Saturday, June 20, 2009

Clarity for the future...

"What do you see yourself doing in five years?" Uggh. I've never been sure how to respond to questions about the future. Especially since God shattered my previous plan for my life with my call to ordained ministry.

Recently though, I've been getting a better sense of what I want to do in the future.

Generally, I want to be an "agent of change" in the culture of the church:

I want to lessen the bureaucracy...

I want to shake complacency...

I want to see healthy systems in our structures, that lead to:

1. the church as a means to God's ends (and not vice versa!)

2. making genuine disciples of Jesus (not merely members of an organization)

3. the transformation of the world (as opposed to the perpetuation of an institution)

It is refreshing to be able to articulate these ideas. Also its been great to begin connecting with others who are feeling similar desires for the future. The next step is begin dreaming with others and discerning what God is doing with this.

Now, I am no longer uncertain how to respond when someone asks what I see myself doing in five years. Next time someone asks, I'll say: "Changing the world."

Want to join me?

June Update...

I haven't written in awhile just because I've been devoting my time and energy to other things:

1. Moving. By far the biggest change coming in our lives is that we will move to Stafford, Virginia by the end of the month. As of July 1, I will be the associate at Ebenezer UMC. I am excited to work with Mark Miller, the great staff, dedicated lay leadership of EUMC.

2. Finding a Home. For the last three years we have enjoyed living in a parsonage in scenic Marshall/Rectortown, Virginia. Now with the move we've searched high and low for a new home. Without giving you all the boring details, we are building in Stafford and our home should be ready by November.

3. Planning Worship for Annual Conference. I had the honor of serving with a group of clergy to help plan the majority of worship experiences for Annual Conference. It was a lot of work, but it was a great experience. I enjoyed the collaboration and teamwork of planning and then implementing these services (6 in all).

4. Young Clergy Booth. Lastly, over the last five months I have been connecting with other young clergy from across the nation to begin conversation on how (and where) we see God moving in the UMC and how we can play a role of joining God's movement. (Check out 40 Days of Prayer for the UMC.) Along with other folks at other Annual Conferences, I put together a young clergy table at our AC. What a great opportunity to talk with others and meet new folks. (I will have more to share later about this.) Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the young clergy dinner at AC, but understand it went really well.

So, all that said, we have had lots going on over the past couple of months and I have made little time for writing. I am hoping once we get settled in Stafford, to begin posting more regularly.



Thursday, May 21, 2009

Festival of Homiletics - Day 3:

Began this morning with breakfast at a joint called the Flying Biscuit. I am afraid to ask how it got its name...

Fred Craddock preached this morning. He is known as one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century. He must be in his 80s now. His delivery was masterful and his content thought-provoking. What are we as preachers to do with the gift of preaching?

Following Craddock (not an enviable place) was Brian Blount, president of the Union-PSCE, newly renamed Union Presbyterian Seminary (so new its not even on the website yet.) Having gone to Union(2000-2003) his presentation reminded my very much of the many lectures from my classes: over my head enough to keep me interested yet two steps behind, but no so over my head that I couldn't eventually catch up after the talk was over.

I spent the rest of the morning looking for young UM clergy folks to spread the word about the 40 Days o' Prayer. I had some really engaging conversations.

Then I shared lunch with some old & new presbyterian friends to share a bit with them about the movement(s) going on among young clergy in the UM. We had a great conversation!

Now I am in my office away from the office (Starbucks) working on sermon stuff and trying to do e-mail. (this is the last time I stay in a hotel where you have to pay for internet...grrrr.)

Hoping to have my sermon at 80% completion before dinner!

Sometimes you are just so tired... colloapse in the middle of swinging.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Festival of Homiletics - Day 2:

Great day of speakers!

First off was Victor Pentz. He preached about how Christians need to go outside the church. That reaching out to others is no longer about being attracting people to come to us, but that we must go to the people. He did so much more elegantly than my synopsis might suggest. I really appreciated his style and passion.

Next up, Craig Barnes talked about the need for pastors to engage the text of the scripture we are preaching in constant dialog with the context we are serving. The metaphor he uses is the pastor as minor poet. He expands more on this concept that he gets from TS Eliot in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet. I really appreciated his style and dry sense of humor.

