Monday, December 20, 2010

Some reflections on preaching...

I've been thinking about preaching today, mostly as a response to being dissatisfied with my own right now. I listened to a recent sermon from a college preaching professor of mine, J.K. Jones who is truly a master at the craft, but even more important than that, a person of integrity and character that you simply know spends a LOT of time in the presence of God.

What I noticed when listening to J.K. was the tone of joy that encompassed the entire thing. What he clearly wasn't trying to do was clear up every nuance, thought, question that people would have, nor was he trying to do the Holy Spirit's work of convicting. He wasn't seeking to be hard hitting, or impact-ful, so to speak. He told the story, drawing out a few implications through personal experience and examples and it was beautifully done. It engaged the emotions in a non-manipulative, but powerful way.

In any case, when I hear good preaching, it's hard not to contrast it with what I see myself doing. And I had a realization today, that my tone reveals what I think my purpose in preaching is supposed to be. And lately, for some reason I feel like I've been trying to co-opt the work of the Holy Spirit in his work in convicting of sin, or challenging "wrong-thinking", or whatever it may be. My preparation seems to come more out of a place of looking for areas to correct, rather than looking for ways to inspire or build up.

Yesterday, I preached the good news of the new creation and righteous king in Isaiah 11, but I felt like the tone of my sermon was NOT good news of the new creation and righteous king and right after the message was over, I felt regret, and largely felt irresponsible. There was a void in the sermon that was largely induced by the void in my own character and heart. I don't mean this in a dramatic, over-the-top way, but when joy is lacking in the sermon, generally, joy is lacking in the preacher's life. And I regret that deeply. It's not fair to the community. Joyful preaching comes from joyful people. And that's work that God and I have to do together in this next year. Hope should sound like hope!

It's also made me think of some questions for reflection during (or after) the sermon preparation process. Here they are:

Does it encourage imagination and deeper, continued thinking? Or does it shut down conversation and deaden imagination? Does it try to close every door, and answer every objection? Or does it inspire people to take up a thought-journey on their own and with the community?

When it’s over, do people feel like they were kicked in the ass, or feel generally numb? Or do they feel like they have been drawn into a better reality, feeling excited and hopeful about the future?

Is the preaching (tone and content) reinforced by my own character and experience? Or is there a felt-contradiction within myself or others as I speak the words I’ve prepared?

Does it inspire a love and compassion for God and one another? Or does it cause an increased level of guilt and anxiety toward God and one another?

Anyone care to add to these?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 10 Beers to Brew in 2011

Is this self-indulgent? Yes. Isn't that what blogs are for? This is a good chunk of my brew calendar for next year. I'm stoked. If you're nice, maybe you can have some.

1. Belgian Christmas Spice Dark Ale
If you haven't had St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, you haven't lived. I'm thankful for the bottle generously gifted to me by Mark and Emily Sherwood this year. Wonderful! Hoping mine will be 1/4 as good.

2. Saison
A light, spicy beer originally brewed for French farmworkers in the hot summer. No one really knows what an authentic one tastes like, but that leaves a lot of room for experimentation.

3. Bavarian Hefeweizen
Banana and clove. Two of my favorite things in a german wheat beer.

4. Honey Kolsch
Going to try a German Kolsch with a good amount of honey to compliment the fruity yeast.

5. Strong Scotch Ale
Molasses, brown sugar, caramel malt and a lot of time aging in cool temperatures.

6. Belgian Wit
I think i've got the perfect Wit recipe figured out. Lots of oats for smooth creaminess, un-malted wheat berries, Coriander, Orange Peel, and possibly a little lavender.

7. Belgian Strong Golden Ale
This will be Gram's 2nd Birthday Party Beer. The Golden Gram. Takes about 4 months to make, so I'll have to start early.

8. Schwarzbier
The German black lager, one of Kelli's favorites.

9. Winter Spruce Ale
Inspired by Alaskan Winter Ale which is brewed with Spruce tips. Still trying to decide if I want to use a liquid spruce essence or go with the real thing.

10. Coffee Cream Stout
Obviously, this is a regular offering at O'Bagby's Pub.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Books I Most Want to Read in 2011

Ok, final book post. Big sigh of relief. Nerdfest almost complete. After my last obnoxious rant, I figured I should end on a positive note. So here are the books at the top of my to-read list of next year.

