Monday, December 29, 2008

Innovation and Reformation - Together At Last

Among people who see a need and want to lead change, there is a philosophical distinction between two approaches. The first, which I’ll call innovation, wants to create new stuff. The second, which I’ll call reformation, wants to do existing stuff differently. These two approaches certainly do not exhaust the options, but for the most part change agents are either innovators or reformers.

In her amazing book, “The Great Emergence,” Phyllis Tickle writes that “the tension toward changing things externally into new forms, as opposed to reworking them internally into what should be, has been a major characteristic of each of our previous hinge times and will continue to be part of our present one” (p. 58). Tickle notes for example that after Martin Luther was pushing outward with the new “Protestant” vision for the church, the Catholic Reformation followed with renewal from within. The result was a “genuine, sincere, and in many ways beneficent” reform.

There is no need to choose either innovation or reform. There is nothing inherently wrong with brand new things, just as there is nothing inherently good about them. Similarly, there is nothing inherently wrong with tradition, just as there is nothing inherently good about it. And both tasks are difficult. It is just as hard to create something from scratch as it is to breathe new life into something ancient. Both approaches are perfectly reasonable, effective ways to lead change.

But too often, innovators and reformers compete with one another instead of cooperating. Some of this competition gets nasty, even. Innovators do not think reformers truly desire change. Reformers see innovators as throwing out the baby with the bath water. It becomes difficult for an innovator and a reformer to even talk together about change sometimes.

“Can you not see how beautiful this tradition is, if we could only do it better?” says the reformer.

“Oh, you’re just saying ‘We’ve always done it this way’ and that kind of thinking never leads us anywhere!” says the innovator.

It degenerates from there quite quickly.

"You have no respect for tradition!" says reformer.

"You old fuddy-duddy!" says innovator.

I am more of a reformer than an innovator, in that I love the ancient forms of the Christian faith and want to breathe new life into them. I loathe stagnancy, and lament when the beautiful liturgy of the church becomes rote and mechanical. And so I want to change things by reforming that which we already have so that it lives again. So I will take an ancient hymn and compose a new tune for it, for example.

And at the same time I do not begrudge innovators who are creating brand new things in the meantime. There is room for both approaches. "I love the unknown, baby!" (as my friend John Schmalzbauer said at a recent Christmas party). Brand new experiences stretch us, make us think, compel us to respond. We grow and learn via new ideas, insights, and encounters.

One of the coolest things trending in churches right now is a reclamation of ancient expressions and practices of faith. An the thing is, people have "grown up on" contemporary church with all of its innovation and new emphases, so now the ancient things seem new and innovative! What an irony, huh? We do a sung liturgy for communion for example, an ancient practice, and people think it is the latest, greatest innovation!

The nutshell is, I believe that the church needs to change in order to stay faithful to God's mission, and I think that change needs to be both innovation and reform. "Because we've never done it that way before" is not a good motivation whether you are in favor of change or opposed!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Food for Liturgical Thought

"It is a scandal within Christianity that Easter can be reduced to a "celebration" that lasts a few hours on one Sunday morning, while Christmas songs are piped into our ears from mid-October on."
- Glenn Pauuw, in this article at

iTunes Prayer Book

According to this article, the Pope signs his text messages "BXVI."

I wonder how our Bishop signs his text messages? Hmm...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Re-Discovered

There's something magical about strolling around the Plaza in Kansas City with my family of origin during Advent. I don't know how many times I've done it over the past 37 Advents, but it's safe to say it has been most of them. Erin and the kids and I drove up to KC Friday afternoon after the funeral and met Mom and Dad, my sister and nephew, my brother and his fiance', and we did our thing.

We went into the bookstore, we ate a really nice dinner, we gave our nephew his birthday presents, we walked to the penguin statues and posed with them, we crossed the bridge and made my brother do his Winston Churchill impersonation, we watched lights and horses pulling carriages and people meeting people, we traded Christmas presents.

And somewhere in between leaving the cemetary after the funeral on Friday afternoon and crashing into bed late late that night, I think I may have re-discovered a bit of Christmas. At least the doorway opened a crack and a bit of light shone through.

And then Sunday morning that door opened further during what Campbell UMC calls the "Nativity Parade." Sort of a mini-Christmas pageant, the Nativity Parade consists of congregational singing of several traditional carols, during which the children of the church walk down the center aisle in costume, ending up posed in the chancel area, depicting the birth of Jesus.

Stars, livestock, shepherds, wise men (and women, in our case), the holy family, angels. The whole cast of characters was there. And I don't know if it was that one small preschool star at the early service coming down the aisle all by himself, or maybe my son Wesley dressed as an angel with a gold garland halo sitting crooked on his head, or my daughter Cori who was representing the Wise Women bearing gifts, or the sight of Shane (our Children's Director's husband) who had dressed in full shepherd regalia in order to lead our littlest cows, sheep, and camels into the room, or the sheer silliness of kids wearing enormous false beards and carrying wooden canes as shepherd crooks, or maybe the buzz of energy in the room as the grown-ups craned their necks to get a glimpse of the wonderful sight and smiled with delight, or what.

I don't know what it was exactly, but all of a sudden the door into Christmas was thrown wide open, and I walked through. All of that stuff from my previous post still happened; it's still there. But I hit the reset button on my perspective, and things look different today. It's not so much that the blues went away, it's that I sang through them, and came out the other side.

We had a nativity parade at all three services, and it happened every time! My spirit is in such a better place today. We hosted an open house at the parsonage last night, and it was truly a joy to welcome the dozens and dozens of people who stopped by, mugs in hand, to enjoy a bit of hot apple cider and a cookie or two, but mostly just to be together and smile and laugh and talk and embrace one another.

Today is Christmas Eve Eve Eve. (My kids have been tracking how many "Eves" for about a week now.) And today I'm smiling easier. Maybe it was the Plaza. Maybe it was the Nativity Parade. Maybe it was all the thoughts and prayers of my family and friends. Maybe it was a little bit of everything. Maybe it was how God moved through all of those things together to (once again) surprise me with such astounding love. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Could be the Blues?

This week has included…
…the disruption of our foster daughter.
…presiding at a difficult funeral for a young man.
…my brother’s apartment robbed.
…a dear friend going through a painful divorce.
…and the weather’s not helping much, either.
...[etcetera, etcetera, etcetera]

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light,
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Yesterday there was a radio guy who encouraged listeners to call my children’s school in order to call them “communist” and “godless” because the parties they have scheduled for this week are being called Winter Parties instead of Christmas Parties. How weak does one’s faith have to be to believe that the birth of Christ is somehow threatened by the name of an elementary school party? And what would motivate someone to disrupt the routine of an elementary school by flooding the office with annoying phone calls? And how would that be a good Christian witness, exactly? ... [rant averted]

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

Okay, Okay, Okay - - - I get it. Life happens. God is good. Christ is born. All that stuff.
I know that in my head. I suppose that I have been caught in the middle of the juxtaposition of the good news and the real world. When I get stuck in a place like this, the only thing that works for me is to just keep singing.

O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to all on earth!

I love "O Little Town of Bethlehem." It covers "hopes AND fears." I've got plenty of both today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


With grief and after much, much thought and prayer, we have had to disrupt our foster daughter’s placement with us. She moved out on Friday.

Friday morning Erin and I packed up all of her belongings in boxes. Then that afternoon, her case worker came to the house and we loaded her things into the trunk of the car. We then drove to the school, where we called our own kids out of class to say good-bye, and went to her classroom to pick her up.

The six of us walked out to the parking lot. Then we gave her hugs and told her that we loved her and we would miss her. She got in the back of her worker’s car and we waved good-bye as they drove off.

We were all upset, and there were a few tears. After a few minutes and a few hugs, we walked the kids back into school where they returned to their classes and Erin and I drove home.

