Friday, January 29, 2010

Feeling Kind of Broken Hearted

Compared to my last post, feeling so groovy and inspired, this one will seem dramatically different. Sorry...

I am feeling something I’ve not felt in 5 ½ years as a lead pastor, 4 years as an associate pastor, 5 years as a full-time director of music, or 1 year as a part-time church choir director. I’m just adding it up to get a sense … that’s 15 ½ years of professional church ministry, and I have had a lot of different reactions to things. But this one is new.

It’s hard to describe. It kind of feels like a broken heart. I feel so sorry for a group of people in the church. And mixed into that is a sense that I have failed as a preacher. So blend together the feelings of broken-heartedness, sorrow, and failure, and there you have it – my mood today!

I’m not going to share the details, of course. That wouldn’t be ethical. But I can share this – we sensed the need for a change, thought through the options, decided on a plan we thought would help improve the overall health of the ministry, then proposed that change to the group that would be affected. The change would have required the group to adjust their routine every other week, and keep it the same every other week. At the same time, the change would allow others in the congregation to begin participating alongside this group in their ministry, thus enhancing the overall effect. In short, it was a compromise.

I anticipated the proposal would meet with some resistance. Almost all compromises do. But I was not prepared for the level of animosity toward the change. There were a number of people involved with the ministry who said they would quit altogether rather than compromise – that was the heartbreaking part.

This is a ministry that they claim to love doing. And so they are proving how much they love this ministry by threatening to quit instead of compromise. Make sense to you? No, me neither.

The resistance was based on how the change would disrupt their individual routine, and destroy a sense of “family” that had developed in the group. In terms of time commitment per month, the change to routine affects them by less than one percent of their time; about 3 hours per every two weeks is altered, and no time is added or subtracted to the status quo.

In terms of the feeling of “family” they have – that’s fine. But it’s a side affect of the ministry, not the mission. I tried to reason with them that the change is intended to see that the ministry more effectively accomplishes its mission. Furthermore, the insider’s feeling of family is the newcomer’s feeling of cliquishness, and I’ve worked hard to eliminate that unhealthy situation.

Here’s another wrinkle – two of the people who started this change in motion by coming to me and complaining about the ministry and how something needed to change because they were feeling so frustrated with it … (are you ready for it?) … are now two of the people saying that they are going to quit if we make this change. “Something needs to change! BUT it had better not be a change that actually affects us, or we’ll just quit.” What? Really?

I’m not mad, which is weird. At another stage in my ministry I might have been mad. This time, I’m listening to these otherwise loving, faithful, good people share their purely self-centered reactions to the change, and all I can feel is profound sorrow on their behalf. There was no empathy. There was no understanding. There was no trying to see the situation from another’s point of view. The only thing anyone was saying was how horribly this change would affect them personally. (Remember, it is a change that affects the status quo routine only every other week – it is a compromise.)

So the feeling of failure is there because I’ve been preaching here for a year and a half, calling for people to prioritize God’s mission, focus outward into the world, and think first of others before self. It makes me feel like nobody is listening to me when I experience reactions like this. It makes me not want to try so hard. It makes me want to just phone it in, if it’s not going to make any difference, anyway. Why work my tail off when people aren’t going to get it?

This too shall pass. I know.

Even though this change isn’t going to happen, something in this ministry still has to change; the need for the change is still there. I have seen this particular ministry flourish at an amazing level of excellence and energy; I know that the potential is there. I know exactly what it would take to get it there, but if the people involved would rather quit than risk the change, it won’t work. It won’t work without the people.

I’m not going to quit, though. (Insert State of the Union reference here.) I understand how systems work and how people can get so enmeshed that they cannot see clearly. My expectations are high, but they are reasonable. The ministry in question could be exceptional, and I’m not going to sit still and let it be “just fine” forever. Of course, I believe that God loves us at “just fine,” and that is just the reason that we should strive to offer our very best, even if that means we have to work hard to achieve it.

I also need to say that there is a lot, lot, lot of good, good, good stuff happening in the congregation. It is a phenomenal church and this incident has very much been the exception to the rule.

*sigh* So if, the next time you see me, I seem grumpy or distracted or not my usual self, at least now you will know why. But at least, writing this, it is off my chest a little bit. Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Ten Year Old Mission Statement

Sunday morning was incredible. There was such a good vibe in the worship services, and so many people told me that they felt it, too.

