The Myth Of “Come and See”

When we read the gospel of John, some if us have come to believe that when Philip said, “come and see, ” that this equates to our responsibility to invite people to church. But Philip was not doing that. Let’s talk about Philip’s invitation and how it applies to us.

Two Peas In A Pod

We know from church history that these two were close. We can read in the scripture that they shared an thirst for the Messiah. Another look and apparently there was some trust and credibility because Nathanael embraces the invitation, coupled with some doubt.

They were two peas in a pod. The pod was their thirst for the Messiah. Unlike many of us, they saw each other as equals. How many people see us as equals when we invite them to church? Or rather, how much have we shared in their pain and longing?

Pain Connects Us

What if we translated Philip’s invitation this way, “I have found that which we have been laboring over together. My thirst is quenched, and I want you to experience the same, because you know how much I care about you.” Nathanael knew that Philip shared in his pain. They were connected through their pain, almost like a support group.

Connecting with someone can only happen when we are fostering relationships. I admit it is difficult to foster relationships in today’s society of shallowness, selfie’s, and regular status updates on social media about how awesome my life is (especially when it’s not). I’m not saying that selfies or social media are bad in and of themselves, but if we are not careful they can replace relationships instead of enhance them.

We Are All Becoming

Sometimes I wonder what Philip and Nathaniel sat around and talked about. Did they gaze into the stars and talk about God and the meaning of life? Do you think they laughed together and had fun, and shared in each other’s tears? How often do I discuss the meaning of life with others (not talk at them, with them)? Am I there for people in their sorrow when they need someone to show them God’s love?

It is easy for us to come across as “having arrived” because “we are Orthodox” and they are not. However, the truth is that I am a fellow human on the search for that which makes me whole. The next time I tell someone to “come and see, ” I hope it will be from common ground.

 

New Episode “St. Thomas House, Franklin, TN”

Adam visits the St. Thomas House in Franklin, TN. The St. Thomas house is a new ministry for young adults (ages 18-25), which will take place in the former home of Fr. Gordon Walker. Fr Gordon, who departed this life in 2015, was a great missionary priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Brian Short, the director of the St. Thomas House, shares the background, the goal, and a special message for Orthodox parents. Learn more at www.stthomashouse.org.

Click HERE to listen.

New Parenting Episode “Learning To Love And Obey”

This is the first of a several talks between Adam and Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, IL, on parenting. In today’s talk, they discuss the relationship of love, faith, obedience, and different ways we could interpret some popular scriptures on parenting.

Click HERE to listen.

Lent Is Asking, “Who’s The Boss?”

Lent is the annual anniversary of asking ourselves, “Who’s The Boss?” Over the next several posts, we will examine the different areas of our lives where we need to ask this question. What does your boss look like?

tv sitcom who's the boss
“Who’s The Boss” TV Sitcom

Under The Surface

For most Orthodox Christians, it may appear that the only changes during Lent are more services and less meat. However, there is a lot more going on, similar to looking at an organism under the microscope. On the surface we are called to “hide our fasting” Matthew 6:16. This means that under the surface, beneath the tip of the iceberg, there should be a lot going on. There should be an internal fight. The winner of that internal fight is the boss.

Gaining Control In Lent

Lent is a gift to help us understand who’s in charge. Sadly, a lot of us are okay with not being in charge of our own lives. Maybe that hamburger is the boss, or cheese is in charge. For others the boss may be resentment or money. These items are not evil, but they should not be the boss of us.

Looking Ahead

Lent provides a task you can do. Some will only fast from meat because that is all they can do right now. While others may fast from meat and oil, while others will struggle with cheese. The church knows that we are different people on different paths heading to the same place. One of my favorite quotes about the Orthodox Church is this, “The Orthodox Church has high expectations and high mercy.” It is easy to have high expectations, but did you know there is an abundant amount of mercy available to all of us. Mercy is there to help us when we mess up. It is also there to help us recover from losing control and keep trying to be the boss.

