Archives For Rebekah Simon-Peter

I recently read A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey, former FBI Director. Comey, as you may recall, was fired by President Trump for his roleSquare Cube With Ethics Word, 3d Rendering in the Russia investigation. The book was a fascinating and instructive read for observers of leadership in both church and state. Comey lay out a strong case for ethical leadership which he describes as “seeing beyond the short-term, beyond the urgent…with a view toward lasting values.” He highlights truth, integrity, and respect for others as key lasting values, saying these “serve as external reference points for ethical leaders to make decisions, especially hard decisions in which there is no easy or good option.”

He goes on to say that “a commitment to integrity and a higher loyalty to truth are what separate the ethical leader from those who just happen to occupy leadership roles. We cannot ignore the difference.”

It’s no secret that Comey finds President Trump sorely missing in qualities that make up ethical leadership. Trump’s tendencies to bully, demean, malign, lie, and create chaos are well-documented. Leaders across the political and religious spectra have noted them.   Although these personal qualities are generally separate from the policies his administration seeks to enact, all the same, they hinder his ability to effectively inspire trust across national and international borders.

As institutions central to democracy, such as a free press, agencies of law and order, and truth itself come under attack by Trump, we need to ask ourselves, “Should the church care about what is going on in the government?” Click To Tweet

My answer is a resounding yes. There are three lessons for us to learn here.

Democracy is designed reflection of its citizens

If we abandon the democratic process, and leave it to “the professionals,” we abandon ourselves. Our republic is designed to be a reflection of society as a whole; thus our voices need to be heard. At the same time, it’s important to note that the move toward undermining a free press, truth-telling, and agencies of law and order, represents a slide toward fascism. This doesn’t bode well for the church. History shows that repressive governments ultimately repress human rights, religious rights, and rights of minorities. This undermining of ethical values impacts every single one of us.

The Ends Don’t Justify the Means

Many in the Church have taken a stance that Trump’s means justify the ends. If he is delivering policies amenable to “our” worldview, then don’t worry about how we got there. Just be glad we got there. Personally, I’m not a conservative, so his policies don’t line up with my understanding of a safer, better, more prosperous country. But even if I was and even if they did, there’s still trouble with this way of thinking. When the ends justify the means, we sacrifice ethical behavior in the short term. This has disastrous consequences.

For instance, very few people remember how much good Richard Nixon did for the environment—establishing The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Rather, we remember Watergate and his impeachment.

Likewise, when church leaders circumvent ethics, morality, and human decency, when we forsake the truth for a lie, others won’t ultimately remember the good we have done. Rather, they will remember the harm we caused along the way. The rampant culture of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is an example of that. How many thousands of Catholics have left the church because of pedophilia? A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a Catholic friend. She told me she felt such anger toward a church that preached holiness and personal responsibility but made no amends to the many thousands of families directly and indirectly impacted by the unsafe culture.

The values Jesus’ own life demonstrated—truth, integrity, and love—resulted in his crucifixion.   But if he had avoided crucifixion, he would have side stepped every lesson he was here to teach.

When it comes to leadership in both church and state, unjust means undermine ethical ends.

Resisting the Future is Resisting God

In the end, The Bible foresees an end time that is diverse, rich, and joyous. The Bible teaches that we will worship God alongside people of every nation, tribe, and language. Yet many in the church resist this very future. To resist this move toward embracing diversity is to resist the movement of the Spirit itself

Russian interference in the elections aside, new studies show that voter support for Trump may have been more grounded in fear of losing cultural status than in fear of economic loss. The common wisdom was that Trump won because he spoke to “the little guy” about economic gains. A new study reveals a more likely explanation: white Christians voted for Trump because they feared the loss of cultural and religious ascendancy. In other words, they feared change.

When our government opposed the abolition of slavery or civil rights, it was on the losing side.