We made this decision because her anger had grown to a level we could not handle any more. Her fits of rage were daily, and sometimes multiple per day. Our kids had begun spending more and more time in their rooms, just to be away from her. She had brought them to tears with her hateful words several times. She had begun to hit Erin, threatened to bite, and at one time picked up a pair of scissors in the midst of her fit. She had broken things and done damage to walls and doors and furniture.

In between these fits, she was a very sincere, funny, sometimes even sweet little girl. She had absolutely no trouble at school or church. Her teacher really loved her. People at church are very surprised that we had to have the placement disrupted. She was making great improvements in reading and math, and liked doing homework a lot. She liked to paint and draw, and her favorite subject was big valentine hearts, which she drew on almost everything. Seeing other kids play piano, she liked to sit down and try to pick out tunes for herself sometimes.

But we had started to think of these periods as just time in between tantrums. And we were living in dread of what might trigger her next fit – being told it was bedtime, or that she couldn’t have a third doughnut, or that it wasn’t her turn on computer, or that she had to finish her vegetable before she could have dessert. It could have been just about anything.

It was clear to us that she needed much more care than we could offer.

And so this is better. It is better for us already, and the four of us are kind of coming out of our shell-shocked-ness a little bit these last few days. And we hope it is better for her, too. We hope she is in a place where her anger can be channeled, and where an environment that is a bit more controlled may provide structure that we were unable to give.

But maybe not. Maybe she is going to have an adolescence where she fights everyone she ever meets. Maybe she is going to decide never to let anyone ever love her. Ever. Maybe her life is going to be horrible.

Or maybe there was a seed planted in these last three months. Maybe there was a seed of “this-is-how-a-functional-family-lives” planted in her eight years of dysfunction, anger, and neglect. Who knows?

We feel pretty rotten about this whole deal, to tell you the truth. We feel like we failed. We feel angry at her parents for being really, really crappy parents. We feel relieved that she is gone from our household, and immediately feel guilty for feeling relieved. So we’re pretty mixed up right now, as you can imagine.

We are open to new foster placements, though. In fact, we got a call on the very day before she left, when we knew it was coming but it hadn’t happened yet. That placement ended well when they found a family member that could take the two sisters and our services were not required. We don’t hope for a placement, of course, because that would mean that a kid or kids have been taken out of their home, and that’s never a good thing. Rather, we are open to one, should one come up.

That is the latest in our foster family world. It is a difficult time, but we’ll be okay. We’d love your prayers of support and good thoughts. And if you would, keep all of our foster kids in your prayers, too. We love them all, and we always will.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Away in a Manger Update

Recently, I wrote about the preschoolers here knowing all the words to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" but none of the words to "Away in a Manger." (click here to read it)

Well, here is a happy update:

Last week, one of our preschool classes went "Christmas Caroling" to the offices around the church building. When they got to my office and kind of clumped around my door, their teacher said, "Are you ready to sing the special song we learned for Pastor Andy?"

"Ye-e-e-e-s," they said in that drawn-out way that little kids do when they are saying something all together. They were very excited. Some of them were actually hopping up and down!

And then they sang for me ... you guessed it ... the first verse of "Away in a Manger."

It was wonderful. I was very moved, both by the kids singing and by the thoughtfulness of the teachers, Liza and Debbie, who had heard my comment the week before and made it a point to take the time to teach their kids Away in a Manger. It was such a beautiful gesture, not soon forgotten.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reporter Column

The good people of the United Methodist Reporter have published one of my blog posts.

Click here to see it online. Here is the original post.


In other news: frequent commentor here (and my cousin), Patrick, is on his way home from Iraq this week. Prayers for safe travels and a happy, happy reunion when you get home, Patrick!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Still No Room

A party. A concert. A dinner.
A tree. A nutcracker. A strand of lights.
An inflatable snowman. Illuminated.

There’s still no room.

A list. A sale. A door buster.
A parking lot. A shopping center. A mall.
A ribbon. Tape. Disappearing.

There’s still no room.

A song. A radio station. Background noise.
You better watch out. I wanna hippopotamus.
Rudolph the Reindeer. Glowing.

There’s still no room.

A cookie. A pie. A piece of candy.
A turkey dinner. A fruitcake? Eggnog.
A brunch buffet. All-you-can-eat.

There’s still no room.
He’s still headed for the stable.
A manger. A bed of straw. A few shepherds.

Who’s the innkeeper this year?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sign me up!

Maybe this summer I'll be looking like this guy.
Question of the day: If you were creating a workout just for pastors, how would it be different from a regular old non-pastory workout?

Nothing Against Santa Claus, but ...

Every other Tuesday morning I lead the preschool chapel service at the church. This past Tuesday, two classes arrived in the sanctuary a bit early, and we were singing some random Christmas songs while we waited for the third class to arrive. The kids were calling out songs and I was playing them on the piano and we were all singing along. It was great.

We sang a couple, and then a kid called out “Better Watch Out!” So we sang “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and I must say that they all sang out loud, and many of them seemed to know every word. When we got done there was still time for one more, so I played the intro to “Away in a Manger” and started singing the first verse.
None of the kids – NONE – even recognized the song, let alone knew it well enough to sing. I immediately realized my mission of the season – teach the preschool kids “Away in a Manger.”

I realize that I risk sounding like an old guy complaining about “kids these days,” but it actually kind of upset me that none of the kids even recognized “Away in a Manger,” but knew “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by heart. There were probably 35 or 40 kids in the room. Surely one of them would have known it. I understand that each kid has experienced at most 4 Christmases in his or her brief life, but I would have thought at least a few of them might have sung “Away in a Manger” a time or two.

But the point is not just that they don’t know many Christmas songs, it is also that they knew the Santa song really, really well. So somehow in their four Christmases on earth they managed to learn that one. I’m not trying to blame anyone for anything here, just to make an observation.

And also to claim a personal mission. Every ordained clergy person in the United Methodist Church makes a promise “to teach the children” wherever we go. So a part of mine is going to be teaching kids sacred Christmas songs every year. I think I’ll start with “Away in a Manger.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

Coffee with John the Baptist

I wonder what it would have been like to have a cup of coffee with John the Baptist? I’m sure it would not have been dull. If I could get him to stop asking me to repent long enough, we might have a conversation.

“What’ll it be, John?” I’d ask.
“I’ll take a Double Locust Espresso with a Wild Honey Drizzle,” he would reply.
“Mmm. I’ll just have the Pumpkin Spice, please.”
Coffee ordered, we’d sit at a table far away from the counter. “So John, how’s life treating you these days?” I’d say.
“Well, it’s good. People are coming from all over to listen. I’ve been dunking people in the river right and left. But my camel fur underwear is pretty itchy, and my feet are all pruney. By the way, have you thought about repenting and being baptized? It would be very good for you, you know.”
“Yes, John, I have, thanks for asking. Listen, I could get you some softer clothes, maybe. And a pair of wading shoes might help.”
“No, no. I’m not worthy of that kind of luxury. Besides, it’s not really about me, anyway, is it?”
“What do you …? Oh right, the one coming after you, I remember. What’s up with that again?”
Tapping his hand on the edge of the table nervously, John would say, “You know, you really should give serious consideration to repentance. It would be in your best interest. But yeah, as to that one coming after me who is more powerful than I and I’m not even worthy to untie his shoe, I’m kinda getting people ready for him. By the way, are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Ready for him?”

Are you? Are you ready? Expect a messenger – one who will prepare the way, make the path straight. Sometimes I wonder if we’re even ready for the messenger, much less the one who is being announced.

Are you ready?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Conversation Matters

A couple of linksies:

First - John from Locusts and Honey has come out of the closet as not opposed to gay marriage. I would commend his post to anyone as a very clear and well-reasoned position of someone who believes that sex between people of the same gender is a sin, but sees no justification for banning marriage. Click here.

Second - one of my favorite bloggers, Shane Raynor, is blogging again. Click here. Shane was one of the first bloggers in the Methodist blog world, and he went away for a bit. I know that he has been back at it for a while, but I just now learned about it. When Shane was writing on his first blog, it was not unusual for him to get 75 comments on any given post. He is the king!

