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!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

blog highlights

When people are new to a blog, they usually just pick up reading with new posts. But it is my hope that new readers will connect to some of the archived material. I am posting this as an end-of-2009 marker of what has gone before. This "highlight" page attempts to pull together and list some of my favorite posts and series of posts.

Favorite single posts, missional:

God's Refrigerator Door - perspective over worship and worship styles

Don't Waste Your Time - on the primacy of worship as the foundation for mission

Website Outreach Philosophy - the missional vision behind our website design (note: since this post, we have moved to a new site, but the philosophy and major "sections" of the site are the same)

VBS on the Road - story of taking our Vacation Bible School outside the walls

- a missional look at parenting my young daughter

More than Cookies - narrative of two memorable days in ministry that highlight our growing missional mindset along with the mess and the "glory" of being a lighthouse and searchlight church

Significant single posts, denominational:
God on the Move - description of how God used one small-church pastor commissioner to "move" the 2008 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Ichabod or Scribbling on the Wall - one description of my calling to serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA); for those who are struggling...

Favorite series:
Frost Defines Missional - part 1, part 2, part 3 - blogged through Michael Frost's presentation on missional church at the 2007 PGF conference

Missional Identity in the Small Church - this is a seven-part series chronicling the visioning, communication, implementation, etc... of a missional identity at Good Shepherd. This material was compiled for a workshop I taught, but comes from an officer retreat in 2006. This initial link has links to the successive posts.

The Talent Challenge - a real-life missional "parable of the Talents" exercise I gave the congregation while I was on Sabbatical. Links below are to two follow-up reports.
  • Mission Benefit Concert - a $20 talent turned into a fabulous fund-raising concert for our missionaries in Spain; raised $1800!
  • Family Business in Nicaragua - a $20 talent sent to our missionaries in Nicaragua purchased equipment for a start-up sewing classes
Sabbatical - I wrote a summary of what I learned each week of a twelve-week sabbatical; some wonderful lessons.
Wednesdays Night Experiment - initial description and follow-up reports of our "Wednesday night experiment" of pushing the Wednesday night church meeting outside the walls into the neighborhood. Some exciting results!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

of the father's love begotten - christmas eve 2009

Blessed Christmas Eve to you!

This is a rough studio mix of my arrangement of "Of the Father's Love" from the forthcoming The Depth of Worship CD. Marvelous words to ponder in this time of awaiting the celebration of Christ's birth!

Of the Father's love begotten, ere the worlds began to be
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

Love shines with glory, shines with light
Has pierced the sin-dark shroud of night
O come you lost, who long for home
Obey the Son, the faithful One,
Begotten of the Father's love.

O ye heights of heav'n adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Power, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent
Evey voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!

Love shines with glory, shines with light
Has pierced the sin-dark shroud of night
O come you lost, who long for home
Obey the Son, the faithful One,
Begotten of the Father's love.

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be.
Honor, glory, and dominion
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Love shines with glory, shines with light
Has pierced the sin-dark shroud of night
O come you lost, who long for home
Obey the Son, the faithful One,
Begotten of the Father's love.

Text by Aurelius C. Prudentius, 4th century; translated by John M. Neale and Henry W. Baker. Verse melody is 13th century plainsong (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM); arrangement and chorus by Robert Austell, 1999/2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

how can this be?

Some ponderings on Luke 1:34-38, the virgin birth, miracles, and God...

How can this be?

Simply dealing with the declaration of truth (v. 37) is so hard. It requires such faith! God says it is so; the Bible says it is so; the Bible is from God. So much there to take on faith. Better to have some kind of sign.

Yes, a big sign (v. 36), that’s what I need… something unmistakable. But that’s so subjective. Maybe an older woman who never could have a baby COULD have a baby. Is that really a miracle? Jesus did miracles as a sign of who he was and where he came from, but it can be easy to write many of them off. Maybe a sign won’t do it. Better to have more specific proof.

