Determine right now that when the service ends, you will do your utmost to give the first two minutes to someone you don’t know or to someone you don’t know well. The temptation will be to turn straight to your friends, to immediately catch up with the people you know the best and love the most. There will be time for that. But first you can make a difference in someone’s day and maybe even in someone’s life if only you’ll make the most of the moments following that final “amen.”
It’s obvious, I know. It’s been said a million times by a million different people. But, in my defense, it’s been forgotten by a million more. I’ve said it and neglected it too many times to count: The first two minutes matter most.
Today Christians are gathering all across the world for our worship services. We will read the Bible, sing the Bible, pray the Bible, preach the Bible, and learn better how to live out the Bible. Then the service will end and the first two minutes will matter most.
In the first two minutes, visitors will feel either awkward or welcome.
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By RCA Synod Report — 1 year ago
Recognizing that some separation is inevitable, we believe the RCA has an opportunity to act in an exemplary way by providing a generous exit path for those churches which decide to leave and by inviting those churches to also act generously. While the process currently outlined in the RCA Book of Church Order (BCO)…allows a classis to be generous with a church petitioning for withdrawal from the denomination, it also allows a classis to deny a church’s petition for withdrawal or to be less than generous in granting the withdrawal. Given that we are entering a period when there will likely be more petitions being put forth than has been typical, we believe it is the right time to provide more guidance for this process so that generosity is prescribed rather than simply permitted.
After spending hours in discernment groups related to the Vision 2020 Team’s recommendations on Thursday and Friday, delegates considered those recommendations in plenary session on Saturday afternoon and evening.
Marijke Strong, a member of the Vision 2020 Team, began the report by leading the synod in singing “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” She and fellow Vision 2020 Team members Thomas Goodhart and Brian Keepers presented the team’s three recommendations.
Following the conclusion of the Vision 2020 Team report on Saturday evening, the team was given a standing ovation in appreciation for their work.
Vision 2020 restructuring team approved
The Vision 2020 Team’s first recommendation, calling for a team to develop a restructuring plan for the denomination with a view to optimizing the RCA’s sustained spiritual and organizational health, was adopted after two hours of debate. Though six amendments were considered by the synod, in the end, only two words changed from the original recommendation. Read the full Vision 2020 Team report.
Read the full story.
Mission agency recommendation denied
After nearly an hour of discussion that spoke volumes to the centrality of mission within the Reformed Church in America, the General Synod voted against the Vision 2020 Team’s recommendation to create a separate 501(c)(3) mission agency. As a result, RCA Global Mission will continue to exist with the RCA label.
Read the full story.
New regulations adopted for departing churches
The Vision 2020 Team recommended new rules and regulations for departing churches that would allow for mutually generous separation. The rules and regulations, spelled out in a ten-page recommendation, were adopted as proposed. They allow a local church to retain its property and other assets while being solely responsible for any liabilities. Read the new rules and regulations.
Read the full story.
Synod supports anti-racism work in the church
After the 2020 global reckoning with racism, General Synod 2021 approved five anti-racism recommendations on Saturday morning. These included a recommendation urging RCA assemblies to hold an annual one-day event dedicated to racism. For accountability, another recommendation, which came as a motion from the floor, adds a question to the Consistorial Report Form (CRF) about anti-racism training. The recommendations came from the African American Black Council, by way of the General Synod Council.
Related: RCA resources for dismantling racism
Committee on Emergencies will provide direction if General Synod can’t meet in the future
In a change prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, General Synod approved a new committee on emergencies. When the pandemic repeatedly delayed General Synod, the RCA had been stretching its church order to make decisions. (On Friday, delegates ratified some of those decisions.) The Commission on Church Order proposed the new emergency provisions. Other recommendations adopted from the Commission on Church Order clarified the process of transferring RCA ministers to another denomination.
The synod heard reports from its three racial/ethnic councils: the Council for Hispanic Ministries, the Council for Pacific and Asian American Ministries, and the African American Black Council. These racial/ethnic councils “express the collective vision and voice of racial and ethnic congregants and congregations as they develop ministries and advocate for policies of racial and ethnic inclusion, economic, social, and racial justice, both within the Reformed Church in America and ecumenically,” as outlined in the Book of Church Order. Synod approved four anti-racism recommendations that came to the synod from the African American Black Council, by way of the General Synod Council.
Seven of the 11 General Synod commissions gave reports on Saturday morning: Race and Ethnicity, Christian Worship, Christian Discipleship and Education, Women, Church Order, History, and Nominations.
