Pastor Bob’s Ordination Council

On Sunday, June 11 at 3pm, FBC will be hosting an Ordination Council for Pastor Bob. Pastors and delegates from the Southwest Region of American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire will gather to review Pastor Bob’s Ordination Paper, which is his statement on his Christian experience and his theological beliefs. This is open to all. After a time of questions, the pastors and delegates will then vote on recommending Pastor Bob for ordination. If the vote is “Yes” then the official ordination service will occur at some point later this summer or early fall, Lord willing.

Afterward there will be a pot luck meal that all are welcome to share in. The Church Life Board is requesting members of FBC to contribute to the pot luck. Please join us in person, and if you’re not able to, please join us in prayer.

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Amazing Guilt or Amazing Grace?

Many of my friends grew up in a religious atmosphere primarily characterized by guilt. Perhaps this is your experience too. The story is so common that it has become something of a cliche. We feel guilty for the bad stuff that’s gone on during the week, so we guiltily attend our religious services, so our guilt might be absolved, or so the theory goes. But the tone and tenor of our religious services, all too often, are saturated with guilt. We are hit with the you-shoulds and the you-betters and the try-harders. Upon our weary shoulders are laid the blame for what we’ve done, said, and even thought. We are scolded for requiring the Son of God Himself to come and die for our misdeeds. We are required to grovel enough to earn the pity we are told we so desperately need. We are told we must earn back the divine favor we have lost, which might be begrudgingly granted, if only we jumped through the right hoops in the right order. And that’s not even mentioning how fiercely and expertly many of our mothers and grandmothers leverage guilt at home (except for mine of course!).

What a massive load of Amazing Guilt. It is no wonder so many of us flee as soon as possible, usually in adolescence. And yet the Amazing Guilt leaves its mark. For the rest of our journey, the tinge of guilt remains on any hint of religion. No one really likes to feel bad, so we avoid it altogether. Perhaps we engage our souls under the banner of Spirituality, but engagement with “organized religion” is out.

How amazingly sad that our experience of Amazing Guilt so powerfully obscures, and even obliterates, the heart of good and true religion, which is the same heart of good and true spirituality: the heart of Amazing Grace.

Amazing Guilt says, “You’re a failure.”
Amazing Grace says, “You’re beloved.”

Amazing Guilt says, “You are a burden.”
Amazing Grace says, “You are beautiful.”

Amazing Guilt says, “Earn this.”
Amazing Grace says, “Receive this.”

Amazing Guilt says, “You are condemned.”
Amazing Grace says, “You are set free.”

Amazing Guilt says, “Avoid God.”
Amazing Grace says, “Enjoy God.”

And yet Amazing Grace is realistic. There’s no point denying the messed-up-ness of our world, and if we’re honest, of ourselves. Only 10 words into the most famous of old hymns, and you’re admitting  you’re a “wretch” who needs to be “saved.” But Amazing Grace doesn’t stay there. As it turns out, Amazing Grace is the only true solution to Amazing Guilt. Whether or not we have experienced something like the characterization above, we all carry guilt to some degree.

I have searched for other ways to solve the Amazing Guilt problem. Unfortunately, ignoring it (one of my best and not-so-brightest coping strategies) doesn’t work for long. Numbing it with chocolate, craft beer, or more illicit substances only makes it worse in the long run. I haven’t tried literally running from it (I only run when there’s bears involved), but I know a lot of people who seem to be trying that, and it doesn’t look to be working out. Spirituality and positive thinking help for a while, but never really get to the root of the problem.

I’ve met only one person who really could take care of Amazing Guilt, and believe it or not, his name is Jesus. The same man who, incongruously, is claimed by many foisting Amazing Guilt upon the masses. How could it be that so many of us get his story so wrong? Have we even read and received the true story of Jesus? Perhaps we are so concerned about protecting our own power and control that we, intentionally or not, twist the true story of Amazing Grace beyond recognition.

The true story of Jesus is, in one sense, quite simple: God loves humans so much that he decided to rescue us from guilt and death. God loves humans so much that he came as one of us: a man named Jesus. God loves humans so much that Jesus took all the guilt and death and messed-up-ness (which he calls sin) upon his own shoulders, so we could be set free. God loves humans so much that he defeated death and gives new life, now and forever, to anyone who will receive it. His Amazing Grace is now yours for the taking. You too can read and receive his story, and make it your own. Jesus said “Repent and believe,” meaning turn from going your own way weighed down by guilt, and trust in me, and be set free.

