Intentional Church Culture

Last month in the Park Post I wrote about church culture.   Every church has a certain culture, and it is not always positive!  Some cultures may feel unfriendly, cliquish, or intolerant.  Some church cultures might be too serious and formal; while others might feel too casual or unprofessional.  A culture is shaped by the behaviors that are demonstrated, celebrated and tolerated.  So, sometimes a culture does not line-up with the stated values or goals of what a church hopes to be—a culture might be negative and unintentional.

So, here at Park, we want to be thoughtful, deliberate, and consistent when it comes to our culture.  We want to live out what we have said is important.

This summer the elders have discussed important parts of our church’s identity.  I’ve looked over these responses, and I’ve compared them to our stated core values, mission and vision.  We want to be about “growing in faith, building community, and going to serve others”.

But, we’ve considered not just what the church has written down on paper, but also how we have lived out our priorities.  What do our behaviors, programs and committees reveal about our culture?  It is also important to prayerfully consider what God wants from us.  Together this month, we’ve been looking at the 7 letters to the churches in Revelation and we’ve studied these to help us see, “What kind of church does Jesus want us to be?”

Now, in this Park Post we are revealing 9 important pieces of our church culture that we want to be intentional about.  This list isn’t trying to create something new.  It is a discovery process of what’s already here and what’s important; and then, trying to find a way to organize it, communicate it, and remember it.  It’s a list that also keeps us striving to improve.  We have plenty to learn and room to grow.

We have worked with a graphic artist (Cindy Mouw) to create some simple clip arts that will help us visualize our culture and priorities.  Now, in the coming months ahead, we hope to use this artwork and the concepts to dig into these categories more and to be clear and intentional with our congregation, and those who visit with us, the kind of church that we want to be.

I don’t consider all this to be a final product.  There may be adjustments, additions, or new ideas to include.  Plus, each category can be better defined.  For example—one priority is to “Make New Disciples through Relationships”.  Well, back in January and February we had a sermon series called “Missionary Training”.  We read together Yancey’s book Vanishing Grace, and discussed some Biblical values and strategies in reaching out.  On the last Sunday of that series, we had a commissioning to send all us out as missionaries.  Now, thinking about what we’ve already been learning, a next step is to write-out a clear strategy for our congregation to follow.  I want to take that value of “Making New Disciples” and expand it and better explain it—with the help and feedback of the outreach team.

So, our goal is bring more clarity, more intentionality, and more focus to our church culture here at Park.

Park Ministry Focus – pdf chart

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Our Park Church Focus in Winter 2019

During the fall of 2018 we had a focus on prayer; and as a church we were challenged and blessed by the “Bible in a Year” readings.  Emphasizing these spiritual disciplines has been fruitful.  We are building a foundation of faith, and certainly these themes still carry over into a new year.  We want to grow our culture of prayer, and plan to still create a prayer team and organize a prayer vigil.  We want to keep studying and reading God’s Word in personal study and meditation.

But now heading into 2019, we start building on this foundation.  We are going to be spending the first couple of months here with a focus on outreach.  I want all of us at Park to see ourselves as missionaries—called and sent by Jesus—even if we’re living in Holland and getting a paycheck from something else; or even if we don’t have the gift of evangelism, or are introverts—all believers are still missionaries!

When Jesus gathered his disciples, one of the first things he told them was, “I will make you fishers of men.”  During his 3 years of ministry, he trained them and prepared them.  Then, after Easter, he tells them, “Now I’m sending you.”  And, his last words come in the famous Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  The strategy of Jesus is clear: he was making disciples who would make disciples.  And, this is still our strategy.  Equipping and preparing believers for this work is a vital function of the church today.

So, several sermons in the upcoming year are going to focus on equipping the congregation to be disciple-makers.  There are so many Bible texts on this subject, and many important lessons, and we certainly can’t cover everything.  But, the hope is to cover some fundamental and practical outreach skills with specific challenges and steps along the way.

