Wednesday Night At The Movies

First Christian Church of Chicago is glad to present a second season of summer family movies for the Ashburn community free of charge. Movies will be presented on Wednesday, July 18, 25, and August 1. Here is this year’s line-up:
 
  • July 18 – Black Panther
  • July 25 – The Greatest Showman
  • August 1- I Can Only Imagine
 
Night at the Movies includes complimentary concessions … so bring your family and bring your friends for a free night of entertainment.


Hospitality That Goes Deep

At FCC, we have a period of time between Worship Celebration and Connection Groups that we call “hospitality”. Hospitality entails serving punch and coffee, along with a selection of desserts or light snacks to our hungry post-worship crowd. Sometimes we are served what would even be called a light meal.

This environment is useful and needed, as well as valued and appreciated. It starts us on the road to hospitality as it provides us with a good time to interact with one another with the “Hi, how you doing ?” or “I’m glad to have the chance to meet you!” conversations before we move on to our connection environments.

Hospitality is a key virtue throughout the New Testament. We see it acted out repeatedly by Jesus in the gospels as he sat down for meals with saints and sinners. We see that repeated by the church in Acts. Hospitality is prominent in the imperatives of Romans 12.

Yet, I am forced to wonder if labeling this “hospitality” doesn’t also present a certain danger. Could it tempt us to accept a limited cultural definition of hospitality rather than embracing the richer and deeper New Testament expression?

However, the term hospitality in the New Testament represents much more than a time of refreshments.  A perception that limits hospitality to punch and coffee misses the richness of God’s intent.

Hospitality is opening one’s life and one’s home to others. It is inviting others to put their feet under your table, and engaging one another in deep, honest and vulnerable conversation. It is  about showing acceptance enjoyed around a meal where we can really get to know one another. That is what Jesus did for Zacchaeus when he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

When I was young, I remember after church going to the home of another family, going out to eat with another family, or inviting a family to our home … and in each of those environments the church would be served as two families got to know one another.

What if we were to rediscover this deeper sense of hospitality by inviting others into our homes, by eating together with one another around our tables, and getting to know one another. Or maybe it isn’t even a meal or our homes, but it is a longer conversation over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. How might that enhance the ministry of the church?.

 



Togetherness

f Ephesians.

In the month of April we will begin a message series through the book of Ephesians.

This will be the third time we have had a teaching series through Ephesians in the 11 years I have served as the Senior Minister. After having preached through it at least two times prior to my ministry at First Christian Church of Chicago, you would think that I might havedeveloped a pretty good grasp of its content.

However, there was a simple, but very significant message that I had not noticed previously. Perhaps I had missed it because I too am very much a product of our culture of American individualism. As I looked at Scripture through those lenses, I often made a huge mistake in seeing the intended much and its proper audience.

Here is what I have discovered. The book of Ephesians is very much a letter to the church – not a church as a collection of INDIVIDUALS  — but the church as a COMMUNITY of individuals.

Here is the difference. A collection of individuals emphasize the personal message, as everything is read through the lenses of what it says, means, instructs, and encourages me. The emphasis on the individual becomes selfcentered and narcissistic.

However, as a community of individuals (emphasis on community), the emphasis moves from me to the community. I come to understand that being part of the church doesn’t mean I am a number in a larger set of numbers. Rather I am a functioning part of a body that needs my presence and participation to fully be what it was designed to be. Paul is not primarily concerned with the individual. His concern for the individual is only as part of the whole.

Here is the principle discovery I made: As I have read through Ephesians in preparation for the upcoming message series, I looked much closer at a word group that I have more or less skimmed over in the past. I did that because we all know what the word group in question means — or so I thought!

problem. Paul repeatedly uses “you” and “your”, not in a second

The word group in question is “you” and “your”. But here it is the not the second person singular sense, but a second person plural. If you were from the south, you might say “yall,” meaning everybody with you. Or you might even use the phrase “all yall all” meaning everybody in the group.

It is these usages that Paul employs in Ephesians. He wants us to see ourselves not as individuals, but a part of a larger body. He wants us to see ourselves in how we relate in community. He wants us to see ourselves in connection. He wants us to see ourselves as contributors toward the whole. He wants us to see ourselves as family, as common structure, as one.

How would your engagement with the church differ if you traded “you singular” for “you plural”? What would change if church was less about you and more about how you relate to others in the body?



Church Is Not Worship

When church becomes more about having a Sunday morning worship experience, believers cease to be the church, and their spiritual lives are ultimately harmed.

I am not sure how many of you reading this will agree with that statement. But it has repeatedly proven to be true.

Here is how it unfolds: As individual believers become primarily concerned that the Sunday worship environment “feed their spirit”, the goal of worship becomes a subjective experience. Did the worship music move me? Did the sermon feed me? Did I “feel” the presence of God’s spirit in worship? 