Yes, proof, that’s what I need
(v. 35). I need God to spell out what He wants and how it’s going to happen. Who should I marry? Where should I work? What should I do next? Some kind of angelic, personal text messaging – like a magic 8 ball. Funny that I might trust a magic 8 ball more than God’s Word… hmmm. We do so like specifics. And better yet, scientific proof – regarding creation, dinosaurs, miracles, even God’s existence. That’d do it. Except science is only good for what is natural, not what is supernatural. You can’t dissect a miracle. You can’t reduce God to a program or an experiment or a set of rules – that’s too small for a real God.

I’m not trying to layout some sort of intellectual trap. You know what? I get it. I understand just how hard it is to believe in, much less trust in God. My brain is not wired for the humanities; it is wired for math, programming, and science. But I see how unsatisfying the proof I would demand would be and is. It’s like telling your spouse you will only love them if they document where they are every hour of the day, whom they speak to, and what their intentions are. That doesn’t result in love, though it might satisfy curiosity. Love comes from trust extended – a kind of faith given and received. Likewise, requiring God to document His miraculous and infinite plans to our satisfaction may increasingly satisfy our curiosity, but is self-defeating in terms of faith, trust, and love. While Mary likely did not think in those terms, she heard the angel’s answer and trusted in God’s Word (v. 38). She did not latch on to the specific explanation or the miraculous sign, but responded in faith to the declaration of truth that God could accomplish His Word in her life.

From the Advent sermon: "Nothing Will be Impossible With God" (Luke 1:34-38)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

worship practices survey

One component of my D.Min. degree was a field study related to the topic of my project. I chose to survey fellow pastors and musicians in my presbytery regarding worship practices and planning, as described below. I share the description and conclusion of that study below, with a link to the full report for those interested in the data and more detail. For anyone involved in the planning or implementation of worship, I think this study would be helpful for self-analysis and growth.


The questionnaire, "Worship Philosophy and Planning," was mailed with a cover letter to 134 churches in the Presbytery of Charlotte, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in May of 2007. Most of the questionnaires were returned within six to eight weeks. These churches were selected because the Presbytery of Charlotte is an easily identifiable and reachable audience and the likelihood of response was high.

The Presbytery of Charlotte is the fourth largest presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with 134 churches, approximately 291 ministers, and approximately 41,000 members. It serves seven counties in and around Charlotte, NC: Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Richmond, Stanly, and Union.
Of note, it also has the largest population of predominantly African-American Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches in the denomination.

The target interviewees were senior pastors and musicians. Duplicate surveys were sent to each church, with one addressed to the pastor and one to the music director. The questionnaire was designed to collect basic church information, measure actual patterns of worship planning and practice, and collective subjective responses defining "worship philosophy."

The first part of the questionnaire (questions 1-7) collected basic information, including number and times of worship services, number attending, and a description of worship style. For the latter, four choices were offered: "traditional," "contemporary," "blended," and "other." Data was also collected regarding church membership (active roll), age of church, tenure of person being surveyed, and hours worked. Responses to membership were verified against Presbytery records. Pastors were asked about the degree of musical training. Musicians were asked about the degree of their musical and theological/biblical training.

The second part of the questionnaire (questions 8-15) dealt with worship planning. This part included questions about personnel, frequency, duration, and lead time of their worship planning. One question asked about the pastor’s sermon preparation habits, how far in advance it happened and what tools were used to select the sermon text. There was also a question about worship planning tools, from hymnals to computer software, with several common options listed and room for more to be added. Next the questionnaire sought to measure the
frequency with which music is used in different liturgical locations in the worship service. For example, is music ever used for the "Confession of Sin" or for the "Assurance of Pardon?" Space was provided for a "short description of… worship planning time" in a more narrative form. Finally, a list of potential motivations for selecting hymns or songs was provided, with a five degree scale offered to measure degree of influence. Two "other" choices were also provided. The purpose of this question was to gain some sense of factors guiding music selection.

The third part of the questionnaire (questions 16-18) addressed worship philosophy. This section was purely subjective and narrative, asking for a definition/purpose of worship and an evaluation of whether worship practice matched this ideal. A final question asked if there were any areas where change was desirable.


By way of final remarks on the field research, I would thank the pastors and musicians who responded so quickly and helpfully on the surveys. I am a member of the Presbytery of Charlotte and these churches and pastors are dear to me. I am also passionate about worship and am responsible for the worship life of the presbytery as chair of the Ecclesiastical Affairs committee. The responses have, for the most part, born out some of the presuppositions of early chapters. These presuppositions included the thought that churches are struggling with worship, facing challenges of cultural change, staff conflict, shrinking membership, and lack of teaching about what worship is.

I was encouraged by the degree of thoughtfulness and planning evidenced by some and discouraged by the carelessness and procrastination shown by others. I feel for musicians who are hamstrung by pastors who either will not plan ahead, will not communicate well, or who otherwise hinder these servants of the Lord.

I was surprised at how many pastors had musical training or experience and at how few musicians had biblical or theological training. I was also surprised by the range of qualifications for the musicians, from virtually none to multiple degrees, including several with doctorates. In the musician responses, a staggering number of instruments were listed under proficiencies. I wonder if local churches are hearing accordion, flute, trombone, autoharp, dulcimer, and percussion from these musicians.

I was pleased to discover some of the resources used by the predominantly African-American churches for worship in a blended, Gospel style. I plan to find my own copy of
The African-American Heritage Hymnal.

Finally, I was encouraged to find out how many churches are actually using newer styles and forms of music in worship. What could not be ascertained through this survey was to what degree services really were "blended" or if that word was used to describe minimal use of contemporary music. But, it is the direction of this project to argue that style is not the primary consideration. If the Church can be directed to the true and humble worship of God, style will find its appropriate place.

Link to Field Study Document (pdf): bit.ly/8yX9dz
Interested in the whole book?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

balloon helps dream take flight - leigh wiley jenkins

From an article to Disney employees on 10/20/2009...

If there's one thing Guest Relations Hostess Leigh Wiley has learned in her two years working at Magic Kingdom Park, it's that a simple act of kindness can often make a dream come true.

This Guest Relations Hostess act of kindness was small, but mighty.

Just recently, the Chandler family from Okeechobee, Fla., wrote a letter describing how Leigh made their day.

"All my 15 year-old wanted during our trip to [Disney's] Ft. Wilderness [Resort & Campground] was a balloon from the Magic Kingdom [Park]. We visited the [Guest Relations] area, but did not have the money to enter. I explained my daughter's wishes to the [Guest Relations Hostess] Leigh, and she said, 'This is where dreams come true.' Leigh asked us to wait a minute and she returned with the Mickey Mouse balloon. I will never forget the look in my daughter's eyes! You would have thought I bought her a Porsche! I want to thank the exceptional customer service your agent Leigh displayed. She is a true asset to your Company! Keep up the good work of making dreams come true!"

Leigh's leader, Attractions Guest Service Manager Sean Cernetic, was not surprised by the Guest letter. "Leigh is an amazing Cast Member," Sean said. "She's always smiling and has a real passion for the Guest experience."


I won't comment much... is there something the Church could learn from Leigh and Disney? Often it's not the grand presentation or big sermon that makes a difference, but the small gestures that reveal the grace and presence of Christ... "small, but mighty."

Seems like something I heard in a sermon once from another member of the Wiley family. To them with ears to hear! :)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

tell your story

I've been e-mailing with a friend about "missional networking." What is that, you ask? If you want to follow my blog metaphor, it is linking up searchlights (individuals, congregations) to engage in God's mission to seek and save the lost TOGETHER.

At Good Shepherd, we are stretching and being stretched out into our near-neighborhoods, but if we are to be salt and light in our whole city, then we'll have to connect with other congregations and "searchlighters" across the area. We've talked about what that would look like - but we have to do it.

In the conversations with my friend, we are pondering what that looks like at an even larger level - regionally and nationally. I suggested that was not the time to flip back to an attractional model of networking - for example, me planting a flag here at Good Shepherd and saying "all of you join my lighthouse-searchlight network and get with the program." Rather, we need a missional model of missional networking.

One practical way of doing that is to reach out by social networking... so here is a first step. I'm reaching out to you who read this through the blog, RSS, Facebook, and Twitter. Share the request, retweet, pass it on.

And what am I asking? I want to encourage you to tell your story. How are you or your congregation following Christ out into the world to engage in God's mission? Post a reply, or link back to this, or send me an e-mail (robert{at}gspc{dot}net) and I'll post a story. Your stories will not only give us fresh ideas in our own context, but also help us get to know each other and connect across the geographical space.

Friday, October 23, 2009

wednesdays out - 4 weeks in

A few weeks ago I described our Wednesday Night out "experiment." I said I would report on how it's going. It has already exceeded my expectations many times over!

On the fourth Wednesday, one of the group that goes to Barnes and Noble in the Arboretum shared with me about what has happened there. They have met two of the folks that work at the Starbucks there. One they just asked his name, and he responded, noting that his name was in the Bible. Another they shared that they were sharing prayer requests with each other and was there anything they could pray about for her – and she opened up with them, asking for prayer.

We could have had another Wednesday night study – same content, but in the church building amongst ourselves. And we would have missed out on all these connections. But we got up and got involved with our neighbors – with the people God loves and for whom Christ came into this world. And look what God has already done! It has far exceeded my expectations.

It has also illustrated what Jesus taught in John 4:34-38 (sermon here). While we've only been a small part of these neighbors' lives, we have surely have been a part of what God is doing in their lives. Clearly in some cases God has been working before us to plant seeds, and we were part of the watering process. Hopefully we are planting some seeds. If we persevere, we may also see part of the harvest or some fruit. The point is not the product, however, but being willing to OBEY and PARTICIPATE in what God is doing. That is what Jesus modeled and taught the disciples, and I believe it is God’s instruction and challenge to us.

Link to 1 week in
Link to 2 weeks in
Link to 3 weeks in
Link to 4 weeks in
Link to Wednesday Night Experiment, year 2
Read or hear the sermon on the Wednesday experiment: HERE

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

wednesdays out - 3 weeks in

A few weeks ago I described our Wednesday Night out "experiment." I said I would report on how it's going...

After the first time, it had already exceeded my expectations. Two weeks in, those suprises multiplied several times over.

In the third week, one of our Wednesday night participants shared with me that a boy in her son's 6th grade class (and who had attended some church events a few years ago) was struggling academically. He lives in a housing project behind our church, which is another of the ministry areas we identified a few years ago. We have been praying for an open door to connect with families and children in Brighton Place.

This Good Shepherd mom said she had been challenged by the sermons and Wednesday night vision to reach out to this boy and offer to lead a study group with him during the hour-long Wednesday night out. So, starting the third Wednesday, she and one of the men of our church went to Brighton place to meet with this young man, who ended up bringing one of his friends along. By the time they were done, several other friends had gathered to see what was going on and it looks like a serious study group is forming.

In the process, we also got to meet the manager of Brighton Place and initiate some conversation with her about using facilities for this purpose.

This is what really excites me - when I (as pastor) don't think of a ministry and have to recruit people, but when God leads someone to a ministry and they ask me how we can do it. And I get to launch them out to share in what God is doing with our neighbors and in the world. Unbelievable - God, that is!

Link to 1 week in
Link to 2 weeks in
Link to 3 weeks in
Link to 4 weeks in
Link to Wednesday Night Experiment, year 2

wednesdays out - 2 weeks in

A few weeks ago I described our Wednesday Night out "experiment." I said I would report on how it's going...

After THE FIRST WEEK, it had already exceeded my expectations. Two weeks in, the surprises began to multiply.