To help build on the sermons, the Park congregation will also be working through a book together.  After considering a few options, I decided on Philip Yancey’s book “Vanishing Grace: Bringing Good News to a Deeply Divided World”.  This book considers, “How can Christians make a positive, grace-filled difference in a world of desperate need?”  We have ordered 75 books, which will be given away at church on January 6 and 13.  Then, starting on January 14 we will provide recommended readings for each week that correspond with the sermon topics.  75 books are a lot, but still not enough for every family.  Those who prefer e-readers or tablets can purchase their own e-book version of the book; or some might consider ordering one of your own (especially if both the husband and wife want their own copy).

I am intentionally moving from a prayer focus first to an outreach focus now, because there is no outreach without prayer.  In the “Park Outreach Guidelines” that the outreach team is working on, the first step of outreach is praying for discipleship opportunities.  If you have people in your life currently, who need to draw closer to Jesus, start by writing down those names and praying consistently for them.  Or, if you are currently lacking discipleship relationships, ask God to show you opportunities and to bring new people into your life.  That is where we will get started and build our outreach from there.

We can do this.  The disciples were ordinary, unschooled men.  They became “disciples-who-made- disciples” because the Holy Spirit gave them the words and the ability.  And, Paul then tells the next generation of Christians, “Christ has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”  We are Christ’s ambassadors today.  We are missionaries.

vanishing grace

What Do We Expect from our Members?

 

Every September Park Church reports to the Christian Reformed denomination our current membership data.  “Ministry Shares” that we pay to support the missions of the denomination and support our Classis Holland regional ministries are based on the number of our “active adult members”.  Do you have any idea how many active adult members we count at Park Church?

As of September 1, that number is 214.  We have added some new members in the past year, but our total number is down slightly—mostly because of young adults who have graduated from college and have moved away, and therefore no longer counted as active members.

Now—the next question.  If you are indeed one of those 214 members of Park Church, what is expected of you?  Basically, being a member means a higher level of commitment to the church.  In their profession of faiths, members make covenant promises before God and the congregation to be committed to growing in Jesus and a commitment to the church.   Only members can vote, can serve on the church council or hold a few other teaching or leadership positions.  At least one parent must be a member in order to have their children baptized.

When a person becomes a member, they allow the church and others to hold them to account.  Accountability could be seen as a negative thing in our world, but accountability is necessary for spiritual growth.  Spiritual growth happens in the context of commitments to God and His church.

Church membership comes with some responsibilities:

First, we expect our members to make attendance at Sunday worship a priority.  We’ve encouraged our shepherds to try to note church attendance and to follow-up with those who we haven’t seen for awhile.

Second, we expect all our members to be ready and prepared to share their faith with others (I Peter 3:15).  As our “great commission”, every member should be able to identify at least one person you are discipling—bringing someone closer to Jesus.  It is also part of the church’s job to help equip our members so you feel ready and prepared.  We will be spending several weeks in sermons on this topic coming up in 2019.

Third, we also expect our members to use their gifts and competencies to serve others. Therefore, our members should be involved in something going on at church in addition to being here on Sunday mornings.  And, there are so many ways to get involved.  Near the church mailboxes on the east side of the church lobby, there is a bulletin board with “involvement” response sheets.  These sheets don’t list all the volunteer opportunities, but it is a good starting point.  And, if you are a member, and not currently volunteering in anyway at Park, I’d like to talk with you and help you find something.  The church is a body of Christ, and all the parts have a role.

Fourth, we expect our members to give back financially.  There are many great causes to support, and for members, one of those places to support is your church.  Our finance team has started tracking and reporting what percentage of our active adult members give over the course of a year.  Of course, the goal is 100%, and that should be an attainable goal.  Adult members should be able to give something financially, even if it is a modest amount.  We all have obstacles to giving, but it is a part of our spiritual health and growth.  If you are a member, and have decided not to give to Park Church for some reason, that is something you should let your shepherd or a deacon know.

Finally, in addition to these 4 things, we also urge all Park members to be in a small group Bible study or prayer group of some kind (does not need to be a Park Church small group).  In addition to the bigger Sunday morning gatherings, we need to have these smaller “supportive communities” in our life for spiritual growth.

So, if you are one of the 214 current active adult members, consider these 5 specific areas that we expect from our members.  You can contact me, Pastor Dan, with any questions or concerns.

