Thursday, September 27, 2012


It’s budget time again. This will be my 38th year of preparing for Charge Conference. In the United Methodist Church, we have an annual meeting with the District Superintendent to hear reports from leaders about last year and to plan for next year. We will elect officers and set the pastors’ salaries for 2013. And, after some input from Staff-Parish Committee on salaries and Trustees on the property needs, and the apportionments (our share of United Methodist Church’s ministry), and other work and service ministries, the Finance Committee will compile a budget. They must pass it on as it is to the Church Council. Finance Committee may recommend changes but the budget as compiled must go to Council. Recommendations for any changes are made to the Church Council. Then, the Church Council adopts. At the same time that this is going on, the Stewardship Chair is informing the church about the ministries of the church and what they cost. All of this will lead us to a pledge Sunday on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It’s always a “touchy” thing to talk about money, even in good times, but it’s even more delicate in tough times. I’m sure my blood pressure is through the roof as we work through this. What happens if we don’t receive all that we need to meet the budget? Well, on the one hand, we just don’t make the budget. A budget is a goal toward which we aim, and we work to spend within the limits of the budget. Over the last several years, we have received something less than we needed. It got worse from 2009 onward. While the economy faltered, we still continued to lose to death members who were good givers. So, here we are. On the other hand, when we don’t make the budget we have to not spend in areas that we need to. So, why don’t we go in with a knife and just chop away? That would be one way to deal with it. But, you have to be careful. If you cut ministries and programs too much, you hurt more than help in the long run. The largest share of the budget by far is salaries and benefits, of course. Nothing new here. However, we are living in a time when benefits have skyrocketed. Each year we have to negotiate health insurance for our lay employees. And, nothing goes down. Then, there are the property needs, the next largest part of the budget. Utilities and other costs make it possible to do ministry here. Add to this the cost of repair and upkeep. Next in the budget amounts is the apportionments. These are set by our Annual Conference and sent to us. They support denominational ministries in our Conference and around the world, including missionaries. Then, come the ministries of worship, evangelism, fellowship and outreach- all of which serve the needs of the church’s ministries. So, we set a goal and give generously and work with what God gives us. I believe that we do the best that we can. And, truly with God’s help we do an extraordinary ministry and mission work here at Bethel. My blood pressure is still high. I am in the middle as Senior pastor. I have to see that staff and ministries here are taken care of as much as possible, and then on the other side is the Annual Conference which pressures me as the leader to make sure that we pay our Apportionments. I’ve only had a few times in my ministry when my church could not pay our Apportionments 100%; this may be one of them. I always do my best to make sure I’m doing all I can. This week we’ll be looking at Psalm 46 which begins: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in time of trouble.” I have always felt and known God’s presence near me, especially in times when it’s most difficult. I know that whatever happens God is still God, and is still in charge. He gave his best for us; now we give our best for that great love in Jesus Christ. It’s worth everything to make his disciples. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Worship is About God

Worship has become a “battlefield” for some in the church, particularly mainline churches like ours- the United Methodist Church. I was trained in worship at Duke Divinity School back in the late seventies. Have you ever been to Duke Chapel? Wow! Duke Chapel has pipe organ and angelic voices every Sunday. Preaching is intellectual and scholarly. Worship has a mix of silence and speech or music. It is an altogether beautiful experience to worship there; at least that’s what I think. Now, for some, even United Methodists, it is a little too High-Church (formal) at Duke. People say things like: “That worship is almost Episcopalian.” I found it meaningful. But, while I was going to school at Duke, I was also serving two churches out in the country outside of Chapel Hill. Both churches had small organs and no choirs. Singing was quiet at best. Worship was less formal with someone making announcements and speaking up when they wanted to. Both of these were worship. I connected with God in both. I have worshiped where God’s Word was preached and we only had a piano and a few people. As Scripture says: “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them…” I grew up in a church that was on the charge with another church. The other church was in the country. We were just in the city limits and thought we were citified. Truth was we were mostly mill workers with a few mill bosses. At times, the folks could be cantankerous. Arguments often happened. Worship was mostly formal, orderly, and we thought we were “uptown”. Back then all worship at least followed the same “order of service”. We had some common experiences across the United Methodist Church. Churches large and small followed and kept the same “order”. Somewhere along the way this changed. Some point back to what was known as the “charismatic” movement when people began to feel a movement of the Spirit and music started sounding more free-spirited. Worship was seen as something to participate in rather than just something to be done for us. Churches, in our denomination, split over worship. Some left and went to churches more to their liking in worship. They went to churches where the pastor didn’t read his sermons, where singers held microphones and music was loud. Now, I have always felt that worship could happen around a campfire or in a sanctuary with pipe organ. There is value in every setting when God is invoked and praised. Our church has traditional worship with pipe organ, choir, robes, acolytes and crucifer. We also have now a Contemporary service with praise band that worships in the gym. It’s easy to say that one kind of worship is legit and the other is not. Some still do this. Lovers of the traditional way of doing things sometimes make comments about those who want to worship in a contemporary style. Some even get angry about it. The idea being that we are all alike and should require that everybody be alike. Of course, the truth is we are not alike, even those of us who prefer traditional worship. God has made us with different needs. I say all that to say that the church of “today” is a church that offers a variety of experiences in worship. Worship is when God is praised, God’s Word is preached, our gifts are given, and people meet Jesus Christ. Come let us worship the Lord. And, may that worship be our beginning each week of serving and loving in Christ’s name. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Comments on Lectionary - Sept. 1

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