The Commission on Christian Unity reported on Friday; other commissions will report Saturday night and Monday.
Other articles on the RCA Synod:
LGBTQ inclusion disagreements threaten Reformed Church in America split
America’s Oldest Denomination Faces Split Over LGBT Issues
By Nathan Eshelman — 1 year ago
Make your prayers for your minister more fervent than your complaints about his shortcomings. Let your children hear you praying for him and his calling. Your prayers will strengthen him before the throne room of grace, and they will soften your heart toward him. This is important, especially if the hot water stops running for a season.
Last week our water heater broke down. I thought the pilot light went out because we have had some heavy rains and flooding lately. As it turns out, it was not the pilot light going out, but rather the tank breathing its last. Due to busy schedules, our plumber could not replace it for a couple of days. Over those days we often thought about our lack of a hot water heater. I showered at the church building where I serve as pastor. We boiled water so that dishes could be properly washed. Unkempt children were allowed to ferment a bit longer than usual.
It was not suffering, by any means, but it was annoying and it disrupted our first-world lifestyle. We went from never thinking about our hot water heater to thinking about it quite a bit.
Consequently, I meditated on a conversation that I’d had during my seminary internship. At that time, one of my mentors said to me, “Nathan, pastors are often treated like hot water heaters. Nobody really thinks about them when they are working, but when they stop working, they are not repaired; instead they are quickly replaced.”
In my time of pastoral ministry, I have talked with several hurting pastors who would resonate with the water heater statement. Many pastors work extra-long hours, are unable to “turn off” care for the church when not working, preach while on vacation (to afford the vacation), and have very few outlets for reducing the stresses of ministry. A year or so ago, my doctor told me that she could often tell which patients were pastors based solely on their high cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress-related hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands). Pastors suffer from high rates of depression as well. Pastoral ministry, although extremely rewarding, often fun, and spiritually refreshing is a demanding calling that, for many, results in being—well—broken.
I need to acknowledge that many in the church, not just pastors, have high-stress vocations and are frequently left without refreshment. Burnout is a symptom of our 24-7 culture, not merely of the stress of pastoral ministry. As the Bishop of Winchester said, “When we talk about pastoral burnout, we need to be careful not to invalidate the exhaustion many feel in all of life (citation withheld).”
With that said, this article will specifically address pastoral ministry. Without proper spiritual, physical, and emotional maintenance, the high stress and high demand calling of pastoral ministry will result in burn out, which will too often lead congregations to replace their minister rather than invest in their broken one.
No one repairs a hot water heater.
As I thought about the similarities between the calling to bring God’s Word to his people and the calling to bring hot water to the home, these five ways of investing in “hot water heater maintenance” were among my meditations amid boiling water and fermenting children.
How can you help to provide maintenance for your pastor rather than replace him?
Pray for him
Consider having a stated time each week in which you pray for your pastor. Include this in family worship times as well. Frequently, the conversations in homes of church members revolve around what their pastor could be doing better, how he falls short, and what he missed in his sermon. Make your prayers for your minister more fervent than your complaints about his shortcomings. Let your children hear you praying for him and his calling.
By Pete Hurst — 7 months ago
By the time we reached the shore, taxied to our cottage, and unpacked our bags, I was in a full-blown state of great anxiety; and though I was wishing hard for it to leave me, I knew it was going nowhere anytime soon. This was not the first time I had ever felt this way. It had been some years since it was this bad, and I was thankful for that; but right now, all I could think of was how to get rid of it. Before I came on the trip, life was good; now, on the trip, I wanted life to be good. But it wasn’t.
An Unexpected Journey
My wife and I had just returned from a most relaxing vacation when our Friend came by and engaged me in a conversation. You need to understand that He’s not your average friend. He’s the most special Friend we have ever had, and we have learned to trust Him completely, even when we have doubts about some of the things He says to us.
“Pete, we’re going on a trip.” He said.
“Okay,” I said, “whatever you say; let us get our things packed and we’ll be ready to go.”
“Your wife isn’t going,” He replied; “it’s just going to be me and you.”
It all seemed a little mysterious to me, but over the years I had learned to trust my Friend, and I knew He always had my best interests at heart; and my wife said that this was fine with her; she was happy for me and our Friend to have some alone time together.
“We’re going to an island,” He said; “I will pick you up late tomorrow afternoon. There’s an overnight ferry boat we will catch, and we’ll try to get what sleep we can on it, before we get there in the morning.”
