Worst Church Meeting Ever

This past week I attended what I could characterize as one of the worst church meetings ever.  Earlier that day, I had a thyroid biopsy, so I was already a bit tense and in some discomfort.  I had to rush around to arrive early so I could deliver snacks for the Youth Group meeting.  My husband, our leader, arrived late because he was picking our granddaughter up at the airport, and drove through a severe rainstorm to get there. Well, …. these are my excuses, and I’m sure others had their own issues.

There was negativity and complaining;  one person got angry and left;  another cried.  The leader didn’t guide the discussion well, and became frustrated (it showed). Everyone had their pet peeve, and nobody wanted to listen to anyone else. I gave up trying to take notes. I wanted to leave or cry. Nobody thought of stopping the whole mess to pray.  In short, we all failed miserably to be the body of Christ.

Luckily for us, we still are the body of Christ, even if we didn’t act that way.  Our identity lies in our relationship with Christ, not our good works, or lack of them.  We get a do-over every time we need one.  So we’ll get back together (return), we’ll forgive one another and be forgiven, we’ll pray and we’ll try again.  Maybe this time we’ll get it right.

“So rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion. And He relents from sending disaster.”  Joel 2:13


We (the Laity) Are the Church

This is a second section from a Via de Cristo talk I gave on Laity in 1998.  When I mention my church, I am speaking of the church I belonged to at that time, not St. Paul’s.

Now God is all powerful and he could have chosen any number of ways to work out His purposes on earth.  Isn’t it amazing that He chose the church, and He chose us to do that.  To fully understand our role in God’s plan, we first need to think about the church– what it is, and what it is not.

The church is not a building.  My congregation, Peace In Christ Lutheran, meets in a little red brick church which is over one hundred years old.  With its’ iron fence and the cemetery out back, it looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell scene.  This building is very dear to my heart.  The men of Peace In Christ spent many, many hours renovating it for our use.  My younger daughter, Kate, was the first Peace In Christ baby baptized there.  Both of my daughters were confirmed there.  When our president called a while back to say we might be selling our building, I cried.  But I know that Peace In Christ is not made up of brick and mortar, it is a people, the living stones that form the body of Christ.  We were the church twenty years ago when we began meeting in a Civic Association with an altar on wheels;  and we will still be the church several years from now when we move to the new, modern, more functional building we have grown to need.

The church is not a kind of religious club.  If you’ve ever served on the church council, as I have, you know how easy it is to start thinking this way.  After all, we have a budget to balance and property to maintain.  Our members pay their dues (which we call pledges or tithes) and in return feel entitled to certain benefits, such as baptism, confirmation and marriage;  also free admission to all educational and social events.  But the church goes beyond the physical and temporal world of daily life.  When we say we are praising God along with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we’re not kidding!  The church is not just the visible, it includes the spiritual and invisible.

My church does all kinds of good works.  Some members serve breakfast at the local mission regularly.  Our AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) branch delivers food baskets at Christmas.  The Sunday School and Vacation Bible School students collect money for mission projects.  But the church is not a Social Services Agency created to dispense charity to the less fortunate.  In the church we are all equal in our need for God’s grace, we are all seated at His table together, sharing the life He alone offers.  I’ve heard the church described as “one group of beggars telling other beggars where they can find bread.”

In reality the church was created to be the living body of Christ in the world.  The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  And we are His witnesses.  Called forth by the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the disciples 2000 years ago to make His presence living, vibrant and real today.

Imagine yourself taking the hand of the person who first told you about Jesus.  Maybe it was your mother or father, a neighbor or a friend.  And then imagine that person taking hold of the person who told them and so on.  The chain would eventually go all the way back to someone who walked with Christ during His earthly life.  The church is this community of believers.  It is the people of God, the people chosen to be light and salt and leaven to a dark, hurting and hungry world.  We can’t let the chain stop with us.

I am the church, You are the church, We are the Church.  We are the body of our Lord, the restored children of God.

One Bread, One Body

This contemporary song was written by John B. Foley, professor of Liturgy at St. Louis University.  It is often used on Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends and beautifully expresses the ideal of unity in the Body of Christ, His Church.