One of the coolest things happened during the sermon. I was preaching on God's mission, specifically as Jesus describes it in Luke 4:18-19. I had talked about the feeling of being sent by God to make the world a better place, and how when we are younger we feel like we can change the world but as we age we gradually lose that feeling. I was trying to say that the church needs to reclaim that idea, that we can make the world a better place, more like the way God wants it to be.

Well, I moved on to a more specific focus, talking about how the church is the body of Christ in the world today, sent on the same mission Jesus Christ was sent on. And how when we lose sight of that mission and start focusing on other things, we lose our connection to God and become just another social organization among many.

I then put it to the congregation like this. "If you wore a nametag that said 'I go to Campbell United Methodist Church' and someone came up to you this week and asked you, 'Why does Campbell United Methodist Church exist,' what would you say?" I then asked for people to call out their responses.

I clarified that the question wasn't "Why do YOU go to Campbell," but rather "Why does Campbell exist." The responses were slow to start off, but they began to come after a while. "To connect people together." "To share the love of God with others." "To offer Christ to people."

And then, in a quiet but confident ten-year-old voice from the middle of the room - "To change the world."

There it is. There's a mission statement for ya! Why does the church exist? To change the world. And who says it out loud better than anyone else? A ten-year-old.

The Holy Spirit was thick in the room at that moment. I had to repeat what he had said so that everyone could hear it. People craned their necks to try to see who it was, and whispers could be heard as the grown-ups asked one another who had brought the sermon to a halt with a burst of Holy Spirit-inspired truth. Because for a few moments there I literally could not go on. The sermon was irrelevant, insignificant fluff. Power had been spoken aloud, and I did not know how to procede.

So I didn't - for a while. I had to let the moment expand and wash over people. My mind, my heart, and my voice were all caught up in what had just happened.

What more needs to be said when a ten-year-old believes that his church exists to change the world?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Preschool Presentation

Friday I went over to the preschool where Erin teaches to talk with the pre-K classes about being a pastor. They are having a series of these presentations about “Community Helpers” in which various moms and dads come in and talk about their jobs. I felt no small level of competition with the doctor and firefighter who had come before me!

I brought a bible, my robe, and some stoles with me, so that I’d have some “props” to show off and the kids would hopefully not be bored to tears. I started out by asking if anyone knew what a pastor did. “Help people,” said a girl. Which is actually a great answer, but it was also the whole premise of the “Community Helpers” thing – i.e. everyone coming to visit them helps people in some way and “Help people” is how they answered that question every time, no matter whom it was asked about.

So I said, “Yes, pastors help people. We help people learn about God and also about what God wants them to do. One way we do that by teaching them stories that are in a special book. (go to prop!) Does anyone know what book I’m talking about?”

“The BIBLE!” said more than a few of the kids. And after the first wave, the rest of the kids said “Bible” so as not to be left out of the fun.

So we talked about some stories out of the Bible and they told me some of the ones they knew and that was pretty fun for a few minutes.

Then, sensing attention spans drifting, I went for the next level and picked up my robe. Putting it on and zipping it up, I told them that I wear a robe to remind myself that the things I say are not supposed to be about me, but about God. Then I got to the stoles. I have a bunch of stoles, and a lot of them are pretty cool. I have never purchased a stole for myself; all have been given to me by others.

Putting on a stole with the faces of children from around the world, I told the kids that I wear a stole to remind myself that God is with me when I talk. I said it’s like God’s arm is around my shoulders. (Cheesy, huh? But they got it, I think.) I then took the children around the world stole off and asked a kid to hold it for me while I got another one out.

My plan was to let them hold the stoles so they would feel connected to what I was saying, and it worked out pretty well. However, as I put on another and then another, who would get to hold the stole quickly became a point of contention amongst my little 4 year old audience.

“But I want a scarf!” said one little girl. I made sure that she got to hold the next one. Since the “scarves” are long, three or four kids could hold one together. At least two of my stoles have now been the primary tool in a preschool tug of war match. (How many preachers can say that?)

Erin asked if any kids had any questions for Pastor Andy. I am happy to say I was able to clear up a couple of misperceptions. I was asked what I did on the “other days.” “Other days?” I replied. “Like what do you do when it’s not church day?” “Yes, I work more than just on church days. I help people during the week, too.”

“Do you live in the church?” was another excellent question. And with regard to this one, I was able to astound them on two levels. One, I live in an actual house in Springfield. (“Hey! I live in Springfield, too!”) And two, I live in the same house as Mrs. Erin, because she is my wife. This remark elicited a moment of silent puzzlement, then a burst of giggles as realization bloomed. I’m not sure if the giggles were more about Pastor Andy having a wife or Mrs. Erin having a husband, however.