Lent is a spiritual marathon, and Pascha is our finish line. I have run a marathon. At the end, it was sheer will power which carried me on. Without control of my will, I would not have finished. For the last eight miles I was the boss of my body. So we will begin Lent this way, by asking “Who’s the boss of you?” After you are the boss, only then can you submit to God’s will.

The Patriarch Of Alexandria Has Something To Teach Us

Did you hear about the Patriarch of Alexandria consecrating several woman to the office of deaconess? You can read all about it by clicking HERE. Readers of this article usually fit one of three categories: indifferent, appalled, or supportive. Which one are you?

consecration of eastern orthodox deaconesses
Consecration of Deaconesses by Patriarch of Alexandria, 2017

Biblical Precedent

I love that we have a history for this in the Orthodox Church. In Romans 1:1, St. Paul mentions St. Phoebe, who is known as a deaconess, and her service to the church. Even in apostolic times we had deaconesses! The Orthodox Church continues to amaze me. The world of Orthodoxy is bigger than most of us can imagine.

It is easy for both cradles and converts to think their own parish is the norm for Orthodoxy. However, I have visited about 100 parishes in the last three years as part of my work for the Antiochian Archdiocese. Most of those were Antiochian, but I have also visited Russian, Greek, and OCA parishes. What we do not realize is that there is a spectrum, and every parish is different in some way. There is no normal way to do the Liturgy, trust me I know. There is no normal way to sing Vespers on Saturday night, trust me I know. Maybe there should be, but I am trying to tell you that every parish is different in demographics, personality, and style.

We are a vast church with people and cultures all over the world. We are also known for incorporating parts of a culture into the worship and Liturgical cycle. Somehow we have almost perfected (or possibly perfected) the art of including culture without watering down theology. Have you ever seen a Divine Liturgy in Ghana? It looks familiar, but it also looks amazing and nothing like the Divine Liturgy at my parish. Click HERE to watch Ghanaians sing Christ Is Risen with amazing joy and passion. The video really takes off at the 25 second marker.

The Deacon And Deaconess

Visit as many parishes as you can. Learn about female readers. Investigate the Western Rite, its validity and value. Explore all the Orthodox churches in your city and when you travel. It’s a beautiful world waiting to invite you in.

Although their presence is rare in America, deacons or a deaconess is common throughout our history. The variety of Orthodox worship and style will stun most of us. This is not a bad thing, but rather opportunity. It speaks to the ability of the church, which is an expression of God’s love on earth, to meet people where they are. Jesus did this with each of his apostles. He met Matthew as a tax collector. Jesus did not accidentally call James and John “sons of thunder.” Peter denied Christ after following Christ for three years. The apostles were not all the same, and after Pentecost their personality continued in their leadership.

Our worship was not all the same in the first millennium. Although 99% of the Orthodox Church now uses the same Liturgy on Sunday mornings, we have still found a way to express our differences and remain united. What unites us is not our worship style or the presence or absence of a deaconess, but rather the truth handed down from the apostles.

 

My New Friend Wants His Loving Parish To Connect

My new friend, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA, wants to help his parishioners connect with each other and those in Emmaus. I was honored when Fr. Andrew invited me to lead a pre-Lenten retreat at his parish. The topic we settled on was, “Why Do We Avoid Evangelism?”

From my perspective the retreat this weekend went well. And then, I was even more encouraged when I heard Fr. Andrew speak to his congregation about what I was sharing. He told them his summary of the retreat, that we need to connect with people, and when he used the word connect I knew that he totally got it.

holy trinity, perfect community, orthodox icon
The Holy Trinity Icon, a perfection connection.

Doctrine Is Scary

America is used to have people spew doctrine at them from many different places. The traditional method of evangelism in the Orthodox Church actually saves doctrine for later. The first step is to connect with people through fellowship, prayer, and self-transformation. Eventually people will want to know why we are the way we are, and then we can share the doctrine of Jesus Christ and how it has changed our lives. But the connection must always be there. We cannot start with doctrine, and we must maintain a connection once we start sharing doctrine.

For some of us our children have left the church, or maybe a parent has stopped attending church. The easy way is to ask them, “when will you come back to church?” However, the Christlike way is to say, “how are you? I want to connect with you.” I have been horrible at this, but I really do want to connect with those around me.

