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Pulpit Chair, Penola

This chair is in the pulpit of the Presbyterian church at Penola.

No one sits in it anymore, but it’s still there.

A chair is not what the church is about, but it is a reminder of the centrality of the word in that place. It represents a wonderful legacy.


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Analysis Of 50,000 Sermons From The USA By The Pew Research Center

One of the more fascinating things I read this year was David Cook’s effort at auditing the preaching of the Presbyterian Churches of Victoria (Australia) in preparation for conducting a pastor’s conference in Melbourne.

This report from the USA based Pew Research Center computer analysed more than 50,000 sermons from a variety of churches in the USA over an eight week period around Easter 2019.
It’s interesting reading, though it provides mostly observation and doesn’t offer conclusions, except that there are differences in language, length, and Biblical referencing among various streams in the church.
That these sermons are from the period around Easter suggests that language, specific Biblical references, and themes might have their highest degree of commonality, so the differences may be all the more telling in how these churches focus on the same biblical and theological events in what would seem to be different ways.

Read the report here at the The Pew Research Center.


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Captive Congregation (via Atlas Obscura)

This Victorian era prison chapel placed the congregants/prisoners in seperate booths so they couldn’t see one another.
Today they just have worship with the lights out instead.
Though I accept that putting a roomfull of malcontents together in a dark room would have made for a very risky environment.
These days we could market it as introvert church.

Source: Atlas Obscura.


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The Past Is A Nice Place To Revisit, But A Terrible Place To Live (via Jared Wilson)

Churches should be places of thankful remembrance; the shared knowledge of God’s faithful blessings in the past are a great encouragement to present and future ministry.
Thankful remembrance should not give way to nostalgia. Thinking that the best is behind, or that present or future hope are only attainable by a return to what was of a past season is destructive.
Our past experience equips us to navigate present circumstances; and the good old days generally didn’t feel that good when they were happening either.

From Jared Wilson.

Anyone stuck in a nostalgic space is stuck in unreality. And the truth is, much of our nostalgic dreaming is fantasizing about a fantasy, not anything actually experienced. There is a kind of nostalgia that is actually harmful.
A church stuck in the “good old days,” for instance, is in great danger of death. Nostalgia is toxic to a church.
Similarly, the cold hard truth is that there is no such thing as a “golden age.” For every “simpler time” many people look back in hopes of recapture, there is a large number of people who experienced it as anything but. Sometimes white folks love to look back to the 50’s and 60’s as the good old days, willfully oblivous to the institutional injustices against black folks for whom nostalgia isn’t an option.
In this way, there are personal moments or experiences we might look back to and think upon fondly, but the time that the Lord has drawn out for us is relentlessly linear. We cannot — we dare not — live in the past. But it is helpful to remember it, to be cautioned by the reality as well as selectively instructed by the hopes.

Read the whole post here.


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When The Church Feels Smaller, But Is Actually Larger (via Sam Rainer)

Sam Rainer observes the impacts on congregational life and ministry activity that flows from a contemporary change toward less frequent attendance at corporate worship by active Christians.
The reality challenges traditional practices of pastoral care and congregational communication.
For example:

The church feels smaller but is actually larger.
Consider a church that has four hundred people attending four out of four weeks. This church has an average weekly attendance of four hundred. Take the same church with the same people but change only the attendance frequency — lowered to two out of four weeks. The church’s average weekly attendance is now two hundred.
The true size of your church could be double the average weekly attendance, if not higher. Many will wonder Where is everyone? on a Sunday morning, but pastors and church leaders will experience an increased ministry load. As attendance frequency declines, the congregation will feel smaller while getting larger. The people coming less frequently still email, call, and set up counseling appointments. They still ask you to do funerals and weddings and come to the hospital.

Read his other observations at Sam Rainer.
He’s promising to address the situation.


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Serving Where The Action Is (via Michael Jensen)

Christians will gather together tomorrow to worship God, give witness to the power of Jesus at work in their lives, and to serve one another.
The church is not a holding pattern, it is God’s plan to reveal his good news of salvation to the world.

From Michael Jensen:

…local church ministry is worth it because God has chosen the local church as his instrument for saving the world.
What? The feeble local church? Yes. In his first letter, Peter writes to the scattered and browbeaten believers, and reassures them that they are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God – that you may declare the praises of him who brought you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Like Israel, the church has not been chosen because it is powerful and impressive. Far from it. God choose the weak things of the world to shame the strong and the foolish to shame the wise. If we are weaker than we once were, then maybe God will do all the more powerful things in and through us.
The local church is where the action is. As the Holy Spirit draws people to Christ, he draws them together. And in their love for each other, he shows his love for the world. Tiny – perhaps. Tired – maybe. Feeling insignificant – possibly. Not cool – almost certainly. But never mind all that – the local church is on the right side of history.

source.


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Congregational Life – A Place Where We Are Saved From Our Yearnings, Rather Than Having Our Yearnings Met (via M Craig Barnes)

In a brief article at Christian Century, Craig Barnes writes about the disposition of wanting to protect people from their own hurt feelings, and how the life in the church is not meant to be place where flawed people grow in Christ likeness by experiencing the imperfections that remain within us:

Congregations are filled with people who bring their yearnings with them into the community. Often these yearnings have not been met in other places like family or work, so people are hoping the church will be the place where they will finally find affirmation for their heart’s desire. But the church is not paradise. It’s a divine reality of redemption in which we are saved even from our yearnings. It’s a community in which we learn to sacrifice our hopes, failures, and hurt feelings in order to turn to Jesus Christ, our savior.

Read the whole post here.