Will Willimon was the last speaker before lunch. He challenged us as preachers not to try and uphold a false unity that ignores obvious differences between people or groups. Rather, he suggested that if the Gospel is preached this will create division.

After a fantastic barbecue lunch, Adam Hamilton took the floor for the afternoon.

He talked about structuring a preaching plan based on the congregation's mission, vision, and plan to achieve them. He offered several fantastic ideas for sermon series ideas. His books Leading Beyond the Walls and Unleashing the Word contain many of the concepts he shared today, however his talk was peppered with fantastic and inspiring illustrations. Towards the end of his talk he took some Q & As. One of the things I really appreciate about Hamilton, having heard him speak several times before, is his transparency and authenticity.

So, a great day of engaging speakers. Lots to think about. All this creative energy is great! Maybe I can channel it into writing Sunday's sermon tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Festival of Homiletics - Day 1:

Last night caught the tail end of Barbara Brown-Taylor's talk. She really has an excellent way with words. She was speaking about understanding how we read the Bible and how that affects our interpretation and preaching.

Bishop Desmond Tutu preached at last night's worship. He has such a joyful presence. Its pretty amazing when you consider all he has seen and accomplished that he has such child-like joy! Spoke about seeing God in the other. They are (I am) lovable because God loves us. Thus when I participate in injustice or oppression against another person its like spitting on God.

This morning we enjoyed a session (both worship and lecture) with Brian Mclaren. What a treat! The worship/lecture was combined, so we enjoyed music (by Troy Brosnick) interspersed with three brief talks/sermons by Mclaren. Great stuff! The main topic was about preaching in the context of the economy. He suggested that when we the good news for the poor is also good news for the rich. He also argued that when we talk in terms of economic recovery it needs to be in terms of a recovery from addiction, not a return to where we were 18-14 months ago.

Supposed to hear Jim Wallis speak this afternoon. He missed his flight, thus missing the conference. So my buddy Mike and I got to enjoy an engaging conversation about his ministry context.

Lots of food for thought! Now its time to process it all!

Festival of Homiletics - This week...

This week I'm traveling with a good buddy of mine to Atlanta, GA for the Festival of Homiletics, sponsored by Lectionary Homiletics (See below for the definition of those words.)

The lectionary is a three-year cycle of Scripture passages for designated for specific days. It can be helpful in that it is a guide for preaching and it helps the preacher to preach texts that he or she would may not normally preach.

Homiletics is the study of how one composes/constructs a sermon on a biblical text.

So, one might say the conference is about preaching and how one might prepare sermons using the lectionary (an incredibly simple overview of the conference.)

I have used the lectionary and I have preached apart from the lectionary, using topical sermon series or preaching through a book of the Bible. I don't know that one "right" way exists in terms of choosing Scriptures on which to preach. I believe a lot of it is driven by the context in which one preaches. (In conjunction with the movement of the Spirit in that context!)

All that said, this week I am hoping to:
- hear some engaging speakers
- be challenged on how and what I preach
- enjoy the opportunity to be with colleagues in a learning setting

I can't wait to hear some of the speakers/preachers. I plan on posting a synopsis each day as a way of organizing my thoughts.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

40 Days of Prayer for the UMC

Dear friends,

I invite you to join with me and others around the country (and world) to be in prayer for the United Methodist Church. On May 18th a grass-roots movement to pray for the church will begin. Young adults (clergy and lay-persons) from across the denomination have written prayers as a part of this movement. Each day the UM Young Clergy website will post a new prayer.

I invite you to join us in this prayer movement by subscribing to the prayer feed, or going here to pray the prayer for the day.

Thank you in advance for praying, may you experience the life-giving movement of God in your life, and together may we be open to God's life-giving movement for all of Creation, and how we are called to be a faithful part of that movement and witness in the world.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Would you close down churches?

Adam Hamilton from Church of the Resurrection shares an interesting observation of questions the UMC could ask from observing what's going on at GM. (Read the full post here.)

