Monday, September 28, 2015

Unity and the Sin of Babel

“To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different may be even greater.”

One of my favorite rock bands is U2, and their lead singer, Bono, is credited with the quote above. We talk about unity all the time, especially in the church. It is certainly a core value of our faith. To be “one in Christ Jesus,” whether we are male or female, slave or free, Jew or gentile - this is clearly a scriptural priority.

But this quote helps me think about the distinction between “unity” and “uniformity.” And sometimes I fear we consider the terms synonymous. They are not synonyms.

“Uniformity” is a state of being identical within a group, and it implies a kind of isolation from the world by some characteristic that each group member holds in common. “Unity” is when parts are combined to form a whole, and does not presume that any individual part needs to give up what makes it unique in that process. As such, unity remains connected to the larger world.

The sin of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) may not have been building a tower to heaven in order to take God’s place, per the popular interpretation. The sin of Babel may very well have been the people trying to “make a name for ourselves.” In other words, they feared for their future as a uniform and isolated community, as they said themselves, “Otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

In response, God diversified and scattered them - exactly the thing they feared happening. In so doing, God restated the creation commandment, to bear fruit, fill the earth, and care for it (Genesis 1:28). And in so doing, God anticipated the commission of Christ, to go into all the world to share the Good News (Mark 16:15).

My prayer is that the church be united in this mission, without insisting upon uniformity to accomplish it. May we be one, and at the same time may we “respect the right to be different” for each one of God’s children.

As such, the church must reflect on our own inclination toward the sin of Babel. Not a tower to God, but a hunger for uniformity. Uniformity is a source of comfort. Uniformity meets expectations. Uniformity swims with the current. Uniformity is easy.

Unity, on the other hand, can get messy. Unity does not require you to check your baggage at the door, it embraces you right along with all the baggage you drag along. Unity does not pander to silly ideas like "agree to disagree." Unity absorbs disagreement and converts it into energy that drives the relationship.

More and more churches are dividing from one another, or maybe leaving one denominational home for another. These divisions, schisms, separations - whatever we call them - always do harm. Pain is inevitable, and it always gets personal. Because it is.

Love does not insist on its own way. And unity is love.

If the United Methodist denomination is going to talk about dividing, or creating parallel jurisdictions, or any of the handful of other ideas floating around the interwebs, we have to first admit to an abject failure. We have failed to be an obedient church. God desires unity; toward uniformity God is ambivalent at best.

In creation, God diversifies and scatters us around the world. At Babel, God reinforces the scattering movement. Through Jesus, God again sends messengers out and into and among. And at Pentecost, the scattering is made even more apparent, as the Holy Spirit empowers diversity among the followers of Jesus.

All that scattering is for the sake of the Mission of God, a mission that has nothing to do with uniformity, but rather asks for unity among those who would undertake it. It may not be comfortable or neat or easy, but as the church it is our mission. We exist to be scattered, for God's sake.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Successful UMC Interviews, Part 2

As I see it, there are two possibilities for truly reforming our United Methodist candidacy process.

Option A - Make sure that every single person involved is completely clear as to what the expectations are - candidates, mentors, interviewers, team members, team leaders, superintendents, bishops - everybody.


Option B - Allow for a variety of personalities, gifts, skill sets, etc. in our candidates, knowing that some do not interview well, some do not write well, some come across as aloof when they’re really just shy, some express ideas with creative words, some think too deeply to be able to process complicated theological questions in a 30 minute interview session, and some are just simply outside of the box.

In my experience and my opinion, “Option B” is never going to happen. And thus I wrote my previous post, with the thought of communicating clearly what is expected of candidates for ministry. In other words, advocating for “Option A” above.

I am grateful to those who responded to my previous post by affirming that each candidate should know themselves and their calling, and be authentic to who they are. That is exactly what I would hope would happen in this process. My point is, stated rather crassly: authenticity will not ensure one’s approval by the interview team.

There is a vast disparity among conferences, among districts within a conference, among different interview teams within one district, and even among the individual interviewers on one interview team when it comes to this process. Simply put, not everyone is clear as to what the expectations are. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing - I am just naming it.

But good, bad, or indifferent, whether someone is approved for certification or commissioning or ordination should not be determined by which interview team they happen to draw.