1. The Pastor: A Memoir - Eugene Peterson
I will read anything Peterson writes, and this one is VERY promising.

2. Desiring the Kingdom - James K.A. Smith
Everywhere I turn, someone is reading this book. Must be good. I guess everywhere I turn someone is reading "The Secret" too though. Hmm....

3. Revelation - Gordon Fee
I'm a big Gordon Fee fan, I'm also a big Revelation fan. Not in the crazy Left Behind, John Hagee kind of way, more in the Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson kind of way. However, I'm really excited to see what Fee's research has produced.

4. King's Cross - Tim Keller
I've got to get my sermon material for 2011 somewhere, right?

5. Sun of Righteousness; Arise! - Jurgen Moltmann
German theologians are the best! Right?

6. The Truth Shall Make You Odd - Frank Honeycutt
I don't know anything about this book but the subtitle: "Speaking with Pastoral Integrity in Awkward Situations." Sign me up!

7. Life is Mostly Edges: A Memoir - Calvin Miller
Hopefully this will fill my memoir fix for the year.

8. Community and Growth - Jean Vanier
Heard nothing but great things.

9. The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society - Lesslie Newbigin
This is one of those "you haven't read this yet?" kind of books. The shame...oh the shame.

10. God is Not One - Stephen Prothero
I'm intrigued by the premise. Prothero says that we need to stop pretending all religions are the same in the hopes that it will bring us peace or tolerance. He actually suggests that it's this very thing that causes so many problems in our world. If we simply understood and respected the differences, things would go much better for us. Interesting!

Monday, December 13, 2010

7 Books from 2010 that I'll Never Read

1. The Power - Rhonda Byrne
Laughably dumb. Possibly, the dumbest life philosophy I've ever heard of. That's being generous. Here's a good critique.

2. American By Heart - Sarah Palin
Just being honest, I will probably never read anything by Sarah Palin. She's a great character for SNL spoofs, but that seems to be about it.

3. Pinheads and Patriots - Bill O'Reilly
I think the biggest reason I will never read this book (other than my lack of interest in thoughtless political blabber), is the picture on the front of the book. It's clear that Obama is a pinhead, and he is a patriot. Well done Bill, well done.

4. Kardashian Konfidential

They can't even spell the title right. Can't imagine how many misspellings are in the rest of the book.

5. Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever; My Story
I think this will be on almost everyone's list of what not to read in the entire universe. To be brutally honest Justin, if you are thinking that you will be remembered "forever", or that you are a timeless musical genius, you may want to lower your expectations a pinch.

6. Inside of a Dog; What Dogs See, Smell, and Know - Alexandra Horowitz
If there were a 22 minute special on Discovery Channel, I might watch it, but I doubt it. I can't imagine spending 3 hours reading it with all of the other options available. Can we get a short synopsis or something?

7. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang - Chelsea Handler

I can't imagine a television personality that I will ever like less. I try to, but I don't know what anyone could do to make me like them less.

Favorites Books Read in 2010 - Pt. 2

Ok, here comes the general non-fiction/memoir/biography category. That's a category, right?

7. The Unlikely Disciple - Kevin Roose

As a Christian College graduate, this memoir of a semester spent at Liberty University connected all too well. Half of that made me laugh, half of it made me cringe. Overall though, a very generous memoir of the bizarre cultural experience that is "Christian College". Also, very interesting recollections of a close-encounter with Jerry Falwell. Highly recommend.

6. Superfreakonomics - Steven Levitt

This is pure brain candy. I didn't read Freakonomics, so I thought I would be totally lost. :)

5. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Hey, guess what, you're not near as responsible for your success as you think you are, successful people. That's right. Again, I'm the only one left that hadn't read this yet.

4. The Bullpen Gospels - Dirk Hayhurst

A memoir of a minor league baseball season? Why hasn't anyone thought of this yet? I didn't think I could love baseball anymore than I already did. I was wrong.

3. Hannah's Child - Stanley Hauerwas

An emotional and surprising look inside a fascinating theologian's life.

2. Seven Storey Mountain - Thomas Merton

I've loved Thomas Merton for a long time. New Seeds of Contemplation and No Man is an Island are must-reads. But his auto-biography (that he wrote very young) really helped me understand his conversion, the eucharist, and the Catholic faith in a way I never have. Truly a beautiful book.

