Pope Francis is good for Christianity

September 23, 2015


As Pope Francis visits the United States, Catholics are full of excitement as the Holy Father visits in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York.  It is very clear that his leadership will set a very different tone for the Catholic Church. Pope Francis even known to engage in some selfies on social media and his American visit is no different.

At a time when priest scandals, closing churches, and aging membership threaten the growth of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis started his tenure on a positive note. Francis reminded Catholics that Jesus, not the pope, is at the center of the Church. He added that the center should focus on “poor, and for the poor.” Even the selection of his namesake, Francis of Assisi, invokes compassion, peace, and uplifting the poor.

Pope Francis has been known to pay for his own room, rejected lavish apparel, and referred to himself more as a bishop and less as Pope. He’s traveling in a tiny Fiat for this visit. Though these are small things, this type of behavior reflects a Pope that is humble and connected with the average person. Francis is doing more work among Christians in general, not just Catholics. The sex abuse scandals not only eroded the trust of faithful Catholics, but also with the general population. Public polls show that lawyers and bankers are more trusted than clergy. The perception among the “nones”, who make up 20% of Americans, is that churches and organized Christianity is not worthy of their attention.

Pope Francis continues to set a new tone for 1.2 billion Catholics. The tone is not centered in doctrine, Church law, or hierarchy but on bringing unity to the Church and caring for the least of these. The LA Times interviewed one of the faithful and compared the last pope and current pope:

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Three September 11 messages in church

September 11, 2015

Father Brian Jordan (L), a Franciscan Priest, blesses The World Trade Center Cross, made of intersecting steel beams found in the rubble of buildings destroyed in the September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, before it is transported and lowered by a crane into an opening in the World Trade Center site below ground level where it will become part of the permanent installation exhibit in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, in New York, July 23, 2011. REUTERS/Chip East

As we remember September 11, 2001 in our culture, church goers will look to churches and pastors this weekend. Speaking about September 11 in church, a sermon, or prayer will be needed.

With the 14th anniversary of September 11, 2001 here, many Americans are sorting through their minds and hearts.  How have I changed from 14 years ago? What do I feel when I think of September 11, 2001?  Where was I on that fateful day? Why am I still sad? Where can our country go from here?

As we reflect and look back, we have three main messages to the attacks on September 11, 2001:

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White pastors, preach on the Charleston shooting

June 19, 2015

We know now that Dylann Roof acting alone in the shooting and killing that occurred at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.  The outpouring of shock, anger, sadness, and grief was abundant on social media and on television.

As a white preacher on his last Sunday at his current church, I should be preaching to comfort my people upon my leaving. Instead, I will address the Charleston and the problems of hate, fear, and racism. Pastors, if you are preaching the sermon this Sunday or weekend, save it for another day. You need to preach on the racist and hate shooting in Charleston. White preachers and churches, I’m really talking about you.

Racism is alive and well in America. We do not live in a post-racial world. We live in a post-Jim Crow world. Racism is just as ugly today as it was 70 years ago, it’s just not codified.

Dylann Roof walked into a historical black church in Charleston. Sat in the Bible study/prayer meeting and waited. He then killed 9 people. According to witnesses, Roof said, “You have to go… I have to do it… you rape our women, and you’re taking over our country” before he opened fire. A truly racist, hateful, and evil action and words.  According to his Facebook page, his profile is full of racist content. A picture of Roof displayed a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa.

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Why Rachel Held Evans is not that controversial

May 9, 2015


Many in the Christianity community have followed Rachel Held’s Evan’s blogging and writing due to her journey of questioning of her upbringing within conservative evangelicalism. As a powerful female voice, Rachel Held Evans created a niche of disenfranchised and exiles from the evangelical community. She has taken on issues such as women’s roles in Christianity, LGBT rights, and challenging traditional evangelical doctrine.

Many on the evangelical right believer her to be a heretic. Other celebrate her ability to question the normative ethos of evangelicalism. Despite her popularity on social media, speaking tours, and as an author, Evans writing and new book, Searching for Sunday is not controversial.

Let me take a full stop here. Rachel is great example of someone who turned their questions of faith and shared those questions with a broader audience. I like Rachel and admire her strength and courage. She is a faithful Christian trying to figure out her faith in a complex and changing world – as all Christians should be doing. She is a very good writer. I like her sense of honesty and humor.

In her new book, Searching for Sunday, Evans writes about her progression towards a more sacramental and orthodox Christian experience. She remarked to Jonathan Merritt of the Religion News Service,

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Be informed, not ignorant on Baltimore

April 29, 2015


Baltimore is a great city. It is home to the sports teams I follow, universities, churches, an inner harbor, and more importantly where people live. My mother was born and raised in Baltimore. I was born outside Baltimore in Maryland and lived there for about 20 years. As a former Marylander, I’m shocked at the reporting in Baltimore that I’ve seen.

The scenes and pictures of Baltimore rioting over the death of Freddie Gray by police is inescapable. Facebook, Twitter, TV, and the internet are all reporting using words like “thugs”, “vandals” or “rioters”. However, media talking heads are blaming, criticizing, and pointing fingers. As usual, the media are driving a very specific narrative and image: inner city [racial] chaos.