Your Calling

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:1

I hear quite a few people speak about their church as if they are merely consumers, making a choice about what is best for them.  They belong to a church for reasons like these:

  • I love the Pastor
  • It has a great youth program for my kids
  • The music is fantastic
  • My friends go there

I’ve also heard people reject a church because:

  • I don’t feel uplifted
  • I’m not being fed spiritually
  • I don’t like someone who is a member
  • I prefer a different kind of music

Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with loving your Pastor, the music, the programs or the people in your church.  There is something wrong with making a choice that’s all about you.  I personally believe that the lay people of the congregation are called to be there every bit as much as the Pastor.  We’re part of the body of Christ.  We all have gifts and talents to build up the body.  We’re all needed.  We are to be worthy of that calling.

That means our choice of a congregation should be based, in great part, on where God is calling us to serve.  It means once we have accepted our call, we need to be humble and bear with others even when we don’t agree with them.  It means we don’t change congregations just because we liked the old Pastor better;  we don’t get mad and leave in a snit.  We settle in, we become family and we work together.

“Look careful then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 4:15-17

You’ve been called.  Are you blooming where you are planted?  Are you walking in a worthy manner?  Are you God’s servant in the place He has placed you?  Or are you just a religious consumer?

I’m in the Lord’s Army

I just saw a funny cartoon on Pinterest  It showed the Simpsons reading a letter.  The caption says, “It’s from our church.  We’ve been called up for active service.”  This may make you chuckle, but as laity, it’s perfectly true.  When we become members of the body of Christ, we’re on duty for life.  We’re never too young or too old to do our part.  We never retire.

There’s a Sunday School Song I used to sing with my daughters that’s a good reminder.  It brings back happy memories, so I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.


New Month/New Theme

On the 4th of July Americans celebrate the union of our states, so it was suggested that the Lutheran Ladies think and post this month on the topic of unity.  That gives us lots of ideas to explore.  The trinity is a mysterious union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Church has been described as a body –the union of many parts, working together.  It has also been described as Christ’s bride, a reminder of the union between man and woman, the two becoming one.

So ladies, what does unity mean to you? What is your understanding of the trinity?  How does unity in the Christian church exist despite a multitude of different denominations and theological ideas?  How do we achieve unity in our local congregation of individual believers with differing abilities, personalities and interests?  What does it mean to become “one flesh” with our spouse? What does it mean to become “one” with Christ? Is unity possible at all in a society that applauds diversity?  I’m sure this month, we’ll be studying our Bibles to find out what God has to say, and I’m sure I’ll be surprised and edified by the variety of responses.

Of course, as always, go where the Holy Spirit leads.  If another topic is on your heart and mind, feel free to post about it.  Ladies, and readers, send us your thoughts, comments and ideas.  We’re waiting to hear from you.

The Gift of ????

I had to chuckle when I read Leslie’s post about the gift of gab ….that is so not my gift, although it’s one I admire and sometimes wish I had.  I’m a quiet introvert, so I guess my gift is …. holding my tongue?  …..listening? ….silence?  What would be the opposite of gab?

My gift can get me in trouble, too.  Sometimes I don’t speak up when I should.  Sometimes people misperceive me as snobby or aloof or unfriendly.   Sometimes I think of just the right words of sympathy or encouragement …just a little too late.

It’s easy to envy somebody else’s gift, but it’s a bad way to spend my time.  Isn’t it better to give thanks for the wide variety of talents and personalities God has created?  When we get together with someone who has different abilities than we do, great things happen.  We complement each other.  We balance things out.  We can accomplish things together that we couldn’t do alone.  God planned it that way.

“But, as it is, God arranged the members of the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were one member, where would be body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”  1 Corinthians 12: 18-20

It’s Ok to Say No

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” 1 Corinthians 12:21

One thing it’s hard for us to learn, and especially for women, I think, is it’s ok to say “no” sometimes.  If you are a people-pleaser, like I am, you want to say “yes” so people will like you.  You don’t want to let people down.  Our culture also tells us we can have it all and do it all:  we can be wives and mothers, CEO’s and caretakers, and creative artists all at the same time.  Frankly, it’s not true, and it can be a set up for failure.