1. Bonhoeffer - Eric Metaxas

To be honest, I haven't quite finished it yet, but it doesn't really matter. I think what strikes me most about Bonhoeffer in this biography is his courage. Courage to go a direction in life that his family didn't quite understand. Courage to stand up to the Nazi regime in a time when they were trying to control the German Church, even at the cost of his life. Metaxas gives a very detailed look into the life and writings of Bonhoeffer. This is definitely worth your time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Favorite Books Read in 2010 - Pt. 1

Unfortunately, List December has simply not happened this year! Making year end lists has always been a favorite part of the year, but I haven't made the time for this to happen. However, I still want to do a few lists, particularly books and music, because those are the most interesting to me. I'm glad to say that having a child hasn't slowed my reading down. I generally read between 50-60 books a year, and this year has been no difference. It's amazing how much you can read by simply reading for 10-20 minutes a day!

So, I suppose we'll start with Spirituality/Ministry/Theology which we'll just clump into one messy category simply out of laziness. We'll get to general non-fiction next. But, let's start the countdown.

20. The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
Everyone has read this book but me. Still surprised how many people this book turns into a Pharisee. Seems like people get really judgmental after reading this book making statements like, "they aren't doing anything..." kind of stuff. Weird phenomenon, but can't blame the book. It's a great challenge to live out faith in "radical" ways.

19. Crazy Love - Francis Chan
This book was a real kick in the *#&! to be quite frank. At first his strong language turned me off and it reminded me of something I would have loved in high school. However, the more I read, the more challenged I became and ended up really appreciating his directness.

18. Giving Church Another Chance - Todd Hunter
Todd Hunter presents a good case for, well, giving church another chance. He gets to the heart of the function and benefit of the rhythms of community practice beyond the surface level, "This is boring or monotonous", or the ever popular, "these people aren't perfect so I'm outta here" kind of non-sense.

17. Introverts in the Church - Adam McHugh
What place, or role do introverts have in the life of the church which has been primarily extrovert driven and focused? A unique treatment of this often-not addressed issue of the foreign land that introverts can find themselves in with "church".

16. Wired for Intimacy - William Struthers
Struthers is a neuro-scientiest and a Christ-follwer and explains what effect pornography has on the male-brain. Interesting and disturbing book.

15. Salvation Belongs to Our God - Christopher Wright
A biblical theology of salvation. Fascinated by the holistic, broad implications of salvation through scripture. This is a worthy read for anyone who wants a broader understanding of what it means to "be saved."

14. Sacred Rhythms - Ruth Haley Barton
A great introduction to creating a formative rhythm of life.

13. Women in Ministry - James De Young
A former professor at Western Seminary writes a book that seeks to go beyond egalitarianism and complementarianism and succeeds on several levels. Fantastic background research as he presents a "third way."

12. Sex God - Rob Bell
I was initially skeptical of this book. Rob Bell is just kind of "ok" to me. I think he's a gifted communicator, but I don't find myself wanting to listen to him every week or anything. Plus, I generally hate books that have a "shock-value" type title like this. However, this was a fantastic writing on the spiritual value and place of sex in society. A truly helpful read when thinking through our own sexuality. Loved it.

11. When God is Silent - Barbara Brown Taylor
Great little book on preaching. Disagreed with some of the more "mainline-y" homiletical ideas which I find a little boring, but over-all a fascinating book for anyone who preaches on a regular basis.

10. Imaginary Jesus - Matt Mikilatos
A incredibly fun, quirky read that presents different ideas we have of Jesus through a narrative of a young man trying to sort out the real Jesus from all of the impostors.

9. The Wisdom of Stability - Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove
We discussed this book as a home group. A great challenge (influenced by the desert fathers) to plant, or root yourself in a place for the long term. Also a good critique of our transient, mobile culture.

8. The Great Theologians - Gerald McDermott
McDermott creates a list of who he believes are the most influential theologians of all time. Each chapter has a short bio of the theologian as well as a synopsis of the major contributions of the individual.

7. Untamed - Alan and Deb Hirsch
What does discipleship look like in the missional church? Read this book and find out :)

6. The Homiletical Plot - Eugene Lowry
I was a preaching major, how have I not read this by now? One of the more interesting and compelling approaches to preaching I've read. I'm fairly certain Tim Keller uses this exact format. Speaking of...

5. Generous Justice - Tim Keller
I've accepted that anything Keller writes is going to be fantastic and I'm going to want to steal every word he says for sermons. Yes, shame on me. But also, shame on him for writing (and preaching) such great stuff. Another winner here.