He suggests that if the UMC were to close "dead" or "dying" churches two things may occur:
1) The UMC could use the pastors and resources from those churches create new congregations
My two cents is that, although this would be heart-wrenching and difficult, done with grace, its the right thing to do.
2) Seminaries would be forced to shift the focus of their training
Currently, in my opinion, seminaries train students for models of ministry that are at least one generation behind the current generation - no wonder 18-35 year olds are the largest missing segment of the church.) This issue with the curriculum isn't necessarily theological. Rather as Hamilton points out, practical. Seminaries need to give students tools for leadership, dealing with conflict, managing budgets, running a meeting, in addition to worship and pastoral care skills.

Lastly, a commenter on the Hamilton's post raises another good point about the difference between shifting structure and shifting culture. So often we do the former without considering the latter. My hope is that we could do both in order to make the emphasis of the church to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, not church members for the sustainability of the denomination who are really well organized.

So, what do you think? How does our structure need to shift? How does our culture need to shift? How do we make this happen - so that our denomination is about something bigger than itself - the mission of God in the world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Suffering and the Church...

I've been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. Today's money quote:

"But the church knows that the world is still seeking someone to bear its sufferings, and so, as it follows Christ, suffering becomes the church's lot too and bearing it, it is borne up by Christ. As it follows him beneath the cross, the church stands before God as the representative of the world."

Earlier this week a 17-year-old in our community chose to take his own life. While he or his family was not connected with our church, our congregation has really been impacted by such a tragic event. More than once this week, the question has come up, "how do we as the church in our community engage suffering?"

Jesus conquered suffering by going through it, so the church as the Body of Christ in the world, must seek to conquer suffering (ours and others' suffering) by engaging it and being present to it.

We must hold the family who has lost a son. We must surround those whose life is crumbling before them. We must be present on the streets with the homeless. We must sit in the hospital room of the dying. If for no other reason than to point to (and maybe even sometimes be) the presence of God in the midst of suffering.

We can't remove others' suffering, but we can bear it with them, just as Christ on the cross bore our sin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Starfish, Taxes, and Tea...

This opinion piece about the Tax Day Tea Parties WSJ is a great illustration of decentralized movements. Regardless of one's politics, it is a great example a starfish movement.

What can the church learn from this kind of movement? What are historical examples of this in the church?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pastoral Analogies

This weekend I began reading M. Craig Barnes' book The Pastor as Minor Prophet. (Hat Tip: Scot McKnight.) Which started me thinking about all the possible analogies for pastors. (i.e. pastor as ceo, pastor as family chaplain, pastor as teacher, etc.)

What analogies do you believe best describe the role of a pastor? If you are a pastor, in what analogous role(s) do you see yourself operating?

As part of my own journey I am trying to more clearly understand my call to pastoral ministry and the analogous role that best describes that call. At the same time I'm working to understand the analogous role that the congregation I serve both needs and wants in their pastor (which could be two different and sometimes opposing roles.)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Generation F?

I just ran across a great post (here) from Gary Hamel on the Wall Street Journal's management blog about managing "Generation F" (similar to "generation me"). Very interesting list of ideas on how the "rules of the workplace" may need to shift to attract young, bright minds.

Some of Hamel's suggestions resonate with a great book I just read, The Starfish and the Spider, about the power of decentralized organizations. (I hope to write more in a later post about this book and how it may (or may not) relate to the church. But for now, let me just say its a great book!)

What do you think about Hamel's suggestions? How would your place of work respond to such ideas?

Monday, April 06, 2009

North Alabama's New Process for Pastoral Appointments

If you are UM (laity or clergy) you may find this of interest. Bishop Will Willimon shares the process the North Alabama conference will use to make appointments this year. This is the process straight from Willimon's blog (I added links to some of the things he references):