I am grateful to hear from a couple of friends that changes to our credentialing process in Missouri are in the works. That’s fantastic, and I am hopeful for really good things to happen.

Creating and implementing a new system is half the work. We then still have to do “Option A.” Everyone has to know exactly what is expected at every level. The best system in the world is only worth as much as how many people know about it. (Does that sentence even make sense?)

And so to clarify, I do not advocate that a candidate for ministry be disingenuous or pretend to be something they are not. I was not trying to coach people into bearing false witness against thy neighbors.

I am an advocate for the candidate first, and then for the denomination. I want all of us to know exactly what is expected in these interviews, and to say that out loud with utter transparency. The attitude in which the interviewer is “in the know” and the candidate has to guess as to what they are looking for needs to go away. Far, far away, and never return.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My GC Petition - "Let's Not Be Jerks"

DISCIPLINE PARAGRAPH:  Discipline ¶341.6


Delete ¶341.6

Rationale: It's just mean.

Anyone want to sign off on this with me?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Successful UMC Interviews

Here is Andy Bryan’s guide to a successful interview in the United Methodist Church. 

It’s just three steps:
1) Be relentlessly positive about your current ministry,
2) Use copious amounts of orthodox Wesleyan terminology,
3) Restate everything you say with “relevant” and “accessible” illustrations.

In the UMC, to get from “not-a-pastor” to “pastor,” there is a series of interviews or conversations we have. First, with our pastor. Second, with our Pastor/Parish Relations Committee. Third, with our District Committee on Ministry (dcom). Some pastors stay there, and return annually for a continuation interview. Others go on to the next interview, with the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (bom). Of course there is more to it than that, but that’s the rough outline.

The interviews with the dcom and the bom are often very stressful, tense, and create anxiety and tears, which people always say they want to change, but no one ever really does. So I’ll try.

If a candidate for ministry, a licensed local pastor, a candidate for ordination, or any other of our variety of categories of pastor will just follow these three simple steps, I promise you the interview should be a success.

1) Be relentlessly positive about your current ministry. There is a time and a place to express uncertainty, doubt, and frustration about ministry. Every one of us needs to find that time and place and share those things with trusted friends. The dcom and the bom are not those people.

You must speak about fruit, and outward focus, and specific projects you are doing in your community, and “new people” in the church. If possible, tell a story about one particular person whose life was impacted through the ministry of your congregation. Subtlety and nuance are not valued here; be clear and be bold and be precise.

And if there are none of these things in your current setting, you must talk about the potential you see for these things in the future. You must say that your are “planting seeds” or “trying to turn the ship around” or another metaphor that implies a long process that is making incremental progress. And by the way, be relentlessly positive about the potential that you see in this process, too.

2) Use copious amounts of orthodox Wesleyan terminology. There is pretty much a list of terms that the people on these committees are looking for. Things like “means of grace” and “prevenient, justifying, sanctifying” and “open communion table” and “way of salvation” and like that. Know and understand what these terms mean, and use them often.

Some individuals on these interview teams see themselves as guardians of Methodist orthodoxy, so this is no place to be creative or philosophical or try to say things in a new and fresh way. Stick to the script. If you can work it in, quote from one of John Wesley’s sermons or recite a verse of“And Can It Be That I Should Gain.”

If you want to do a more creative, poetic, or edgy theology, do it at another time and place. Do not try to impress the dcom or the bom with new words and phrases. You will not get extra credit for being pithy. Speak Wesleyese. (Weslese?)

3) Restate everything you say with “relevant” and “accessible” illustrations. This is a crucial step. You cannot just leave your ideas in the realm of “by the book.” You cannot just give an academic response and say no more. You MUST then follow it up with “in other words,” and proceed to illustrate the point with language that you would use in a confirmation class, or with people who are brand new to church.

Yes, your interview audience is a group of educated church leaders who are in the loop. But they want to hear that you are able to relate to people who are not. Talk about the way of salvation, then say, “Because life is a journey, right? You go from beginning to end not in a smooth straight line, but in a series of hills and valleys, and the grace of God is with you in every step.” Or some such thing.

Remember that these are church leaders who are panicking about the future of their denomination, and desperate for “new people” in the church. Fair or not, they are looking directly at you to be the one to “save the church,” and to do that you need to be both perfectly orthodox and refreshingly relevant.