Do We Connect Like The Trinity?

When I think about the Trinity and how it demonstrates for us a perfect community, I think about the beautiful connection between the three of them. We are called to have this same beautiful connection with the humans in our lives. Not just friends and family, but all humans. For when we partake of the Eucharist, are we not entering into a connection with everyone else who is partaking?

Rules are good for us, but if there is no love, no connection, then the rules will be empty. I am glad the church teaches me how to live the Christian life, but if I simply follow the rules in  a Pharisaical way, then I am missing the point.  The rules are there so that I can shed my selfishness and begin to connect with those around me, and therefore connect with God.

Sheep & Goats

Helping people less fortunate than me always establishes a connection. I always hope for more than just, “here is a few dollars” because that is not enough. The dollars will help, or your time at a soup kitchen. However, while you are doing good works, consider trying to connect with the people you are helping.

Yesterday Fr. Andrew read the gospel of the last judgement during the Divine Liturgy. We see in this gospel lesson how to minister to those around us and how to connect with them, and in doing so, connect with Christ.

When we connect through ministry with those less fortunate, we are connecting with Christ. When we avoid the less fortunate in our lives, we are avoiding Christ. We all know what it is like to have a bad phone connection. We walk around, ask the ever popular “Can you hear me now?” until the connection improves. Re-position yourself in your life so that you can have a good connection. Move around, move closer to people, and make sure that they can hear you. Connect.

What To Do When Someone Leaves The Orthodox Church

What should we do when someone leaves the Orthodox Church? John left the church several years ago. After repeated negativity and bickering, he lost interest in the elitism so many in Orthodoxy like to display. He lost interest, not in this statement, but in the arrogance of, “we are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.”

perspective is everything, leaves of the Christian tree
This is how many Americans view Christianity. Leaves of the Christian tree

Leaves Stick Together

Please hear me clearly. John did not stop believing the statement above. He tired of the arrogance people displayed when saying the statement. Especially when these arrogant people lived a different life on Facebook. The arrogance, although said about a true statement, can be a source of division. This division pushes people away from Orthodoxy. I still pray for John and hope you will too.

What can we do when someone leaves the church? First, we need to follow up with people in a loving way and find out why. This does not mean you have to maintain a long term relationship (if you can that would help). Just inquire on how they are doing and that you miss them. Second, avoid anything that will impart guilt or shame. Just “love on them” and tell them you miss them. Spend time listening to their story. Let them know they can still be leaves on your community tree if they ever want to come back. You are a leaf, just like them, and they need to know you want them around. You cannot assume they know that you care.

Loving Thy Lost Neighbors

Several people have asked if they should reach out to John, “Absolutely! I worry that no one will reach out to him besides me.” Not one of those people has followed up. Maybe they are legitimately busy or some crisis took priority. I don’t know. However, I do know that there are many like John who need us to reach out. God uses people to express his love. God wants you to be a conduit of his love to those around you. We need to love our neighbors and our lost neighbors, those who have fallen away.

It can be easy to dismiss someone who leaves as an apostate. John chose to leave so what does that have to do with you or me? What if they left because of a sin you or I committed? Keep this in mind (from Dn. Michael Hyatt), “you are more likely to be hurt by people at church than anywhere else.” This means the opposite is true, that you are more likely to hurt people at church than anywhere else. We could be the very cause of our lost neighbors.

When The Leaves Fall

Many people are leaving because no one cares about them. They leave as a leaf falling from a tree. There were no calls to check on them. No one has even noticed they are gone. In so many of these situations no one cares.  Here is the good news. You can.

The Danger Of Becoming Orthodox, Part 2 of 2

There is a danger in becoming Orthodox. However, we can do something about this danger.

To summarize the first post, which you can read by clicking HERE, many of our converts are leaving as quickly as they join. Chrismation day can feel like a wedding, and after that the let down begins.