4. The Pursuit of God - A.W. Tozer
Always spoken of as a classic, and I can see why. Truly timeless.

3. Calling and Character - Will Willimon
What can I say? I love Bill Bill.

2. Resident Aliens - Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon
Bill Bill with Hauerwas? Even better. After reading this book, my thinking on our approach to culture was completely changed. (for the better I hope).

1. The Contemplative Pastor - Eugene Peterson
Not one has had a greater influence on the way I think of what it means to be a pastor. This book is no exception. If you're a pastor and have not read it (or Under the Unpredictable Plant, and Shaping the Angles), please stop what you're doing and read it right now. I wish these were required reading for every pastor in America. Can we make that happen?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Practice Resurrection 1

“Obviously, the church is not an ideal community that everyone takes on look at and asks, “How do I get in?” So what’s left?

What’s left is this: we look at what has been given to us in our Scriptures and in Jesus and try to understand why we have a church in the first place, what the church, as it is given to us, is. We are not a utopian community. We are not God’s avenging angels. I want to look at what we have, what the church is right now, and ask, Do you think that maybe this is exactly what God intended when he created the church? Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.” Pg. 14

We complain about the church A LOT! And for good reason. I think we can all acknowledge that there are some goofy, hurtful, and ridiculous things that happen in the church. And for some of us, this is simply too much to take and so we leave. We make statements like, "this isn't what God intended the church to be."

Peterson raises an interesting question however: If we actually experienced the ideal church that we have in our head, where the people that are present are of our choosing, there are no relational disputes, and no brokenness, no mistakes, nothing that makes our stomachs churn, etc., would it be possible to grow and mature? Or do the conditions for growth and maturity in Christ require the conditions, challenges, and brokenness that we experience in the church? That's a valid question.

He goes on to state later in the chapter:

“God does not work apart from sinful and flawed (forgiven to be sure) men and women who are mostly without credentials. Romantic, crusader, and consumer representations of the church get in the way of recognizing the church for what it actually is. If we permit-or worse, promote-dreamy or deceptive distortions of the Holy spirit creation, we interfere with participation in the real thing. The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have. It is significant that there is not a single instance in the biblical revelation of a congregation of God’s people given to us in romantic, crusader, or consumer terms. There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture or in the history of the church.” Pg. 28-29

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cowardly Church Signs

This afternoon as I was driving home in my neighborhood I saw a church sign that had been freshly changed. I'm used to this particular church co-opting whatever message happens to be popular in our city at the time. For the longest time now it's been: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." I'm all for recycling, but this seems pretty desperate. "Please like me, PLEASE???"

I wish we could get rid of church signs altogether, or at least simply have our service information available and not feel like we have to preach to the people that don't want to come and hear us preach on Sunday. Why can't churches find the balance between saying nothing and is cowardly (i.e. as seen above), and saying WAY too much and is inappropriate ("Where will you be spending eternity? Smoking or non-smoking?)

The church's latest message, no doubt in response to Terry Jones' media perpetuated sham in threatening to burn the Quran, is "One God, Many Faiths". And this sign made me wonder, at what point did this particular church simply stop believing anything, or to say it inversely, when did they start believing in nothing?

The statement "One God, Many Faiths" ignores the obvious and apparent contradictions between what these "many faiths" believe and proclaim. It's tough to get around and I've never heard anyone do it in a way that doesn't insult basic human intelligence. Can all of these faiths be describing or seeking to describe the same God? Is there a difference between resurrection and reincarnation? Is suffering really an illusion, or is suffering the real pain that Christ experienced on the cross? Does Jesus show us who God is? Or is he simply a prophet? Can we with any kind of integrity or intellect make a statement like, "One God, Many Faiths" when there are a limitless number of contradictions?

To me it's more than embarrassing to make a statement like this, it seems intentionally and intellectually dishonest and intended to give an aura of enlightenment or tolerance of some kind by essentially making the statement that "we believe in everything!" In fact, I think if you believe in everything, you really believe in nothing. Let's see you get that one by a freshmen philosophy class :)

Frequent push-back to any kind of exclusive claim is, "It's arrogant to claim your perception of God, or your scriptures' perception is the only way." But isn't it just as arrogant to claim that everyone's perception of God is right? After all, both are exclusive claims in the sense that you're both purporting to view reality accurately, right?

