Reversing Church Decline

Reversing Church Decline

Noah loves balloons. Every so often, we will purchase some for him, especially around his birthday, that he can enjoy and play with.

Sometimes it is my responsibility to blow up the balloons. With my asthma, I don’t always have the lung strength to blow them up myself. I am thankful for the ability to purchase small tanks that allow me to blow up the balloons that, in turn, give Noah some joy and pleasure.

One of the things about balloons is that over time they lose air. You don’t always notice it happening, but air can seep through the balloon and, thus, shrink its size. Sometimes, it takes a while to notice that the balloon doesn’t have the same amount of air that it did before.

I believe sometimes the church is just like a balloon. Sometimes we don’t always recognize issues or periods of decline until it is entirely noticeable. When we begin to notice issues or decline when it is reached the point that ignoring it any longer would harm the long-term operational structure of the local church.

The truth is that the church has often struggled with issues. As well, in many ways, we have been in decline, as a Methodist movement, for a more than just a handful of years. By percentage of the population, by some accounts, we have been in a state of decline since the 1880s. It was easy to miss for a long time, because the church was able to maintain its funding and support levels.

That isn’t the case, currently. Continue reading “Reversing Church Decline”

The Living God

The Living God

Throughout the summer and fall, especially as we have looked at the Gospel of Luke, we have gone on a journey with Jesus. During this journey, Jesus has traveled the shore line of the Sea of Galilee, made his way down the Jordan River, over through Jericho, and visited other important areas of Galilee and Judea. His journey has been focused on taking him to Jerusalem to meet his accusers, to face the cross, and experience the resurrection.

Yet, we have also shared how Jesus used the journey to engage people along the way about what it meant to follow him. He used the time, truly, to talk about discipleship. For Jesus, discipleship is more than just saying you are a “Christian” or being a member of a church. Discipleship is about completing following Christ by abandoning our own self and ideas for how life should be and completely dedicate ourselves to following the life of Jesus. This is a life of deep commitment and engagement with the Lord that is a lifelong journey.

Much of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem was focused on discipleship and following him completely. Even when he reaches the Holy City, Jesus continues to talk about the responsibilities of following him and how it challenges the ideas of the world. This is the case as we turn our focus to Luke 20:26-38, where we find Jesus teaching in the Temple during the lead up to the Passover celebrations. Continue reading “The Living God”

The World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Upside Down

I had waited four years to see it.

For four years, I tried everything that I could to convince people – especially Abbi – that I needed to go to New York to see this one show. That didn’t work. When it left New York and started a nationwide tour, I began to calculate Christmas gifts and possible vacations for the family. That still didn’t work.

It wasn’t until the week before we moved here that I, finally, was able to sit in an auditorium and watch the one show I had been dying to see. That show was Hamilton. I loved it, and if it wasn’t for the cramped seating, I would have danced in the aisle the entire show. The show is right up my ally: hip hop music to American history. You can’t go wrong!

One of my favorite songs from the musical describes the events surrounding the victory at Yorktown. With the musical’s focus on history and catchy lyrics, it told how the Americans secured the victory and, ultimately, the war on the shores of the James River in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. It did so with a refrain that was sung in the background to describe what took place: the world turned upside down.

The world turned upside down! I love that refrain. I love how it speaks to history. I love how it speaks to the moment of the unexpected becoming reality. I love how it gives us, even, a way to consider what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into the world. Continue reading “The World Turned Upside Down”

Almost Doesn’t Count

Almost Doesn’t Count

One of the things I love about Fridays is catching up on some of my favorite television shows on the DVR. Abbi and I don’t often agree on shows. I am more of a documentary, drama, or slapstick comedy person, while she is more of the sci-fi, British TV, and Food Network variety. So, when I can get to the DVR it is time to play catch up, especially since one of my favorite shows is ending this season.

That is “The Good Place.” Have you ever seen that show? I find it hilarious. The show centers around a group of people who were put in the “bad place” that was disguised as the “good place.” The characters figure this out, but work together to “prove” that they actually either deserved to be in the “good place” or could do enough to earn a spot.

Getting into the “good place,” according to the show, was based on earning enough points on earth to merit the selection. Help a person cross the street … three points. Show up for work and not get distracted by the Internet … five points. Take care of someone in need … 20 points. You could also lose points for bad behavior. It was all random, but the basic idea was that you could accumulate enough points on earth to gain access to the “good place,” which was synonymous with heaven.

We snicker at the show’s premise, but I wonder how easy it is for us to live that way in our lives and faith journey. Are we trying to earn enough points to get into heaven? Read our Bible … three points. Give some money to the church … 10 points. Pay attention to the sermon and not get distracted by lunch … 50 points. Even though we boldly proclaim how Christ is the source of our salvation, how easy is it for us to think that if we do enough good, we can earn our spot in heaven? Perhaps even more, do we keep score in order to prove to others and ourselves that we are better than someone else? Continue reading “Almost Doesn’t Count”

Moments of Small Grace

Moments of Small Grace

Yesterday, I experienced a glory sighting as it relates to our use of technology.

We had another visit to the doctor to check on the progress of our baby, which we are affectionately calling “Little Fry” until it is born. Doctors offices, even when I’m not the one being evaluated, are always a stressful encounter for me. This time, though, was something quite different. It was a holy moment.

We got to see our baby.

The first ultrasound was a rough experience and we didn’t get much of a view of our child. This time, though, we were able to see its movement, activity, and its gigantic head! Yes, all babies have a big head … but this thing was huge!

It was awesome to see and experience. Continue reading “Moments of Small Grace”

Never Give Up

Never Give Up

I remember my ordination day like it was yesterday. It took place at the Sloan Convention Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the holiest Holiday Inn and convention center in operation.

Several members of my family, friends, and church members were there with us either in person in Bowling Green or watching online. I truly believe that ordination is not the blessing of God upon one person to lead the church forward, but a time to celebrate how God brings a community together to raise up one pastor. Abbi was with me on the stage, Noah was with our family in the congregation, and I was surrounded by pastors who had mentored me and Bishop Fairley. I am still humbled by that moment, being Bishop Fairley’s first ordained elder, and hearing the words as he placed his hand on my head, “Shannon, take thou the authority.”

It was a holy moment. It was also one that almost didn’t happen. You see, just a year before I almost walked away from the church and my calling. Continue reading “Never Give Up”

Seeking Deeper Discipleship

Seeking Deeper Discipleship

I teach two Bible studies each week. It is really the same Bible study that is just offered at different times, so more people can engage the Scriptures and our understanding of faith. Teaching is not something I thought I would enjoy when I entered ministry, but it has become one of my favorite things that I do each week.

What I love about Bible study with other members of the church is that I get to gather with different groups of people to talk about faith, life, and contemplate upon what does it mean to the love the Lord and live for God. I love that part of the life of faith!

One of my ministry principles when it comes to teaching is that we should not be afraid to wrestle with difficult and hard things about faith and life. I believe this leads us to a deeper faith, and discipleship, because it moves us from just accepting something at face value and to, truly, engage what it is that we believe about God, humanity, and the life of faith.

What is involved in not being afraid to deal with difficult and hard things about life and faith? Continue reading “Seeking Deeper Discipleship”