Do you see it? The Sunday morning worship experience becomes a selfabsorbed, selfserving model. I have to ask, “If we didn’t feel God’s presence does that mean he wasn’t there or that I wasn’t in tune?” And when I am no longer “feeling it”, it becomes easy for me to come less often, drop out all together, or go somewhere else in search of the allusive “feeling”.

But what makes the church the church is not its worship! We can experience music and message without going anywhere.

What makes the church the church is its fellowship!

A church is defined by its “one another” relationships within community … so it isn’t about me as much as it is about us. The church is not so much the place where I get filled up as it is the place where God uses me to help fill others. As we love, serve, grace, accept, forgive, encourage, correct, bear with, honor, and teach one another we are the church. That is why I often say that the most important time for our church is not necessarily the worship time, but the group life time where relationships are born and strengthened.

Yet we need to differentiate between being a “friendly church” and being the church. A “friendly church” is a church that is welcoming and glad to see one another on Sundays, and misses one another when people are absent. However, a “real church” develops relationships which reach beyond Sunday. A church invites and relishes opportunities to get together for prayer, for mutual service, or for just enjoying one another’s company. A “friendly church” is okay with Sunday interaction. A “real church” reaches out to engage with one another on other days of the week in order to build and strengthen deeper relationships.

We can only have these “real church” relationships when church people spend time with other church people. Are you ready to bring other believers into your life and family so we can be the church?



Church Isn’t A Worship Experience

When church becomes more about having a Sunday morning worship experience, believers cease to be the church, and their spiritual lives are ultimately harmed.

I am not sure how many of you reading this will agree with that statement. But it has repeatedly proven to be true.

Here is how it unfolds:

As individual believers become primarily concerned that the Sunday worship environment “feed their spirit”, the goal of worship becomes a subjective experience. Did the worship music move me? Did the sermon feed me? Did I “feel” the presence of God’s spirit in worship?

Do you see it? The Sunday morning worship experience becomes a self-absorbed, self-serving model.  I have to ask, “If we didn’t feel God’s presence does that mean he wasn’t there or that I wasn’t in tune?” And when I am no longer “feeling it”, it becomes easy for me to come less often, drop out all together, or go somewhere else in search of the allusive “feeling”.

But what makes the church the church is not its worship! We can experience music and message without going anywhere.

What makes the church the church is its fellowship!

A church is defined by its “one another” relationships within community … so it isn’t about me as much as it is about us. The church is not so much the place where I get filled up as it is the place where God uses me to help fill others.

As we love, serve, grace, accept, forgive, encourage, correct, bear with, honor, and teach one another we are the church. That is why I often say that the most important time for our church is not necessarily the worship time, but the group life time where relationships are born and strengthened.

Yet we need to differentiate between being a “friendly church” and being the church. A friendly church is a church that is welcoming and glad to see one another on Sundays, and misses one another when people are absent. However, a “real church” develops relationships which reach beyond Sunday. A church invites and relishes opportunities to get together for prayer, for mutual service, or for just enjoying one another’s company. A “friendly church” is okay with Sunday interaction. A “real church” reaches out to engage with one another on other days of the week in order to build and strengthen deeper relationships.

We can only have these “real church” relationships when church people spend time with other church people. Are you ready to bring other believers into your life and family so we can be the church?
 
— Pastor Steve

 



Planning For Change

Undoubtedly you have heard the phrase, “Do what you’ve always done … you’ll always get the same results”, or the phrase’s idiot cousin, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

While over the last few years, we have not been adverse to change, we have also not been quick to change for the sake of change.

That hasn’t changed.

However, we will be changing some things up in order to seek some differing results as 2018 unfolds.

One change has already been implemented as we asked Ministry Team leaders to prepare budgets for each of their ministry teams. Never before have Ministry Team leaders been given the responsibility of financially planning for their own ministry.

That has caused a bump in our budget for 2018. All of the increase in the 2018 budget is attributable to the funding of the Ministry Teams. It is a bold step of faith.

We are also looking toward the implementation of some new ministries in the coming year. One of those is exploring the idea of a “coffeehouse worship” environment on Saturday evenings.

We have a growing number of FCC Chicago members who are unable to attend Sunday worship services regularly. We want to give them an opportunity to participate in worship.

However, we also want to offer a different kind of worship option that will increase the opportunity for us to reach a group that we are currently not reaching as effectively as we might. The younger generations have shown a higher receptivity to a coffeehouse environment for worship than a traditional service.

Planning is still in process, but we are looking at a soft launch for the Saturday coffeehouse worship sometime in the month of March. Be praying as we make preparations for this service.