The Importance of Good Biblical Interpretation

I ordinarily do not comment on policy issues in my work as a pastor.  I certainly have plenty of opinions, but I also recognize that many policy issues have some winners and some losers; both pros and cons.  So, on most policy issues, Christians can disagree on the details and specifics.  For example, as Christians, we know we should help marginalized and vulnerable people, but there are different philosophies on how that work ought to be done, and how much the government should or should not be involved.  So, I’ve said before, there are Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats, and there are legitimate perspectives on both sides.

However, sometimes a policy issue is morally clear.  One example is that mostly all Christians agree that abortion is wrong—although there are specific details or situations that require further discernment.  Another example: the current zero-tolerance border policy that includes separating young children from their parents is a policy issue that most Christians agree is wrong.  So, our denominational leaders have signed a letter opposing the policy (you can read it at www.crcna.org).  And, last Sunday, even former first lady Laura Bush wrote an editorial for The Washington Post stating, “The zero-tolerance policy is cruel.  It is immoral.  It breaks my heart.”  Yes, we should have safe borders, but there are better ways to achieve this goal.

What also interests me in this particular story is how the Bible has been brought into the discussion.  Jeff Sessions said, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”  Later, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

These statements bring up another set of questions, not just about policy, but also about how we interpret the Bible.  There are many ways that people can interpret certain Bible verses in order to support their point of view.

So, we need to be careful interpreters of the Bible.  Jeff Sessions was partly right.  Romans 13 does tell us to be subject to the governing authorities.  Paul states in Romans 13 that the purpose of the government is to punish evildoers and protect the innocent.  The chapter tells us we should pray for our leaders, and we give them respect and honor.  But, it is a misuse of these verses to imply that good Christians should always obey the government, or that government laws should always be enforced.

Government laws are subject to the bigger law of love.  This is also stated in Romans 13.  In verses 9-10 of the same chapter Paul writes, “The commandments … are summed up in this one command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Love is the guiding principle that speaks into how laws should be made and enforced.   So, a crucial part of Biblical interpretation is to compare Scripture with other Scriptures.

Plus, the Belgic Confession is one our church’s historic statements of belief, which helps guide our interpretation of Scripture.  The Belgic Confession includes a section (Article 36) that explains the Christian’s relationship to the government.  The whole section is worth reading; but one line states, “Obey the government in all things that are not in conflict with God’s Word”.  Said another way, it means that when a government does create a law or policy that conflicts with the Bible, Christians are right to oppose it.

Interpreting the Bible is not an easy job.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important for believers to be part of a faith community.  We need to have our interpretations checked with others to make sure we are not going astray.  Our Christian Reformed denomination has its flaws, but one of our strengths is how our churches carefully study Scripture together to determine how it applies to specific issues in our world.

We want to be discerning and wise Christians.  We do not want to be misled by questionable Biblical interpretations.

State of the Church Address – Congregational Meeting: June 2018

At the congregational meeting on June 3, I shared with the congregation some thoughts regarding my observations, ideas and goals for the church.  I took a look over my notes, and put the main ideas into a written form —

1)  It is a common complaint in churches that 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  Obviously, a church is healthier if all the members can be involved in the life of the church, and use their gifts to serve.  Plus, getting involved into the church is one of the best ways for new people to build relationships and feel connected.  People who are involved will most likely stay with a church.

So, I want to make it as easy as possible for people to join in.  Certain leadership jobs are for members, and those who work with children need to be approved and take a “safe church class”.  But, we want to create a culture where it is fine to “belong before you believe”.

Last year we got a start with the Renewal Lab.  People wrote their names in different areas of the church where they want to be involved.  Now, building on that—we have a “Get Connected” bulletin board with volunteer sheets, and the annual spring volunteer survey.  Plus, the volunteer information is giving out at the Inquirer’s Class.

 

2)  We want those who come to Park Church to be excited about Park Church.  Since we love and care for one another, we are friendly and welcoming to guests, we have well-organized and engaging children’s activities, and we work for excellence in our worship services.  If our members feel like coming to a Sunday morning service is a real drag – why would they want their friends to come?