So,  we have to be good stewards of our time as well as our money.  One time to say no, is if we’re ask to do something that is clearly outside of our skill set.  For example, I’m not detail oriented, so if I’m asked to be the church treasurer or organize a big fundraiser, I need to say no.  That is the choice that will work to everyone’s benefit!

There may be seasons in our lives when we’re overwhelmed with responsibilities at home or at work.  When I was a mother of two very young children, I chose to be on the Altar Guild instead of serving on the Church Council.  An hour of alone time setting up communion was just what I needed, and all the time I had to give.  Saying no for a while, doesn’t mean saying no forever.  The time came when I went back to “active duty.”

Another important thing to remember about saying no, is it gives somebody else a chance to say yes.  There may be another member of the body who has just the right combination of talents to do the work you can’t.  Others will never get a chance to stretch and grow if you think you have to do it all.

Finally, when you take on a challenging task  that stretches you (and you should do this at times), pick something that matches your abilities, and ask for help if you need it.  We are all one body and we’re meant to work together to accomplish God’s work.

The Church Needs You!

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…But God has so composed the body …that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together;  if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”  1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Last month I fell down some steps and stubbed my big toe.  It hurt badly for weeks.  I hobbled around, unable to take my daily walks or vacuum.  I had a hard time walking through the grocery store to buy groceries, and there was no way once I purchased them to get them up the stairs to our condo without help.  I couldn’t climb onto my step stool to put things away on the higher shelves in the kitchen. A toe seems like a pretty insignificant part of the body, but that sore toe threw a big monkey wrench into my usual life and activities.

The verses from Corinthians tell us the same thing is true of Christ’s body, the church.  Maybe you think the Pastor or the members of the Church Council or the Elders are the ones to count on.  We do need them.  But we also need the folks who clean the kitchen, weed the flowers, sing, buy office supplies, etc.. Even those who are older or disabled can pray, send cards, or make phone calls. Did you ever stop to think how many people are involved in making Sunday worship services happen?  Ushers, greeters, readers, musicians, acolytes, cleaners, copiers, the altar guild…you get the idea.  Church happens when each of us does our part.

So be part of the body.  We need hands and feet, heads and toes.  There is something you can do.


Gifts for the Church

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells us that each person has at least  one spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:7), and that every gift is valuable and equally important to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:21-30). 

 In our humanness we may find this hard to accept.  I have always admired (and if the truth be told, sometimes envied) those who have one spiritual gift that stands out and defines their Christian journey of sanctification and service.  These people are the long distance runners of the church.  Folks like the church musicians who sing on the choir or play the organ for a lifetime; the dedicated teachers who serve in the Sunday School for years and years, praying for and inspiring their students; or the talented workers who can paint, build or fix almost anything around the church building.

 I guess I’m more of a sprinter.  In my years as a Christian and active church member I’ve done all sorts of jobs, big and small.  I’ve served on the church council and cooked soup for Lenten dinners; I’ve led Sunday School classes for children and retreats for adults; I’ve been an altar guild member and a newsletter editor.   I do a task for a while and then my gift cluster or my life circumstances seem to morph and change and I feel compelled to move onto something else.  Yet there is a part of me that wants to find my one true vocation and stick to it.

 Recently I was bemoaning this to my husband.  “Why can’t I find that special gift that God wants me to use?” I asked.  Terry thought about that for a while and finally said, “Honey, maybe you should think of yourself as a utility player.”  Not being a big sports fan, I had to look into what a utility player is.  Here’s what I found out.   Utility players are seldom stars, but they are competent at a number of things.  They can fill into different areas as needed and do just fine.  Utility players may not be well known to the fans, but they can be extremely valuable to the coach.  They help keep the team going, especially when a key player is injured or unable to play. 

 Since then, I’ve felt better about my role.  Saint Paul was right; we need long distance runners but we also need sprinters.    We need amazing batters and pitchers and we need competent utility players.  A free and living congregation needs us all.

“But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?”  1 Cor. 12: 1

Originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador.