Monday, March 28, 2016

Jesus is Alive and I'm Wide Awake!


I am disheartened by the number of clergy people and church staff members publically lamenting how tired they are on Monday morning after Easter.

Having said that, I realize it won’t be the most popular opinion among my peers. I mean no offense to anyone in particular. Don’t be a hater. Please let me explain …

First of all, everybody works hard. Everybody. Yes of course, we work hard during Holy Week and Easter. But we do not work harder than anyone else. And most people work harder ALL THE TIME, just to make ends meet. Our complaints about how sleepy we are on the Monday after Easter are belittling and disrespectful to people who do not have the privilege and luxury to take a day and a half off after a particularly rough few days of work.

Secondly, theologically speaking, if you are not energized into action by what happens on Easter morning, you did it wrong. I cannot WAIT to get up and get going on the Monday after Easter! There’s so much energy in resurrection, and I am totally charged up by it. “Christ is risen!” is more than just a liturgical greeting or a pithy internet meme, it is a profound spiritual truth that should inspire us to be someone brand new, especially on the Monday right after Easter.

Thirdly, what is it about us that creates the need to point out publicly how hard we’ve been working? What are we looking for from these public pronouncements? It is as if we need approval, someone to say, “Yes, I noticed you working. Good job.” Now to be sure, it is really, really nice when that actually happens. It’s always good to receive affirmation and gratitude. It’s very cool to know that someone heard you. But I guess I just do not understand the need to fish for it on social media.

And finally, if your congregation is typical, chances are you just worshiped with at least twice as many people as on a normal Sunday morning. You saw people you haven’t seen in weeks, you had guests there for the very first time, you had people there who really didn’t want to be, and on and on. It was packed out! Now, build from that momentum, keep it going! Don’t take a break at this point, bringing it all to a screeching halt. Take that energy created by all those people there to encounter the living God and go somewhere with it!

Yes, I know all about Sabbath rest and self-care and all that jazz. I had an hour long nap yesterday afternoon. What I’m talking about is using social media and other public venues to intentionally mention how tired we are on Monday, how sleepy Easter made us. No, no, no! Easter doesn’t put us to sleep – it wakes us up! Easter is the beginning of new life, new energy, new focus, new purpose.

Churches should view Easter Sunday as a launching pad, not an arrival point. The Church needs to get up with Peter and run to the risen Christ. Churches ought to blast off from Easter into a brand new season of mission and ministry We ought to stop telling everyone how tired we are, and start telling everybody how alive Jesus is!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Missouri SJR 39

I just emailed the following to the speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives:

"Good morning Mr. Speaker,

Thank you so much for your service to our beautiful state, and for the time you are taking to read my message. I will try to be brief.

I am a pastor in Springfield, and I do not believe that religious freedom is at risk. SJR 39 is unnecessary, since freedom of religion is quite clearly protected at all levels of government, local, state, and federal. Isn't it remarkable to live in a country in which freedom to worship God is such a high value?

Furthermore, SJR 39 makes discrimination a constitutional right. Our great nation has come so far when it comes to the just treatment of all people, I do not want us to regress. I am proud of the hard work of so many fine Americans - politicians, pastors, activists, etc. - whose dedication and diligence have paved the way for so much of the freedom we now enjoy. I do not want their work dishonored by making discrimination a constitutional right.

Please oppose SJR 39, Mr. Speaker. As a Christian, as a Missourian, as a citizen of the most amazing country in the world, I respectfully ask you to do all you can to prevent this bill from advancing.

Rev. Andy Bryan"

I'm not one to tell anybody what to think or how to vote, but if you are of the same mind as me on this and have a moment to spare, please consider contacting Speaker Todd Richardson and/or your own representative to let them know what you think. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

"Intentional Relationships" - SPST Strategic Plan

The Saint Paul School of Theology Board of Trustees has approved a “Strategic Plan” to guide the seminary’s work in the future. I’m really excited about the potential for the school that so deeply formed me for ministry.

And it’s important to say that formation is still the heart of Saint Paul’s mission. Specifically, “to form people for transformational ministry” is in the stated purpose of the school. There’s a long, kind of rambly statement of purpose, mission, and vision that will be published, and it’s rather too long and rambly if you ask me. But if you can sort through all the words, forming people for ministry, equipping people to serve “in a rapidly changing world” is the central task.

One of the components of the plan involves becoming a “seminary of intentional relationships.” Saint Paul is becoming an expanding network of relationships that include collaborations with other higher education institutions, partnerships with local churches and other ministry sites, and special partnerships with United Methodist Annual Conferences and other denominational bodies. Each category of relationship has a particular definition.

Collaborations will, among other things, allow Saint Paul to enter into 3+3 programs with universities, so that a student can complete both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in six years.

Partnerships will, for example, allow Saint Paul to expand our “Fellows” program to place more students in active ministry sites, and continue to grow opportunities for practicum experiences and workshops.

Special partnerships will hopefully allow for closer cooperation with the United Methodist conferences in the heartland to prepare people for ministry in a variety of settings, including mentoring, coaching, and specialization certifications.

The second exciting component of the strategic plan is a commitment to diversifying the degree options at Saint Paul. We want to see concentrations and specializations for all kinds of ministry in all kinds of settings. The MDiv degree is no longer the only way to go, and Saint Paul is behind the curve in creating more opportunities to specialize.

How cool could it be? A specialization in pastoral care, in community organizing, in justice ministry, in church planting, in … what? It’s clear that we need to offer an array of options, suited not for ministry of twenty years ago, but for ministry twenty years from now.

And the last thing I’ll mention about the strategic plan is a commitment to offering online coursework. Bricks and mortar are no longer top priority for Saint Paul. A flexible network of relationships, accessed online, is the vision for the future.

Personally I do not think that seminary education will ever go completely online. I think the pendulum will swing back. But I think it won’t swing back all the way, and online coursework is here to stay. That’s why developing hybrid course options is so important. The future, I believe, is in courses that blend online work with face-to-face interactions.

To me, those are the three most exciting parts of Saint Paul’s new strategic plan. There’s a lot more, and there’s a lot of detail I left out of the three parts I mentioned, but I’m just sharing this to hit the highlights. I’m sure Saint Paul will be releasing the more detailed version pretty soon.

In the meantime, Saint Paul alums as well as United Methodists in the Midwest should understand that the seminary is in critical condition at the moment. We are in ICU, but hospice has not yet been contacted. It is going to take a combination of higher enrollment, close management of expenses, and expanding the donor base to get back on our feet again.

The strategic planning team was well aware of that reality as they envisioned the future for Saint Paul and crafted the framework of a plan to get us there. And I for one am encouraged by and grateful for their work. And though the work is not over yet, the pieces are in place to create a vibrant future for Saint Paul School of Theology!