  • We shall look at the church statistics on the Conference website to get a longitudinal picture of the pastor’s leadership at the present appointment.
  • We will examine the statistics on the Conference Dashboard to get an up-to-date report on the results of the pastor’s leadership.
  • Every pastor to be moved will complete a Strengths Assessment Inventory (available through the book by Buckingham, Now Discover Your Strengths). The Cabinet has used this Inventory on ourselves and found it marvelously revealing. This enables us to get an accurate assessment of each pastor’s individual strengths, focusing on the specific gifts and talents of the pastor, rather than focusing upon any alleged weaknesses. This gives us the ability to match a pastor and his or her strengths with the needs of a congregation.
  • Every fulltime pastor who may be moved will be interviewed by a team of three District Superintendents who will guide the pastor through a conversation that will uncover a pastor’s own dreams, abilities, and strengths. Those conversations will then inform the discussion in the Cabinet.
  • The Bishop and District Superintendent will listen to and respond to a sample sermon from each full time pastor who is moving.
  • Every church will be asked for a statement of mission and goals for the future so that we can match a pastor’s gifts with a congregation’s needs.
  • Each District Superintendent will present the proposed new pastor to the congregation’s lay leadership and explain why the Cabinet believes this pastor is the leadership suited for this congregation’s mission.
  • Every newly appointed pastor will be asked to design and present to the DS and to congregational leadership a “First Ninety Days” plan for ministry in the first three months of the pastorate. This is after participating in a workshop that trains pastors how to devise these plans. The execution of this plan will be observed and shared with the DS who will work with the pastor on any needed modifications in the plan.

What do you think of the above process? Pros? Cons?

I'm still not sure what I think about it, it seems like quite a few layers. However, I like the way the cabinet will get a good feel for each person moving. I'll be curious to see how this works.

(HT: Shayne Raynor)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacation time

I'll be on vacation with the family until April 4. So probably no new posts until after then. Have a good couple of weeks.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gentle Wake-Up Call...

Sometimes I become very task oriented. So much so, that I lose site of the relational nature of life. I fear I miss opportunities to love others, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The other day I came across a story of a very out-of-the-ordinary cab ride. (HT: Zeray Gazette) I kind of felt like weeping at its simple beauty and out of shame for how I neglect to be present to opportunities to love others in my own life.

I am thankful for such a gentle and beautiful reminder to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. I am also thankful that such stories remind and encourage us.

Do you have an "out-of-the-ordinary cab ride" story you wish to share?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gen Me & Church Structures

Last week I posted on the book Generation Me, by Jean Twenge. I wanted to spend some time reflecting on how the generational shifts she describes affects the church. In a previous post I mused on Gen Me and evangelism.

Today, I would like to consider how such a generational shift affects the polity or structures of the church.

First, there seems to be more vocal dis-satisfaction with processes within the institution. At the same time there are positive movements of young clergy to work for change. Certainly there have always been gadflys in the UMC, but Gen Me has a proclivity to be more outspoken. Their parents had more of a "take one for the team" mentality. Thus, when this generation comes across structures or processes that don't make sense to them, they speak out. For instance, the young clergy in my conference are organizing a meeting with the bishop to discuss young clergy issues.

Secondly, Gen Me's difficulty receiving criticism affects structures and polity. Take the ordination process for instance. Not everybody passes on the first try. At times during this process there is a need for negative feedback. This becomes a big challenge to Gen Me's. Gen Me bristles at the thought that their work may not be good enough. There is currently a lot of noise about the process and how it needs to be changed. The challenge is filtering out the "criticism-sensitivity" noise and addressing the weaknesses and injustices that exist in the system.

A third way Gen Me affects systems and polity is the way they collaborate in a different way. A characteristic of Gen Me is emphasis or primacy of the individual. However, Gen Me still finds ways to bring their individual voices together in collaboration using technology. (Web 2.0 and Social Networking) I have seen this in and outside the church. First, is the coming together of young clergy across the nation to join together to address some of the issues they see in the church, sharing ideas and resources over Twitter, Facebook, liveblogs, and weblogs.

In the larger culture the open-source movement and the beta culture are relatively new ways of collaborating on projects. In the beta and open-source culture the software is usually encountered as an individual and then comments/fixes/or changes are made as an individual to repository or the software's original maker. So, many people collaborate, but the role of the individual is still primary.

How do you think generational shifts are changing church structures, polity, and culture as a whole?

Monday, March 23, 2009

How do you get your news?