Several years ago our officers and staff grappled with a vision to be God's church for this neighborhood (about a 1 mi. radius around our church). We identified several significant mission opportunities within a few blocks of the church, including a group home for men just across the street. We have prayed for an opportunity to connect with them, but have never really stepped out boldly to do so. Last year we had an outdoor concert with the Shelley Moore Band and several of the group home guys came over. About the same time, one of our youth volunteered at a Joni and Friends summer camp and was paired with a young man named Josh. Campers were from all over the country - and Josh was from the group home across the street. Between Josh and the concert, several guys from the home decided to venture over TO US on our last few Wednesday nights of the Spring... then we took off for the summer.

So when we started back up this Fall, two of the guys were ready and waiting. We have paired two adults and our high school guys (3 seniors, 1 sophmore) with them for a small group to study the book of James and pray for each other's needs. They shoot a little basketball first, then go back to the group home for the study. This all developed between the first and second Wednesday and now 5 of the 6 guys in the home are involved and our high school guys are engaging in ministry and discipleship! Unbelievable... God, that is!

Link to 1 week in
Link to 2 weeks in
Link to 3 weeks in
Link to 4 weeks in
Link to Wednesday Night Experiment, year 2

wednesdays out - 1 week in

A few weeks ago I described our Wednesday Night out "experiment." I said I would report on how it's going...

After THE FIRST TIME, it had already exceeded my expectations. Two weeks in, those surprises multiplied several times over.

We have about 15-20 people going out in groups of 3-5. I give them several simple questions to discuss (with each other) during the hour out. The questions are something like 1) Where did you see or experience God's presence in your life this past week? 2) Is church important to you? Why? 3) Can we pray about anything in your life?

The groups disperse within about one mile of our church. There are two separate groups at Caribou Coffee, one at Barnes and Noble, one at a local bar/restaurant called The Lodge, one in the parking lot at the basketball goal, and one that stays at the church for folks who have babies in the nursery or don't otherwise want to go too far away.

We also encourage the groups to interact casually with waitstaff, baristas, and anyone else they run into. We ask them to patronize the store or restaurant and to tip well!

So here was my so-called "big vision": after 6-8 weeks of this, we might have met a few regulars and the staff wherever we are and perhaps God might open a door or two to more significant spiritual conversation. We would be going to where people are, building relationships, and pointing people to God. 

But God was about to really open my eyes.

Here's what has happened so far:

WEEK ONE: as my group was leaving Caribou, I went to meet the manager/barista and see if there was any possibility of bringing my guitar the following week and providing an hour of live (non-religious) music in the outside eating area. The manager, Desiree, got a strange look on her face and said, "Live music?" She went on to tell me that at her previous store a co-manager had started live music and it was wildly successful. The other managers at this present store wanted her to start the same thing (because she had been at the store where it worked), but she had no idea how to get it going. She told me she had to Google "acoustic music" to see what it even was (no drums or amps, if you didn't know). I realized the strange look on her face was shock that live music had dropped into her lap. I was shocked to find there was already a desire and need and the door was already open! So, another friend and I started up the next week and are now talking to her about possible regular weekend gigs. On top of that, she suggested that we put out a tip jar as live musicians often do. I'm already thinking we might do that, but have it go to a recognizable local mission like "Loaves and Fishes" or "Crisis Assistance." Unbelievable!! We just ventured off the church property and the need was waiting for us. (I also think God thought we could use some encouragement!!)

Rather than write a too-long post... I'll post later about the amazing development in the second week and yet another on the third week! Let me know your thoughts and come back for more! Unbelievable... God, that is!

Link to 1 week in
Link to 2 weeks in
Link to 3 weeks in
Link to 4 weeks in
Link to Wednesday Night Experiment, year 2

Sunday, October 18, 2009

come thou fount - live gspc worship

This is a recording of live worship at Good Shepherd. We are singing my arrangement of "Come Thou Fount." I adapted the chorus from Psalm 36:8-9, which reads:

They drink their fill of the abundance (lit. fatness) of your house;
And you give them to drink of the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light we see light.
Here is the live worship from this morning, October 18, 2009, at Good Shepherd.