But, if we as the members like being at church, are excited to gather in the name of Jesus, and can come expecting to hear a relevant, engaging and gospel-centered sermon – then we will want to invite others to be a part of our community.  Attenders sharing with their friends about their faith and their church is often going to be the most effective outreach.

So, we now have invite cards for Park Church.  They are small enough to keep in your wallet.  There is basic information, plus a little white space to include your name or phone #.  All regular attenders should carry some invite cards with you, and then if your faith or your church comes up in a conversation you can invite them to come see for themselves.

 

3) Where we are headed:

Starting in the winter of 2019, we are going to focus more on “missionary training” and equipping the congregation to grow in evangelism and outreach.  We will study the topic, read a book together, and have some specific challenges for the congregation.  We do want to stay focused on our vision to be an “inside out” church.

But, I have also heard it said, “There is no evangelism without prayer”, and I think that it is true.  So, starting in the fall of this year, our focus will first be on prayer.  We will have some special prayer events, and we continue to work toward building up the corporate and individual prayer life of the church.

And, really – outreach is a natural outcome of our own spiritual maturity and development.  The Bible in a Year program was one example of a way to encourage our own spiritual development.  We need those kinds of spiritual disciplines to lay a strong foundation.

Reaching out with the gospel is very challenging, and it involves so many different parts.  As individuals, we need to be faithfully walking with the Lord and allow our lives to be a part of our testimony.  We need to be praying fervently.  And, as a community, we need to have services and programs where we expect to see new people come, and be prepared for them.  Assimilating those who are new requires some structure – like classes, opportunities, good communication and so forth.  Our witness as a church requires unity and love with one another.   By caring for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we show to outsiders how our faith matters and how it makes a difference.  It is a way we become an attractional community that people want to be a part of.

So, these are all areas we continue to work on and improve as a church.

Get Involved!

One of my recent sermons was on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the title of that sermon is the same as the headline here for this blog – “Get Involved!”

In the parable, we have an example of getting involved when we come across an unexpected and urgent need.  We don’t know when or how—but at some points in our lives we are going to be faced with a sudden situation that demands our response.  Christians should not be content to be by-standers.  There are times we must show our principles, our love, our courage, and our conviction by standing up for what is right.  In the sermon, my example was my friend Amanda who saw an older teen hitting a younger one, and stopped the car.  She bravely declared, “If you are hurting someone else, it is my business!”

Another example came up this month in the news.  In Philadelphia this month, two black men were arrested in a Starbucks for trespassing.  They did not order anything, but they were waiting in the Starbucks to meet with someone else.  The manager decided to call the cops because they were loitering.  I will confess there is more to the story I may not know.  And, it is possible that the same action steps would have been taken if they two men were white.  But, the story certainly appears to be a sad example of what racism looks like in our country.  We might not mean to do it, but we do treat people differently base on appearance, and can easily make wrong judgments.

Well, I wondered what I would do if I was a person sitting in the Starbucks, and I happened to be a witness to these events.  Would I sit quietly and mind my own business, and think, “Oh boy … cops are here.  I don’t want to get involved in this!”  Or, would I act like a “good neighbor” and stand against injustice and defend those men in protest against what was happening?  I’m not sure what I would have done in that moment exactly, but I do know what kind of person I want to be.  I want to be the kind of person who is not afraid to get involved.  And, I was glad to read that there were those in the Starbucks store that day who did get involved and who did stand up for those men.

Then … in the sermon I also said in addition to these kinds of urgent and unexpected situations, there are other areas of priority for getting involved.  Galatians 6:10 says, “Do good to all, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  This verse indicates that serving and loving one another in the church is also a priority.  It is one of the other ways that we have to be a good neighbor.

Of course, there is some tension here.  Some churches can spend so much time inwardly focused, that they do not have extra time in their life to love and serve other neighbors … like those that live near us, those we work with, or people in our community who need extra help.  I believe every person has an obligation to serve and volunteer at their church, and do good to the “family of believers”; but, I also believe we can’t over-burden people at church either.  If we’re always working here, then we are missing out on our call to be “salt and light” to the world around us.