So there really IS no difference between the two in regard to believing you have an objective view of reality. One individual absolutely believes ALL ways are right, another simply believes ONE way is right. Both a claim that they are right, and other people are wrong. If you want to call that arrogant...okay. The big difference between the two approaches is that at least if you claim ONE way (whether that is Islam, Judaism, or Jesus) you're not being intellectually dishonest or making claims that are logically impossible (i.e. the "many faiths" approach).

Or perhaps, maybe they are honestly choosing to believe that in light of the complexity of the world, there is no possibility for anyone to know anything true about God? But if that is the case, haven't they ceased to be "the church"? Why not just hang it up?

Honestly, I think the church may simply have a desire to be liked and accepted in society (a priority they put above truth or making any absolute claims), even if that means saying a bunch of nothing on their church signs that people would just as likely see on Oprah or on Sesame Street. To me that smacks of desperation and lacks any sense of mission, unless the mission is a bait-and-switch where people come in and hear what the church "really thinks." But I doubt that is the case.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Neil Cole on the parable of the soils

Speaking of the parable of the soils from Math. 13:

“I have now come to expect two-thirds of those who accept the message of the Kingdom to fizzle out and not bear fruit. This has given me hope. Why? Because I no longer feel responsible for the fruit, or lack thereof, in the lives of disciples. If ten people accept the Gospel and only two bear fruit, I no longer babysit the unfruitful eight. Instead, I invest my life in the two. These two will be much fruit.

I am convinced that we have made a serious mistake by accommodating bad soil in our churches. When we see people come to Christ and then slip away, we assume a responsibility that is not ours. We would not take it on if we truly listened to this parable. We assume that we must be doing something wrong if so many people fall away from following Christ. We then doubt our ministry efforts and search for other ways to keep people. The results are often devastating to the local church.

Because we think that the number of people is a sure sign of fruitfulness and success, we do everything we can to keep people. We try to woo people to come and keep coming. What we end up with is an audience of consumers shopping for the best “services.” We cater to this sort of thinking by trying to compete with other churches with a better show.

We compromise the life of the church if we keep bad soil in our membership. We make church a show that requires the audience to make little or no effort. If someone is willing to come to our service once a week for a little more than an hour and sit passively watching others do the work, then they are considered members in good standing, no matter what the rest of their week is like. One can be totally uncommitted to the Kingdom, distracted by the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things, and still be a member.

Our churches are full of bad, unfruitful soil. A common refrain of pastors is that 80 percent of the work in church is done by 20 percent of the people. Reread this parable and you will understand why.

We must invest everything in the few who will bear fruit. Life is too short and the potential yields are too great to spend our lives babysitting fruitless people. This paradigm shift will change the way you do ministry. We must regain the lost art of wiping the dust (bad soil) off our feet. We might consider such a thing unloving, but this is what Jesus did. Perhaps it is indeed the most loving thing we can do. People must be confronted by the consequences of their choices if they are to get to the heart of their need for Christ. To do otherwise is not more loving; it is cruel, selfish, and counterproductive.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep. He will leave the ninety-nine in search of the one lamb who is lost. Nevertheless, He would never force himself upon those who are not interested, nor cater His message and ministry to trying to hold on to those who are more interested in other things. Although most churches today would be enamored if a young and wealthy leader came seeking salvation, Jesus was not. He gave the man some things to chew on and sent him on his way dejected. The Scripture points out specifically that Jesus really loved the man. In other words, this was the most loving thing he could offer the man (Mk. 10).

I have always been amazed at what can happen when we simply plant the good seed of God’s Word in the good soil of broken people. We have an expression in our movement: bad people make good soil-there’s a lot of fertilizer in their lives.” Pg. 68-72

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Create the Community You Want to See!

“If you warm to this vision of Christian community, then start where you are. Sell the vision by modeling the vision. Don’t become a pain to your existing congregation, telling them everything they are doing is wrong. Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people. Create around you a group of Christians who will share their lives and encourage one another in the faith. You might start with your home group. Often home groups are little more than meetings. Make yours a community by acting like a community. You don’t have to mount a campaign for change-just get on with it and make community infectious. Create something that other people want to be part of. And think about whether you could establish a context in which people in your church can hang out together and invite unbelieving friends-something like a regular cafe night, an open home, or sports practice.”