When the church stands against the unfolding evolution of the world, it is on the losing side. White people have to learn how to live in a plurality of ethnicities, to be one among many. Christians have to learn how to live side by side with people of other religions. These emerging pluralities are not going away. It doesn’t mean you can’t be white, or Christian. And that those identities aren’t important. But you can can’t insist the whole world is just like you, because it’s not.

In closing

We in the church understand the concept of a higher loyalty. The lasting values that provide external reference points for us include love, grace, truth, honesty, compassion, equity, justice, freedom, unity, and creativity. It’s time for us to live by those once again. And to call our government to account for operating ethically. We may not, and we need not, agree on policies. But we must insist on ethical leadership.

Jesus was the exemplar of that higher loyalty. He sacrificed his own life in pursuit of this loyalty. Shall we do less?

 

 

As Earth Day approaches, it’s time to take a look at how green our practices are.  Every Sunday we offer people the bread of life, yet our fellowship hour boasts some of the unhealthiest practices of the church. Taking a close look at how and what we eat at church is an Family Holding Earth Planet In Handsimportant part of going green, as is maintaining and sustaining good health. Dealing with unhealthful food, toxic cleaning supplies, and wasteful practices are simple ways of deepening our commitment to greening the church.

Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, has greened its kitchen––no small feat for a 5,000-member church that prides itself on environmental stewardship. Dwight Tawney, administrative pastor,reports, “We serve 300 people every Wednesday night for dinner. Three years ago we were using paper, plastic, and Styrofoam. We disposed of 300 sets of that every single week. Now that’s completely gone. We don’t use it at all.”

Gold and green melamine dishes grace the tables of their dining areas. Reusable silverware rounds out the table setting. The Styrofoam is long gone, as is the sizeable amount of trash generated each week. “There’s a little tradeoff,” Tawney notes. “We have to wash the dishes.” Even so, the amount of water used to wash the dishes is insignificant compared with the manufacturing, transportation, and disposal process that used to be involved. Unlike smaller churches, a full kitchen staff takes care of cleanup here.

Not just the dishes have changed at Village Presbyterian; what is served on them has also changed. “In season we serve local produce,” says Tawney. “And we have virtually eliminated fried food from our menu.” A dietician attends the monthly meetings of the Environmental Action Committee. Not only does she bring great ideas to the table, she brings purchasing power.

Even so, purchasing decisions are carefully weighed for economic feasibility and environmental sustainability, which means the church uses paper napkins, albeit with a higher recycled content. After careful consideration, staff realized that the cost of laundering cloth napkins would be prohibitive.

Traditional cleaning supplies have been replaced with a greener alternative. “We now use low volatile organic compound (VOC) cleaning agents,” Tawney says. “Our building superintendent is part of the Environmental Action Committee. It is important to have him in on the decision-making process.” The superintendent helps them make and meet policy guidelines that keep this facility on the growing edge of green.

Even the coffee has gone green at Village Presbyterian. “We drink a lot of coffee here,” Tawney says while giving a virtual tour of the facility. “We had coffee pots going all the time, but we were consuming a lot of energy and wasting a lot of product. Now we have on-demand coffee.” Using a rental system that includes frozen coffee concentrate means no waste and a guaranteed fresh cup of coffee every time. “It actually ends up being cheaper,” he says.

It is easy to reference intangibles such as carbon foot- prints when talking about the need for environmental stewardship, but all Tawney has to do is point to one steaming cup of coffee in a real mug. Through his eyes, it is easy to see that going green makes sense for the climate and the pocketbook.