The good news is there are two ways we can make a difference. We need a pragmatic approach to this problem,  so I did some research to find tangible solutions. Both of these solutions can begin during catechesis, and I would argue should begin during catechesis. These two solutions help our new members participate at a deeper level, which can foster healthy relationships and a deeper zeal for the faith.

A Christian Community Is Important
Adult Christian Education

Adult Programming

Whether a Bible study or book study, having regular adult programming at your parish is critical in America. There is a myth in America that the eucharist is enough, and in my southern roots let me say, “it ain’t!” The way my friend, Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff, said it was this, “the eucharist is essential but not enough.”

Just like in my marriage, there are different components of the marriage which are essential, but any one component is not enough. Regular adult programming (outside of worship services) creates relationships and challenges us to internalize what we are learning. We need to be challenged intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

There are many forms of adult programming. The easiest way to get started is with a Bible or book study. These can be scheduled at any time. Find out what time people from your church would appreciate, whether a Tuesday morning at 6:30 AM or a Thursday evening at 6:30 PM. Every parish is different, so a schedule in one parish may not be a good fit for the next parish. Remember the goal is for people to participate, so you may have to be flexible on your schedule.

My Ministry

Several of our parishes do this, so it is hard for me to give credit to one priest. Once someone is a catechumen, help that person find a place to serve in the church. This might be coffee hour, or at the altar, or even in the nursery. Every person should find a way to have a ministry related to the church.

Of course there are exceptions, such as someone taking care of a loved one at home. However, most of us could be doing more to serve the church. If our priest is pro-active at engaging us, we can accomplish so much more for the Kingdom of God. Some people are waiting to be asked to serve, and do not feel comfortable volunteering. Ask them to participate in the life of the church, because so many of our new members are scared or nervous about what to do. Ease the fear or apprehension by offering ministry options.

Becoming Orthodox

We are always becoming Orthodox. We area also always in danger of unbecoming Orthodox, and this organic relationship with the church (and God of course) will forever be changing. We are either moving deeper into our relationships or not. Catechesis never really ends, and in a way we will always be catechumens. Let us not forget that are new members are fragile and delicate. They need attention, direction, and gentle love on helping them become apart of their new community.

 

 

The Danger Of Becoming Orthodox, Part 1 of 2

Just because there is danger does not mean I am criticizing the Orthodox Church. I want everyone to be Orthodox.  However, we have a problem with new people not hanging around and not many people are talking about it.

Yesterday I was speaking with a gentleman about the number of new members who disappear after chrismation. What happened? Where do they go and why? Well, I know where some of them go. If you were not aware that this is a problem, then talk to your priest and you will quickly learn about those who disappear from our faith after chrismation.

Many people enjoy the chase of life. I am one of those always looking for something new to chase. From the outside looking in, the journey to Orthodoxy can be intriguing and unique. But what happens after that journey is over? The day after everyone is yelling “seal” and “welcome home,” the excitement can begin to die. There are danger signs all along the catechumens journey, but maybe they are difficult to see.

orthodox wedding rings
Wedding day is the beginning, marriage is the journey.

When The Danger Appears

More than one wise person has compared joining Orthodoxy like getting married. There’s a courtship, engagement, wedding day, and then the marriage. You might have the greatest wedding day of all time, but that does not determine the health of your marriage. The same is true of becoming Orthodox. There’s a courtship while you inquire, an engagement when you become an official catechumen, and then chrismation day can very much feel like a wedding. So now what? This is when the danger reveals itself.

A good marriage takes focus, attention, and labor. I can be lazy and ignore my wife or focus and ask her how her day was. I can spend time on things I care about (guilty) at the expense of my marriage, or be a Christlike servant and care to her needs. Being married and being Orthodox are so similar it’s almost creepy. I have to work on my Orthodox faith at all times. I have to keep improving towards a better version of myself, almost like chasing a carrot. The difference is there is no carrot. The real version of me is waiting for me at judgment day. That is when my true self will be revealed.

