Twas' the day after Jr. Camp and all through the house not a creature was stirring...just this old preacher. Ok, I know that comparatively speaking I'm not old, but after chasing 150 kids around Jr. Camp playing laser tag, tackling the monster waterslide, and doing a lot of other crazy activities I AM WIPED OUT! Don't get me wrong, it's a good kind of tired and I will recover quickly, but it's awesome to sit back and take a moment to think about all that God accomplished through our camp this week.
For the uninitiated, Jr. Camp is a FREE camp that Peace Haven Baptist Church provides for children in the region who may or may not be able to afford the luxury of a full scale camp experience. In the course of our three day adventure (full days mind you from 7:30am until 5pm) we connected with kids who were under the care of the Department of Social Services (DSS), others who barely speak English, and others who just had a lot of needs in general.
I LOVE MY CHURCH! I know that it's not mine, it all belongs to Jesus, but I felt a healthy dose of pride as I watched our people love on the campers over these three days and make many sacrifices of their own personal vacation time to make this camp a reality. The love that was shown these children through the activities and bible study was simply amazing. The relationships that were established through all of the experiences were very special even up until the moment when 21 children expressed interest in knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior on Wednesday. As a pastor, my heart is full and overflowing. To see the body of Christ (which included members of our Peace Haven family as well as others from local churches) serving sacrificially so that the "little children" could know Him...was just AWESOME!
When I first came to Peace Haven, my friend Scott Stamper had reminded the congregation in a message quoting Andy Stanley that this was an "all skate." Meaning that if we were going to do ministry/church biblically, then we needed to be all in and ready to buckle up to serve God. Well, I definitely saw that this week as our people did some amazing work for the Kingdom and accomplished great things for God!
It has also been a very special treat to have our "worlds collide" (as my wife put it so well) when Lifepoint Christian Fellowship from Chesapeake, Virginia agreed to send a missions team to help us this week. They have contributed in so many ways that I can't possibly do them justice in this blog, but I am so grateful for the role that they have played in sharing the love of Jesus this week! God has used them to not only love on our campers, but to encourage our members as well. I have had so many conversations in which our members were encouraged and/or given greater clarity on the course that we have set for our children's ministry.
(For those who do not know, we are about to launch a new direction for our children's ministry that is called Orange. It unites the teaching at church with the home and helps our children to grow in a more orchestrated and strategic manner. I am confident that this is going to be a great step for our church in the days ahead!)
So I know that by now you are wondering if this preacher is ever going to get to the point?! Here it is...the same church that pulled off this amazing event is here 24/7, 365 to serve the Lord by serving your family. Those same smiling faces are here week in and week out to love, strengthen, and build up one another as the beautiful body of Christ. I told the children (and the adults) that the one thing about Jr. Camp that makes me sad is knowing that we will not see many of them again until next year! Honestly, that really stinks. While I know that some have churches that they attend faithfully, I know that there are many others who do not. We would really enjoy doing life with your family on more than an annual basis. God's Word is rich and his Spirit is moving at Peace Haven!
I tell our people all of the time to BUCKLE UP! I don't just say this because this is NASCAR country, but because living by faith is an amazing race and you can't fully experience it unless you are a part of the gathering also known as church. Our prayer is that this opportunity for us to love on these families would not be temporary, but that God would grant us that privilege again very soon. So until I see you again, all that I can say is...BUCKLE UP!
For anyone who spends any time online, yesterday was a big day...sort of. It was the long awaited sale by Wal-mart and Amazon Prime that promised Christmas in July/Black Friday savings. Now for the completely uninitiated, "Amazon Prime" is not the cousin of Optimus Prime, it is one of the largest retailers in the USA (if not the world) who transacts everything via internet and delivery services. Being such, when a large sale event comparable to Black Friday is announced, consumer expectations went through the roof. Only there was one problem...the sale was nothing like a Black Friday event. Rather, many took to social media to express their disappointment with the lack of deals that they were able to find on Amazon Prime.
What does this have to do with church? Am I suggesting that we need to deliver the Lord's Supper to people's doorsteps and charge a fee? No, although...just kidding! The truth that we can learn from this experience is that we need to consider what we are promising people who seek to "consume" God by visiting and/or joining our churches. Do we paint a picture of church involvement becoming another transaction in a long list of regular needs that families are scurrying about to fulfill or do we offer something more?
I would like to make five suggestions to avoid becoming an "Amazon Prime Church:"
1. Relationships- If we treat people like mindless consumers seeking the best deal, they will act accordingly. Engaging people in real, face to face relationships becomes that snap of the fingers that great hypnotists are known for that bring people out of their mundane trances. Is it perfect, easy, or mess free? No, but Jesus spent face time with people in addition to preaching and teaching to them.
2. Don't Sell Jesus- Churches today have tried every gimmick in the book when it comes to "selling Jesus" and appealing to the consumer mindset, but at the end of the day many people are waking up in a church wondering who will love them when they are broken, who will help them when they are financially destitute, and where are the throngs of people when life is messy. It's more than a good show on Sunday mornings in a designer suit.
3. Accept no substitutes- We live in a world of generics, copycats, and deals that seem great at the time, but eventually leave us longing for the real thing. Buying something that seems like a good deal at the time and then only having to buy the same item again within a matter of days is a waste of time, energy, and money. What are we trying to fill the God-shaped void in our lives with? Anything besides Jesus is a square peg in a cross shaped hole and it simply doesn't satisfy.
4. Be Authentic- If you are going to have a sale...have a sale. Don't promote a non-event for the sake of publicity. Such experiences erode trust and cause doubt to arise as to the motives of those in leadership. Churches today are getting better and better about aspects such as websites, flyers, and attractive promotional materials, but this does not need to be a facade. Behind all of these great opportunities, people need to see that there is a group of people who serve an amazing God. Don't let your hype serve as smoke and mirrors that only confuse people. Offer to take them to lunch, buy them coffee, have them over to your house. Do whatever it takes to dig beyond the surface of religion.
5. Make a beeline for the goal- This line was borrowed from Spurgeon (who said "cross" instead of "goal"), but the essence reminds us to remain centered on who we are. If a merchant is known to provide excellent services and amazing deals when they promote such, then people come to expect consistency. The church must strive for nothing less than our best for God. Does this mean that we wear fancy clothes to impress others, no. It means that we take whatever steps necessary to prepare for worship , we strive to communicate effectively in multiple ways to make sure that people get the message, and we demonstrate by our efforts that our goal is ultimately to give God the most glory humanly possible.
May our guests who walk through our doors or even visit our website find that the people of our church are the same in all walks of life as we seek to walk by faith and do life together.
Let me know what you think about my suggestions and make a few of your own in the comments below. And have a great day!