This tension is expressed in the church’s “Governance Document”.  This document is used as our council handbook.  It was put together by the interim pastor, Doug Kamstra.  He writes, “There is a tension between Christ’s commission to His Church to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (that is, to be missional) and the Church’s responsibility to care for and nurture their members. These two responsibilities compete for a pastor’s time, for a leaders’ attention, and for financial resources. Balancing these significant priorities is a major challenge of church leadership.”

Pastor Doug was on the mark for church leaders, and also for a congregation.  We do our best to find a proper balance.  We need help caring for one another at Park, and to run programs and to keep our baptismal promises to teach our children.  We also need people serving in the community, and working for God’s kingdom outside these walls.  How can we do better getting this balance right?

Why Do We Have Church ‘Membership’

Yesterday I was able to meet with our C2 (college and career) group.  They had some great questions about church membership.   When Paul talks about the church in the Bible, he indicates that the church is a body; the head of the body is Jesus and the rest work together as members of the body.  What churches wrestle with is finding a system to determine who belongs in the body as the church community, and who are those exploring this commitment, but not yet ready to join in.  Our system of membership attempts to provide a solution.  Here is a document that I have used before, and used with the C2 group to talk about the meaning of church membership:

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MEMBER OF A CHURCH

In our culture today, membership in an organization is not highly prized for many reasons.  Membership is seen as a burden; or membership restricts our freedom.  In addition, some may not want to become a church member because they either do not agree with all the doctrines of the church, or do not want to embrace the history and traditions of the denomination in which church belongs.  Most newer churches do not talk about membership anymore, but usually they do have some kind of process toward greater commitment.

Whether membership is used or not, churches do need to have some kind of system to distinguish those who are seeking and exploring, versus those who are committed to Jesus and to this local body of believers.

So, at Park Church we still use a membership system, and we view membership as significant and important.  Anyone is welcome to attend the church any Sunday, no matter their lifestyle.  But, when a person becomes a member, they allow the church and others to hold them to account.  Accountability could also be seen as a negative thing in our world, but accountability is necessary for spiritual growth.

Members are those who publicly confess to be a believer of Jesus and indicate a willingness to make spiritual growth a priority in their life.  Members agree to being baptized, or they affirm God’s promises made to them at an earlier baptism.  Teens can join the church as members, but privileges of adult membership begin at the age of 18.

Many who wish to maintain their freedom and avoid membership, fail to take seriously that spiritual growth happens in the context of commitments to God and His church. This is about our life together in Christ.  Others in the community want to know that you will be with them and be counted on. To hear a person make the commitments of membership lets the congregation know that this person will walk with me and will take the Christian community seriously.

Members of the church can be expected to:

  • Attend services regularly and consistently – “Do not give up meeting together” – Hebrews 10:25
  • Use their God-given talents to strengthen the church through serving –I Cor. 12:27-31, Eph 4:11-13
  • Give back to the church financially. – I Cor. 16:1-2
  • Look for opportunities to share your testimony with others – I Peter 3:15

Members of the church are urged to:

  • Attend a small group Bible study
  • Vote on church decisions and be involved providing feedback and ideas
  • Show care, concern and offer encouragement to other church attenders – Gal.6:10

To be a member, a person must:

  • Be a baptized, dedicated follower of Jesus Christ
  • Be open to correction and accountability – Matt. 18:15-17, Eph. 4:15
  • Affirm that the main teachings and positions of the church agree with Scripture*

(* There does not need to be agreement on every doctrine, but members should understand the church’s position, and express any disagreements through the proper channels)

Privileges of Membership:

  • The church community is responsible to help you in your spiritual walk. For example, at the profession of faith, the church promises to support members with encouragement and prayers.
  • Care priority is given to members. Benevolence funds are more likely to be used for members.  Tuition assistance is given for Christian Education.
  • Members are given a voice in the direction of the church.  Only members can vote for church leadership, budgets or major decisions.

While Park does not require membership to participate in most areas of the church, the main exception would be to serve on the church council as an elder or deacon.  Some committees may require church membership.