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.