 



Preachers and Politics

There is a somewhat common misconception about political talk, talk that considers an influential vocation is (or should be) excluded from the conversation.

Some people have fallen for a myth that preachers, pastors, or whatever you call a vocational professional that serves in the ministry cannot engage in conversation that critiques serving political leaders (or personally voices their support of particular candidates).

It’s become common to see memes and posts that say Preachers should have to pay taxes if they are going to talk politics. News Flash: Preachers pay taxes!

Now consider ministers have had a long and lofty role in American politics throughout. history. Preachers served as representatives in the Continental Congresses. One preacher served as President. Further, preachers have lended their voices to some of the most important cultural-transforming political moments in history.

It is true that ministers in an official capacity are restricted by the IRS from supporting particular parties or politicians. This prohibition of preachers and churches campaigning for parties and candidates was made law by the Johnson Amendment in the mid 1950s. Violation may result in rescending the 501(c)3 tax-exempt status of the church in which the minister serves or spoke (an action which has only happened once in 60 years).

However, the Johnson Amendment does not extend to forums in which a minister is not speaking in an official capacity as a representative of the church, but as a citizen. Preachers are people, and history has shown what they have to add to the conversations that occur around politics are as valuable as doctors and dog catchers, journalists and junk collectors.

The other fallacy that has led to the preacher don’t talk politics myth is the misinterpretation of the Jeffersonian doctrine of the separation of church and state, a phrase that is absent from the Constitution. It occurs in a letter to a Baptist church by Jefferson that states the church did not need fear the federal government due to the constitutional  protections which guaranteed the government could not interfere with churches.

Only in the 20th century was the second amendment flipped on its head from a protection for the church from state intervention to protection for the political from church involvement.

Jefferson never foresaw the time when his obscure statement in a private letter would become a phrase used to gag the church and preachers.
 
— Pastor Steve


How To Grow Church Attendance

Over the last month you have heard the Elders share a vision for 2017 of seeing our average Sunday attendance rise by 20% over 2016. I’d like to come behind what they have shared with a little more information and context.
 
The attendance average for FCC hit a significant snag in the spring and summer of 2015 when the average Sunday attendance dropped to 75. It then became a goal of seeing the attendance rebound by at least 20% over the next year (September 2015-August 2016) or 90 people. We actually saw a recovery and our average Sunday attendance increased to 92 people.
 
This year again, the Elders sought to see us reach a 20% attendance increase once more. However, we felt that we needed to make the congregation aware of this goal.
 
The reason informing the congregation was deemed important, was because we wanted the congregation to own the vision for growth as well. Congregational buy-in is necessary because it is the congregation that will ultimately determine whether we will reach our goal or not.
 
There are two determinants helping us achieve the growth that we dream of for each member:
 
1) If we attend ourselves … nationally, the average church attender now attends church only 27 times per year — that is only one Sunday over half. At FCC, we have noticed the national trend in our own attendance as choices of sports, sleeping in, and other things have squeezed out church attendance. 
 
Attending half of the time will do to you spiritually the same thing as eating half of the time will do to you physically. We can do better for ourselves spiritually.
 
2) If we invite others to attend … studies show that at best, 25% of church members ever invite someone to church. Yet, over 50% of unchurched Americans say they would attend church if a friend invited them.
 
Part of our mission is to help others know Jesus. Inviting them to church may be the best way of helping them know Him. Who have you invited? Keep inviting. Find new people and invite them too.
 

20% and Beyond

 



The Vision of Spanish-Speaking Ministry

At Pentecost, God tore down the linguistic walls that left the gospel inaccessible to some so that the message of Christ could indeed be spread to the ends of the earth.

At FCC Chicago we are blessed to have those who speak English, Spanish, French, Creole, German, Albanian and tribal languages of Nigeria as part of our ministry. God can use you to reach the nations.

About 2 1/2 years ago, the Elders shared the vision of establishing a Spanish-speaking ministry as an extension of FCC Chicago’s ministry. Some of you would have been here to hear about that before. Others of you are newer, and had probably not heard that vision verbalized.

The conversation about Spanish-speaking ministry began when we discovered that 20% of the Ashburn neighborhood (that’s 8-10,000 people) are Spanish-speaking, English-isolated, meaning that we couldn’t reach them even if we wanted to with our current English-only ministry. But God loves these people too and desires for them to be part of his family. On this, our heart should match God’s heart.

This is not a political issue of whether all Americans should speak English. It is a gospel issue of reaching every ethnic group with the gospel in order to see them become disciples of Jesus.

The need to write is due to some confusion and misunderstanding of what a Spanish-speaking ministry might mean for the church body. One concern was that we will be making the current Worship Celebration environment a fully bi-lingual context. Let me assure you that that is not the plan. The current English Worship service would remain English.