Ready to try some of these things yourself?  Check out the following options:

The Basics

  • Encourage the use of mugs instead of paper or Styrofoam cups at coffee hour. Create a wall of mugs that can be used and reused. Be sure to include mugs for guests.
  • Use the “good” dishes and flatware at church dinners instead of throwaways such as Styrofoam, plastic or foam plates, and plastic utensils. Alternatively, ask people to bring their own table service for meals.
  • Use dishtowels instead of paper towels and maybe even cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. When using paper, make it recycled.
  • Wherever possible, buy organic foods. Pesticides harm the health of growers and consumers; and they taint soil, water, and air.
  • When eating fish, choose species that are not being overfished. For more information, go to montereybayaquarium.org.
  • Purchase and serve fair-trade coffee, tea, and chocolate. Fair-trade items emphasize responsible steward- ship of the land and provide a good living for the growers. Shade-grown coffees, planted and harvested under the forest canopy, are particularly bird-friendly. For more information, go to coffeereview.com.
  • Compost leftover food.
  • Reuse plastic bags as garbage can liners. When purchasing new plastic bags, look for ones made of recycled plastic. Choose those with a high post- consumer waste (PCW) content.
  • Look carefully at the cleaning agents you are using. Many contain harmful or toxic ingredients. Purchase and use environmentally-friendly cleaning agents.
  • Refrain from buying antibacterial soaps. Generally, plain soap and water are as effective. Antibacterials seem to cause more problems than they solve.
  • Try toilet paper and paper towels made of recycled paper.
  • Just say no to commercial air fresheners; many contain phthalates which are linked to human health problems. Fresh air, sunshine, fans, and baking soda in the bottom of a garbage can provide natural air freshening.

Get Creative

  • Make your own green cleaning supplies.
  • Experiment with natural sachets for bathrooms that make use of essential oils or natural herbs and spices.
  • Establish a scent-free zone in the sanctuary to accommodate those with asthma and allergies.
  • Try holding meat-free potlucks. Bovines such as beef, buffalo, lamb, and goat produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more potent than CO2.Choose poultry, grain, beans, and eggs to achieve a lower carbon footprint.
  • Make your own communion bread out of organic, whole-grain flour.

Go All Out

  • Ask church members to observe one meat-free day per week and to limit seafood consumption to species that are not being overfished.
  • Hold cooking classes to help people rediscover the art of cooking using natural ingredients. Invite children to help. Use a cookbook such as Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.

Adapted from 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church by Rebekah Simon-Peter. To purchase copies of Green Church:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice!  Or 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church, please contact us directly: office@rebekahsimonpeter.com.  Downloads also available on Kindle.

 

 

Judging by Facebook posts these days, puppies are in. People with whom you disagree arelove emoticon out. Love is in short supply. We’ve had it worn thin with “sex, lies and videotape.” But don’t give up on love. Jesus, above all else, was about love: love of God, love of people, love of self, and love of the unlovable. If we give up on love, we might as well give up on being Christian. It just doesn’t work.

You might think you can’t love the world, or your neighbors, the people who are very different from you. But you can learn how. Click To Tweet You don’t even have to know them. You certainly don’t need to like them. But you can love them, unconditionally.

How can your church show unconditional love these days?

1. Welcome in strangers like long-lost brothers and sisters. Rev. Roger Teel once shared how his wife carried around $5 bills to give to people standing on street corners. “How are you? It’s so good to see you!” she would exclaim. Like she knew them. Like she cared about them. What if we took this same attitude toward the strangers in our lives, pews, fellowship halls, and the like? Not only would we feel more affinity toward them, it would shift their attitude toward us.

2. Pray for people you resent or disagree with. Don’t pray for their heart to change. Rather pray for your heart to change toward them. Here’s how. First, write out the deepest desire of your heart—everything you want for yourself. Second, pray it with fervor and passion. Third, pray it one more time—for them.   Substitute their name for yours. This will soften your heart toward them such that you can begin to interact with them in a new way. Pray both prayers every day for 2 weeks. You will notice a significant shift. I prayed this sort of prayer for a colleague. While my resentment didn’t go away, I did notice this: how small and pitiful my own desires were for my life. It was a real “come to Jesus” moment. I realized I needed to stop being so afraid and so much in the victim mode. Click To Tweet I did later forgive my colleague. But first I had to get a hold of myself. How might your congregation change with this prayer practice? Only one way to find out.

