Imagine No Malaria

Unlike many other diseases that are awaiting a cure, malaria was eliminated in the U.S. in the 1950s. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria continues to kill a person every 60 seconds. But there is hope! Imagine No Malaria is part of a global partnership and together with our partners, our generation can beat malaria once and for all. Jewel Lake Parish will receive an offering for Imagine No Malaria during our worship gathering on May 10.

See also: last year’s appeal from Bishop Grant Hagiya.

More information about malaria and pointers to other projects combatting it is available from the Gates Foundation.

Nepal Relief

By now, you’ve heard about the devastating earthquake in Nepal this past weekend, but this firsthand account by a Nepalese church planter might give you additional perspective:

Most of the people hit by this tragedy in Nepal are Hindu. They blame their gods whenever disaster hits, and they will do the same again. The Hindu gods are untouched by suffering. By contrast, Jesus draws near and sympathizes with those who weep, because he knows human suffering and human tears.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) are among the many faith-based agencies offering assistance to people in Nepal.

If you’d like to contribute to UMCOR or PDA relief efforts, here’s how:

  • Give to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450. Your gifts to UMCOR International Disaster Response make it possible for UMCOR to respond quickly to emergency situations through our local and international partners.
  • Give: Financial support for relief efforts can be designated to DR999999 with reference to Nepal. Gifts can be made online, by phone (800) 872-3283 weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. (EST), or checks can be mailed to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburg, PA 15264-3700.

Update: more information is available from World Vision (another way you can support relief efforts).

One Great Hour of Sharing

Some people have asked why we didn’t receive an offering as part of the One Great Hour of Sharing back during March, and if we still plan to do so.

The answers are “by accident” and “yes.”

The Evangelism and Mission committee has been doing some really great planning this year. We have any number of ways to be part of the great things that God is doing in our neighborhood, our community, state, and around the world, and in the excitement about that planning, we simply overlooked One Great Hour of Sharing.

One Great Hour of Sharing goes back to the work that Protestant churches did during and immediately after World War 2 for relief and reconstruction. Both the PC(USA) and UMC participate in the One Great Hour of Sharing. Jewel Lake Parish divides the OGHS offering equally between the two denominational programs.

So on the principle that some things are “better late than never,” we will receive the offering during worship on May 3 and (as is our practice) send half of the total received to each of the two denominational programs.

Congregations Dying and Rising

In his own blog, Bishop Grant recently brought my attention to a blog post entitled “A Growing Church is a Dying Church.”

I liked what the blog post said about the role of the pastor:

What then can your pastor do? She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study. She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary. She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns. She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music. She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion. …

and:

What can she do to grow your church? Nothing. There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.

But the greater point was that churches often look for numerical growth and a prolonged lifespan, which isn’t very Christian. More bodies, sometimes, is precisely what God refuses to provide. And as for length of days: we of all people should not be afraid of death like those who have no hope. Resurrection can’t happen until there’s been a death.

My only quibble with the article — not, I think, with its main thrust, but with its wording — was that it conflated two ideas: transformation and resurrection. Resurrection includes transformation, but not all transformation is resurrection. (Consider the transfigured Jesus and the risen Lord. Consider the Peter of Luke 5 and the Peter of Acts 4. He’s been transformed, but neither one is the Peter we will know in the age to come. Or the Paul of Acts 7–8 and Acts 21. He’s been transformed, but not yet resurrected.)

In the case of a local congregation, what the pastor is trying to orchestrate (midwife?) is transformation, not resurrection. The congregation may resist that transformation. It may prefer to die with dignity than to contextualize the gospel for neighbors who don’t look or sound or behave like the people who paid for the organ or put in that stained glass.

What happens when a congregation dies? Sometimes, our church buildings are recycled as restaurants, or even homes and condos. But sometimes they are resurrected for new worshipping communities, like when the small foreign-language Pentecostal congregation buys the old First Mainline Protestant church downtown. May God bless them and give them a fruitful ministry.