Tim Chester from "Total Church"

Great advice in an age where there are more cynics/critics/consumers than creators!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Pastors and Giving

“Those clergy who justify their financial irresponsibility by saying, “I do not need to give money to the church because I give so much in so many other ways,” are not only deceiving themselves, but they are also presenting a horrible example to their congregations. Our giving to the church and its work ought to be exemplary in its effusiveness. We thereby not only demonstrate Christian stewardship in a society that encourages greed, but we also witness to the possibility that our lives and our possessions are not our own.” Will Willimon

As you can see, I'm on a real Willimon kick here. I've even started to joke that if it weren't for Wesley's idea of Christian perfectionism, I may even become a Methodist! In any case, this quote strikes close to home, because ashamedly, I will confess that the first three years of ministry in New York City my giving was horrendous! I'm actually quite embarrassed by it now and I feel like not only did I lack the maturity to understand giving, but also excused myself from it for the exact reason that Willimon points out: I'm already giving SO much to the church.

But I have since learned that pastors certainly aren't exempt from giving financially, but should model generosity to the people God has placed in our care. Whether ordained or not, giving has everything to do with worshiping Jesus with our resources, being formed by the Spirit by letting go of money (that is God's anyway), and keeping money from gripping my life in such a way so that I serve it over God. And hopefully, all three of those things are something you can count on a Christ-follower (and pastor) to be intentional about!

I've also realized that one thing that kept me from regularly giving as a pastor, really just had to do with my own lack of character at the time. I excused it because of my service to the church (which is a bad excuse), or because I was underpaid (an even worse reason to short-change God), and I didn't even have the character to be ABLE to give well (which is a shame considering the unique calling of ministry). I also realize now that I was knowingly or unknowingly to my congregants, a terrible example. Why would people give to a church, when the pastors didn't even believe in it enough to give?

You may feel that I'm being hard on myself, but I am simply being honest with myself as I've seen this as a growth area over the past 8 years. I'm thankful that I have such a disciplined and virtuous wife as to help teach me the importance and worship of giving!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why We Meet on Sunday.

“Sunday is the key that explains to the world and to the church why we are the church. In our Sunday worship Christians serve the world by showing the world that God has not left us alone and that we have good work to do. Our work is worship. Worship is the work God does with us to show the world a manner of life that could not be known had not God vindicated Jesus in the resurrection. Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are created for no better purpose than to praise God and enjoy God forever.

In simply withdrawing from what the world considers its “important business,” in taking time to do nothing but worship in a world at war, in celebrating an “order of worship” in a world of chaos, Christians are making a most “political” statement. It takes courage to take time to worship God in a world where we are constantly told that it is up to us to do right, or right won’t be done. Sunday is that holy time when Christians perform one of our most radical, countercultural, peculiarly defining acts-we simply refuse to show up for work. Sabbath is how we put the world in it’s place. This is how we take over the world's time and help to make it God’s time. It’s how we get over our amnesia and recover our memory of how we got here, and who we are, and in whose service we are called.”

Will Willimon from Calling and Character

Friday, July 09, 2010

Pastoral Wisdom

“There are many times in the pastoral ministry when we see no visible results of our efforts, have no sense that people are getting better because of our work among them, have little proof of our effectiveness as priests. In those moments, our only hope is to cling to our vocation, to adhere to the sense that God has called us, rather than we ourselves, that God has a plan and purpose for how our meager efforts fit into God’s larger scheme of things. God’s vocation is the only ultimate validation of our ministry.”

Will Willimon (Calling and Character)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Are you "making a difference"?

There is no substitution for learning to be a Christian by being in the presence of significant lives made significant by being Christian. Significance can of course be a misleading description of the lives that got my attention. Significance suggests importance. it suggests lives that make a difference and that demand acknowledgment. But the lives of significance I began to notice were not significant in any of those ways. Rather, they were lives of quiet serenity, capable of attending with love to the everyday without the need to be recognized as “making a difference.” (Pg. 95-96 of Hannah's Child)

What a great description of significance! So many of us (myself included) get frustrated because we carry with us the idea that to be significant is to be "recognized as making a difference." To see a visible, tangible difference being made. On a pastoral note, let me just say that this can be excruciating! There are stretches when it feels as if you're trying SO hard, and working your butt off, but simply don't see the kind of difference that would affirm that you're actually doing something significant.

Many times though, as we begin to ask, "what might this look like for us?"; for some reason we compare ourselves to those we would define as doing the "most significant" work in our country or world. So, we read a book like Irresistible Revolution and think, "unless I'm doing something as significant as Shane Claiborne, then I'm really not doing anything at all."