An example of this is on Fox News 

Another protester told Vittert he’s upset about all the police brutality, but it was drowned out by more indiscernible shouting. The audio feed briefly cut out, but one f-bomb was picked up on the air. Kelly immediately said, “This is ridiculous. This is how folks want to be heard? They want to shout down the reporter? They want to endanger him?”

One person equals “This is how folks want to be heard”? One story, one person does not equal the whole story. However, that is the picture that many in the media want to paint. Geraldo Rivera told a vandal protester who was blocking the news camera, “You blocking my camera… You’re making a fool of yourself!” to which someone replied, “We don’t want your false coverage!”

With cities like Ferguson, Cleveland, Brooklyn, and Baltimore protesting what residents feel as injustice, the media captures the worst of the worst. Riots in other cities, for other reasons, are often reported differently by some news outlets. It seems that scenes of violence fill the airwaves more than the scenes of peaceful protests. What about the scenes of people trying to help? Perhaps one of the most powerful and important news worthy events that are occurring in Baltimore is what the clergy are doing. Hundreds of clergy marched in Baltimore to promote peace. WBAL in Baltimore reported first hand what occurred on April 27:

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5 phrases that frustrate Millennials in church

April 14, 2015


In an age where Millennials in church are a scarcity, long term church members often find trouble with how to relate to newer church goers. No matter if the young people are Millennials, or Gen-Xers,  younger church goers and members must be encouraged and allowed to take leadership roles. With 66% of Millennials in church say that churches are hypocritical, church leaders need to understand that cultural church language and behavior are important.

With all of these considerations, here’s what send Millennials in church running from churches in frustration:

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Jimmy Buffett joins First Baptist Church

April 1, 2015

I cannot hide this news any longer since the Albany Times Union published the story this morning: Jimmy Buffett will join the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa in May. I’m very sorry to my family and friends for keeping this information private.

I’ve had to keep Jimmy Buffett’s news silent as I was contractually prohibited from announcing the news to anyone. Buffett recently bought a home in near by Saratoga Springs and plans to use it in the summer.   Most of the conversation about Buffett joining the church was through his agent and daughter.  Buffett’s agent confirmed that I could pass this along from the press release:

Mr. Buffett’s recent New York home purchase means that Mr. Buffett will be searching for a local church to join. We are pleased to announce that Mr. Buffett will join The First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa in early May 2015. Due to Mr. Buffett’s tour and concert commitments, Mr. Buffett will conduct further communication through Prestige Worldwide.  

Church Leadership

Church bullies

March 31, 2015


Today on Facebook, I posted Thom Rainer’s “9 Traits of Church Bullies“. The amount of reposts tells me that church bullies are growing problem in churches.

Usually, we think of bullies at school but churches suffer from bullying as well. As mainline churches continue to figure out how to do ministry differently, church bullies work hard to invest in their agenda. Church bullies usually work against moving the church forward into vibrancy. Rainer’s list clarifies what church bully behavior looks like:  Continue Reading…


The myth of the elite young athlete

March 20, 2015


I recently received an email from my brother-in-law that contained several video links.

“Tell me what you think.” My brother-in-law wrote.

I clicked and opened each link and watched my 8-year-old nephew goaltending a lacrosse goal. The video contained the coach’s commentary, superimposed video drawings, and slow motion point-by-point breakdown of his form.

“Wow! When I played that type of analysis and video work was only on ESPN,” I wrote back. I was shocked at the level of sophistication of the coaching analysis.

In the last 10-15 years, there has been an explosion in youth sports training, travel teams, artificial turf fields, video production, websites, private coaches, and “elite” sports teams. According to the news channel CNBC, youth sport travel is a $7 billion dollar industry.  With the recent interest in forming “elite” youth athletes, parents are left paying for additional training and sacrificing family time to “elite” sports.

Growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, we kids played football, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, street hockey, and basketball. Some of us were on recreation teams and others were not. We tried all sorts of sports and leagues. We played because it was fun.

Now, as a father of three children, I cannot believe how much youth sports culture has changed. What was once a time of fun, team building, and exercise is now a billion dollar industry. Families spend the whole weekend carting around their kids to sport games or leagues. They spend 2-4 nights a week at practices. Their kid’s sports are their life.

It is not supposed to be this way.

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Church Leadership, Millennials

#1 reason why churches have lost millennials

February 27, 2015


After recently writing about misconceptions of millennials, I stumbled on study that discovered the strongest contributing factor of the millennial’s departure from churches.  The study revealed something so basic it amazing that more research is not being done.

There are groups like Barna and church trackers like Ed Stetzer who have listed several major reasons why millennials and young people are leaving churches. According to the research about 60% of young people stop going to church altogether. These studies quoted take a pretty dynamic approach looking at many factors. However, the answer to the millennial exodus is simpler and more troubling.

The Christian Century cited a report by the Association of Religion Data Archives that went under the radar. I was shocked when I read it. The study found that 1% of youth ages “15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid to late twenties.” Here is what else they found about millennials and young people:

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Church Leadership, Millennials

What you know about Millennials is wrong

February 24, 2015


The hype surrounding millennials has been heavily documented. You know the millennials. Those trophy-for-everything-kids who live with their parents. The millennials who grew up as the “me” generation. Millennials, with their technology, social media, and heavy cell phone use. As employees, millennials are high maintenance, liberal, and self-serving.

Everyone thinks they know the millennials, but they don’t. Here’s why.

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