And so that’s it. If every UMC interviewee will just do these three things, I promise you your interview will be successful. And if it isn’t, if you get a call that says the committee has not approved you for certification or continuation or commissioning or ordination, you have every right to ask for clear, concise, specific reasons why not. Do not settle for nebulous and confusing answers. If you need to, call the chair of the committee and ask to see in writing the exact reasons you have been denied. Also ask them specifically what the next step is, how would they suggest to go about it, and what the timeline is for completion. Ask for specifics, and do not settle for anything less that utter transparency.

UMC candidates for ministry, this is your life; this is your calling; this is your identity. No, it is not fair for so much to be decided about such significant matters in a mere hour-long interview with a handful of people. But listen, the system isn’t going to be changing any time soon, which means candidates are going to have to be the ones to do so.

Be relentlessly positive.  Be unflinchingly Wesleyan. Restate everything with simple, relevant illustrations. And if you need any help, give me a call and we’ll see what we can do.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Church is a Theological Body

A quick social media question yielded the following responses. I asked people simply “What is ‘church’ to you?” And people said:

The theatre..
Love in action.
The mystical body of Christ.
Extended family.
Christ alive and at work in the world.
God’s strength and love in human form.
Home. Or the closest I can get to it on earth, anyway.
Sharing in This Holy Mystery.
Guardians of...
A movement. A verb.
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one, true church...."
People in relationship and community supporting each other and serving the overall community together!
Whenever and where two or more are gathered in His name.
Church is everything. I've never limited church to a building or a single congregation. It's every part of speech, everyone, everywhere, always.
Way of life.
The bride of Christ which consists of the entire body of people who abide in him and he in them.

Amen! And Wowza! What a list!

By the way, not on the list: An institution. A hierarchy. An exclusive club. A non-profit organization. A political action committee. A self-help group. A business. A Branson show. A disciple-making factory.

And so now I’m looking at this amazing list and thinking, every single decision made at every single level of the church ought to be based on the principles that are articulated here. This list is some good theology! And at our core, the church is, always has been, and forever ought to be a theological body.

Making decisions based on any principles other than theological ones is weak ecclesiology, and almost always a cop out, by which mean the easier or less complicated way. Decisions made based on expedience or logistics rather than sound missional theology may very well make sense on the surface, but the ecclesial ripple effects can be harmful. First rule: do no harm.

If a decision is made that is simply the will of one powerful person or a relatively small power group, it ignores the mystical connection of members of the body, which builds resentment and distrust.

If a decision is made based on the bottom line of dollars and cents, it ignores the abject poverty of the cross of Jesus Christ and the promised resurrection of the body, and redefines the church’s success in earthly rather than heavenly terms.

If a decision is made by simple majority rule, it ignores the clear scriptural call to pay special attention to the least and the lost, the powerless, the marginalized, the ones without a voice, and as such the first remain first and the last remain last.

So how, pray tell, will the church ever decide anything, Rev. Smarty Pants?

It’s very simple. Prayer, discernment, and consensus. Those three things, and in that order. And yes I said “simple,” but note that I did not say “easy.”

Now, let me insert here that this does not mean that every decision should be made by the entire body (whether that be a class, a ministry team, a congregation, a conference, or a denomination). A part of the prayer, discernment, and consensus needs to initially determine what decision-making authority resides with what people. And most often, the closer a person is to the impact of the decision, the more equipped to make the decision they are. (A children’s ministry leader is better equipped to choose curriculum than the Church Council, for example.)

And the second point to make here is that once decided, “who makes which decision” need not be set in stone from now unto eternity. At different times in the life of the congregation/conference/denomination, decision making policies may be adjusted to reflect current circumstances. (When giving is down and cash flow is tight, some decisions that may have been easy to make might need prior approval, for example.)

But, regardless of who is making the decision, when the decision is made, and how many people are impacted, the decision must be made theologically. Prayer, discernment, and consensus.

As the lead pastor of a large congregation, I have been entrusted with decision-making authority by our Church Council. I am guided by a set of policies that define our ends and limit my actions. Within those limits, I can make just about any decision as long as it moves the congregation toward the stated ends. I, in turn, have entrusted some of those decisions to the core staff. The core staff has entrusted more decisions to the extended staff and other congregational leaders, and so on.

All up and down that line, decisions are made with prayer - we offer gratitude for God’s gracious presence with us in all things, and ask for God’s guidance and direction as we act. And each of us does all we can to discern the best choice - collaborating and consulting with others, collecting information and data, reading articles and books, and so forth. And then we work to attain consensus - talking with others involved, ensuring the decision makes sense, and doing all we can to reach a decision that as many as possible can live with, if not support fully.

I am not naive. I understand that there are business-like components to church life. I understand that sometimes you just have to take a vote and go with the majority’s decision. And even in these moments, grace and love can and ought to be shown throughout the entire process.

But I contend that first and foremost, the church should operate like a church - love in action, Christ alive in the world, a movement of the Spirit, people sharing life together, a way of living in the world. And always and everywhere, a theological body.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Just Say Yes - Guest Post by Bishop Robert Schnase

Back when "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations" was published, we coined a new verb: "to Schnase." To "Schnase" someone was to quote his book to them, so you could say, "Of course, for our hospitality to be truly radical it would have to carry us outside of our comfort zones ... and now you have just been 'Schnasied.'"

So imagine my delight when I was invited to host "Bish Schnay-Z" on my blog to talk about his newest book "Just Say Yes!" I mean, it would be an ENTIRE BLOG POST that was just ONE GIANT "SCHNASE!" Amazing! 

He is doing a "blog tour" of sorts, talking about his book - he was on Hacking Christianity a couple weeks ago. And I truly think it is a wonderful book, with lots of helpful thoughts about ministry and I commend it to you all. And so now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - the one and only, Bishop Robert Schnase...