Listening to the news on the radio this morning, I realized I can't remember the last time I picked up a physical newspaper and read it. Scanning headlines on news media websites, or listening to a news radio station is typically how I know what is going in the world.

However, I rarely read the entire article when I do follow the link. Or if I am listening to news on the radio or web, I am usually doing something else while doing so. Why is this occupying space in my brain?

Because of a statement attributed to Karl Barth. He is reported to have said the Christians must "read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other."

I wonder if somehow my ability to engage the congregation and the culture through my preaching is somehow diminished because of my peripheral contact with news. (Not to mention my ability to engage culture as an informed citizen who is a follower of Jesus.)

How about you, how do you keep tabs on what is going on in the world? How do you engage current events as a follower of Jesus?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gen Me & Evangelism

Yesterday I posted about Jean Twenge's fantastic book, Generation Me. I wondered how this cultural shift affects the evangelism, church structures, and ways of being the church in the world. Today I reflect on Gen Me & evangelism.

So how does a shift in the attitudes and traits of Gen Me, people born in the 1970s, 80s and 90s affect the way we share the Good News of Jesus, or evangelism?

What if evangelism wasn't merely about "saving that soul" or making sure "I" had eternal salvation? What if evangelism is connecting people to: the movement of God in creation, most concretely seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; a movement that is transforming creation into the New Creation; a movement where, once one is connected to it, "eternal life" and "transformation" are the fruit that is born out of the connection, or relationship, with God through Jesus.

And it would seem that we can't be in a transformative relationship to God without being in relationship to those around us. (the first and second greatest command, the sheep and the goats, etc.)

So maybe evangelism with Gen Me is about connection. Helping connect individual stories with God's Story. I once heard someone say that the goal is not to see how God fits into our story (a very individualized thought, eh?) but how our story connects with God's Story, the Eternal Story. (My apologies to the originator of that idea, I just can't remember who said it or wrote it - any help?)

The next connection, I think, would be to connect people with a community of faith where the community seeks to live out God's Story in creation - justice, righteousness, holiness. I think when people see others honestly trying to live this out in real, get-your-hands-dirty, authentic way they can't help but crave such authenticity.

So I guess the rabbit trail of my reflection on evangelism and Gen Me leads to this: sharing the good news (or evangelism) with the generation born in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s is about making connections: connecting our/their story with God's Story and connecting with a others who are seeking to live out God's story. The fruit of such connection is life-giving transformation, justice, righteousness, and holiness.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Clarification on Gen Me...

Okay, I need to clarify something. In discussing this book and my observations with Jill (my wife) she asked me an interesting question - is there anything good about Generation Me? D'oh! I didn't communicate as clearly as intended!

Twenge's book takes a fair look at the good and the bad of Generation Me. I believe her purpose is not to criticize Gen Me, but to point out characteristics of this new generation of young adults. (Now that is not to say there aren't things we need to hold our generation accountable for - i.e. when healthy self-esteem spills over into narcissism.)

So when I attempt to summarize her arguments (which by no means does her book the justice it deserves) if I paint her book or observations in the book as mostly critical the fault is mine.

So in case my previous post suggested that there is no good in Gen Me, let me make amends by pointing out several positive attributes of Gen Me:
1. Gen Me is more open social differences.
2. Gen Me is more willing to speak up when they see something that doesn't seem right.
3. Gen Me, while skeptical, also tends to be more optimistic about the future.

Okay, so now that's been said. Tomorrow I will begin reflecting on the how the generational shift from the boomers to Gen Me may affect:
church polity/structure
forms of ministry

So stop by tomorrow and add your two cents in the comments!

How does Generation Me Affect the Church?

We are in the midst of cultural shifts. A quick glance at headlines and book titles at Borders illustrates this. However, I wasn't fully aware of the generational shift happening parallel to (and in response to) the cultural shifts. That is until I picked up Jean Twenge's book, Generation Me.

Wow! What an eye-opener. As one who is at the older end of the Gen Me span, I found Twenge's book fascinating, witty, and straight forward.

