much I earn each month from different sources, how much tax, etc., is deducted, how much we have to set aside for fixed expenses (e.g. health insurance, mortgage, car insurance, school fees, church givings, etc.), how much we budget for variable expenses (e.g. food, clothes, gas, utilities, etc), and how much is left over each month. They were a bit shocked at the top line (one son was stunned to learn that I earn just a little more than he does in Chevy’s lube department after school). They were even more shocked when we got to the bottom line to see how little was left!
I explained how Shona and I are now working hard at keeping a daily track of our expenses, emailing every receipt into Evernote and sitting down every evening to write up what we’ve spent on index cards with running totals for each section of our budget.
It was a profitable time; I enjoyed being more open and transparent with the boys and they had their eyes opened wide to the expenses and complications of everyday living. We now pray together for God’s blessing on our budgeting and financial decisions at family worship. It all just feels a lot more “natural.”
As we continue this policy of financial openness with my sons, I hope they’ll not only help to keep us accountable but they’ll also learn how to organize their finances, budget, and plan for the future too. It also helps us all to work together on facing the looming college fees train that’s about to crush us. I now wish I’d done this a few years ago, but hopefully I’ve still got long enough to leave a good example of stewardship to them. It’s the only legacy they’ll get!
Funniest remark so far: “Well, I’m definitely not going to have so many kids!” (We have five)
Biggest benefit so far: Much less, “Dad, can I have…”
The 4 Most Important Parenting Lessons I Learned in 2014
Megan Miller with a moving and fascinating post about the challenges of raising adopted kids who have been traumatized early in life. She writes: “This October marked two years home with our youngest boys, adopted from Uganda in 2011. The first year was pure survival. We spend most of our days just trying to make it, adjusting to our new normal. This year was different.”
The Internet Makes us All Miserable
A bit overstated, but Stephen Altrogge makes a good point: “In the good old days of jealousy and comparison and coveting, we compared ourselves to those close to us. When someone near to us succeeded, we felt like a failure. But the good old days are gone. Now, thanks to the Internet, we can feel like failures all the time.”
How to Guard Your Heart When Discipling Drug Addicts
Mez writes from painful personal experience.
If you’re interested in apologetics, Mike Wittmer’s your man to guide you through some new books on the subject.
Reading the Bible Like Jesus
This could revolutionize your Bible reading and your Christian life.
7 Things We Learned From Pastors’ Kids
Thom Rainer collates responses to a blog post on the subject.