I could tell things were coming to a close, mainly because the wiggly factor in the room was beginning to rise noticeably. So I told them that the best part of what I get to do as a pastor is tell people that God loves them, “just like God loves all of you” which was going to be my big ending! But I’m not sure how many of them actually heard it because they were bringing back up all my stoles and fighting over who got to carry it and someone had to go to the bathroom which of course meant that everyone else did, too.

But before I left several of the kids came up and gave me hugs, which was really nice. Except for I guess I may have hugged one little boy a bit awkwardly. As I was packing up my robe and stoles, he began to cry. His teacher asked him what was wrong. “Pastor Andy hurt me,” he whimpered.

I rushed over to him and told him how sorry I was, and kneeling down, gave him a much gentler hug. I guess that in the press of kids coming up to me I must have reached out to him and kind of lifted him up in a way that hurt his neck. I felt terrible.

I’m pretty sure the doctor and the firefighter didn’t injure anyone during their presentations.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Glimpses of Being Sent

Haiti is on our minds and hearts. Prayers are being said moment by moment, and at the same time it seems that the situation continues to deteriorate. How do we glimpse Jesus in all this horrible mess?

In Luke 4, Jesus identifies himself for us. He reads a passage from Isaiah, and then proclaims the passage fulfilled in our hearing. The passage he reads describes God’s missionary – one who is anointed and sent by God to accomplish God’s mission in the world. In his statement, “The scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus is saying, “I am the one this scripture is talking about. I am the one who is sent.”

It is in this notion of being sent that we can perhaps glimpse Jesus in Haiti. The impulse in our hearts that causes us to weep for those who are suffering and desire to do something to help is a holy feeling. It reminds us that we are the church, the body of Christ, disciples of the one who is sent. And as his disciples, it reminds us that we are sent as well.

Like Jesus, we are sent “to bring good news to the poor.” We, too, are sent “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” We are sent “to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Today in Haiti, “good news” looks like a bottle of clean drinking water.
Today in Haiti, “release” looks like a safe place to sleep at night.
“Recovery of sight” looks like a plan to distribute food through a shattered and useless infrastructure.
Today in Haiti, oppression is foul and festering on the streets of Port-au-Prince, and Jubilee is hard to come by.

Who are we, church? Are we, like Jesus, going to identify ourselves as those who are sent? And sensing ourselves sent, whatever “sent” means for us, will we go?

Prayers – Health Kits – Offerings through UMCOR – eventually VIM trips…

We are sent. To glimpse Jesus – to offer a glimpse through our service. What if it all started with a glimpse?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ministers' School 2010 Wrap-up: Itinerant Thoughts


Ministers' School 2010 is in the books, and I slept well last night, let me tell you. Overall, I am very, very happy with the event. The tone was exactly right, informal, collegial, and positive. It is always a joy to see ministers greeting one another, talking about families, sharing church stories, and nurturing the connection. During worship on Thursday, we shared $1,693.26 for UMCOR's work in Haiti.

Thursday morning there was a fascinating session led by Bishop Schnase that took us through the nuances of the appointment process. He had a part of the appointment board in front of the room and had created some fictional churches and pastors. He then took us pretty much step-by-step through what he and the cabinet do when considering appointments. I really appreciated the forthrightness and transparency of the session.

The values that undergird the appointment process are very clear. All is guided by the mission of the church. There are "critical appointments" in the conference that are considered key in continuing the mission of the church, and they are not necessarily the biggest churches or the highest paid senior positions. The gifts and graces of each pastor are well rehearsed by the entire cabinet. The needs and potential of each congregation are well rehearsed by the entire cabinet. The process is long and meticulous, and filled with prayer. He was also very clear that not all conferences make appointments the same way, and that some seem to be guided more by attendance numbers, salaries, and seniority. Missouri, I am happy to say, seems to have the priorities in order; God's mission for the church takes precedence.

Personally, I discovered myself becoming quite a bit emotional as he spoke. When he was talking about pastors and their families, memories stirred.

Seven years old, the last day at Northmoor UMC, when I ran crying across the parking lot, into the parsonage, and into my room. I was followed a few minutes later by Jay LeClare, a man in the church and a good good friend. He had come to check on me, and as he sat on the side of my bed and patted my back as I cried into my pillow, I poured out all the grief I had about having to move away from my home.