It is time to trade in your Amazing Guilt for God’s Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

***

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

***

Bob Wiegers is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, Vermont, and is striving to take hold of God’s Amazing Grace more and more. One of his favorite things in the world is to help others do that too. You can contact him at PastorBobWiegers@gmail.com and he would be glad to hear from you. Visit our church website at fbcbennington.org or come by 601 Main Street, Bennington VT 05201. Sunday worship services are at 9:30am. All are welcome to come celebrate God’s Amazing Grace together.

Reflections on my calling as Pastor

Every now and then it is good to take stock on how things are going. I recently took that opportunity, reflecting back on where I’ve been and how things have unfolded in my calling as Pastor of FBC Bennington, especially in relation to the hopes and desires the congregation had when we arrived. Here’s a few thoughts on my developing sense of calling, beginning with some key scriptures:

Psalm 138:8
[8] The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

2 Timothy 4:1-2
[1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4:5
[5] As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

1 Peter 5:2-4
[2] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

***

“Go be a Pastor in New England.”
Paraphrase of God’s Spirit inaudibly impressing his will on me in 2010
(while I was doing the dishes).

***

October 18, 2015 
Result of congregational vote to call
Bob Wiegers as pastor of FBC Bennington:
Unanimously YES.

***

From the church information package compiled by FBC Bennington during their pastoral search: “List the eight activities of ministry…which you feel are most critical activities in which your pastor should be competent. Prioritize the list.”

  1. Preaching
  2. Worship preparation and leading
  3. Pastoral care
  4. Interpreting the faith (“communicate a comprehensive understanding of the Bible and Christian theology in terms relevant to person’s lives”)
  5. Interchurch cooperation
  6. Evangelism
  7. Planning and management
  8. Conflict management

My self-evaluation after almost 18 months on the job. This admittedly puts me at risk of over-estimating myself and thinking too highly of myself. Any good that comes through me is by God’s grace alone.

  1. Preaching – I’m a good preacher. Not great yet, but good. I explain, illustrate, and apply. I am engaging and passionate. I stick to the main point. I do a lot of research, planning, and prayer. Yet I am spontaneous to some degree in every message. I hope I am clear and compelling. I try to say what the scriptures are saying for us here and now, and why it matters. I do my best to be Jesus-centered. I would like to improve at compelling illustrations. People have responded positively.
  2. Worship – I plan a good worship service. I blend old and new music styles, and we play and sing excellently. I keep scripture saturated in the whole service. Songs and scriptures are carefully selected, usually based on the theme of the message. I keep a familiar structure that is prayerful. I try to be appropriately humble and “real” yet reverent.
  3. Pastoral care – I do best at pastoral care for urgent needs. I lead most funerals very, very well (14 so far). I do hospital visitations well. I love office visits and do my best to engage people’s pastoral needs when I am approached.  I feel that I do well with spiritual questions and needs with prayer and scripture one-on-one. I enjoy visits to the shut-ins. I would like to be better at engaging the non-urgent pastoral needs, as well as follow-up and consistency. I do not feel strong at pastoral care of marriage and family issues yet.
  4. Interpreting the faith – My constant desire is to help folks understand the relevance of God’s love to their lives. This is why I have done many different types of Bible studies, and now prayer groups. I have what I feel is a clear and comprehensive theological outlook, which drives my work. I do my best to communicate the hope and love that we can only find in Jesus.
  5. Interchurch cooperation – I have a lot of contact and fellowship with ABC VT NH Southwest Region pastors and churches, attending our monthly prayer breakfast, as well as annual meetings, etc. I also have established strong relationships with other pastors in the Bennington area and have begun partnering in ministry programs, such as the Good Friday service, which was amazingly successful, and our upcoming VBS. I have also attended the Bennington Interfaith Council on occassion, but have felt that group is not a good fit for me at this time.
  6. Evangelism – My efforts, and our efforts as a family, to reach our neighbors and contacts in Bennington with the love of Jesus has shown some fruit already. It is slow but encouraging. I’ve established a rapport with many, and had surprisingly deep spiritual conversations and have been able to share my faith with multiple new friends, as has Michelle. We have seen people come to faith already, both in and out of the church. I am also making a lot of inroads with the recovery community, and we have many natural connections through the schools with families.
  7. Planning and management – I have waited to acclimate to the church before embarking on a period of planning, which I am actively praying about now. This is not a strength of mine, however. I have planned and managed various Bible studies and events as they come up, but I have not yet done long-range planning.
  8. Conflict management – There has not yet been much conflict, but I do my best to handle it calmly and carefully and directly, as Jesus’s command in Matthew 18 would have us. I tend to be conflict-averse, but I am willing to enter in as needed.

