Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lots of Americans Changing Their Religion

Americans aren't losing their religion; their changing their religion...a lot. I'm not sure if you caught the article about this at cnn.com on Monday, but if you didn't, let me share some of it with you.
More than half of American adults have changed religion in their lives, a huge new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found. And there is no discernible pattern to the change, just "a free for all," one of the lead researchers told CNN. "You're seeing the free market at work," said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. "If people are dissatisfied, they will leave. And if they see something they like better, they will join it."

Many people switch because they move to a new community, and others because they marry someone of a different faith, he said. Some don't like their ministers or pastors; some like the pastor at another church better. And many people list more than one reason for changing, Smith said. "The reasons people change religions are as diverse as the religious landscape itself," he told CNN by phone.

Some factors that might be expected to drive people away from religion - such as sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, or a belief that science "disproves" religion - actually play a very small role, the study suggests. "I've been struck by the very large number across all the different groups who say they just gradually drifted away. Not all of this is the product of carefully considered, conscious decision-making that happens at a specific point in time," Smith said.

The number of people who have changed religion is much higher than previously thought, the new report suggests. A Pew Forum study released last year concluded that just over one in four Americans had switched. More than four in 10 American adults are no longer members of the religion they were brought up in, while about one in 10 changed religion, then went back to the one they left, the study found. Just under five in 10 - 47 percent - have never changed faith. Some have switched more than once, and a small number have changed three times or more, according to the study.

The survey supported a study released last month in that it found about 16 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion. The American Religious Identification Survey, from Trinity College in Connecticut, found the number to be about 15 percent. But Smith warned against labeling those people "secular." "Upwards of one-third of newly unaffiliated people say they just haven't found the right religion yet," Smith said. And many people who had no religion as children later join one, he said.

"More than half the people who are raised unaffiliated are now affiliated," he said. "More than half [of those people] say they joined their current faith in part because they felt called by God to do so. Just because a person is part of a particular group at this point in time, or a part of no religion, doesn't mean they are going to stay that way forever," said Smith.Most people who switch religions do so before they are 24, combined with the finding that older people as well as younger people have changed, suggests to Smith that the trend has been going on for some time, he said. "If I'm 65 and I changed religion at 24, I changed 40 years ago," he pointed out. "It's not a new phenomenon."
Not sure what all of this means for the local church, but I should would like to hear what you think.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Making Millions in Ministry

My television was on all last weekend as I watched young men become instant millionaires via the NFL draft. The number one pick in the draft, a quarterback picked by the Detroit Lions, signed a six-year contract that guarantees him at least $42 million. Most (if not all) of us will never see that kind of money in our lifetimes. I used to think that my ability to make millions of dollars as a pastor was impossible...until now! A story I read today in the New York Daily News has changed everything, and now I'm a pastor in search of the big bucks!

The story is about the Rev. Brad Braxton who is the incoming pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan. This past Sunday, he finally broke his silence over his massive pay package, saying that God was behind him as he assumed the position of senior pastor. He told his congregation on Sunday - who responded with thunderous applause, "God told me all week, 'I got you.'" However, not all 2700 parishioners were clapping. Some are actually filing a lawsuit to trim his $600,000 in yearly salary and perks. $600,000 per year! Cha ching!

I didn't know that kind of money could be made in ministry. I used to say that if I wanted to become rich, I chose the wrong profession, but now I see that I'm wrong! Evidently, the sky's the limit. There's tons of money to be made in ministry, and I'm going for it.

Please pray along with me as I call my elders together this week and demand a huge pay increase. I could swear I heard the Lord tell me this morning, "I got you." Let's hope and pray that this translates into millions of dollars for me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Mostly Stupid (But Kinda Clever) Church Sign

I don't know why, but when I drove by this one, I did actually laugh out loud. It's clever, but it's still stupid. Stupid to the non-believing thousands that drive by it every day and stupid to the Christians who drive by, most of whom probably chuckle...then shudder like I did.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Spiritual Lesson from the 1929 Depression for the 2009 Recession

I'm studying Psalm 124 this week in preparation to preach on it this Sunday. One of the resources I'm using is a book called, Meditation in the Psalms by Erling C. Olsen written in 1939. As I was reading today, I came across an application he was making that spoke directly to the Great Depression that the world had just suffered through at the time of his writing. In light of what our country is going through financially some 70 years later, I found this surprisingly relevant. Here's what Olsen wrote...

A United Christian World

When the crash of our pyramided prosperity took place in 1929, the whole world was shaken like a reed. Since then, some voices have been heard suggesting that the collapse was inevitable, because of the materialism with which the people possessed, but now that materialism had broken into bits and was found to be but a vapor, men would return to the verities of God and spiritual things.