          Thank you, Andy, for inviting me to post a guest blog as part of a Blog Tour to introduce my newest book, Just Say Yes!  Unleashing People for Ministry.   Here’s the question you sent me:
            “Sometimes there is so much happening in the congregation I serve that I’m informed of an ongoing ministry that I knew almost nothing of. I really don’t think there is anybody in leadership who knows everything that’s going on. At the same time, I want the activity of the congregation to align with the mission and vision. Each ministry must be held accountable to the mission, which implies that someone has to know what’s going on in that ministry in order to hold it to account.
            - If a system that says “yes” really does “cease being a reporting organization,” then how does it achieve the “high accountability” that is expected?
            - Would you say a little bit more about what it looks like to not be a “reporting organization?” Isn’t that really just “communicating?”
            - How will the ones keeping our ministries accountable to the mission know enough about the ministries in question unless there is a fair amount of reporting going on?”
            Some years ago, a natural disaster drew the attention of the nation and the church.  The United Methodist Church’s response was immediate and generous, but it was not without problems.  General agencies duplicated the work of sister boards, some offices tried to restrain the work of others, conflicting messages were sent out about what was needed most, leaders disagreed about who could authorize special offerings, and appeals for help went public using inconsistent nomenclature.  United Methodists were tripping over one another in their eagerness to help.  Government agencies and other non-profits suffered similar confusions in the face of overwhelming human need.  A level of chaos is the very nature of crises.
            A few months later, the Council of Bishops received reports on United Methodist work related to the natural disaster.  Leaders from various levels of the church talked about the volunteer teams that responded, the amount of money raised, the number of blankets and flood buckets and health kits distributed, and the long-term plans for follow through.   United Methodists did immeasurable good.  At one point, I raised my hand, stepped to the microphone, and offered what I thought was a common sense suggestion.  I wondered if it might be wise to gather the conference leaders and bishops most affected, along with the agency staff and response teams that were involved, in order to process together how the UMC responded:  what worked, what didn’t, what was helpful, how we might avoid miscommunication and duplication in future disasters.   
            The president of the council said, “Thank you, Bishop Schnase.”  Then he looked around the room and said, “Is there any other business before we adjourn?”
            I returned to my seat feeling embarrassed and chastised.  As a newbie bishop, I didn’t understand the reason for the not-so-subtle dismissal I received.  A retired bishop leaned my way as I sat down, and said with a wink and a smile, “Young man, you just learned the difference between a reporting organization and a learning organization!”
            Andy, I value sharing information, excellence in communications, and transparency of operations.  These provide the oil that keeps the machinery of an organization running smoothly.  They contribute to trust and accountability.  But when an organization does nothing but reporting, as in the example I gave above from the Council of Bishops, it avoids the most important tasks of leadership.   In the time we spend merely reporting what happened in the past and what’s coming up next, we could be participating in significant decisions, learning about challenges that limit our mission, processing together how to approach difficult issues, and generating fresh ideas. 
            I’m writing this blog the day after presiding at a meeting of our conference Mission Council.  Fifteen elected people, most of them laity, join with me and the five conference directors for four hours.  We do this six times a year.   After a devotional, each director presents what they are working on, as does the lay leader and the dean of the cabinet.  By following this agenda, we cover all major areas of ministry of the conference. 
            A folder of material is sent to members ahead of the meeting which includes written reports from all the directors.  The reports include the numbers, dates, happenings, graphs, and stories that I would call reporting.  For instance, the director of finance sends a budget summary, an outline of changes to health insurance, and upcoming dates for training sessions.  The director of connectional ministries distributes revised sexual misconduct policies, mock ups of new communications materials, and a summary of evaluations from the annual conference sessions.  Much communication between directors and the mission council is done before the meeting even begins.
            As we move through the agenda, each director talks about what they are working on, and also presents challenges or questions that they are wrestling with.  They invite feedback and conversation from the Mission Council and from the other directors.  For instance, following the summer’s mobile camping success, one of the challenges is how to scale up this ministry at a responsible rate while dealing with the disappointment that churches will feel who request a mobile camp but don’t receive one next summer.  Nearly all of the 10 churches that participated this year want to repeat the experience, and another 29 churches have already expressed interest.  The Mission Council processes the issue, discusses alternatives, and makes suggestions for how we might learn from other conferences who have done this.  Another director highlights the complexity of the next annual conference and the challenge of identifying an appropriate theme, given that this is the bishop’s last annual conference, that General Conference will be on peoples’ minds, and that we’ll celebrate the 200th anniversary of Methodist conferences in Missouri.  Another director processes the opportunities and challenges of starting congregations that rely on languages other than English, including our new Congolese and Vietnamese congregations.  The Mission Council had a lengthy conversation about strategies for my last year as bishop. How should I best use my time?  What loose ends need to be tied up?  How best can I prepare the conference for new leadership?   Questions were asked, insights were offered, priorities were clarified, and the group generated various scenarios and next steps. 
            The Mission Council only takes one or two votes a year, other than approving minutes and other perfunctory actions.   How would you describe what goes on in the Council?  It’s not merely reporting, because most of the statistical and factual communication takes place before we arrive and less than 40% of our meeting involves presenting information.  It’s not legislative, because votes are seldom taken.  Our meetings are generative conversation, creative engagement, problem solving, and learning.  They are interactive and participatory, and they provide guidance and support to the people who lead the ministries of the conference. 
            Accountability relies on more than what happens in administrative meetings.  It begins with clarity of mission and well-defined expectations, involves careful recruitment of staff and volunteers, includes regular evaluation of programs and staff, and on-going learning, mentoring, and improvement.  When complemented with these other elements, the Mission Council contributes to a culture with high expectations and great accountability, more so than if we were merely a reporting organization. On behalf of the conference that elects them, the members of the Mission Council gain ownership in our ministries and make contributions that shape the conference. These benefits would be lost if we merely went around the table telling what happened and what comes next. 
            The last hour of most Mission Council meetings usually involves an explicit learning component related to big picture challenges that affect our mission.  We use a book or an article that we’ve agreed to read prior to the meeting.  These conversations challenge assumptions, cause us to shift perspectives, and make us continually reevaluate what we do as a conference.   For instance, our next Mission Council will discuss Gil Rendle’s essay entitled, “Waiting for God’s New Thing,” (downloadable from the Texas Methodist Foundation website).  Rendle challenges the fundamental notion of congregations as the principle way of fostering faith for people who mistrust institutional religion.   Conference leaders need to be familiar with such issues, even though they challenge our basic operations.  
            I want members of the Mission Council to drive home after a meeting mulling over ideas, pondering new insights, searching for better approaches, and feeling that they’ve contributed to next steps and new directions.  These outcomes can’t be achieved with an agenda of sequenced reporting to passive people.   The congregational leadership teams we formed when I pastored a local congregation followed a similar model—less reporting, more learning, greater problem-solving, more mutual support.
            You asked how church leaders can know enough about all the various ministries to keep them accountable to the vision, values, and practices of the congregation.   Some congregations hold semi-annual gatherings with the leaders of all their ministries—the chairpersons of committees, the leaders of mission teams, the teachers of bible classes, the sponsors of children’s ministries, etc.  They fill the fellowship hall on a Saturday with all the leaders and leaders-to-be to worship together and to express appreciation for the effort leaders pour into ministry. Then they repeat the vision of the congregation and rehearse the values that every leader and teacher exhibits.  They teach leadership and answer questions and offer suggestions to help team leaders with common small group issues.  By re-enforcing a common vision and common language (excellence, fruitfulness, radical hospitality, etc), accountability is pushed deeper into the consciousness and practice of the whole organization.    One person, operating from a vertical top down manner, doesn’t have to know everything that is going on to hold the system accountable.  Rather, accountability is maintained by dozens of people, horizontally, who hold one another accountable.          
            Just Say Yes!  Unleashing People from Ministry reminds us how churches say No in thousand ways to new ideas, ministry initiatives, and creative people.  Creative ideas face systemic resistance because of the labyrinth of committees, steps, and policies.  Congregations don’t realize that they have created a default of No, which leaves them simply repeating ministries the way they’ve always been done before.   Our countless meetings to report and review and rehash has a dampening effect on creativity and causes us to avoid the generative and missional conversations that leadership requires.   We can do better.
            Thank you, Andy, for the conversation.  And thank you for your support of Just Say Yes!  Unleashing People for Ministry.   Later this month, additional downloadable resources will be available to help local congregations unleash people for ministry, including supplemental videos, invitational postcards, a leader retreat guide and a 7-session devotional guide.
Thanks for your good work, and for your thoughtful questions.
            Yours in Christ,