I can’t criticize those few survivors hanging on in First Mainline. They’re tired and dizzied by the way the culture has changed under their feet and overwhelmed by the new demographics of their community. I can understand why they might be ready to go home to be with the Lord, just like Paul.

But life is a gift from God, and we are called to make good use of the time we have been given. Paul himself says it: “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”

So let’s let God take care of resurrection, and in the meantime, apply ourselves to the work — and it is work — of being transformed so we can be agents of transformation.

(This article is cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Multisite and Bivocational Ministry

One of the topics we discussed when I met with some local pastors yesterday was the megachurch-and-branch-campus model used by churches like Saddleback and North Point. (This model is also important to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, as discerned by Christianity Today but — curiously — not the PC(USA) in its own reporting.)

None of the pastors I met with were very enthusiastic about this model. We can look at a John Ortberg or an Andy Stanley and recognize what great preachers they are, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic about being a “campus pastor” with modest or minimal opportunities to preach. (This emphasis on sermonizing is reflected in the polity of the PC(USA), where pastors are “teaching elders” — and before that, “ministers of Word and sacrament.”)

But the pastors I met with were all full time ministers. There are reasons to believe we are not the wave of the future. Rather, the church seems to be moving toward a model of bivocational pastors, where pastors have a day job to pay the bills, in addition to their vocation as a pastor, as described last year in the Presbyterian Outlook. This week, the Atlantic wondered about this trend:

Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career.

What happens when you combine this trend with the multi-campus, multi-venue model with the trend toward part-time ministry?

(This article is cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Make Someone Happy: Invite Them to Church

Want to improve someone’s mood? A Gallup survey showed a strong correlation between church attendance and positive emotions, even when controlling for variables like age, education, and income. People who come to church regularly are, on average, happier than people who don’t.

That could mean trouble for Alaska. In a Pew Center survey of the importance of religion in people’s lives, Alaska ranked in the bottom five states in nearly every category, and was last the category of “Worship Attendance.” If you run into someone who’s unhappy, it might not just be the lack of sunlight in our short winter days that’s got them down.

Why not invite them to church? Maybe it will perk them up!

Sometimes, Christians get confused about evangelism. They think it’s their responsibility to make converts or even to make sure their friends get into heaven. That’s not true. Only Jesus can do those things. Evangelism is just sharing good news. (Look it up, that’s what the word means.) Evangelism is just telling people what you’ve found and inviting them to check it out for themselves. (See John 1:39–51 for an example.)

People won’t think you’re weird for inviting them to church. (Unless you’re weird some other way.) Researcher Thom Rainer writes, “82 percent of the unchurched are at least ‘somewhat likely’ to attend church if they are invited. …to restate it: More than eight out of ten of the unchurched said they would come to church if they were invited.” (The Unchurched Next Door)

On top of that, Easter is the #1 most likely time for unchurched people to come to church. So invite a friend or neighbor to church next week. You might make them happy!

Here’s some things to avoid:

Overcoming Evil With Good?

In Mark’s account of the Good News we find this statement about Jesus:

9He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.

One of the participants in our Bible study yesterday told a story about a friend who’d taken some homeless people into his home, and then been robbed by the people he’d helped.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people returned kindness for kindness? If the people we helped didn’t respond with indifference, or hostility, or even theft and violence? But the world doesn’t work that way. And it didn’t work that way for Jesus.

We’d like think that people Jesus healed would repay him with gratitude and kindness, but instead we find — long before his crucifixion — their selfish desire for more blessing made them indifferent to the danger of crushing the very one saving them.

I see two lessons in this passage. First, we should ask whether we are sometimes like the crowd. Do we focus on the ways Jesus can bless us so much that it gets in the way of, and even endangers, what Jesus is trying to do for people around us? That’s something we should think about.

Second, when we do good deeds, we should be aware, as Jesus was, of the dangers that might accompany them. Note that Jesus doesn’t simply allow the crowd to crush him: he instructs his disciples to be ready to help him escape. But notice also that he doesn’t stop healing people. We don’t have to be peoples’ meal tickets or punching bags, but their ingratitude or hostility doesn’t mean we should stop trying to help.