Practicing at Abundant Life

The random thoughts of a pastor in a place where "always reforming" is a way of life.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Doubts and Transitions

I highly doubt that anyone has visited this blog in some time. I myself almost forgot that it existed! But for those of you who might happen by this particular artifact, you might be surprised to see a change in the title of this blog. It is no longer called "Semper Reformandi in Freehold." While I have no doubt that Freehold continues to reform (as we all should be!), my reformation has continued in a new place. About 18 months ago I accepted the call to be Lead Pastor at the Abundant Life Reformed Church in Wyckoff, NJ.
It is likely that I may not post here again for quite some time, but when I do, the faithful reader can expect to hear about experiments in Christian practices here at Abundant Life. We are all learning what it truly means to be developed in our faith, and that development is a journey which does not end, at least not until Christ comes again. So if you've stumbled upon this blog, welcome! Post a comment to let me know that I am not simply talking to myself!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Break from Sermon Writing

As my two and a half year hiatus from blogging on this site shows, I've been a little busy lately. A lot has happened. In summer of 2010 I was elected Vice President of the Regional Synod of the Mid-Atlantics, a local body of churches in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. I've also been working with a group of pastors on missional theology, through Journey at Western Seminary. All of this on top of leading a growing church in a "city in the suburbs."

I'm taking a break from sermon writing today to reflect on the challenges facing urban churches in mainline denominations like the RCA. I have a friend who is the pastor of a church in downtown Newark. They are doing amazing ministry among the people of Newark. People are being fed, clothed, and discipled. People are growing deeper in love with Jesus. This is great news! The problem is a lack of resources, particularly financial resources. The people being reached by the church are unable to contribute financially to the ministry of the church, and as a result, the ministry in that community is in danger of being discontinued.

One of the exciting things about ministry in an urban context is that you get to see lives changed, sometimes in dramatic fashion. People whose lives have been ravaged by poverty, disease, crime, and addiction come to find the strength to carry on through the gospel. But stories like this are in danger of being limited because it takes funding to do ministry. In better economic times, churches like the ones in Newark could rely on sister churches in more affluent areas for support. But as expenses increase and giving decreases, these churches are unable to pledge the support they once did.

The urban church that is serious about outreach to its immediate neighbors needs help. They are trusting that God will provide. Who will God use?

In times like these, help should probably come from churches that are heavily endowed. There are too many churches with millions of dollars in the bank and five people in the pews. To be honest, there are churches that haven't touched the principal of their investments for many years because their people continue to be good stewards. What are we waiting for? What are we worried about? Perhaps now is the time to loosen the death grip on our money, for the sake of the city, the place that reminds us of the gospel mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the prisoner?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Blogging Experiment

I've started a new blog for the church I serve. I hope that people in the church will use it as a center of conversation, and that they will take advantage of the opportunities I give them to comment on scripture lessons before they become sermons. If you have heard of churches trying this or have any pointers as to how it might be made more successful, I would appreciate the feedback.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Paul's Thorn

I'm almost certain that I understand what the thorn in the apostle Paul's flesh was, for I feel it, too: an inadequate coffee grinder.

Oh grinder, why dost thou hate me? When I try to grind my beans, you spit out a nasty powder along with my grinds. My automatic drip thinks you are wonderful, but my french press puts up a white flag (leave it to the French to surrender).

My grinder is not a blade, also not quite a burr. It was certainly affordable, but when my wife gets me an espresso machine for my birthday, it probably won't give me an even grind or even a fine enough grind for a wonderful cup o' joe.

This really wouldn't be such a big deal if the automatic drip brewed as fine a cup as the French press, but the press is far superior to the drip. I've read online at Sweet Maria's that in order to get the full benefits of a French press, the grounds must be uniform. With my rebellious grinder, uniformity is not an option.

O Grinder, the power of Christ compels you! Maketh my whole beans into something consumable!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Give Me Discernment

Last week, a couple came to the church asking for money to cover food and rent. They explained their situation, showed me pictures of their daughters, and generally made me want to help them. I directed them to the local food pantry, to which they replied that the food pantry could not give them anything more. As I sent them out with just a few dollars that I had in my wallet so they could get a little gas to make it home, I thought about how difficult it is to meet the needs of every person that comes in from the street and asks for help. Our church doesn't have a deacons fund or a pastor's discretionary fund or anything, and since we are currently fundraising for our new roof, there is really no extra money available for people like this.

When I got to my study this morning, I had an email waiting for me from the president of the local clergy association, telling me and the other area pastors that there had been a couple that was notorious for scamming churches into giving them money in the area. This pastor wrote everything that this couple had said to me, right down to showing pictures of two daughters, which they don't even really have. I felt bad sending them away basically empty-handed, and now I find out that this is a scam that they have run up and down the Jersey shore for quite some time.

How is a pastor supposed to tell the difference between those with genuine need and those who are looking for easy money? I've looked into what some other churches have done with benevolence funds, having people apply for money from the church and having their bills paid directly from the deacons. However, this does not address those who immediately need money or food. To pass everything through the deacons would be an enormous amount of work for them and might jeopardize the health and safety of those with need.

Since I am very new to all of this, I have not yet developed an ability to tell the difference between those who have immediate needs and those who do not. Is it better to give something to everyone that comes in, or deny everyone who comes in? Will this something that will become easier in time? In this community, with the location of the church, I'm sure this issue will present itself again soon. What should I do differently next time?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Effective Structures

One month into my time as the full-time pastor of the Reformed Church, I have had a great experience. The people are wonderful, the community is beautiful, and I am really having a lot of fun being a spiritual leader of God's people. One of the most enjoyable things for me has been preaching on a weekly basis. Before, my preaching was so sporadic that I could never build any momentum, and I often found myself preaching the same theme time after time. Preaching every week, the task has become much more fluid, much more a part of my life as pastor.

For the past three weeks I have been preaching a series on Natural Church Development, and up to this point it has gone well. The quality characteristics have fit well into sermons, and the themes have been easy to preach. So far, I have covered 'empowering leadership,' 'gift-based ministry,' and 'passionate spirituality.' This week, however, could be a different story. The theme is 'effective structures,' and I am having some trouble finding good pericopes to cover it. The NCD "motto" for this one is Mark 2:27, "The sabbath was created for people, and not people for the sabbath." Another thought has been the metaphor of new wine into old wineskins. Something I always enjoy is preaching about the Reformed faith, and this could fit well into a discussion of structures, but I would like to avoid falling back into something that has already been covered in the series.

In the coming weeks are 'inspiring worship services,' 'holistic small groups,' need-oriented evangelism,' and 'loving relationships.' Once again, these lend themselves well to preaching, and my hope is to inspire the congregation to become actively involved in the life of the church as well as in their own walks of faith. How could a sermon on structures accomplish this goal of preaching? Perhaps I need to set another goal of preaching for this week.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back in the Saddle

So obviously I haven't been blogging much at all. When I first launched my blog last September, after reading an article in Preaching magazine about pastors who use blogs to communicate with their congregation, I thought it sounded like a neat idea. Then, life happened and I fell out of grace with my own blog. A big thank you to and for putting me back in the saddle. Now, as I sit in the study at 67 West Main, perhaps the dream of blogging for communication will become a reality.

If anyone has any ideas about how best to get this blog out to the members of my congregation, it would be much appreciated.