Tag Archives: Jesus

Communication and those annoying interruptions

I had an “ah ha!” moment in October 2007. And it changed at least two things for me:

      1. the way I view interruptions, and
      2. my approach to church communication.

I had been reading the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel.

Jesus heals demoniacJesus is on his way from a boat landing into town when a man possessed by a legion of demons interrupts him . Jesus stops and heals him.

Next, Jesus is telling stories to a crowd of people when a man named Jairus interrupts and begs Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. Jesus stops what he’s doing and heads toward Jairus’ house.

Jesus heals

On his way, a woman who had been ill 12 years comes up behind Jesus and touches his cloak in hopes of being healed. Again, Jesus stops and deals with the interruption. He says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

A light bulb came on in my head. I realized that a lot of good stuff happens on the way to doing something else. And if I’m too busy to stop and deal with the interruptions, I might just miss what God’s trying to do with me and through me.

And then I recognized how much I’d been immersed in these stories from Mark’s gospel. Jesus used storytelling as his primary method of teaching. Perhaps I should do the same.

As a church communication guy, I spent a lot of time and energy  relaying information about programs and ministries, calendars and events. Now I began to see that telling a story is much more effective than reciting facts, dates and bullet-points… especially in spiritual matters.

I began refocusing my work. My new passion was telling stories and helping others tell their stories. On the church website, in the weekly TV program, and in every other channel of communication, we began to feature the stories of how people were living out their faith in their day-to-day lives.

You can see the first 50 or so of them here. And still more here.

sharing the faith

As a congregation, Richmond’s First Baptist Church was on the way to something else. Ten months earlier, Dr. Peter James Flamming retired after serving 23 years as Senior Pastor. The Pastor Search Committee was still interviewing candidates for his successor.

We were dealing with an abnormal level of angst and anxiety in the congregation. I don’t claim that the stories changed all that. But I was an eye-witness to softening hearts as people recounted their experiences with God. And many of those who heard, read and watched the video clips melted into God’s grace as they resonated with those stories… many of which involved dealing with some sort of interruption.

As Mark tells it, the folks who were around when Jesus healed the demon-possessed man were more concerned with the pigs than the miracle (I talked about that in a previous post).

But the healed man went around that part of the country telling the story of what Jesus did for him. And Mark says, “All the people were amazed.”


Don’t worry about the pigs

swine_gadarenesThere’s a story in the Gospel of Mark (chapter 5) about Jesus healing a man who was possessed by a legion on demons.

He was so bad off that he lived out in a cemetery. He must have been dangerous. The town’s folks tried to restrain him with chains, but he broke free. Mark says, “He was always howling and bruising himself with stones.”

When Jesus encountered him, the demons who possessed the man begged Jesus not to destroy them, but rather send them into a herd of pigs nearby. When the demons entered the pigs, the whole herd “rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned.”

The swineherds ran off and told the townsfolk what happened and they all ran out to see for themselves.

As Mark tells it, “They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind… and they were afraid… Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood” (Mark 5:15-17).

Amazing! Jesus has just miraculously healed a demon-possessed man who posed such a treat to the town that the residents tried to keep him chained up. And how do the townsfolk respond? They’re afraid… and they’re upset about the pigs!

Now, I don’t have anything against pigs. And I’m sure the economic impact of the lost herd was huge. But the significance of what happened – God stepping in to instantly and miraculously heal a hopelessly-possessed man  – seems to have been lost on the townsfolk who couldn’t see past the swine.

When God is at work, focus on the miracle… not the pigs.

It’s time to vote on the budget

It’s that most wonderful time of the year: The week following “Christ the King Sunday” and “The First Sunday of Advent” on the liturgical calendar. And it is the time of year when many churches are putting the finishing touches on next year’s budget.

The Jesus WayIt is at just this time of year that a passage from Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way, comes to mind. I often think of it when I hear someone say, “We’ve got to run this church like a business!”

More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential – whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers – hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. (p. 8)

Peterson goes on to say,

The ways and means promoted and practiced in the world are a systematic attempt to substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King. Not that there isn’t plenty of lip service offered along the way across a spectrum ranging from presidents to pastors. But when it comes down to an actual way of life, most of the language turns out to be court protocol – nothing to do with the way we actually order our affairs. (p. 9)

Peterson’s observations ring true in many areas of our personal and ecclesiastical lives. But they seem to hit the bulls-eye when in comes to how churches develop their budgets.

There is a better way to do it. I outlined it in a previous post.

It is a new path for our congregation (Richmond’s First Baptist Church) and it hasn’t worked exactly as planned. There’s been plenty of angst along the way. But it has been a good start, mainly because we started at the right place: attempting to discern God’s direction for our congregation rather than analyzing the economic forecasts, the historical giving patterns, and the best guesses about what the people will give next year. Granted, there’s been plenty of analyzing and guessing. But we didn’t start there. And that’s an important distinction.

One of the highlights of the budget process was the “Ministry Action Plan Summit.” Our pastor blogged about it.

We learned some things about the sequence of events and meetings… things that will make the process much more effective next year. If you’re interested in the details, send me an email and I’ll fill you in.

My experience over the last 40 years in church leadership roles has taught me that it is difficult, and it requires a conscious effort to listen carefully and sense the gentle nudges with which God leads us, while trying to be a faithful steward of the resources He has provided. That’s the challenge Budget Committees face every year when they tackle their assignment.

But the job is not just about dollars and cents. It is about, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “develop(ing) awareness and facility in the ways of Jesus as we go about our daily lives following Jesus in home and workplace, neighborhood and congregation, so that our following is consonant with his leading.” (p. 10)

Peterson quotes are from his book, The Jesus Way – A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way. (© 2007 Eugene Peterson. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.)