Eighteen years old, the last day at Harper Chapel UMC, when I was doing pretty good with it all until I was finally able to work my way into the line of people around Dad waiting to speak to him. Then, I didn't so much hug him as collapse into his arms and burst into tears, telling him how much I loved him. I don't know how long we embraced there at the back of the sanctuary, but I'll never forget that feeling.

And of course in my own itinerancy, asking Erin to leave excellent jobs three different times in order to go to a new appointment. And the love of my life did it, all three times, with grace and compassion. It was hard for me to see her uprooting herself, but nowhere near as hard as it was for her. And it has always been so amazing to see her re-plant herself in a new place and flourish there. She is amazing. I love you so much, Erin.

I remember watching our three year old Wesley become a completely different person after moving from Warrensburg to Kansas City. His confusion and anger was expressed by tantrums that included throwing just about every toy in his room down the stairs one at a time. Sweet Cori has had to leave best friends behind twice, and her beautiful heart has been broken both times. But that same heart is what gives her the capacity not only to make new best friends, but to keep the old ones, so that now her list of best friends is significantly longer than it once was.

I write all of this not to disparage the itinerancy. Far, far from it. I am itinerant through and through. I possess a restlessness within myself that is always luring me forward to what is coming next. It's what makes me a progressive, if you must stick a label on me. Creativity and innovation are high values for me, and the itinerancy fits that attitude quite well.

I am writing all of this, I guess, to process the emotional component of our appointment process, and to say that it is vital that itinerant preachers support one another in the process. Our families need to know each other, support each other. We need to know our colleagues' kids. We need to share openly with each other without pride or pretension our emotional responses to ministry, the personal impact of undertaking the mission of God through our call to ministry.

Ministers' School will not be held in 2011, so that we can take a moment of discernment and envisioning the future of the event. One thing that I will advocate for during this process is the inherent value of meeting together across the entire conference, whatever the format happens to be.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ministers' School - Day 2 Wrap-Up

The second day of Ministers' School 2010 is in the books, and I'm really happy! I think it is going very well, and I hope people are getting as much out of it as I am. Here are some highlights.

Elaine Robinson:
- How Methodist are we? Are we all about the form of religion and not the power of the Gospel?
- Is the UMC more like the old Church of England in Wesley's day or the Methodist movement that he started?
- Wesley preached a sermon called "The Almost Christian" - are we even almost Christians? Maybe we're more like "Not Even Close Christians."
- People are able to get excited about things, just not about Christ.
- If we had followed Wesleyan principles on money over the past fifteen years, we would not be in the dire financial shape we are now as a society.
- We need to reach people who are not in the church and allow "them" to change "us."

Bishop Schnase:
- Organizational decline is the result of arrogant neglect.
- Evangelism is comprised of more than just things a committee can vote on.
- How can clergy get outside of the church in intentional ways, taking initiative to be active in the community in ways that bring us into contact with many people?
- Who are the "doorway people" of the congregation - people who really get it when it comes to living invitationally?
- "'s not 'holy' in some spooky way..."
- An important part of a pastor's role is the power to convene - bring people together and equip them for ministry.
- The institutional layer is important, but the relational layer underneath it all is the most important thing - it's about people, not policies.
- "And my next two points were important, too."

In the afternoon, the Methodist connection was alive in our conference room. 15 ministers from around the state scattered to tables around the room and other participants moved from table to table, hearing about a ministry idea. We called the session "Hey! That's a great idea!" It was kind of like speed dating except about ministry. :) I facilitated the event, so I got to sit in the midst of it all and listen to the excited bubble of ideas floating around. It was pretty cool!

Then we had smaller workshops we called "Skill Sets" where five different Missouri ministers gave their thoughts about sharing Christ in particular settings. We had sharing Christ .,, a hospital room (led by Sally Schwab). preaching (led by Emmanuel Cleaver III). conflict resolution (led by Melissa Bailey-Kirk).
...with soldiers and their families (led by Scott Moon).
...with strangers you hope will become friends (led by Shawn Franssens).

I got a chance to hear three of them, and it was great! The presenters did each workshop twice in a row, so participants could pick two of the five. Thank you, thank you, thank YOU!!! to all of the presenters, the five "Skill Set" presenters and the fifteen "Great Idea" presenters. You all were awesome!

We had quite a bit of the "Wednesday afternoon trickle" this year. That's the perenniel situation in which about one-third of the participants sort of "trickle" away. They skip out and do other things. Lots of people have work that they brought or writing to do, or reading. Lots of people just take the chance to rest. Some go shopping. It's cool. we had 160 people here this year, and I counted about 110 present this afternoon.

