If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

how can i be a part?

Cross-posted from Good Shepherd Sermon Blog.

At Good Shepherd we have been asking the mission question - the lighthouse/searchlight question: "What is God doing and how can I be a part?" In this past Sunday's service we had a number of people from the Good Shepherd family share testimony about how they are answering that question. Listen to or download all the testimonies in series above or download individual portions below.

download (click, then choose "save to disk" for playback on computer or iPod, or play sermon live in this window below)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Right click on links below to download mp3 or left click to open in your mp3 player. All testimonies in sequence will play in the window by using the flash player above.

01 Robert Austell - A Faithful Worker (2 Timothy 2:15 mini-sermon)
(starts at 0:00)

02 Melanie Hatfield - In My Neighborhood (starts at 3:42)

03 Graham Meeks - Writing with Purpose
(starts at 9:28)

04 Phoebe Elliot - Serving in Worship (starts at 12:06)

05 Susan Slade - Rediscovering Talent (starts at 14:39)

06 Katie Meeks - A Mother's Calling (starts at 18:47)

07 John Shuler - Art and the Word (starts at 22:58)

08 Barbara Thompson and Jane Chiseck - Knitting in Nicaragua (starts at 25:47)

09 Mary Hill Lane - Piano, Prayer, and Technology (starts at 33:28)

Friday, September 12, 2008

inconsequential church, pt 2 [response]

As a follow-up to my post below called "Inconsequential Church," I would add the following (which I posted in the comments at Jan Edmiston's blog).

At my church, we've been wrestling with the [Michael Frost] question, "If your church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone outside the church notice or care?"

In some ways, it's like the question of whether anyone would notice or care if my family and I sold our house and moved out of our neighborhood.

Under what conditions would people notice or care? Well, probably they would if we had friendships and relationships with our neighbors... if we were good neighbors.

Surely the same is true of our churches (and there is some precedent, of course, to think about what it means for the Christian community to be a "good neighbor").

So, that's what we're pursuing as a church. It's awkward; there's no blueprint; we come from traditions of "if you build it they will come" and the only view of our literal church neighbors is the 20 second walk from the parking lot to the church building... and that, only if we look around.

It's strange and hard, but that's what I think it will take to be noticed, missed, relevant, significant, etc... - and those are non-club words for what I believe Christ asks of us in "faithfulness."

can i get a witness?

I read the report of the court case over Kirk of the Hills church with great sadness. In some ways, the expulsion of this congregation of over 2000 from the building and property saddens and discourages me more than the years of wrangling over ordination issues. When Christian sue Christians there can be no good outcome... only a lose-lose. When the local church wins the property, it's just embarrassing and a black eye on Presbyterians and Christians in general. But in this first prominent case of a presbytery winning the property from such a vital congregation... it is, in my opinion, disastrous.

Who in that community would want to come to the soon-vacant building? Who will buy the property? What will that money be used for? Even if a strict PCUSA understanding of property trust was upheld, something far greater was lost. The witness to Jesus Christ in that community and area, not only for PCUSA Christians, but for all Christians and churches, has been tainted. Does anyone doubt me? I'd pray that I'll be proven wrong. But go into a coffeeshop and ask someone who has read the article in the paper what they think of the Church... of Christians... and then count the cost.

Is there any way out of this? If I could plead with the Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma, I'd say, "Okay, you've proven the polity case... now, won't you sell them the church back for $1?" That would be a miracle, of course, but I think it will take a greater miracle than that to pull the name of "Christian" back out of the mud for the next generation in Eastern Oklahoma.

For all the rest of the presbyteries watching... there is a better way! And by presbyteries, I mean the pastors and elders that constitute a presbytery. Please, please, whatever right you may claim to property, there are more important things at stake! If you have not considered a pastoral response to churches seeking dismissal, now is the time to wrestle with that gracious alternative to litigation.

inconsequential church

A Presbyterian pastor colleague posted a challenging and truth-full post on "church culture" that should pierce through our shells and awaken us to blindly and blithely we go about waiting for those outside the church to come to us... and we wonder why it doesn't happen. This piece reinforces the desperate need for us to become "searchlight" churches, and ones who grasp the great distance between church language and culture and that of the world around us.

Church World via A Church for Starving Artists by jledmiston on 9/12/08

M. and I were interviewed by our friend S. last night over dinner for a paper she's writing on particular cultures. She could pick any culture she wanted (think: bowling league culture, junior high girl culture, enlisted soldiers culture, etc.) She chose to analyze our particular congregation's culture.

Church World

Now that's a culture. And it's foreign to increasingly more people, at least around here.

There are so many catch phrases that we in the church know, but most in the world not only don't know but they couldn't care less.

Worship Wars
Bell Choir
More Light/Welcoming & Affirming [rma: or emergent... or confessing church... etc...]
Coffee Hour

If strangers come through our doors at all, imagine the culture they find. We hand them "bulletins." They call them "programs." We call it a "congregation." They call it "the audience."