John and Shane are great examples of two people whose ideas I often disagree with, but who have over time become valuable conversation partners for me. It's that odd kind of blog relationship in which I have never actually been face to face with either of them, but have spent so much time reading their thoughts over the last few years, and being able to exchange ideas respectfully with others, no agenda attached, is one of the most beautiful parts of the blogoshpere, I think.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Young Clergy - "Don't Try So Hard"

It has been more than a week since I wrote last – a lot has happened in that week. Last Tuesday and Wednesday I was in Columbia, MO for a conversation among the conference’s younger clergy, Bishop Schnase, and a few of the conference staff (more on that below). Then Thursday and Friday my family drove to Wisconsin for a family funeral. Saturday was a day of rest and Sabbath for us. Then Sunday happened, with all of its activity and hubbub. So I haven’t had much time to sit and write, though I do have a lot of stuff in my noodle that needs to get written down.


I think the Bishop’s conversation with young clergy was really good. I’m pretty sure I was the oldest young clergy there at age 37, and I’m not really sure where the cap is on that category, but I felt like we had a lot of time to talk about a lot of things the conference is dealing with – and not just as token young people, but as conversation partners with the Bishop. The people there were either commissioned or ordained, and they were all Caucasian, and they were almost all men – so there definitely were some people left out of the conversation.

We talked about a LOT of stuff – youth ministry, church camp, blogging, Facebook, worship, apportionments, church planting, training events, Annual Conference. And I had to leave before the group got together to come up with a letter or statement or something for the Bishop to take to the Conference Council meeting the following day. That was the final thing the group did on Wednesday afternoon.


My favorite moment of the two days was the “Don’t try so hard” moment. Bishop Schnase was asking about blogging and how often and what content and should he post pictures and what about Facebook and should he have a profile and … someone said, “Just don’t try so hard.” But I completely understand where he is coming from. Everything he says and does has the extra weight of being said and/or done by a Bishop.

I think I actually saw a light bulb above his head, though, when he realized that being real about who you are and not worrying so much about that extra Episcopal weight is one of the most important values shared by people of younger generations. Authority is carried a lot differently by people in their 20s and 30s than their parents and grandparents.

For example, the Board of Ordained Ministry pushed me on my ideas about pastoral authority back when I was up for my ordination interview. I think the root cause of that point of disagreement was a generational conflict in what “authority” is. I was thinking of authority as an aspect of community and of relationship, something that is earned via trust and respect. That was rubbing up against an idea of authority as an aspect of position and rank, something that is given to an individual through a hierarchical system like the church.

Similarly, I think that Bishop Schnase’s “Don’t try so hard” moment came as he realized that his authority with the people in that room came not because the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church had elected him Bishop, but because we all like him and trust him and respect him for who he is. So if you have an idea and you want to post it to your blog, post it! If you see a cool thing and you want to share it, take a picture with your fancy new iPhone and share it!

It is better to be authentically who you are than to be overly concerned about what someone else thinks your role should be. That’s what “don’t try so hard” means to me.


My favorite personal moment from the two days was when I offered the suggestion that we needn’t worry so much about high schoolers leaving the church when they go off to college. In fact, I think we should encourage it! We should let them go, and figure out how to be the church for them wherever they land.

There is a lot of anxiety about young people leaving the church – but what better time of life to be going away, cutting the ties of childhood, figuring out who you are going to be in your adult life than the years right after high school? Maybe we should concentrate more on equipping them to be faithful disciples than to be good church members, then when they decide to leave the church, they’ll be more secure in their identity and therefore more likely to one day return.

I do not think that my suggestion was very well received – at least there wasn’t really any further conversation about it.


And my favorite all-around moment of the two days was simply being together with young people in ministry. There is just a different vibe in the room. We hung out, shared some things, disagreed about stuff, laughed a lot, talked about our passions, shared personal stories about families and friends, envisioned ministry as it could/should be, and just generally had a good time together. We got our picture taken by a big fake moose. We went to Jazz for supper and made jokes about Coonass. We reflected on the possible meanings of a bumper sticker claiming, “My Other Car is Made of Meat.”

One informal conversation pondered the viability of a Fantasy Church League where we could choose various ministries from various congregations and accumulate points on a weekly basis, like Fantasy Football except with Church! We’re already tracking attendance, baptism, and mission numbers online, Fantasy Church can’t be too far away.

The future of the United Methodist Church is bright, I think because younger people seem to know better how to get along with one another as colleagues and friends. I hope we never lose that. Somebody smack me if I do. Like this:

Still my favorite.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Earn - Save - Give

I was clicking around Barack Obama's transition website this morning, and found the place where it asks people to share visions for the future of the country. Here's what I contributed:
When it came to money, John Wesley taught early Methodists to "Earn all you can; Save all you can; Give all you can." When I think about the future of the United States of America, I see a place where that basic principle is the norm.
We need a robust capitalist economy that allows everyone to earn all they can, a healthy investment system allows for saving all we can, and an ethos of generosity across the nation in which giving to others is a joy, not an obligation.

Giving is on my mind, because tomorrow it is the topic of my sermon. I am going to try to deconstruct some old ideas about giving to the church and start reshaping generosity so that we think of giving more as an act of discipleship rather than an obligation to support a budget. Giving is a joy, a privilege, and act of grace (2 Corinthians 8-9), and "if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable." (8:12)

Eagerness = prothumia. That can mean zeal, spirit, eagerness, inclination, or readiness of mind, according to the Blue Letter Bible site.

Prothumia has been in short supply in recent memory, but it's making a comeback! So much good happens when there is a sense of eagerness, an attitude of expectancy, a feeling that something wonderful is just about to happen. It filters out into everything else, and begins to build upon itself, creating an exponential increase in the positive feelings all over the place.

Finally, all that we earn, all that we spend, all that we save, and all that we give, everything belongs to God. We just receive it as caretakers. When it comes to money, the question "Will this be pleasing to God?" is the true "bottom line."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Identity versus Activity?

I’m reading Paul Borden’s “Direct Hit.”

At the same time, I am reading Phyllis Tickle’s “The Great Emergence.”

As a result, my brain is splitting in two.

As much power, depth, and theological complexity as there is from Phyllis Tickle, there is that much over-simplification, repetition, and business jargon from Paul Borden. I get the idea that Borden took a book on how to run a business and changed a few words around to make it sound more like a church book. I get the idea that Tickle is sharing wisdom about the identity of the Church that may very well have global implications.

I think the reason I have so much trouble with Borden, who I know is a very popular author and speaker in church leadership right now, is that his main thing is to take a single verse of Scripture – Matthew 28:19 – and turn it into the church’s business plan. For him, “make disciples” is the ecclesial equivalent of “sell as much as you can of product X.” Everything else that he writes comes from that premise. At least that’s how I see it.

Businesses sell as much as they can of product X in order to make a profit; churches make disciples in order to change our communities and our world. But can we really say that Christian discipleship is just a means to an end like that? I have always thought of discipleship as an individual’s identity upon accepting Christ into their life, not as a set of activities we do in order to attain a goal.

I understand that people like the idea of boiling life down to a series of action items we undertake in order to advance toward an objective (or hit a bull’s eye, if you prefer). The only problem with that is life itself; it happens to be a lot messier than that. Skubalon happens. And when we are exclusively task-oriented, spending all of our time talking about what the church does, we flounder when we find that we can’t do it.

It would be much better to talk about who the church is, to understand our identity as fully as we can. That way, when the messiness of normal life intrudes upon us, we can weather it and even flourish, secure in our identity as the church. When we define a church by what it does, we set it up for decline and eventual death, because there will be times when it cannot do what we have decided it should be doing.

Businesses define themselves by what they do. Starbucks sells coffee. Everything Starbucks does is geared toward selling coffee. If the coffee crop failed one year and there was no coffee available to sell (a horrifying thought, I know), the very identity of Starbucks would vanish. There is no way Starbucks can be faithful to being Starbucks minus the ability to sell coffee.

If churches define themselves by what they do, their identity is at risk when that activity is no longer possible, for whatever reason. So for example if a church is defined by worshiping a certain way, the identity of the church is threatened when it is no longer feasible to worship that way. Or if a church is defined by a particular mission focus, when that mission focus becomes impossible the very identity of the church is at risk.

If, on the other hand, a church would spend as much time praying and thinking together about identity as we tend to do now about activity, a new worship style or a different mission focus would be a very natural thing. Change in the church would be much easier to facilitate as a result, because activities would be almost interchangeable, and no threat at all to the core identity of the church.

Borden is all about change, and I like that. But he is clear about neither what we are changing from nor what he thinks we should change into. And I think that’s because all he has to base his thoughts on is that one-verse business plan – to make disciples. Making disciples very important for the church; it is what happens when a church is clear about its identity. But making disciples is not the church’s identity in and of itself.

In Matthew, Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

What the tree is is a fig tree. What the tree does is bear figs. The fig tree does not have to attend seminars on how to bear figs. New figs are the natural consequence of being a fig tree.

I simply think the church is overly anxious about what the church does and is not asking enough questions about who the church is. And ironically, if we were more certain about who the church is, a lot of the anxiety about what the church does would go away.

And even more ironically, if we were more certain about who the church is, that would be attractive to more and more people who may want to become a part of it, thus helping with the initial cause of all this anxiety in the first place!

P.S. This is one of my favorite topics, apparently.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Charge Conference, the annual meeting of the congregation, has come and gone. We prayed together, we sang together, we heard from Church Council chair, I gave the ten reasons that “everything is going to be okay,” and our District Superintendent received our reports and offered a few thoughts of his own. Then we prayed again, sang again, and we were done.


What a very Methodist thing to do, “Conference.” That’s one noun that I am happy to make into a verb! It is so good to sit down with a group of friends, look into one another’s eyes, and ask “How are you doing?” Not in the beer commercial way – “Howyadoin?” and not really expecting a response, but genuinely asking about how things are.

How are we doing? I know that we can overanalyze things, but “the unexamined life is not worth living,” as Socrates said. It is good to stop and take a very close look at things every so often. Not too often, so that the over-examined life becomes no life at all, but often enough that we stay fully aware of the moment, fully grounded in reality. Envisioning the future is much easier to do when one has a realistic picture of the present.

Charge Conference is a congregation’s opportunity to ask, “How are we doing?” And it just so happened that this year’s Charge Conference corresponded with two other events that answered the question pretty effectively – a Volunteer Appreciation Gala and a Ministry Fair. The energy, the people, the excitement, the displays of discipleship – all were wonderful and all said, “We’re doing pretty good, actually!”

Some churches schedule Charge Conferences as if they are penalties to be paid for being a part of the United Methodist Connection. That’s too bad, really. They miss a beautiful opportunity to do something distinctly Methodist. To Conference together to pray, examine, and support one another in Christian love and encouragement is a wonderful practice. It happens at the levels of denomination, jurisdiction, annual, district, charge, class, and even personal.

Who do you conference with? Who looks you in the eye and asks you “how are you doing?” and really means it? And who do you have the privilege of asking the same?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes We Did

I feel odd. Nothing has changed and yet nothing will ever be the same.

I can’t think of any other word than ‘unbelievable.’ This is unbelievable.

I feel like I can tell my children they can be president if they want to and mean it this time more than ever.

I feel like the words, “the content of his character” mean something today that they never have before.

I can’t stop singing “Do You Hear the People Sing” in my mind. “The music of a people who will not be slaves again…”

My cousin in Spain says that international opinion about the United States has changed literally overnight.

I don’t ever remember being inspired by a losing candidate’s concession speech before last night – McCain was wonderful.

I actually heard the announcement from John Stewart on his live show just before 10:00 central time.

That’s right, I learned that our nation had made history from The Daily Show. Perfect!

Barack Obama said that his victory alone is not the change we seek, but only the chance to make that change. I happen to believe that his victory is a symptom of the change that is already happening.

This morning, everything has changed. I am just amazed by what we are witnesses to. We live in a country that actually had to amend its constitution to affirm that black people were worth more than three-fifths of a person, and now a man of mixed race is going to be the president.

Unbelievable. That’s all I’ve got – unbelievable.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yes, I Saw Barack, Too!

Happy Election Day Eve, everybody!

First of all, I'd just like to say congratulations to "saggy" for posting all those comments on the last post from the PHONE! Amazing! Your thumbs must be buff!

Secondly, I was mistaken in the last post when I implied that the U.S. was fighting in the second World War at the time of Roosevelt's speech. World War II was being fought, but the U.S. did not officially join it until after Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941. Roosevelt's speech was in January 1941.

Thirdly, Yes, I did go to see Barack Obama on Saturday night here in Springfield at a rally held at JFK Stadium, a High School football field. So now I have seen Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Barack Obama live - either the first woman ever elected to be Vice President or the first African-American ever elected President. I can say that I've been a part of history, and that's pretty cool, no matter whose little box you check tomorrow!

I arrived in the area and parked my car on a side street, then hiked a mile to the end of the unbelievably long line. There was a lot less political conversation in this line, I noticed. But that may have been just the people I was standing by. We walked by only a handful of protesters, but they were very nasty ones - a sign that said "Hitler drew big crowds, too" and one that said "Obama doesn't just want change, he wants all your money." We were called "morons" by one particularly angry guy. I am so grateful that the handful of really mean people there are most definitely not representative of McCain supporters in general.

The rally was an impressive sight - the estimates I read were 30,000 people. I stood at about the 20 yard line and the stage was set up in the opposite end zone. Because I'm tall, I had a clear view of Claire McCaskill, who introduced Michelle Obama, who introduced Barack Obama. Jay Nixon was also present, but he didn't speak.

After a little glitch with the sound system, McCaskill started her part by saying, "I'm confused. Somebody told me there weren't any Democrats in Southwest Missouri." Well, of course that got a huge reaction, and set the tone for the rest of the rally. There was a lot of cheering and it was generally an upbeat mood all around.

Obama gave a pretty standard stump speech, and there wasn't anything particularly new or different than normal, with one exception. He made a big deal about Dick Cheney saying he would "be delighted" to have McCain as president. Obama thanked Cheney for his endorsement, in fact, and said that it was proof that McCain would just do the same things that the current administration is doing.

But other than that, it was the standard Obama speech, using lines that he has been using for the past few days now on issues of economy, war, education, health care, energy, the environment. (Though he did get in a pretty good zinger when he said that "99.9% of all plumbers make less than $250,000 a year.") He seemed energetic and his voice was strong, though I can't imagine how exhausted he must be - how all of them must be actually! What a gruelling process this is. Is this really the best way to do this?

Two moments of the rally were most profound for me. The first was when he looked out at the crowd and said he wanted to take a quick poll. He guessed that there were about 40,000 people present and he asked everyone in the crowd making less that $250,000 a year to raise our hands. Well obviously, everyone raised their hands - at least everyone I could see. Then he said, "Those of you with your hands up, your taxes are not going to go up." And then he proceeded to give the info on his tax increase affecting only 5% of the country, and so forth. I'm sure you've heard those details before. (btw - Greene County had a median income of $41,162.)

The second moment was when he was contrasting one of his positions with McCain's position, and the crowd started booing. He kind of cut us off, saying, "You don't need to boo, just go vote." I had read about him saying that before, but to experience it made an impact on me. The crowd did not boo any more after that. By way of comparison and for what it's worth, Governor Palin did not stop the crowd at her rally from booing.

I have decided for whom I am going to vote tomorrow, and I hope that you have too. I hope that if you are planning to vote for a different person than I am, we can still be friends. I hope that if you are voting for the same person I am, we can still be friends, too! I hope that the United States will join together in support of whatever leaders are elected tomorrow, and work together to ensure that our national future is prosperous, safe, and free.

But I have got to say, along with the apostle Paul, that my biggest hope is that we who are Christian affirm the belief that "our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). That means that whatever tomorrow's election results are, our primary allegiance is to God. Whoever we elect tomorrow to lead us in earthly, temporal matters, our leader in all matters is Christ.

I'd like to close with a prayer that I'll be praying tomorrow.

God of all that is,
we thank you for this day of opportunity.
Every day is a day of opportunity,
because you give it to us.
Our nation is electing leaders today, and the process so far
has been gruelling
and tedious
and sometimes bitter
and even angry.
Forgive us, we pray.
Forgive us for relying on ourselves instead of you.
Forgive us for prioritizing earthly concerns ahead of you.
Forgive us the animosity we have at times felt
against our brothers and our sisters - your beloved children of this world.
Please send your spirit to be with those we elect
and those whom we do not elect,
to give guidance, to encourage,
to give peace, to comfort.
Whatever leaders we choose this day,
remind us again and again of your presence
over us, within us, around us, underneath us.
And through us, Holy God,
we pray that your love and grace
would be made known
throughout all of your wonderful creation.
In the name of Christ Jesus - Amen.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sharing the Wealth = Freedom from Want

President Franklin Roosevelt famously talked about four freedoms in his address to congress in January of 1941. Freedom of expression - Freedom of religion - Freedom from want - Freedom from fear. In Roosevelt's speech, he spoke of these freedoms as the central values for which we were fighting the second world war.

I heard these freedoms mentioned again on NPR this week, and I've been pondering over it since then. It was stated in the interview that you might not be overly concerned with the first two freedoms if the second two are being violated. In other words, when you are hungry, freedom of speech is not at the top of your priority list. When you are scared about losing your job, you don't really care as much about everyone's right to worship as they want.

I think that these four freedoms have to be in balance across a society in order for the society to flourish. When one of them is out of whack, the whole system is affected. And I see (granted, from my own personal perspective on things) that we are not a society that is free from want. Poverty is a global issue, and I think it is the priority of our time.

Secondarily, we are not a sociaty that is free from fear. But I think that our fearfulness is at least in part a result of our poverty. When resources are limited, people start to be afraid, and start to act out of that fear.

Look, I understand that each of us has a particular perspective, and that each of us views the world "through our own lens." I do it all the time, I know that. I am grateful for the many regular readers of Enter the Rainbow who respectfully share their own, contrasting perspectives, too. (Diana, Joseph, Larry B, John, Kansas Bob, I'm looking at you!)

With that said, my perspective includes a preference toward compassion for others, and a priority toward eliminating poverty. I did not pull that perspective out of mid-air, but lived into it - in prayer, through study of scripture, in my experience with the foster care system, working with the immigrant community in Kansas City, and growing up in a family that taught me to live a certain way.

Starting from this perspective, I nevertheless want to learn as much as I can about others'. Which prompted my question in my previous post. All of your answers were very helpful - thanks.

Here's my next observation/question, then:

I understand a perspective that says, "I want to share with others, but would rather do it on my own than entrust the government to do it for me." But is that really what the emotional reaction I witnessed at the Palin rally saying? I kind of think it was more like, "It's my money and I'm keeping it for myself." In short, I do not think the reaction was against the idea of the government spreading the wealth, but against the very idea of spreading the wealth at all. I don't know, maybe y'all can help me out with that one, too.

Ensuring our nation's freedom from want will inevitably make our nation stronger. That's my perspective as a citizen of the United States.

Ensuring our world's freedom from want will hopefully help God's creation to flourish. That's my perspective as a child of God.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yes, I Saw Sarah

Yes, I went to see Sarah Palin here in Springfield last Friday. It was fun, to tell the truth. I rode my bike to Bass Pro Shop from my house – about a 45 minute ride – chained my bike to a street sign and walked around the block, through the parking lot of a next door shopping center, and almost ¾ of the way around the next block to get to the end of the line.

Standing in line for a couple of hours with Palin supporters was an interesting experience. I overheard most of the standard Republican talking points, plus a lot of the misinformation spread by those viral emails, but there were a few notable comments. Like the guy who would “really like to see his birth certificate” just to make sure Obama is really a U.S. citizen, or the guy whose solution to the gambling thing is to just get “the poor people” to make better decisions with their money, or the lady who said of Obama that you could put lipstick on a donkey but he would still be an ass. But mostly it was just people standing in line, chatting about small talk and trying to stay warm.

After a couple hours, the line began to move steadily and we filed into the area through a gauntlet of security people from several different agencies. No metal detectors or individual searches, though. I made my way into a spot where a 6’2” person might stand on tiptoe and periodically catch a glimpse of the stage. There was as gospel quartet singing at the time. They were followed by a glimpse of a guy who might have been Kenny Hulsof, then representative Roy Blunt delivered a standard stump speech, then there was a long pause … and we kind of started shuffling around. Finally a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, here she is – Naomi Judd.”

The whole crowd kind of chuckled because the build up had prepared us for Palin, but we got Naomi Judd instead. I was actually kind of surprised by what she said, because she talked about her own personal sorrow that Sarah Palin was being criticized so much by so many people. About how unfair it is that “because she is a woman” she is being held to a different standard of scrutiny. Which was odd because I kind of thought the McCain campaign was trying to stay away from the whole “victim” topic. But there it was, and it got a big crowd response.

Well, then Naomi introduced Palin and she came out with her two daughters, who sat on the stage with Naomi Judd as their mom talked. She was really upbeat and had a lot of energy, apologizing for keeping us waiting because she didn’t want to leave Bass Pro Shop which reminded her of home. In her speech, she really didn’t say anything new, though she focused a lot on her passion for families with children with special needs. Mostly though it was just the routine stuff.

I noticed that by far the strongest reactions came when she talked about spreading the wealth. The crowd was very energetic, with “boos” and “no way” and a lot of other negative stuff all around me. It was very strong, the energy was very high – probably the most intense moment of her speech.

We are doing a series at church about discipleship that uses this scripture as a part of the foundation:
2 Corinthians 8:13-15 - I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’
…and so I’ve been thinking a lot about sharing the wealth. Now, far be it from me to proof-text something like that, but I do think it is kind of a foundational idea in scripture – it is the basis of a lot more than just this one passage. So I am a bit confused about how some people are reconciling these ideas – on the one hand the scriptural admonition to share resources with one’s neighbor, and on the other hand the apparent aversion to doing so.

(I’m sure that someone reading this can leave a comment to help me to figure it out. And I’m not trying to stir up anything, I honestly just want to know the reasoning here.)

So anyway, she spoke for a half an hour or so, and it was pretty exciting. I saw John McCain in 2000 when he stopped at a small rally in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Galesburg, Illinois. And it was exciting then, too. It is exciting to participate in the process of government. We live in one of the few countries in the world where the people are free to do so, and it is a shame that many U.S. citizens take that fact for granted.

That’s one of the coolest things about the whole Obama-meets-“Joe the Plumber” incident, an idea that gets overlooked in the campaign rhetoric. A U.S. Senator, running for president, took the time to stop and talk to an ordinary citizen. It was not a passing comment, but a real conversation about real concerns. It was not a supporter, either, but a man with whom the candidate disagreed, and they said so. An ordinary person expressed disagreement with a sitting Senator and presidential candidate, out in the open, on the street in front of TV cameras and other witnesses, for a significant amount of time.

That is truly amazing, when you really think about it. And that’s why I went to see Sarah Palin – not that I support her or not but that I support the process in which she is participating. The people we vote for and the issues we vote on really do impact our lives, and it is very important that all of us participate, learning as much as we can about each candidate and each issue, and voting thoughtfully and intelligently.

So when she got done speaking, the rally was over. Palin walked off the stage and shook hands with the people who had the advance tickets up front, but most of us in the crowd kind of just wandered off. I hiked back to where my bike was and pedaled back home again. Nothing that happened Friday is going to change the way I vote next week, but it was still pretty cool to be there.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Proposition A Thoughts

This is a tricky one, I have to admit. I am "thinking out loud" here, so bear with me...

On the ballot here in Missouri, Proposition A does a few things:

- raises taxes on casinos in Missouri, from 20% to 21%,
- caps the number of casinos in Missouri at the present number (I think there are 12),
- eliminates the loss limit, which currently is $500 per two hours,
- designates the revenue generated will go toward education.

Ameristar Casinos and Pinnacle Entertainment are the two big sponsors of the proposition, and have put in over 6 million dollars combined in their effort to get it passed.

Hmm ...

Given that gambling is a bad thing, and given that education is a good thing, what should we do about Proposition A? Increasing taxes on casinos would be good. Eliminating the loss limit would be bad. And capping the number of casinos in the state would be good on the one hand because there wouldn't be any more casinos, but bad on the other hand because the existing casinos would benefit from the lack of competition.

More money for education is good, but funding schools using money that comes from gambling losses seems a wee bit unethical to me. And I'm not so sure that this plan actually increases overall funding for education (more on that below). Plus it kind of seems like the casino industry is trying to use the feel-good issue of education to get legislation passed that will really help them a lot. It just feels like we might be getting played on this one.

Take the loss limit itself. Right now you can only lose $500 every two hours, maximum. But Proposition A says, "The commission shall regulate the wagering structure for gambling excursions [including providing a maximum loss of five hundred dollars per individual player per gambling excursion], provided that the commission shall not establish any regulations or policies that limit the amount of wagers, losses, or buy in amounts." To me, that sounds like a contradiction. A maximum loss of $500 per player per trip, but no regulations to limit on the amount of losses? What? Having cake and eating it?

There's something fishy in there, and I think it ends up favoring the casino at the expense of the individual, and the family. Without a loss limit, a compulsive gambler could lose the family's house in a few hours. And the casino feels really bad about that all the way to the bank.

Now, a few years back, when Missouri voted to allow gambling at all, we were told that the money would go to education. But it ended up replacing money that had come from the general revenue rather than supplementing it. The language of the current proposition seems to say that won't happen this time, but color me skeptical.

The proposition says, "The schools first elementary and secondary education improvement fund shall be state revenues collected from gaming activities for purposes of Article III, Section 39(d) of the Constitution. Moneys in the schools first elementary and secondary education improvement fund shall be kept separate from the general revenue fund as well as any other funds or accounts in the state treasury."

Okay, that seems legit. But there is no way to guarantee that future state budgets will not lower the amount budgeted to schools from the general revenue fund, rationalizing that since there is all this new money in this new "Schools First" fund, there doesn't need to be as much from the general fund. It doesn't matter if the money is "kept separate" if the amount from the general fund is lowered - the end result is the same. Casinos make even more money than they are, and schools get the same level of support they always have.

At the moment, I just can't see how Proposition A is a good thing.

For more info:
Here is a website in favor. Here is a website against. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Go Rays!

I'm at a loss. First the Missouri Tigers lost on Saturday. Then the Kansas City Chiefs got crushed on Sunday. My fantasy football team, the Pulpit Pounders, lost big. Football really let me down this weekend.

So, let's see what else is on ...

hmm ...

What the?!?!? They're still playing baseball? Well, I guess I'll check it out.

Now wait a minute - who's in the World Series now? Tampa Bay? Are you kidding me? The flippin' Tampa Bay Rays are in the World Series?

Truthfully, I'm pretty pumped for the World Series. You know why I've gotta root for the Rays, don't you? The fifth smallest market in Major League Baseball (Milwaukee, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh are smaller); the fifth youngest team in Major League Baseball (Oakland, Washington, Texas, and Florida are younger); ended last season with the worst record in baseball - and they are in the World Series. Who doesn't love a story like this?

For those of us who work in churches, trying to do miraculous things with limited resources is a situation to which we can really relate! And you gotta love it when a group who puts a priority on talent over experience succeeds at this level. Then you add in the whole "worst t0 first" dynamic, and I just can't help rooting for these guys - worst record in baseball in 2007 and then, undaunted, focused on their common goal, they keep on playing and come back the very next year to make it to the Series!

Come on, people. Let's hear it - Go Rays!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A New Mission - Part 2

I could not agree more with Richard Hamm when he writes, "True enough, new members are necessary if a congregation is going to be there for future generations. But such a maintenance-oriented church will not attract younger people: they will be attracted by a congregation's sincere desire to live and share the gospel and to meet the needs of people." (Recreating the Church, p. 64).

I actually think that the reason a lot of people stay away from the church is because of the perceived disconnect from what the church says it is and what people actually see the church doing. Here are 5 Fruitful Examples drawn in part from Bishop Schnase's book:

- The church says it is practicing hospitality, but they love each other so much that the church is actually "impenetrable" to any guests who may want to be a part of it.

- The church says that it offers transformative worship, but the most noticable sign in the sanctuary is the one that says "NO FOOD OR DRINK," the services are mostly routine, and everyone just sits passively and never expects anything wonderful to happen.

- The church says that faith development is important, but does not offer small group meetings at times and places when and where it would be most convenient for people to gather.

- The church says that mission and service are important, but only offers sanitized opportunities that are pretty much guaranteed to be safe, the outcome is fairly certain, and no personal investment other than a little money and a little time are required.

- The church says that discipleship is what it's all about, but then spends the whole stewardship campaign talking about money and the church budget.

Those are just 5, off the top of my head examples. I know that there are more. Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, her home town, "There is no there there." And this has become the root issue for the church, especially in the mainline. We invite people to churches that look like the town they built at the end of Blazing Saddles - all facade with nothing behind them.

The point is not to focus on invitation alone, but rather to focus on the substance of what it is we are inviting people to.

Hamm uses a good analogy - a grease factory with no shipping department. It didn't need a shipping department because all the grease they made there was used to lubricate the grease-making machinery. (p. 67)

Whatever it may have meant at one time, the mission statement "To make disciples of Jesus Christ" is insufficient now. It is perceived as having to do only with increasing numbers, and that is a self-serving and therefore self-defeating mission. Susan Cox-Johnson has a post up about mission and in it she writes that churches do not have a mission, churches are the mission. In other words, in the way a church lives, in its liturgy, in its polity, in its community service, in its very being, a church is its own mission.

This means that when the pithy mission statement on the website doesn't reflect what actually happens when the church gathers together, you've got trouble. Big trouble. Not the kind of trouble that drives people away, but the kind of trouble that does absolutely nothing to attract anyone. As Bishop Schnase says, it is not a back door problem, but a front door problem.

I don't feel bad about any of this, either. This is an absolutely amazing time to be serving in a mainline church! It is an opportune time to "live and share the gospel." The emerging spiritual ethos, the spirit of renewal and recreation, the waves of change that are crashing all around us, all create a milieu in which some beautiful things are happening.

It is a bit chaotic, and a bit uncertain, a bit mysterious. And that's okay! Actually, that's kind of the point.

As Susan says, "I don't know, friends, but I guess I miss the mystery somehow." I guess I do too.

A New Mission for the Local Church - Part 1

I'm reading "Recreating the Church" by Richard L. Hamm.

He writes about organizational patterns, following common wisdom that organizations start out as dynamic movements, become institutionalized, then bureaucratized, then typically begin to decline. The reason for the decline, he says, is that the "bureaus" of the bureaucracy "become less concerned about the work of the organization than they are about 'life inside the box'." (p. 28)

In other words, the bureaucracy becomes focused on "self-service and survival" instead of the mission of the organization.

Herein lies the church's inherent tension. When the church defines its mission as "making disciples" and making disciples is defined in terms of increasing attendance and membership numbers, we get caught in that self-service loop. The bureacracy wants to turn from internal to external in order to revitalize the organization, but that turn is itself defined in terms that are focused internally.

Using Hamm's language, when the church tries to transform the way our bureaucracy functions, we correctly say that we need to be driven more by mission than survival. However, when the mission is subsequently defined in terms that sound like survival, nothing really has changed and we are right back where we started again. It actually perpetuates the problem to define the mission of the church in self-service terms.

So I think we need a new mission.

There, I said it. Whew! I feel so much better with that out there! But really, I think that a church whose mission is exclusively drawn from Matthew 28:19 is missing something. Surely there is more that disciples of Jesus are supposed to be doing that making more of us. When the institutional crisis is defined as shrinking numbers and the institutional mission is defined as growing numbers, you've got a big mission problem.

I don't think the church's problem is an organizational problem or a relevance problem or a generational problem. (Sorry, all those experts who are way smarter than me.) It is not a problem of a lack of clarity in mission, either. I think the problem is that the mission we are trying to be so clear about is actually counterproductive to the attempt to stem the decline of the institution.

(I'll write more next time about the reasons I think the church is in decline, which are in fact much more ingrained and may be more difficult to address.)

A new mission is needed. Different than, " make disciples." I have a few ideas. How about, "The mission of the local church is...
- be disciples of Christ in all nations."
- love God and love neighbor."
- bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
- announce and embody God's reign on earth."
- make the world a better place."

Mission foci like these would give people something to be disciples of. Imagine this conversation.

Church person: Please come to church with me!
NonChurch person: Hmm. Why?
Church: Because our mission is to make disciples, and so that's what I'm doing.
NonChurch: So what would I do when I get there?
Church: You would make disciples, too.
NonChurch: So you are inviting me to church so that I'll invite people to church?
Church: Yes.
NonChurch: Sorry, I think I'll go to Starbucks.

See, the point of Starbucks is coffee, not getting people to come to Starbucks. People come to Starbucks for an actual reason - to drink coffee. I guess I'm saying that I think people need a better "actual reason" to come to church.

I've got more; I'm saving it for my next post. But I'm still working on it so I'll have it up in a few days. And I hope that all of you reading this understand this is all me thinking here, just working ideas out onscreen. I am hopeful that any comments you might have will help me processing my thoughts, and I look forward to reading them!

Monday, October 13, 2008

On the Nature of Pastors

On the MMPI test, pastors usually get about a 90% NAR score. NAR measures the "Need for Affirmation and Reinforcement."

We usually score from 90 - 95% on the PAS scale. PAS stands for "Paranoid Subtle" - it is a measure of perceived specialness.

And then there is the OH number, which runs on average from 85-90%. OH is "Over-controlled Hostility."

So basically that means we get really upset about the one person out of one hundred who didn't like the sermon that God obviously inspired us to preach, but we pretend it doesn't bother us at all. We're just a bunch of insecure divas with anger management issues, when you get down to it.

But honestly, why do these psychological test numbers tend to line up in this direction for pastors? Do these inherent personality traits make someone pastoral? Or does being a pastor tend to make someone this way?

A lot of pastors joke about our psychological assessment as a test to see if we are crazy enough to be a pastor! (ha, ha - very funny.)

Personally, it never fails but that for the 99 people who got something out of the sermon, I will fret over the 1 who complains. I like to make a decision that makes people happy. I line up pretty well with the NAR score, I've gotta confess.

And I have been known to talk about how God called me into this ministry. How much more special might I think I am, for goodness sake? So yep, I've got your PAS, right here!

I would talk about my OH level, but that would just make me mad so I'm not going to.

All of this stuff is instructive for a couple of reasons. First of all, pastors are people who need a trusted friendship with someone who neither has power over the pastor nor over whom the pastor has power. Not another pastor of the same denomination who is or may one day be a supervisor. Not a parishioner. Someone to talk to with complete trust and openness, in order to process and deal with life, to express emotion and vent the tension.

Secondly, a lot of pastors just need to get over ourselves! Unpuff your ego for a minute and just be okay with the fact that you are a fallible human being who can't make everyone happy all the time. By the way, I think one way to do this would be to fail on purpose! You know, like preach a real stinker of a sermon or make a really inane suggestion at a board meeting or something - "I was thinking of designating this coming Sunday as 'bring a rutabega to church Sunday' - what do you think?"

I'm not trying to make light of anything, but maybe some of the pressure on pastors comes from pastors' own expectations of ourselves, moreso than our perceptions of what our congregations expect of us. I'd venture to guess that the most important thing for a congregation is just to know and get along with their pastor. In other words, just be friendly. Be nice. Smile.

People in the congregation know that the pastor is a real person, and do not expect perfection. Relax - be yourself - have fun! I don't know if our NAR, PAS, and OH scores would go down any, but we'd probably be a lot happier.

(I learned all of those numbers from Rev. Jerry DeSobe of the Krist Samaritan Center in Houston.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Big Church

Here's some of what I brought home from the conference for first-time pastors of large churches in Houston last weekend. I went in with some preconceived notions, and I came home much more realistic ...

Preconceived notion = in big churches it's all about the money.
Reality = big churches are engaged in some of the most transformative ministry I've seen.

Preconceived notion = all big churches are comprised of conservative evangelicals.
Reality = big churches are wonderfully diverse.

Preconceived notion = there is one right way to organize a big church.
Reality = big churches are just as contextual as small churches.

Preconceived notion = big churches are all contemporary in worship style.
Reality = from high church to rock and roll and everything in between and all around.

Preconceived notion = the bigger the church, the less personal contact between people.
Reality = no matter what size of congregation, human psychology indicates that you will have close associations with about the same number of people. Small groups are the key for any size congregation, once you get past the idea that you have to know everybody.

Preconceived notion = pastors of big churches flash large, impressive numbers to convey "success" in a boastful tone.
Reality = some do, but most are more interested in boasting about the ministries happening, and the people participating in them, using numbers simply to describe them.

Preconceived notion = big churches are more businesslike.
Reality = churches can/should be more churchlike, no matter what size they are.

Preconceived notion = serving a bigger church would be hard for me.
Reality = it is!

Nonetheless, this past weekend liberated me to understand the task in a new way, assuring me that I can do this with my own personality and approach, that I do not have to fit into someone else's mold of "big church pastor" in order to flourish in this role, and encouraging me to claim my identity and my place in the church. I do not have to compromise who I am in order to do this. In fact, I'll undoubtably have more success in this appointment if I don't.

I'm a pastor in a big church, and that's okay with me!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

What I Am Learning ...

I am in Houston Texas this weekend, at a conference for pastors who are serving large membership churches for the first time. We are meeting at Memorial Drive UMC, where two of the pastors are leading us through conversations about vision, staff, money, administration, and that kind of stuff.

On my mind a lot is this statement: You are not a pastor any more; you are a leader.

The point being made was that the person-to-person interaction with the congregation is going to be greatly lessened in a large membership church. Rather, more time would be spent in discernment and articulation of the congregation's vision, and nurturing the spiritual health of the staff and other leaders so that they in turn can engage that person-to-person ineraction.

Okay. But I don't know if that means I'm not a pastor anymore. I don't want to be not a pastor anymore. I want to be a pastor in a different congregation, and subsequently change my approach to pastoring. But I'm still going to be a pastor. I think the statement was intended as a rhetorical device to make a larger point, but it kind of ruffled my feathers a bit.

On my mind a lot is this statement, too: When trust is up, speed is up and costs are down. When trust is down, speed is down and costs are up.

Bingo! Almost worth the price of admission in and of itself, this statement is what needs to come from me back to Campbell over the next few months. Trust is very low right now, as is evident in a variety of ways. And guess what? It also takes us a lot of time to get anything done, and it also is very financially tenuous right about now.

And so to become more flexible and to cut our expenses, we have to raise the trust level all around. Which means that I have to model that trust (going to Houston for the weekend and inviting Melissa to take the pulpit) in everything I say and do. It gives me a focus that I think we can latch on to - TRUST. It will come slowly, as all change does in large congregations, but we have to get there.

I have a lot of other thoughts on my mind as a result of this conference, and we still have a day and a half to go! But I have to split now and get over there for worship. More later...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Maverick for President

Apparently now one of the criteria for president is being a maverick. But that is just begging the question, which maverick?

So please cast your vote to the right - and in the comment section below include the rationale behind it. Which maverick would make a better president?

a) Brett Maverick
b) Lt. Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell
c) A Ford Maverick
d) Dirk Nowitzki

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reporter Column

If anybody happens to read the paper version of my latest post that the United Methodist Reporter has reprinted and notices that it begins with a reference to something that happened "last Sunday," rest assured that it did not. It actually happened months ago, in June, and I posted about it then.

I emailed Amy at the Reporter about it, and she changed the online version to "recently" so that's cool, thank you Amy. But the print version is out there, and I just don't want anybody thinking something happened yesterday at church and they missed it!

Update - The Dallas Morning News website has linked to the online version of this UM Reporter column that started out as this blog post. And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hip - Contemporary - Evangelical = Apparently Not

My stomach hurts. In an article at, I read this sentence.
Set in a field amongst the St. Charles sprawl, Morning Star Church is part of the United Methodist Church, but it looks and feels more like a hip, contemporary evangelical congregation.

The underlying assumption? That a United Methodist Church couldn't possibly be "hip, contemporary," or "evangelical." It's as if the very idea that a mainline church could be doing something like Morning Star is doing in their worship services was just too mind-boggling for the writer to comprehend.

If you read the whole article, you'll see that it is about a really cool practice they have at Morning Star UMC. People are encouraged to send text messages to the church's cell phone during the sermon. These messages are screened and sent within seconds to the preacher's laptop computer. Mike then reads the questions and addresses some of them in his message. LOVE IT! Completely cool idea!

What makes my stomach hurt is the surprise expressed by the article - as in, "Y'all aren't going to believe this, but this is happening in a United Methodist congregation! Crazy, huh?" Since when is it so shocking that Methodists are evangelical? Arghh!

Is there anyone reading this who is still unconvinced that the public image of the mainline church is very seriously damaged? There are thousands and thousands of people who wouldn't even think of a denominational church as a place where their spiritual thirst might be quenched - not because of any animosity, but just because of simple ambivalence. It's not that they hate the church, it's just that they don't really care about it.

And without seeing the irony, it seems to many of us that the mainline is still doing battle to "win people" into their congregation. I can't even count how many times I've heard someone use the expression "win people for Christ." "Win people"? What? Evangelism isn't a fight anymore. We are not battling for people's souls; their souls are just fine, thank you. It's not really a fight when nobody is fighting against you, it's just a tantrum. You can't "fight against" ambivalence because people who are ambivalent ... um ... are ambivalent! This, incidentally, is another reason that my stomach hurts.

Morningstar UMC's innovations are exciting and definitely will help to convey the gospel in a language in which it can be heard. And in doing so they stand firmly in the Wesleyan evangelical tradition of "becoming more vile" in order to communicate the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. (That's how John Wesley described the innovation of preaching on the street in his day, btw.)

I long for the day when the fact that a United Methodist Congregation is doing such creative, cool stuff does not result in "Crazy, huh?" but rather "There they go again!"

(btw - if you read the article, be sure to peruse the comments that people have left. There are some pretty interesting critiques of the practice that are worth reading.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Change Like a Tiger

I root for the Kansas City Chiefs.
HEY - I hear you snickering! Watch it!
Anyway, as I was saying, I root for the Kansas City Chiefs. And they are terrible. The game last week between the Raiders and the Chiefs may have been the ugliest football game I have ever seen. They stink.
But I know them. They are my guys. And I'd rather root for a horrible team that I know than try to find another team to root for that might be better. I could root for a team that would be fun to watch, a team for whom there was a sliver of hope, a team that could run a wider variety of plays than Kansas City, whose offense seems to consist of running Larry Johnson into a huge pile of linemen three times and then punting.
But to do that, I'd have to learn about a-whole-nother team - players, colors, logos, coaches, everything. All of that change and then I wouldn't even be 100% sure that they would win the Superbowl, anyway. So I stick with the hapless Chiefs, who as I have mentioned before, stink.
I wonder if that's what the Hebrew people were feeling when they got hungry in the wilderness and complained to Moses in chapter 17. Their complaint was that in Egypt, at least they had food. But out here in the wilderness, there's just nothing! In other words, they knew Egypt. Bad as it was, at least they knew it. The wilderness was new, and despite Moses' leadership up to this point, they saw no hope that things would get better any time soon.
What's that expression? Better the devil you know...
Now add to this that I also root for the Missouri Tigers. This is also a team that I feel like I know. These are also my guys.
And they pretty much kick butt.
Number one offense in the NCAA, two legit Heisman Trophy candidates, hands-down favorite in the Big 12 North and some say the Big 12 championship game. In the past few years, they have completely transformed their offensive scheme and recruited a ton of really talented players to run it. And I must say that it is a lot more fun to root for a team both that I know and is also really, really good! I'm sure not about to change to rooting for a different college team; it's not even on my mind to do so.
So, speaking of changing the church -
Is there a way that transforming the church can be more of a Missouri Tigers than a Kansas City Chiefs experience?
A lot of people in the church seem to me to be reluctant to change because we prefer the church that we know to the unknown future church that might be. Even if the church we know may be stagnant, irrelevant, lethargic, it is at its core ours - or so we like to think. (Yes, I could drop in an argument at this point that the church is really God's, but for the sake of this discussion bracket that out for the time being.)
But maybe transformation of the church could involve both a sense of hope and also a sense of "ours." To infuse that which we already know with a new energy, to revive that which is familiar, to rejuvenate that which for so long has been obligatory and routine - this is the kind of change that I would like to witness in the church.
The Tigers didn't change their team colors, fire Truman the Tiger, remove the big "M" from behind the north end zone of Faurot Field, stop playing football, scoring touchdowns, making tackles. But the Tigers completely transformed their identity as a football team, which meant they completely transformed the way they play football. So they are still "our team" and also they are exciting to watch.
To be sure, I believe that the church needs to change - or better said, that the church is changing before our very eyes. But I really and truly do not think it has to change to the point where we don't even recognize it anymore. I'm going to root for the church, because it is "my team" and more seriously because I am called by God to serve through the church as a pastor. But I'd rather be rooting for a church that not only is "my team" but also in which I witness a sense of hope, energy, and excitement.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Emptying My Head

It's funny how many things can take priority over writing for my blog. Things like

1) Getting to know a seven year old foster daughter who has been placed in your care,
2) Parenting two sensitve, tender-hearted children into a new school year at a new school in a whole different town,
3) Getting ready to teach 17 of your peers in a brand new, never done that before continuing ed experience,
4) Preparing to lead a Bible study in a congregation that you are still learning about,
5) Day-by-day, moment-to-moment pastoring stuff.

So I haven't written in a week, but that doesn't mean I have't had thoughts, ideas, blog-worthy things popping into my mind. (My friend Dave is always trying to say something "blog-worthy" when we're together, in hopes that I'll include him. Hi, Dave!) Make no mistake, my not posting for a week does not indicate that I have nothing to say. Actually I never have anything to say, and that rarely ever stops me from writing anyway. My mind seems to continual fill and refill with thoughts, 98% of which are completely random and absolutely unhelpful!

When I have other things that crowd out writing time, I can feel it. It's almost like writing out my thoughts for Enter the Rainbow is exercise, and when I don't exercise, I get a bit stiff. Yesterday in fact I was actually grouchy, my thoughts were scattered, and I had a killer headache, and I think it was because I hadn't written in a while. Today is better. Today I have found a moment to write.

And so, my thoughts travel from mind to hand to screen to blogosphere. Catharsis. Release. Ideas no longer contained in my head, but "out there" for all to read. Like I have turned a valve and released pressure, I can feel myself stretching out, warming up, breaking a metaphorical sweat. This post isn't even about anything; it just is. And even so I feel better after writing. Nobody's life will be changed reading this post. And yet I continue to write it, even so.

You want some content? Check out Tony Jones latest about the limits of religion. Or Bill Tammeus writing about how religion can be a downer. Or take a read on what Brad Bryan has to say about the ordination process.

As for me, I'm just writing to empty out my head.