For instance:
- 18-35 year olds have higher self-esteem than previous generations thus more they tend to be more focused on the self/individual and seeking personal happiness than previous generations

- Gen Me's were taught "you can do or be anything you want if you put your mind to it" as we were growing up. So we enter our places of work with high expectations for how quickly we will advance (i.e. expecting to be a corporate executive making six figures after 5 years with the organization.)

- Gen Me's struggle with anxiety and depression significantly more than generations before them (mostly as a result of realizing that no you can't be or do anything you want to...there are realistic limits).

(For a full discussion of Twenge's book, jump over to Scot McKnight's series at Jesus Creed, where I first heard about the book. He works through the book in 15 posts that do a great job of summarizing and reflecting on the book.)

While reading this book I couldn't help but wonder about the impact of such generational shifts on the church and Christianity, more specifically in my context in the United Methodist Church.

- How does this generational shift affect evangelism?

- How does such a shift affect structures and processes in the organization of the church (i.e. ordination)?

- How does such a generational shift affect the culture of the church and how the church operates going forward?

In the coming days I will reflect on each of these questions in a separate post. What are your observations?

Please join the discussion in the comments.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One of the greatest sounds...evah...


I just finished reading David Denby's book Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation. Denby lays out the history of snark and how it has (d)evolved over time. He suggests that a lot of our current rhetoric falls into this category.

What is "snark" you may ask? "Snark" is a type of snide, or rude, remark. (Denby never really defines the term, but gives many illustrations of "snark" in his book.)

The problem with "snarky" rhetoric is that it does nothing to further conversation or discussion over an issue, situation, or person. Rather it casts judgment in such a way that there really can be no conversation, or if there is it sounds like petulant children arguing on the playground.

I heard (and continue to hear) a lot of this language with the presidential campaign, as both sides attempted to tear down the other side's candidate. Not helpful, and ultimately very frustrating.

Now the questions I have: where do we see "snark" in the church? How have you responded to "snarky" rhetoric? What was the result?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Idolatry: Substitution or Transformation

I've been working my way through Martin Buber's I and Thou. Today's reading dealt with idolatry and God. Buber states, one cannot merely substitute God for whatever idol they may worship in their lives. For part of worshiping idols is the way we relate to them - usually by desire to possess whatever the idol offers.

God cannot be possessed. If we try to do this, the in the words of Martin Buber: "Whoever is converted by substitution, now has a phantom he calls God. God, however, the eternal presence, cannot be had. Woe unto the possessed who fancy they possess God."

I really appreciate this insight from Buber! It is both enlightening and damning at the same time. So much of Western Christianity seems to be built on this idea that we can merely trade-in or substitute our idols for God and then everything will be okay. Where is the transformed life?

For as Buber asserts, the problem is not merely the object, the idol itself that is the problem, but also the way one relates to the idol.

For instance, if one idolizes women, merely replacing women with God does nothing to change the, what I would suggest is sinful, way one related to women - treating them as objects merely to satisfy an sexual desire, not as humans. Or if one idolizes money because of the status it affords or the pleasures it can buy, then substitutes God for money, the heart is not changed. Rather one takes up a new means to try and accomplish that which I hoped to do with money.So then God becomes a phantom. We like the idea of God because of what he can do for us. And the way in which we attempt to relate to the Divine Creator of the universe (as the substitute for our idol) is still bent towards our utilitarian purposes.

Thus, casting aside our idols involves changing the way we relate to objects in addition to relinquishing the objects of our idolatry. Not only the object changes, but also the way we attempt to relate.

Another way to think of it is this. Let's say I have a sudden stroke of conscience and recognize the need to get rid of my gas-guzzling car in order to do my part to save the environment. Do I trade-in or substitute my old car for on a better, new car that still guzzles gas? Or Do I get rid of the car entirely and begin riding a bicycle? One is substitution. The other is life-change.

I can't help but think of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians about being a new creation in Christ. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION, the old has gone the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17, emphasis added.)

Rather than making God a phantom through substituting objects, transformation occurs. We are completely new. Our idols are cast aside as well as the bent ways in which we attempt to relate to those objects. In their place comes a life-giving, whole-person renewing relationship with God. And we begin to learn to relate to all objects rightly - the way God intended.