For a moment, it seemed that men had learned a lesson. But what do we see today? It is acknowledged by some that we have turned the corner and are well on the road to another period of prosperity. Have men ceased to be materialists? Have the nations learned the lesson of 1929? Indeed not. Then what? What can be the hope of this particular hour?

An item appeared on the front pages of our newspapers this past week which I read with interest. It directed attention to the call raised by one of the richest men in this world. That distinguished gentleman suggested that only a "united Christian world could stem the rising tide of materialism and selfishness, of broken traditions and crumbling moral standards and point the way out." He lamented the failure of the church visible, with its sects, still clinging to its denominationalism "in a drifting, disillusioned, discouraged world which sees in the church confusion rather than hope."

I wholeheartedly endorse the comments which that gentleman made, and I agree with him that the world is on the brink of disaster as its very foundations are being shaken. I agree with him that the only thing for the church today is to bear a united testimony, so that she might be a bulwark against the raging storm.

Interesting and relevant words for us today. President Obama said this week that he foresees a very difficult 2009. We're not yet out of the woods of this recession. So, it's very timely and necessary that we - the church - ask ourselves what role we should be playing for those who are on the financial ropes. What message should we give to a country that has been knocked off of its firm footing by these uncertain financial times? Will we be a bulwark of hope for the hurting people around us, or will we just add to their confusion and fear by displaying a lack of love, compassion, understanding and unity?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Surviving the Teenage Storm

Last week, something monumental happened in my family. With the celebration of Taylor's birthday last Monday, we officially became a home with four teenagers living in it. We knew this day would come, but like with any major catastrophe, we just weren't ready! Michelle and I could feel the wind picking up, and we could hear the thunder in the distance, but last Monday, the lightning struck and the storm hit with gale force winds. And, as far as we can tell, the storm has stalled out over our home. The latest forecast calls for this storm to continue to pelt our home for at least the next five years. So, how will we survive the teenage storm that has hit our home? Here's what we're doing to try to survive...

1. We're in the process of creating a parents-only sanctuary in our home. Our home is pretty small for the amount of people (and dogs) living in it, and it's hard to get away. So, Michelle and I are in the process of creating a "sanctuary" where we can get away. Currently, our bedroom has a TV equipped with a DVR for recording and watching our favorite shows at our leisure. In the coming months, we're hoping to install the claw-foot tub that we drug here from Ohio. It needs to be refurbished, and our bedroom/bathroom combination needs some reconfiguring, but we think we have a plan. As we revealed our "sanctuary" plan to one of our teenage daughters, she replied, "If you do that, you guys will never come out!" Exactly.

2. We get out of the house regularly. This is something we've done since the kids were very little. When they were unable to care for themselves, we spent quite a bit of money each month on babysitters. And when Emily became old enough to watch the kids herself, we made it known to her that staying home with them while we went out on a consistent basis was her God-given reason for being born. She bought it for a while, but as she got older, she got smarter! Michelle and I have always made time for one another, and one of the main ways we've done this is by taking walks together. When the kids we're younger, we would take them to a park to play. While they played, Michelle and I would walk laps around the park keeping them in our sight at all times. Now, we leave home nearly every day for a 35 minute walk. This is the time when we debrief our day, talk parenting strategy, or even stop on a street corner to kiss. Walking together is healthy, free, and even romantic sometimes.

3. We work hard to maintain the top position in the home. Those of you who have teenagers know that this can be a difficult thing to do. Teens can be assuming, demanding, and full of entitlement. If parents aren't careful, their teenagers can overtake the control of the house! Michelle and I love our teens dearly, but we often let them know their place (below us!). We do this sometimes by verbally reminding them that we're the parents, and they're the kids. But we often do it non-verbally by not allowing them to have full run of the house. For example, we still require that our younger teens get to bed at a decent time; our older teens can stay up as late as they need to, but they have to be quiet and courteous to those who are smart enough to go to bed before 2AM! We also require our teens to all pitch-in with the work wound the house. Our kids know that Saturday is "chore day," and they know that they're not allowed to do anything "fun" until their chores are done. Although the younger teens tend to still complain about this sometimes, the older ones work diligently, understanding that this is part of being a kid in the Potter home. Maintaining the top position in the home is essential for any couple who desires to survive the powerful onslaught of budding adults in their home.

4. We eat together as a family as much as we can. This is getting harder and harder to do. Michelle and I both work, Emily and Jasmine have after-school jobs, and Taylor plays sports almost year round, but all six of us do manage to sit around the same table at the same time for a meal probably 2-3 times per week. And because our family meal times can sometimes turn into family fight time, we are trying to instill an exercise we heard about from some family friends. Each family member must share what was the best and worst part of their day. No one is allowed to interrupt the one speaking, and no negative talk about another family member is tolerated. I think the older teens think this is a bit goofy, but the conversation sure ends up being better than what it could be and has been in the past. Even though getting all four of our teens together in the same room is often loud, crazy, and obnoxious, connecting face-to-face as a family on a regular basis is a very high priority for me and Michelle.