Marathon Training

I wonder if we are making a bigger deal out of chrismation day than we are the journey which comes after. St. Paul compared our earthly journey to running a race more than once (Heb 12:1, 1 Cor 9:24, 2 Tim 4:7). Chrismation day is like the gun going off at the start of a marathon. Now we have to run, and run, and run until we reach the end. Some runners only make it a few miles before dropping out. Becoming Orthodox can be similar. How many newly chrismated are dropping out of the race after a few years because they didn’t train properly. They focused more on the gun going off than they did the actual race.

We can do something about this. If you are a priest, make sure your catechumen is developing healthy relationships with people who are further along in the race. If you are laity, make sure you are helping your priest with the new people. These new people need you. You do not have to be a godparent to have a positive impact on someone new to your church.

In the next post I will share some ways we can develop those healthy relationships and avoid the danger of becoming (and unbecoming) Orthodox.

My Blog Has A New Purpose

My blog has a new purpose. It started out with a focus on listening back in 2013-2014. I enjoyed that, but then my career transitioned into full-time ministry. Since July of 2014 I have been teaching an outreach ministry on behalf of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

The next transition involved focusing on helping clergy equip laity for the purpose of evangelism. I did not realize I was leaving out a core group of people who care but are not clergy. Once the laity showed interest in what I was writing, I realized I had a new audience, again. That is how I arrived at “80/20 Orthodoxy.” The text below is permanently posted on my website on the page “What is 80/20?” I have pasted it below to save you some hassle.

What is 80/20 Orthodoxy?

80/20 Orthodoxy is a problem. Don’t know what 80/20 is? This is my favorite definition of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, as written by Joseph Juan.

“for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” Joseph Juan

…or you might prefer a more complex definition:

“Mathematically, the 80/20 rule is roughly followed by a power lawdistribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.” M.E.J. Newman

My Purpose & Its Source

To give proper credit, this idea came to me from The Very Rev. John Finley, Chairman of the Dept. of Missions & Evangelism for the AOA. After speaking with Fr. John, this idea brought to mind a whole host of questions about Orthodoxy in America. I wonder if any of these are true for you.

80/20 Orthodoxy is a problem.

Are You Scared Or Inspired To Read On?

The 20% which is doing the work, donating, helping, and growing spiritually, is your core group. What if you could grow your core group? What if that was your definition of Orthodoxy evangelism? Helping you answer these questions is my purpose.

Have you heard of 80/20 applied to a church’s physical size? When a church is 80% full,  then 20% of the people should go start a mission. Except of course if you are in a temporary facility and have not moved to your permanent location.

Let’s do an exercise! We will call our sample parish “AOC” (American Orthodox Church). AOC averages 200 people on Sunday mornings. Per the 80/20 rule, AOC can comfortably seat 250 people . If we drew a map of potential areas to start a mission, we could probably find an area where 20% of the members are located. These 20% are probably not fully engaged because of how far they live from AOC. They are probably not the 20% relied upon for 80% of your budget, so you safe there too. The reasons continue to pile up that explain why a church which is 80% full should look into missionary solutions.

The Data

80/20 Orthodoxy is not exact science, and the scenarios mentioned above may only partially apply. Maybe at your parish 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people. However, you can see how the rule is a great starting place for doing a parish evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses.

In a research study performed by Alexei Krindatch, we learned that we have about 800,000 Orthodox “adherents” in America. An adherent is someone who is connected, even loosely , with Orthodoxy. Just over 20%, or just over 200,000, of them are regular weekly attendees. Of those, the 80/20 rule tells us that the core of the American Orthodox Church is about 40,000 strong. This number is not statistically proven, but may be deduced by applying the 80/20 rule to the number of regular attendees. You can read the full report by clicking HERE.

Stephen Covey gave the world great information in his famous book on 7 habits. One of the habits is to “put first things first.” To demonstrate this idea, big rocks are placed in a jar, then smaller rocks, then pebbles and finally sand. And then water. It all fits if we focus on the 20% that matters. However, if you fill up the jar with water, or sand, or pebbles, there is no room for the big rocks in our life, such as God, family, relationships, and so on. What if we tried to focus 80% of our time on the 20% which matters, the big rocks? The “what ifs” continue about confession, stewardship, and more. That is why I write this blog. That is my purpose.