I've seen people fizzle out of community on account of this very belief. It happens from time to time when people simply don't feel like they're contributing anything significant because they don't see the evidence of a discernible difference (usually defined by over-idealistic expectations). What results is a nagging frustration. But instead of adjusting expectations, or simply describing significance with humility in the way of Jesus, blame is placed.

It's the pastors fault, he's not challenging us enough. It's the community's fault, they're just not "doing anything". It's God's fault for giving us such a broken tool like "the church". Regardless of whose fault it is (it's never my own), the response is to bail on the community that is clearly holding us back. I can see how it would be easy to do that, but it doesn't seem to solve anything. In 6 months you realize that you're still not "making a difference" (meaning you haven't solved the homeless problem in your city) and the frustration returns. What do you do then?

During difficult stretches like this, I think it's helpful and healthy to readjust your expectations of what "significance" means in regard to how we serve our world and each other. It might be a good time to examine what it means to be the church and faithfully follow Christ's humble example of sacrifice and service, even in the midst of extreme difficulty. I think it's important to remember that sometimes the most "significant" thing you can do is to simply be present for the sake of others around you.

Monday, May 03, 2010

10 Books of My Summer Reading List

1. Bonhoeffer; Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas

2. After You Believe - N.T. Wright

3. Hannah's Child: A Theologians Memoir - Stanley Hauerwas

4. Wired for Intimacy - William Struthers

5. Leading on Empty - Wayne Cordeiro

6. The Great Theologians; A Brief Guide - Gerald McDermott

7. Giving Church Another Chance - Todd Hunter

8. Total Church - Tim Chester

9. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - Bruce Ware

10. The Powers That Be - Walter Wink

Monday, April 12, 2010

When People Leave

As someone who is invested in the church community, as a pastor and also a participant, one of the challenges we all face semi-regularly is when people leave your community. The truth is, people leave for all sorts of reasons. Some of those reasons are good ones. There are situations when an individual or family have legitimately tried to connect with others in your church but simply cannot gain any traction. It’s sad when this happens but honestly some people will just “fit” better in another church context than what your community offers.

There are other reasons people leave that are superficial, “I didn’t like the music”, or the “teaching doesn’t feed me.” Or there is a bigger and better show down the street. It’s clear that from the beginning these people aren’t interested in relationship, but in production. I’m always torn between two emotions when those people leave. One, I’m frustrated with the consumer mentality that they have brought to the “church”. But I’m also relieved because those that come with a consumer mentality, or rather, “what can you do for me?” aren’t really the kind of people that build up or help those around them in community anyway.

The truth is, either way I don’t get angry or frustrated when people leave WHEN they have the courage to communicate 1. that they are in fact leaving rather than just disappearing or ignoring your emails, etc. and 2. they tell me why they are leaving. I don’t want to know why so that I can argue or discount their reason. I’m perfectly willing to hear people out and respect their decision. I’m not going to pretend that I know what is best for every person. I don’t. But I do want to know if there is something that we as a community did to hurt them, or if we have neglected to care for them in some way.

But I will be honest and admit that I DO get frustrated when people don’t have the courage to let us know when they are on their way out. When they just fade away or start to ignore you altogether. That is frustrating.

I can think of several people in the last three years who have left our community well. They have called, emailed, or spoken to us in person about what has led them to this decision and what they are planning on doing. And when this happens we are allowed to bless them on their way out. I have much respect for people going about it in a mature, responsible way.

But I can also think of many others who may have been a part of the community for 6 months, a year, 3 years, whatever, who just bail without letting anyone know or who intentionally avoid contact with us altogether. I find this to be a cowardly act and lose respect for people who do this. I don’t say this to be cruel or harsh, but the lack of respect for the community that it takes to bail on relationship without telling people good-bye or explaining the reason they can’t be a part of the community anymore is irresponsible and hurtful to many.

When this happens I’m basically left thinking three things: First, I realize that these people do not understand the nature of community, or their place in it. Second, I’m hurt and frustrated that there was no debriefing on the way out. That just seems like common courtesy. And finally, I eventually find myself coming to peace with it. If a person doesn’t understand the effect they have on the community when jumping ship, it’s probably not someone who cares much to invest in other people around them and maybe Evergreen isn’t the best place.

When people leave, it’s rarely easy (although I admit sometimes it’s a relief!). But I always hope people will have the respect and courtesy to let us know when they’re on their way out!