An island, I thought; maybe it’s like one of those private islands the cruise lines own in the Bahamas. Sounds like fun. Swimming, fishing, lying out in the sun and soaking up all that good vitamin D. I was ready to roll.
Sleep wasn’t the greatest on our trip over to the island, but I eventually fell asleep around 2 am and woke up just as we were approaching the island at daybreak.
“What’s this island called?” I asked my Friend.
“This is Anxious Isle,” He replied.
The island was covered with a dark cloud that seemed to smother the place and showed no sign of lifting anytime soon. There was no hint of a breeze to blow it away.
“Boy, it sure looks depressing,” I said.
The truth was, it didn’t just look that way; it was starting to feel that way. As we got nearer to the shore, my feeling of depression only increased, and I could feel my blood pressure rising, as my anxiety seemed to explode within me in a matter of minutes.
By the time we reached the shore, taxied to our cottage, and unpacked our bags, I was in a full-blown state of great anxiety; and though I was wishing hard for it to leave me, I knew it was going nowhere anytime soon.
This was not the first time I had ever felt this way. It had been some years since it was this bad, and I was thankful for that; but right now, all I could think of was how to get rid of it. Before I came on the trip, life was good; now, on the trip, I wanted life to be good. But it wasn’t.
Another similarity between the anxiety I was having now with what I had experienced on previous occasions was that the anxiety was tied to some current crisis going on in my life, or else fear of something that might happen to me in the future, or even had happened in the past. It could concern my health, a legal matter, a financial concern, an employment issue, a regret for something I had done in the past, or something else. But here’s the weird part–looking over the past times when I had been overcome, the fear of what might happen relating to various things which brought on the anxiety– these things never materialized; or, at least, when there were unpleasant consequences, my mindset had been reprogrammed to overcome the anxiety, so I accepted any consequences with contentment.
My Friend and I sat in the living room staring at one another.
“We’ve been here before,” I said.
“We sure have,” He said.
“I guess there’s no chance we could go back home right now, is there?” I asked.
“Not a chance,” He responded.
“Okay,” I said. “I know the drill; I guess I’d best get started.”
The cottage was adequately furnished, so we were very comfortable. In my bedroom, the living room and the enclosed porch there was a copy of the Book. The Book was a collection of some of the things my Friend had said about all kinds of subjects. The Book informed about everything from the creation of the world to how to address personal problems in one’s life. Right now, it was the latter I needed; I had the personal problem of overwhelming anxiety, and the Book would be most important to get me straightened out, just like it had been so instrumental in the past.
The first two days, I studied everything the Book had to say about anxiety. There were commands about not worrying, and, while I could agree that was a good thing, the problem was, I couldn’t quit. There were directives to let my Friend have my anxieties, and direct instructions not to be anxious, because my Friend was going to be with me in all the messes of life, and therefore I should not be anxious. I agreed all this was good, but it just wasn’t getting through to me. I needed help.
So during the first couple of days, I approached my Friend and asked for help. If He was in the living room, I’d ask for help there. If it was in the middle of the night and the anxiety was keeping me awake, I would go where He was and ask for help. He was always available to me, and He always heard what I was saying; and He even had a compassionate expression when I begged for His help; but for those first two days, He had very little to say except to encourage me to keep studying the Book for what help I could get.
Besides directives about anxiety, the Book also gave me examples of other people who had gone through this before, and how they had not only survived, but came out much better people on the other side. I realized my experiences of overcoming anxiety episodes in the past were just like many of these I read about. And I knew that all the promises of help and the love of my Friend for me were true as well, but the problem remained; the anxiety wasn’t going away. I would have times of relief, and then something would trigger another anxiety attack, and the downward spiral was set in motion.
By the third and fourth day, it seemed like I might be starting to make a little progress, but it did not come as I had expected. My friend was ready to talk to me now, but the way He explained it was that now I was ready to listen. Two days of anxiety agony, night and day, had humbled me to where I was ready to listen and learn.
My Friend began, “You’ve been moving along in life like you have the world by the tail and now all of a sudden you realize you don’t.”
“Yes,” I timidly responded.
He continued, “There’s a story in the Book about a King David who grew overconfident in himself as well, and had to be brought down a notch or two.”
“I know,” I said; “I was reading that this morning, and I’m ready to receive whatever you have to say to correct me.”
“Good,” He said; “I’ve got a list here. We might as well get started on it.”
“First, I’ve given you some success in some areas of your life, and I think you could do a much better job of giving credit to where credit is due.”