Actually, beginning the conversation with talk of a Worship service is premature. What we probably would do, before arriving at a Worship plan, is begin to expand our ministry to Spanish speakers through starting Bible studies or other programs that would meet felt needs of Spanish-speaking neighbors, such as English As A Second Language. This is where some of our members become vital ministry links. If you speak Spanish, you may be that person to start a Bible study or participate in a ministry in Spanish. We are blessed to have couple Spanish speakers within our congregation, and I have to wonder if God hasn’t placed you within our body to be used to reach those our English speaking family can’t reach.

If, or shall I say, when, a core group develops through a one of these ministries we could then consider how we would like to further develop that ministry. The foremost option is to plant a “church within a church”, which would see FCC Chicago have the Spanish-speaking worship birth under the umbrella of the FCC leadership. With the building that we have we could even have two services simultaneously, one in the Worship Center and the other in the Fellowship Hall.

We have had some informal talks with Lance Hurley, the Executive Director of Ignite Churchplanting about partnering with FCC Chicago in this endeavor to start a Spanish-speaking ministry. The initial conversations have shown promise that Ignite would partner with us in this journey.

If you have further questions, I would be glad to answer them.

— Pastor Steve



Do Christians Share Responsibility For The Dispossessed?

Do we as the people of God have any responsibility to the dispossessed; the poor, the under-served, the oppressed and the powerless?
 
I ask that because a recent thread lead me to believe that we no longer believe that we share any of that responsibility. More particularly, those of us with less skin pigmentation have no share in the responsibility as it relates to the plight of people of color. More than once statements where made in the thread that suggested black people should just fix themselves. Their own actions got themselves into the morally and socially corrupt culture they have developed for themselves.
 
Yet, I would seriously challenge the premise in that last statement:  in a historical context, consider the following implication from the development of African-American culture. When in slavery, most slave-holders did not allow slaves to marry. Couples, if identified, might be intentionally separated. The slave-holders promoted promiscuity because it would advance the owners wealth by producing saleable offspring. When children were weaned they would often be removed from their parents and sold to other owners. Is it possible that generations of slavery was instrumental in forming this Black culture that is said lacked “character” – particularly promiscuity and fatherlessness?
 
A ministry acquaintance expressed recently that “we can’t escape two other realities – One, the land was stolen. Two, labor was stolen for approximately 200 years. Those sins create deep systematic and enduring poverty that only can be addressed by deep repentance.”
 
Following slavery, the conditions of African-Americans only changed marginally. They were no longer slaves held under the whip. Yet, economically the situation did not provide much relief as former slaves found themselves in a new form of slavery as share-croppers under the hands of the landowners.
 
Is part of our struggle here that we have adopted a minimalist perspective of the Fall (sin is a problem between me and God), rather than seeing the Fall as a ripple effect that affected every corner of human existence and culture?

In the first salvation can also be minimized to a God and me thing. But in the second, redemption also includes seeking correction of the damage done by the ripples.
 
God summed up, through the words of Micah, his concern for His people to engage in taking responsibility for the poor:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
 
Over and over God expresses his concern for those caught in the clutches of poverty; the fatherless, the widows, and the aliens in the land. Repeatedly he offers words of judgment on those who turn their back on the plight of these cultural groups.
 
The story of Ruth is the story of a poor foreigner who takes advantage of the God ordained provisions of leaving the edges of the field unharvested, and the spillage untouched, so that the poor and the stranger may be able to provide for themselves out of these.
 
James comes back to exprSDess similar sentiments in James 1:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
 
When you can chart an ethnic median wage gap of $20,000 over a 45 year period that has never gotten any better it ought to raise our level of concern, and not just our level of suspicion. How are the under-classed, regardless of color or social position, supposed to deliver themselves from the economic pit they are in? They don’t hold the keys to the businesses. They are unable to give themselves a wage increase, or even give themselves a job.
 
These are the same groups that tend to be at the poorest schools as well — to which it was suggested that they should start better schools of their own. How are they suppose to do that without financial means?
 
Shame on us for misusing Jesus’ statement that “you will always have the poor with you” (as I have heard used – I mean misused) as an excuse for not seeking economic justice, of not standing beside those who have been burdened with systemic issues that have exiled them outside of the concern of others.
 
That doesn’t mean that we have to become the support agent for those on the dole. The answer is not to give more hands outs, but more hand ups. It, also, doesn’t imply approval for the poor choices that the underserved are presently making for themselves.
 
But it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Solutions are usually more nuanced than this way or that way.
 
No, the social gospel does not displace the gospel message. However, to disengage social concern from the gospel that advances “shalom” is to miss a huge piece of the healing peace God desires to see manifested in His Kingdom.
 
How can we do that? … Do you have any ideas?
 
–Steven Chapman Read more…