5. We pray. A lot.
Michelle and I have been and continue to pray for our kids. Sometimes we do it together, but most of the time, we find ourselves crying out to the Lord in the quiet of our hearts on behalf of our kids. Raising kids is not a science full of proven "if/then" scenarios. It's an art, and it requires constant thinking, rethinking, and evaluation. Even though I've been in ministry for 15 years, and even though much of that ministry has been to teens and their parents, I find myself often at a loss for what to do or what to say regarding my own teens. With four teens in the house, Michelle and I find that we are more dependent upon the Lord now than we've ever been before. Even though God has entrusted these kids to us, we're fully aware that it is Him who is ultimately in charge of drawing them to Himself and changing their hearts. We just hope and pray that our mistakes and failures don't hinder the work He's doing in them.

This is an exciting time in our home, but it's also an exhausting time as well. Statistics show that disagreements and stress about money, sex, and children are the top three causes of divorce in American homes today. Teens cost a lot, so I'm not sure how to solve the money stress right now, and this is probably not the forum to discuss our sex life, but I do know that as Michelle and I strive to do the five things mentioned above, we are surviving, our marriage is growing, and we are discovering peace and enjoyment amidst the chaos of the teenage storm!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inspired By A Cigar Room

The other night, I was invited by a friend to join him at a local cigar room to watch the NCAA tournament. I'd never been to one, but the prospect of smoking my pipe indoors was appealing to me. You see, I like to smoke a pipe every once-in-a-while, and because I don't want to stink up my house, I always do it outside. So, I packed up my pipe, took a small bag of my favorite blend, fueled up my lighter, and made my way to the land of smoke and good conversation.

When I got there, I felt like I was playing the part of an extra on the set of Cheers. As different men arrived, I watched as the others sitting around welcomed them with a wave of the hand and a hearty calling out of their name. The men engaged one another in conversations about their work, families, and other life issues, all the while enjoying their favorite cigar or pipe. The evening was filled with smoke and casual, friendly, natural conversation. Men from all different walks of life sat around and enjoyed one another's company. As the new guy, I was immediately welcomed, and before long, I was right in the middle of the conversation.

There was a sense that these men genuinely cared for one another. There was an older man who the others respected so much so that he was allowed the best seat in the house. This man bought everyone in the room pizza. The owner offered a free cigar to another man whose business has fallen on some tough times. I met a man the others called "Rev," who I later discovered is a fellow pastor. Even though he is "a man of the cloth," all of the men there respect him and laugh at his goofy church jokes. It was a warm (pun intended), inviting, relaxing place where - even though all the men knew I was a pastor - I was accepted and made to feel right at home.

I really enjoyed my time there, and it got me thinking. I just completed leading the men at my church through a 24-week study on authentic manhood. We spent the last several months discussing what it means to be a real man, and while it was a good study, I'm not so sure the men really connected with one another like I had hoped. Why? I think because it was forced. There was a one-and-a-half hour window each week where men were expected to come, hear a lesson, and then share their deepest, most intimate feelings...and it really didn't work too well. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty confident that the men did get to know one another more than before, but the kind of care, concern, and camaraderie I experienced at the cigar room just wasn't there.

Women are quick to come together and can easily move from surface issues to core issues in a matter of minutes, but men need something to gather around. They need a project, an event, a reason. And even with those things in place, men are still pretty slow to open up. I know of a man who has committed his life to the Native American men of northern Wisconsin. He has lived among them for 30 years, and in addition to preaching at a small church (attended mostly by women and children), he spends most of his time under the hood of pick-up trucks with men and in the cab of a snow plow with men. He does this in order to connect with the men of his community because few will ever grace the doors of his church.

I know of a fellow pastor in the New England area who meets with the men of his community at a local pub once a week to drink some spirits and talk about the Holy Spirit. He calls it "Pastor on Tap," and it's a weekly event that is even advertised in his church bulletin. Men who this pastor would otherwise have no way of connecting with at the church come for a drink and some spiritual conversation with their pastor.

So, back to the cigar room concept. I'm convinced that men do want to connect with other men, and I'm convinced that men do want to discuss intimate issues like how they feel about their marriage, their children, their job, and even their spiritual condition. They just need an environment that allows them to connect with other men in a naturally masculine way...a place where men want to come, and a place that men enjoy when they're there. I'm not so sure sitting in a circle at church is that place.

I agree that encouraging men to hang out at a local cigar room (or even a local pub) would be a radical step for a church to take, but how serious are we about reaching the men in our church and the men in our surrounding community? I - for one - am tired of making attempts at reaching men that prove to be minimally effective at best, and I - for one - am ready to consider a more radical approach if effectiveness is the pay off.