So we are just one Thursday morning away from being done for this year. I really hope that people are going to be taking a lot of good stuff home with them. The feedback I've gotten so far has been really good.

Many I've spoken with are very disappointed that we are taking a year off in 2011. But I'm excited about the possibility of what this event might become in the future. There are some really cool, young people on the board of managers right now and they are so creative and willing to try anything! It's great.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Offer them Christ" - Ministers' School Day One

Here's some highlights from the presentations at Missouri Ministers' School Day One:

Mark Sheets -
To share Christ, sometimes all you need to say is "Come and see."
Story of neighborhood kids who had broken church windows with a cement block being invited to worship, showing up, and being given doughnuts in the middle of worship.
Same kids running up the aisle, jumping over the communion rail, and taking a bite of the (unconsecrated) communion bread - he couldn't wait for it to be handed out because he "had a bad week and needs a lot of forgiveness."

Elaine Robinson -
Church can be like a bus driving down the street with the "Out of Service" sign lit up.
It may not be that the Wesleyan way is out of touch with society, but that Methodists have forgotten what the Wesleyan way is.
The word evangelism wasn't used until late 19th century.
"God works in us so we can work. God works in us, so we must work." - John Wesley
For Wesley: Saving souls and reforming society - cannot have one without the other.

Robert Schnase -
Be ready to speak up to tell anyone who asks why you are living the way you are.
Grace shows us our ultimate worth in God's eyes.
Grace means that in our desire to know God, we find ourselves known.
Grace isn't fluffy - it is piercing, pursuing, transforming, strong.
Fruit is future.
Grace is made real through a posture of invitation.

It was a very good day today. The registration at Ministers' School is lower than last year, and that's a bit of a frustration. But the worship and the presentations have gone very well.

We're trying some new things tomorrow, and I'm really excited to see how they work out!

Monday, January 11, 2010


If you’re at home reading this, look at your refrigerator. (If you’re not at home, imagine your refrigerator.) Even better, get up and look IN your refrigerator. (Again if you are not able to do so, close your eyes and picture it.)

What do you see when you look into your refrigerator?

Now, think about what a hungry person would see. And I don’t mean someone who is ready for supper, I mean someone who hasn’t eaten in a couple days. Can you even imagine it?

What would they see if they looked into your refrigerator?

Where I would see a couple gallons of milk that my family will finish off in amazingly short order, a drawer full of nutritious fresh vegetables that my kids will complain about having to eat, plus the containers of left-overs to finish up … one who is starving might very well see a miracle that would save their life. I take my refrigerator for granted.

Now, think about our spiritual picture of Christ. What do you see when you “look” at Christ?

And how might someone with a deep spiritual hunger look at Christ? I must confess that there are times I take Christ for granted, just like my refrigerator, thinking that when I feel like a snack all I have to do is just open the door any time and take a portion, then package up the leftovers and store them away for later.

We see things differently – the hungry and the satiated, the humble and the haughty, the servant and the tyrant – where we stand, how we live, and our attitudes affect the way we look at the world.

I pray that God makes me hungry – blessed are the hungry, they will be filled – so that when I glimpse Jesus I will not take him for granted. I pray that God will make the church hungry, with a deep spiritual hunger that affects the way we look at Christ.

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Glimpse

What if it all started with a glimpse? Just a single glimpse. Each of us granted one small apprehension of something transcendent …

Not a gaze, not even a look. Fleeting. Out of the corner of your eye.

And what if we were assured that our glimpse, as insignificant as it may seem, was indeed a glimpse of the living presence of Christ? A flicker of the Light of the World; a crumb of the Bread of Life.
It would catch our breath and bring the twitch of a thrilled smile to the corners of our lips. Our eyes would light and we would respond with a gasp of Aha! Our understanding would deepen incrementally as we dove a bit deeper into the identity of the divine.
And then … imagine it, if you dare … what if we were to gather together to share our glimpses with one another? Each impression collected with the others so that an ever fuller picture began to emerge. Each glimpse valued for its inherent worth, each piece mysteriously connected to the whole, supplementing, complimenting, critiquing, mutually shaping.
And (are you ready for this?) what if we were to call our collection of glimpses “church?” Not the I-have-it-and-you-don’t-but-don’t-worry-because-I’ll-give-it-to church, but rather a church that values each person’s glimpse because … just because.
What if it all started with a glimpse?

What is your glimpse of Christ this week? Come be church and share it.