Also from the church information package compiled by FBC Bennington during their pastoral search: “List additional emphases of your vision that have not been covered in the ministry activities above…”

  1. Ability to relate warmly to members to make them feel comfortable in church and outside.
  2. Having a family that becomes part of our church.
  3. Ability to relate to all ages on some level.
  4. Has a sense of humor.

My self-evaluation after almost 18 months on the job:

  1. Relate warmly: I think I exhibit this ability, although it is sometimes hard to relate to everyone. I do much better individually or in small groups than larger groups.
  2. Family involvement: We are all highly involved.
  3. Relate to all ages: I think I do this well. I relate to the elderly on down to the littlest.
  4. Sense of humor: I have an admittedly quirky sense of humor. I find that I enjoy making witty comments that make people laugh. I like to laugh at myself too.

***

The longer I’m at this beautiful and strange thing called being Pastor here in Bennington, the more and more I’m convinced of God’s calling. God is faithful.

Thoughts on worship music

We recently took a small, highly-unscientific survey on church music. You can see the results here.

From a closer look at the information, it’s clear that most of us like variety!

People like a mix in the song-style. The vast majority checked more than one box for type of music. Some preferred only hymns (4). Some preferred only modern songs (7).

People also like a mix in the instrumentation. The vast majority checked more than one box for instrumentation. A small percentage preferred only one type of instrumentation (2 for organ-only, 3 for piano-only, 7 for guitars-only). No younger people (<40) checked “Organ”.

So why did we do this little survey? The “worship wars” (which have raged for decades, if not longer) have left many wounded in the American church. We hope to avoid that, by God’s grace, bearing with one another and building one another up, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together. We strive to be a generationally diverse congregation, to honor and encourage all ages in our journey of faith. We need music full of grandeur and depth, as well as simplicity and passion. As a body, we need each other, and to be eager to consider others more significant than ourselves.

FBC is blessed with an amazing organ. And a some great pianos. And some guitars and whatnot too. We strive to “blend” them well, but are always eager to do better. We hope to use them all for God’s glory and praise.

Signs of Life

Did you know?

Over 10 area churches and approximately 200 people participated in the Community Good Friday Service we hosted last month. It was a wonderful time of worship together!

Our Youth Group is gaining momentum!  Three of our youth were baptized on Easter. We have 5 regular Youth Group attendees, and often others will join us too. We meet on Sunday evenings for pizza, games, and Bible study (currently studying Galatians together). All middle- and high-schoolers (from in or out of the church) are welcome!

 

Katie Austin, our Elementary Sunday School Teacher (and occasional worship vocalist), will finish her school year at Northeastern Baptist College and return home for the summer very soon. She has done a great job this school year, so please take the chance to say thanks and farewell. She will return in the fall.

Pastor Bob’s “Ordination Council” will be here on June 11 at 3pm, with a pot luck meal to follow. Area pastors and delegates will gather to review and discuss Pastor Bob’s ordination paper, which lays out his background and theology. All are welcome! If all goes well, the final step of Pastor Bob’s ordination will be a special service here in late summer or early fall.

FBC is honored to host a monthly pastor’s gathering focusing on church revitalization in New England. It is lead by Pastor Dave Anderson of FBC North Adams. Please pray not only for our church as we seek the Lord’s blessings of renewal, but also for the many other churches in the area.

Our initial run of “The Marriage Course” is wrapping up. It has been great to take time to build our relationships. If you would like to participate in a future offering of “The Marriage Course” please see Pastor Bob.

New Bible Study coming soon! Would you like to participate? See Pastor Bob!

Feedback? Love something? Hate something? Have ideas for improvements? Nothing is off-limits, and Pastor Bob would love to hear from you directly in any way you’d prefer.

P.S.: Join us for worship on Sundays at 9:30! There is NOTHING like worshiping Jesus together!