My wonderful friend L. wrote this morning, that after a couple years away from "church" :

"It's difficult to convey just how completely inconsequential the world of the church is to those who aren't in it."


So we can invest in new directional signs (like that would help. "They just can't find us!") Or we can start "a contemporary service." Or we can recruit "more families" or "more young people" to "join."

Or we can be the church out in the world. Do we even know how to do this? Have we ever known how to do this? Maybe not, because we've been so concerned with all those inconsequentials for so long.

Church World.

Anybody know what I'm talking about?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

open letter to my pcusa brothers and sisters

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

My name is Robert Austell and I am pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. I was a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church this past June (2008). While there, I wrote a resolution calling on presbyteries to establish a gracious process through which to relate to churches that might be seeking dismissal from the PCUSA. My concern is that lack of such a process in many presbyteries has resulted in "pre-emptive strikes" on all sides, often resulting in legal action between Christians.

The logic and gracious spirit of this resolution was sufficient to pass overwhemingly in committee (49-3-1) and then in plenary (519-157-8). With this vote, the General Assembly directed:
"...the Stated Clerk to send this resolution to the presbyteries, synods, and sessions, indicating the will of the Assembly that presbyteries and synods develop and make available to lower governing bodies and local congregations a process..."
The resolution goes on to describe goals for such a process so that it would be grace-bearing and witness to our mutual faith.

I would share this appeal with every pastor and session in our denomination - indeed, that was the overwhelming will of the Assembly! I am not looking for an easy or tough stance on dismissal - we need our presbyteries to create a gracious process, whereby brothers and sisters in Christ treat each other with the consistency, pastoral care, accountability, grace, openness, and honesty due to all people, much less fellow believers. This affects our public witness to Christ - it IS a public witness to Christ.

Each presbytery has the constitutional charge to set the tone for this.
  • If your presbytery doesn't have a process, use resolution 04-28 to get the ball rolling.
  • If your presbytery has a process, but you think it falls short of the ideals in this resolution, inquire about modifying the process accordingly.
  • If your presbytery has a gracious process already - get a copy and send it to me so it can be shared widely!
If you have any questions, would like resources or need direction in how to communicate with your presbytery about such a process, please e-mail me at robert@gspc.net.

You can find the full content and story of this resolution here:

I challenged each commissioner at General Assembly to carry the resolution to their presbytery. It's not something that can be ordered - just shared. Would you help do that by forwarding this as e-mail (or the link to this post) on to as many pastors or elders as you know in order to get this out to the church?

In God's grace,

Robert Austell
Pastor, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church -
Charlotte, NC
Minister Commissioner, 218th General Assembly (2008)

google reader

Time out for a commercial...

Why do I use Google Reader?

  1. I no longer have to visit the website of every blog I read to check for new content; it is sent to me in Google Reader as soon as it is written - Google calls it a "personalized inbox for the entire web"
  2. Each incoming post contains full graphics and audio (with pop-out option) along with one-click links to the original site and comments section.
  3. Each incoming post contains (via the Reader) a one-click link to tag by keyword, forward to a friend by e-mail, share via your own collective RSS feed to others, and more; you can also categorize your various feeds (like church-related, politics, etc...) and view one category at a time (like if you are at General Assembly and only want to access your church-related feeds)
  4. Since it's Google-based, you can access your reader from any computer or mobile phone browser anywhere you can access the Internet.
  5. It keeps track of what you've read (nothing to click; it marks as read as you scroll past, with an option to "keep as unread") and what you haven't while saving all the content online for you to Google-search and find later (did that register?? - I can Google search all the blogs I've ever read in Google Reader!)
  6. It's easy and straightforward to use and set up in any browser (see links below). If you use Firefox, there is an add-on that puts an "add to Google Reader" button in your address bar for any page that has an RSS feed (like this blog... click... now it's in Google Reader). IE8 has a built in reader, but after trying it for several months for my wife, she is also on Google Reader because of the ease of use and features.
How Do I Set it Up?
  1. I'm not sure I can be any clearer than the instructions at the site here: www.google.com/reader
  2. You'll need a Google account (but there's a button and instructions for that, too)
  3. It's all free
  4. Once it's set up, click "add subscription" to try adding an URL from within the Reader... like this one: http://robertaustell.blogspot.com - the really nice thing about Google Reader is that (unlike the built-in for IE8) you can just type in the website address and it will FIND the RSS feed... instead of having to know the usually more complicated feed address
  5. Try adding my sermon blog to see how the audio player works! http://gspcsermons.blogspot.com
  6. If you use Firefox, I believe the one-click "add subscription" is automatically activated (you may be given the option of choosing Google Reader as your default reader). It should be a little orange icon that appears in the far right of the address bar on any site having a RSS feed (you should see it on this site!)
Let me know what you think - I am confident that you will like it... and that you will get back the 20 min. of setting it up within a day or two of not having to visit sites.

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