“I agree, and I’m sorry; please forgive me. I want to definitely work on that.”
“Second, the root cause of your anxiety is your concern for yourself. You are concerned that nothing bad come of the situation you’re in right now, for your sake. There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect yourself, but you’ve blown it up to where you are what everything is about, and that’s no good.”
“I agree. I’m not thinking of You or others, and I am much too preoccupied with myself. Please forgive me and help me with this.”
“Third, you know the Book talks about particular sins in each of our lives to which we individually are more susceptible. Well, even though you have made a lot of progress, you aren’t working to overcome yours like you should. You need to get more brutal with these, because they are ugly and they horribly offend Me. Plus, I’ve got some stuff for you to do in the future, stuff that may bring far greater anxiety than you are experiencing now; so you can’t be carrying around this garbage with you; it has to go.”
“Done,” I said. “You know in my heart I agree, and by Your help I know I can put these particular sins to death. Thank You for confronting me. And I also know that once we get some progress in one area, another will arise. I’m in for every battle going forward, because I know You will be with me.”
“Guess you didn’t think you were in for a long list like this,” He continued, “but, fourth, unbelief. In some things it’s like you couldn’t have stronger faith, and in other things, you are so weak and wavering. You need to fully believe every promise of the Book, because the One who gives them can be believed totally. And that brings up another thing: sometimes, God blesses you in a spectacular way, and you don’t welcome and receive it. You can thank Him for things other people thank Him for, but then He gives you something that blows your socks off; and instead of being thankful, you start looking for something that will go wrong in what He has given. You need to get a grip. You need to understand that He loves you, and accept His gifts, whether they be small or big.”
“I could not agree more. Often I pray for help with my unbelief, and just being in the Book more these last few days has helped a lot with that. And You’re right about the big blessings too; it is so small of me not to see how big and generous God is, and how much I am loved.”
I accepted everything my Friend told me and spent time praying, reading the Book, and meditating on all I knew that was true, and trying to apply it to my situation.
By now, my time on Anxious Isle was getting a little better, or at least the anxiety episodes were farther apart by the fifth and sixth days. There were special parts of the Book that I would go to often; I spent a lot of time talking with my Friend and working through things and counseling myself with what I was reading and hearing.
The Sun Shines Brightly
The day finally arrived for us to leave Anxious Isle. But before we could leave, it was mandatory for My Friend and me to have a very important conversation. We sat in the living room, as we had on the first day of our trip. Running through my head were all the things I needed to hear and learn and be reminded of. I was genuinely thankful, and I was also more sensitive to others who find themselves on Anxious Isle and how I might help them.
My Friend looked at me and said, “You know, you have been really anxious about messing up something. You have been worried about consequences for yourself, about embarrassing Me and others. You need to realize that God loves you. He has given you all you have; in reality, you own nothing, and you are a steward, sort of an administrator over all He has given. This applies to your house, any possessions you have, and even your gifts and talents, your physical body, everything. Everything is His; you manage it for Him. Now, hear His truth to you: He says, “I love you; I have given you all you have, and all you have is mine. I want you to use what I have given you the best you can. Invest, take risks, use your intellect, your talents, whatever. If something doesn’t turn out okay, that’s fine. If you get in hot water, I will be right there with you. If something succeeds, great. Nothing will change My love for you. You don’t need to get yourself all tied up in anxious knots because you may screw up. Everything will be fine with Me. I love you.’”
I just sat there, silent. I was so overcome with God’s love to me that I just wanted to enjoy the sunshine as it poured into my soul.
The next day, we left Anxious Isle, and I was glad we took the day ferry. I stood on the side of the ship, enjoyed the breeze, and stared at the island we were leaving behind. I realized I’d probably have to come back another day; I hoped it would be later rather than sooner. However, because of the good it had been for me to visit, I could not argue with my Friend’s wisdom for taking me there. Truly, He loves me and has my best interest in mind. Because I’m not on the island doesn’t mean I never have anxious thoughts or episodes now and again; but they are not 24/7 like what I had gone through that week.
Yes, it was an unexpected journey, but it was a necessary journey and good one, and I’m glad My Friend took me on it.
If you find yourself on Anxious Isle, I trust you will seek the help of my Friend and His Book. My Friend is Jesus Christ and the Book is the Bible. God bless you.
Pete Hurst is a retired Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and associate broker in real estate. He and his wife live in Yorktown, Virginia. He sometimes blogs at GodsFool.com.