Graduation and Commencement

Graduation and Commencement

This is the time of year for graduation ceremonies. In recent days, families of high school and higher education graduates have celebrated the “moving of the tassel.” Churches often join in these celebrations to mark this significant passage in a person’s life. Woven into this cultural season of commencement ceremonies is Pentecost Sunday, the day earlier this week when Christians celebrate the birth of the church and the powerful manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the first believers. Maybe the convergence of these academic and sacred seasons will have some lessons for healthy churches today. The words that we use are interesting. Do you know the meaning of them? “Graduation” is from the Latin gradus, meaning “grade.” A graduate is one who “has completed a course of study.” This person is one who has made the grade and moves on to the next level. The word graduation signals completion, accomplishment, and achievement. In addition to the word “graduation” we also use the word “commencement.” To “commence” means “to initiate,” “to start,” or “to begin.” Graduation marks an ending – commencement marks a beginning . . . and yet we use both words to describe the same event. The story of the events at Pentecost is a story of graduation and commencement. GRADUATION: A SEASON IS COMPLETED Pentecost represented graduation for the followers of Jesus. A season was coming to an end – completion was being marked. The season began about three years earlier. Jesus called to himself twelve men to be a special class. He was their rabbi, or teacher. Others were in the larger group that followed along....
Unity of the Spirit

Unity of the Spirit

I like the story of the man from the Northeast who was in the south for a conference. He went to a diner for breakfast and asked for eggs, sausage, and toast. As the server brought the order he noticed a little white puddle on his plate. “What’s that?” he wondered. “Grits,” she replied. “What is a grit?” he asked. She rolled her eyes and said, “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.” Neither do Christians who are trying to be devoted followers of Jesus. Instead we connect in a community. This has been the commission of Jesus from the very first days. He drew his followers together into a community and said to them, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NRSV) Christians . . . honey, they don’t come by themselves! From the earliest days of the church, our challenge has been living together in a community of love. After two thousand years, this challenge has not grown any easier. The culture today is divided by politics, ideologies, generational differences, economics, race, and the list goes on. The church cannot avoid these cultural differences. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” (Letters of C. S. Lewis) How can we live together as a community of...
Philanthropy and Stewardship

Philanthropy and Stewardship

There is an old children’s poem that goes like this: What kind of church would my church be, If all of its members were just like me? That is a good question to ask ourselves related to the stewardship of our time, talents, treasure, and testimony. Many churches are in a time of “stewardship emphasis” during the fall months in preparation for a new calendar year. Let’s take a moment to think about stewardship in the church. To do so, I want to focus our thoughts on the difference between stewardship and philanthropy. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “philanthropy?” You might say, “Giving.” True – philanthropy is an important form of giving. It supports the arts, college sports, civic advances, caring services, and higher education. Philanthropy is a good thing. I encourage all of us to be philanthropic. Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word? It is a combination of two Greek words. The first is philos which is the word for “brotherly/sisterly love” or a mutual love between two people with common interests. The other part of the word “philanthropy” comes from anthropos which means “humanity.” Our word “anthropology” is the study of humanity. Combined together we see that the motivation for philanthropy is the love of humanity. Contrast that to the word “stewardship.” As 1 Peter 4:10 reminds us, we are to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The word for “stewards” in this passage and in other places in the New Testament is oikonomos. The oikonomos was a “house manager.” (oikos is the word for...
Church Fitness Tracker

Church Fitness Tracker

Last Christmas my wife and I gave each other personal fitness trackers. These are tools that you wear on your wrist and the tracker will keep count of the number of steps that you take during the day, the miles that you walk, the number of calories you burn, your heart rate, the number of floors that you climb, and the quality of your sleep (among other things). Our goal is to use these trackers to get in better physical shape. Certain targets are helpful to form daily goals. For example, taking 10,000 steps a day is a goal for getting more exercise. I figured something out. Having the tracker does not take the steps for you! You still have to get up out of the recliner, put down the remote, and go take a walk! But we have also seen how having the tracker is a constant reminder to improve our level of activity. Also, sharing this experience with someone else encourages both of us to do better. During the day we will now ask one another, “So how many steps do you have so far?” That often leads to taking another walk. As I have learned about a fitness tracker for physical health, that has also made me wonder about tracking spiritual health. What are things that I can do that would be like the spiritual version of taking 10,000 steps? Obviously God works in us through the Holy Spirit to shape our lives to greater spiritual health, but there are things that we can do. Maybe a spiritual fitness tracker would be a good idea for...
By the Numbers

By the Numbers

AttHow large is your church? For many years the primary way of measuring church size was to look at church membership. In Baptist churches we began to track Sunday School attendance as a measuring stick. Membership numbers are not really helpful since Baptists are not very good about adjusting our rolls over the years. Some denominations do better about that than Baptists. Total membership numbers tend to be very inflated for churches that have been around for a number of years. Instead of membership numbers, tracking attendance is the best way to know the size of a church. In addition to counting Sunday School attendance, churches now often count worship attendance. Usually this worship attendance is a head count, rather than a posting of attendance by individuals. So, how large is your church? In recent years we have observed that even our most faithful members are attending worship and Bible Study on Sundays less than they did a few years ago. Opportunities pull our people in different directions on the weekends. Very regular attenders who used to make three out of four Sundays a month may now feel good about being present for two Sundays a month. This new attendance trend obviously affects average attendance, however you are counting it. A congregation of 1000 people who come three out of four Sundays a month averages 750. A congregation of the same number who come two Sundays a month averages 500 in attendance. Another attendance trend is happening as well. People connect to the life of the church in other ways than just Sunday School and worship. In fact it...