            Robert Schnase

Friday, September 11, 2015

Telling Stories

In between Eden and Abraham, Genesis tells some pretty interesting stories. Stories are the roots of every family tree, and we’ve got some doozies!

Some of the stories that families tell are funny, some are tragic. Some evoke joy and laughter, some bring about sorrow and tears. No matter the type of story, they provide meaning and shape the identity of a family.

Sometimes a family is tempted to leave some stories out, to intentionally “forget” a story from the past. If a story is embarrassing or especially painful, it may be easier to just pretend it never happened.

I feel that way about the story of “Cain and Abel.” It is shocking and awful and will never be voted anybody’s favorite Bible story. But sweeping a story under the rug isn’t healthy, and refusing to acknowledge a dark and disturbing past simply isn’t honest. Every story in our past has helped shape our present. We are where we are because of what has been, even the stuff we’d rather not admit.

Yep, this is a story in which one brother kills another in a fit of jealous rage. His rage, by the way, comes from the moment when God preferred his brother’s offering to his own. 

So … nothing too troubling or disturbing about that one, eh?

But it’s in there; it is a part of our family tree. And so let’s tell the story … the whole story. And maybe, just maybe, we will discover a bit of grace when we do.

“What’s your story?” is one of my favorite questions. How someone responds to this prompt varies greatly from person to person. And because it is a bit deeper than your standard, “How ya doin?” it often catches people off guard, so that they really have to think about their answer.

The truth is, we don’t have a whole lot of opportunity to tell one another our stories. And those opportunities are shrinking. Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram have diminished our capacity to hear and to tell stories to a few words or a single image. Don’t get me wrong, an image can be very eloquent, and you can say a lot with 140 characters.

But it isn’t the same as eye-to-eye over a cup of coffee telling someone your story. A story is subtle and nuanced. A story means more than the words that comprise it. There are pauses. Time to think and reflect. Moments can be emphasized or understated with just a little accent here or a little inflection over there.

Telling a story today does not guarantee it will mean the same thing tomorrow. Telling a story to one person does not mean another person will hear it the same way. And as we retell them, in new times and to new people, we ourselves are reshaped, renewed, and we become brand new people.

We live in a clickbait world. Unfettered access to so much information has created a sensational atmosphere of screaming headlines and inane lists in which “You Won’t Believe #7” and tweets that pass as opinions. Where have the stories gone?

So over the next four weeks, my sermons are going to be stories. Just stories - one per week. The stories of Genesis in between Eden and Abraham.

I’ll not try to make a point, I’ll not try to persuade anyone of anything, I’ll not even read out of the Bible. I’m just going to tell some stories, and let the stories themselves do the “preaching.” I hope that telling these stories reminds us of who we are and to whose "family tree" we belong.