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Churches Survive by Saying “Yes” to new ideas

If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.  

I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things:  (1)  The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.

As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today.   Same old, same old. year after year after year!   As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches  And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.

There is a connection between the above two.  I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas.    Actually the ideas are not new at all.    Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels  and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew.   His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the  good news,  a gospel of love of God, neighbor.  Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.

Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas.    That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.

Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did.      They gathered often  to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself!.    They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that  would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration.     Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost,    the disciples and the early church  did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial,  boldly proclaimed  the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life.   Followers of Jesus  endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.

What we need to say “yes”  to is the Holy Spirit.   We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually.   We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches  that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.

In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion.   We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches.     They are not churches—-they are buildings.  Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done.   Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion.   As Rohr says:   ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”

Jesus transformed lives on a hillside,  in a house, wherever people gathered.   He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love..  To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.

When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by  following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts:   “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl

Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!

Where is America Going?

“Give America Back” is the common slogan of most conservative Republicans running for President.    They never spell out what that it means to give America back, but I take it to mean  that we must go back to the past—but what past do they have in mind?   Having lived 80 years and having taught U.,S. History for 34 of them, I have reached the conclusion that the past was often not so great.    I, myself,  have no desire to return to life as it was in my past with no electricity, with no antibiotics,  no polio vaccines, no social security,  no medicare, etc.   What I would like to see—if we are going back to the past— is to go back to the principles on which our nation was founded .    Those principles are found in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution  and we have lost sight of them.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure Domestic Tranquility, provide for the Common defence, promoet the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

By “going back” to these principles  America will really be moving forward into the future, for they are principles that communicate the hopes of the “founding fathers’ for the kind of nation they wanted to build.  We have a long way to go to return to those principles.   More and more I see our country and my state of Kansas not following these principles, and , in fact, going in the opposite direction..  For example:

Instead of “striving for a more perfect Union” we are politically divisive and uncompromising.   We are full of mistrust for each other and fear of  each other.  That leads to disunion rather than perfecting our union.   Being politically divisive and uncompromising as several of our G.O.P candidates have been and say they will continue to do led to our Civil War and it can do so again today.

We have only  established justice for those who can afford it.   We often confuse “justice” with “vengeance” in most cases—-getting even.    An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth justice.    We recoil at the idea of social justice which involves an equal opportunity for all, regardless of color, gender, ethnic characteristics or wealth. Those at the bottom of our society today are disregarded as not important and we say they need to work and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps—-but our laws have taken away the bootstrap, and often the boots themselves.    We now value people based on their “market value” in a capitalistic economy that favors the rich and is based on taking away from the poor.

Domestic Tranquility.   I’ll ask one question?    Has the law that everyone can open carry a gun in Kansas produced safety and domestic tranquility?   No it means that every night there is a shooting in Wichita, either accidental or planned.   It has resulted not in tranquility but in fear of your life lest you get caught in the crossfire of someone who does not know how to handle a gun.  When the Constitution said to “provide for the common defense”  do you think they actually meant that everyone should carry a gun to protect us from each other?    No—they were talking about the defense of a nation, not personal defense against our fellow Americans.

Finally, “promote the general welfare” is the last principle I’ll discuss.    We have lost two things that would do this:  (1)compassion for the poor and those at the bottom of the society who are struggling to survive; and (2) putting aside our selfish wishes for the good of the nation.    We see the lack of this principle  in a Congress that tries to repeal Obamacare instead of improve it so that all can have health insurance.  .   We see that in the state of Kansas state in favoring the rich at the expense of the middle class—raising taxes to pay for a tax cut for businesses.    Somehow it doesn’t see that anyone is interested in my general welfare when my Kansas income taxes and sales taxes both go up!   Political advantage gets in the way of promoting the general welfare—-providing what is good for all of our citizens, not just the rich and the powerful who finance the politicians who pass the laws.


Our founding fathers had a deep belief in a Supreme Being—the one that Jesus revealed to us

Some of  the things that Jesus emphasized as most important when he revealed the heart of God are found in his inaugural sermon given in the synagogue at Nazareth, his home town:   “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst”.      As Jesus expanded on the meaning of this message, those in the synagogue tried to take him and throw him over a cliff.

Jesus  spent his time healing and recognizing the outcasts of society—the leper, the mentally ill,  the poor,  the rejected.He was interested in the general welfare of society—-a he showed us all are equal in the eyes of God and all deserve to be treated as God’s children.

America and my state of Kansas are doing the opposite!   We are not carrying out the teachings of Jesus even though the governor and legislature say they are Christians.   Neither are we fulfilling the dreams of our founding fathers.  We who say we are following Jesus are disregarding everything in the message Jesus brought that are reflected in  principles of the  founding fathers of our nation.

I think if our founding fathers came back to life now they would be appalled and disappointed over the direction of the nation they founded.