3. Practice loving people as they are. For a whole day every time you catch yourself wanting to fix or change others, notice it, set it aside, and ask God to help you radiate love toward them.

4. Invite people to your church you wouldn’t be caught dead with. Maybe they’re up the socioeconomic ladder from you, or maybe they’re down the socioeconomic ladder from you. Or maybe they are someone you think judges you. Never mind. Invite them anyway. Again, this takes away conditions from our love of others, and creates the space of unconditional love.

It’s hard to love people, let alone like people. Liking people is overrated. Love is what is needed, unconditional love. This Lent, make a real difference in the world by not giving up love.  Or your neighborhood, or being the church!

Need some extra help? Learn how to use the Platinum Rule for Thriving Congregations. Or reach out to us. We’re here to empower church leaders and the congregations they serve!

 

There’s a lot of institutional despair these days.  “The church is dying, it’s in decline, it’s done for, it’s over.  The best days are behind us.” I'm Always Here For You. Indoor Shot Of Warm-hearted Young Afric But what if all that’s just a story?  And not a very good one at that?  The church is only done-for if we say it is.

Here’s what I say:  This Lent, don’t give up being the church.  The truth is, there’s nothing to worry about.  Worry doesn’t solve problems anyway.  Trust, faith, and positive action do.  So here are some ways to increase your faith and trust in God.

Take Positive Actions

Make a list of all the things your church provides to the community and get loud and proud about it.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  Count up the number of people you have helped in the last 6 months and publish it.  Count up the number of prayers you have prayed and publicize it.  While you’re at it, count up the number of meals you have served, food baskets you have given out, flood buckets you have compiled, walks you have shoveled, hugs you have exchanged, cups of coffee you have served, stranded travelers you have aided, sick people you have visited, schoolkids you have tutored, funds you have gifted, Bible studies you have conducted, protests you have attended, “isms” you have surrendered, prayer shawls you have knitted, blankets you have blessed, quilts you have sewn, books you have donated, trespasses you have forgiven, neighbors you have assisted, letters you have written, mission trips you have taken, public acts of witness you have undertaken, kids you have taught, scriptures you have proclaimed, grieving families you have comforted, celebrating couples you have blessed, worried people you have calmed, PBJS’s you have made, homeless people you have befriended, persecuted people you have comforted, acts of injustice you have interrupted, wounds you have healed, and songs of praise you have sung.  Tally the numbers and write up that report!

Got it?

Now, let it sink in.  Doubtless, your congregation has generated a treasure trove of blessing which has radiated out far beyond your comprehension.  You have packed love and care into the stream of life.  You have partnered with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to channel extravagant blessing into the world. Allow yourselves to be touched and inspired by the knowledge that you are in fact making a difference.  Why would you ever want to stop being the church?

Trust and Trust Some More

Reinforce the good that you are already doing in the following ways.

  1.  Have church council meetings where you focus on all that you have accomplished rather than what isn’t going well.  See if that doesn’t shift the conversation in a positive way.
  2. Thank God for the good that has already been manifested through you, and all that God will continue to do through you.
  3. Refuse to worry about kids that aren’t coming, generations that are missing, funds that haven’t shown up yet, and committees that aren’t filled.  Trust that God has already heard and is answering your prayers.  Then re-focus on what is going well and right.  Be delighted and surprised when what you need shows up.

None of this is to say that there aren’t ways we can be more responsive, and things we can’t improve.  We absolutely can.  But taking positive actions and trusting God is far more likely to strengthen and empower you to take those steps than is indulging in worry or blame.  When you are ready to take next steps to create a culture of renewal in your congregation and community, please be in touch.

Creating a Culture of Renewal is designed to empower you to take a quantum leap of faith into dreaming like Jesus, manifesting the kingdom in miraculous ways, and creating a world that works for everyone—with no one and nothing left out!  You’re farther on your way than you imagine.  If you’d like to be part of a worldwide movement to shift the conversation about the value of church, please join us!  We’re here to empower and serve you.  Early Bird rates are available through March 31.