I think that if Jesus came again tomorrow, he wouldn’t last a week until we crucified him, because he would stand for all the things that we feel are unimportant—-like feeding the hungry, giving all an equal opportunity.   He would stand for fixing the system that causes great poverty—not just throwing the poor an occasional crumb from our table. He would take a stand for mercy and forgiveness in the face of our hatred and desire for vengeance.   Yes—I’m sure we would crucify him within the week!

Taking a Week Off

I am in Rochester, NY visiting my son.   I’m working on a post for next week as I’m home Aug. 20.    I am going to be writing my next post about getting old and the life changes that take place.   I am becoming an expert on old age,  as you will see from my “About me”.   Stay tuned—I appreciate all of my readers.    I’ll be back with a post next week.   Pastor Jim

Update on Bread and Cup

Some good news!   Friday some of the volunteers will set up  some protection from the sun and will pack sack lunches for those that have not received the word that Bread and Cup has been cancelled.   They will have to meet outside the church as the board has said that they cannot enter the church.   The sack lunch will have a note on it explaining what has happened.   An active search is on for a new venue to continue this very successful ministry.


Totalitarian dictators always consolidate their power by controlling the courts, the legislature, and the media.    If they can do this, then they have a free ticket to do whatever they wish.   

This seems to be the trend in Brownbackistan, formerly known as Kansas.   Our governor and legislature want to change the selection of judges so they can control their selection.    We have been brainwashed into electing legislators who are under the control of the governor rather than those who elected them, it seems.   Now there is a move to control the media by limiting the “open meeting” laws that make the legislative process transparent to the public.  

Media—you are our last line of defense!   My fellow citizens, if you must fear something, be very afraid of losing your freedom—NOT to Washington and the federal government—BUT fear its loss at the hands of your state governor and legislature.  


As a teacher I had the opportunity to influence many young lives in the 31 years that I taught.   If you had asked me at the end of each day “How many young lives did you touch today?” I would have answered you—-“this was just another ordinary day in my life, I can’t think of anything I said or did that was memorable.”.   Yet as several happenings in my life have turned out and I have gotten feedback much later from my students, I found that I did touch young lives for the better.   Let me give you two examples:

During the second year that I taught, I came across one of my students in the hallway who was in tears.   I asked her if she’d like to talk about it and after school she came to my classroom and talked to me.   That formed a relationship with this student that lasted through high school and beyond.   She came from a dysfuncional family and called me many times—-several times I talked her out of attempted suicide something that her brother had tried and succeeded in accomplishing.  My wife and I  had her babysit our young son.   She graduated and went to college  to become a special education teacher.    During college she called me several times for advice and even after college I heard from her.   Many years later as I was visiting with her she told me that the one thing that she most remembered was me telling her when she asked me about changing colleges because of a problem with a professor.   I had told her that  “wherever you go you take your problems with you.    So you might as well solve them where you are right now.”    I didn’t remember saying that, but years later she recalled that advice and told me how much she appreciated it and had followed it in her life.

The second example is drawn from my teaching also.    Many years after having a young lady in my U.S. History class in high school in California, I received a letter from her.   It said:   “Mr. Bell, you probably don’t remember me.   I was one of the “druggies” that hung out on the road south of school.   But I was in your U.S. History class and your cheerful attitude and the way you treated your students, and me, was always an inspiration to me.   I graduated High School, married, and had children.   When they were grown I decided to go to college and get my degree in Education and become a teacher.   I want you to know that you were the inspiration for me doing that.   Thank you!”

When we really don’t realize it, we do and say things for good or for ill that deeply affect someone around us.   Years later we find out about it.  It was not just a “normal day”.   For that student, it was a day that they remember and that influenced their life.  


A New Purpose

Since I recently retired from active pastoral ministry and teaching, I have been at loose ends to know how I might continue to communicate some of the learnings that I have to an audience since I no longer have one in a church or a classroom.

I think that this blog may be the answer.   I plan to post on it at least once a week now and hope to share what I’m reading, my experiences, and my reflections  with you who read this.    I hope that you will join me in this endeavor and I can use this outlet to share the experiences and wisdom gained in 76 years of living, in which were  35 years of teaching in high school and college, and over 20 years of Christian pastoral ministry.

I have a broad education experience as well as life experience.   I hold Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Phillips University and Phillips Graduate Seminary (now Phillips Theological Seminary),  a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Chicago, and extended graduate work at San Diego State University in counseling psychology.     I also have a widely varied life experience as I worked at many different jobs besides the ones listed above.   The life of a teacher raising a family is the life of having a second job to support tht family.

I retired as a Minister Emeritus in the Christian Church ( Disciples of Christ) in Kansas, receiving the Honored Minister’s Pin from my church in Hutchinson on my retirement as interim there.    Besides my public school teaching  and  ministry I also was a Hospice Chaplain for several years for Harry Hynes Hospice in southeast Kansas.   I have been through the agonizing experience of losing my wife of 54 years and recently remarried a wonderful woman who has brought light to my life as I emerged from the dark valley of the shadow of death.

I hope you will react to my ideas in dialogue with me and that I can be a source of insights to you.   I also hope to learn from you who read this as you write your reactions to what I write.   That is my plan and my prayer.