Curious about the other things to not give up for Lent? So far, I encourage you to not give up your voice, or your neighborhood.

 

I don’t care if your congregation is in an industrial section, a racially mixed or changing neighborhood, on the edge of town, or in a suburban open doorenclave.  This Lent, don’t give up your neighborhood.  It’s one of 5 things your church absolutely shouldn’t give up this Lent.  Why?   Your neighbors need you.  And you need them.

The church is nothing without neighbors.  We don’t exist in a vacuum.  We’re all about community.  The community that is calling you now is right outside your door.  Not across the world.

This Lent, I challenge you to get local and reach out to your neighbors, not someone else’s neighbors.  I don’t care if it’s been years since you stepped foot in your neighborhood, or all the people who attend your church have long since relocated to other neighborhoods.  The folks who live and work around your building are still your people.  “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood…. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish,” John 1:14 reveals.  It’s time for you to do the same.

Do you remember the scene from the movie Sister Act in which the cloistered nuns stepped out of their gated building and into their seemingly unsafe neighborhood? It’s the point at which the movie became really interesting.  Turns out the neighborhood wasn’t unwelcoming.  The nuns simply hadn’t shown that they were that interested before.  Real human connections formed.  Offers of friendship, food and play led to shared worship, music and prayer.  Once the nuns claimed the neighborhood, the neighborhood claimed the nuns and their message.

The same is true in your neighborhood.  They may not know it until you show up, but they are ready for you.

This Lent, take the neighborhood challenge.  Get to know people who live and work around your congregation.  Walk down the main thoroughfares.  See who you can meet. How do they get around?  On bikes?  Busses?  Tractors?  Horses?  By Foot?  By car?  Is the area rural or urban or industrial or just plain isolated?  Is your neighborhood poor or well to do?  Are you surrounded by office buildings, apartment buildings, store-fronts, single-family homes, cow pastures, or highways?

A curious passerby once asked Jesus a question, “Who is my neighbor?”  After telling a long story about a man who was beaten and robbed on his way to Jericho, the answer emerged: “The one who acts like a neighbor.”

In one large church I served, we didn’t act much like a neighbor.  The building was situated on a hill up above a busy highway.  We were at least a quarter mile from any other building.  We had to go further down the road to actually see homes and shops.   While most folks who worshiped at the church actually lived in the community, in some important ways the congregation was disconnected from the people they were there to serve.  We would undertake mission trips to some far-off deserving place, but never show our love locally.   I think both the church and the neighborhood missed out that way.

The next church I served was also set up on a hill, located out of sight on the far edge of town.  It was more isolated, and yet acted much more neighborly.  A laundromat, an RV park and hospital were fairly close by, but no nearby neighbors.  That didn’t stop this group of hardy Wyomingites.  They were more than willing to find people in town who wanted to connect.  We attracted people through summer Worship in the Park, seasonal outreach to apartment dwellers, and home improvement projects for senior citizens.  We went into the state penitentiary at Christmas time and at other times of year for Bible study.

Our neighbors noticed our efforts.  When the time came, our neighbors reached out to us.  They came to us for assistance with funerals, weddings, prayer concerns, and hospital visits.  I’m proud of that congregation.  They didn’t give up on their neighborhood.  In turn, the neighborhood didn’t give up on the church.  The community is richer for it.

Here’s what’s interesting.  The first church that traveled afar to show love was situated in a more churched part of the country.   They could easily have reached out locally and been well-received.  The second church was situated in a very unchurched, even de-churched part of the country.  Yet they had far more connection with their community.  The point is that people, all kinds of people, respond to love.  They respond to genuine caring.  They respond to authentic interest in their well-being.  Isn’t that what we have to offer?

This Lent, don’t give up your neighborhood.  You’re there for a reason.  It just might be that your neighbors need you.  And that you need them.