And here is the studio version from my upcoming CD, The Breadth of Worship. (still working on the vocals...)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

church with an expiration date?

I recently read an interesting post on Adam Walker Cleaveland's pomomusing blog. He invited a guest blogger, Russell Rathbun, to share an idea that sounds fresh and interesting to me. The post was entitled, "What if a Church had an Expiration Date?"

The basic gist was to start a new church with a core of folks committed to welcome, connect, develop, and focus outward such that after a set time (he suggests five years) they might be sent out to start afresh and multiply.

This idea very much paralleled the response I got from Stacie, one of the students I taught at the YWAM School of the Bible last May. Challenged to develop a worship service from scratch, using principles we had studied, she envisioned a whole church concept around that worship. It also had an "expiration date," though she didn't use those words. She envisioned a house church that would only meet for a year, beccause the expectation would be to disciple and grow such that two (or more) new house churches might be formed out of the original group after a year's time. In comparison to this pace, I found our mainline denominational church (as evangelistic as we may be) to be moving at a snail's pace... and a slow snail at that.

I believe such an idea rightly challenges us (esp. in the mainline denominations) to be more intentional about evangelism, discipleship, community, and multiplying ourselves outward. Having said that, as I reflected, I had what I think were some helpful thoughts toward the value of not 'expiring.' Here's what I wrote:

At first pass, I LOVED this idea, in spirit if not in specifics (after all, what if God had something in mind for 5 yrs. 1 week!)… and perhaps part of God’s witness is reviving/resurrecting things about to expire. Nonetheless... I think the caveat “remain open to what God might do” would be a good balancing principle, [though] I definitely think we need more permission to end things – within the church to be sure, if not the whole endeavor.

As I pondered [this idea] more, very significant matters like baptism, discipleship, multi-generational relationships, spiritual formation, etc… came to mind – i.e., many of things things that are right and healthy in churches, not to mention instructed in scripture. Perhaps the idea of a time-line for church planting and a holy expectation for multiplication outwards is a healthy application of the expiration date idea, without packing up the whole shop.

As 2nd pastor of a 28 yr. old church, I hear the stories of the first 5 years and can understand the value of tapping into that energy. Yet, I also see some amazing experiences that come out of the 15th year “stall” and pushing through it… it’s a kind of adolescence and even maturing that may come with time. I also think of the excitement of dating someone for the first time and the richness of a long-term relationship and marriage… certainly not as mobile and malleable as those early relationships, but also potential for lasting impact through children and maintaining a dynamic loving relationship as we age.

I think what I’m getting to is that, upon reflection, there are some important things that might be lost with a 5 yr constant re-start. Yet I think there might be some good ways to incorporate the energy, motivation, and expectation in this idea within the life of a maturing and outward-focused congregation. It is a provocative enough idea to at least get some good thoughts and conversation going!
I'd be interested in readers' thoughts, so please comment!

Friday, September 18, 2009

the wednesday night experiment

For some time now at Good Shepherd, we have been wrestling with God's calling to be a lighthouse/searchlight church - that is, intentional salt and light in our community and near neighborhood.

The congregation and leadership have responded positively to this challenge! I have observed, however, that it remains difficult to change patterns of thinking and being. One result of the twin lighthouse (inviting) and searchlight (sending) challenge has been ever-increasing and effective approaches to inviting folks in to the church community. And that is wonderful!! I am encouraged and try to encourage our congregation about these steps!

But, I am also convinced that our growing edge continues to be the searchlight part of our identity in Christ (per John 17:13-21). And while embracing that mission requires head, heart, and feet, one tangible way to start in the direction is to literally "get up and get out" - i.e., leave our church property.

So, on Wednesday nights, instead of traditional church Bible study in the building and on the grounds, we are taking it to the streets (had to reference a loved song - click link or watch below!).

We are going to take a simple program - conversations with each other about where we see God in our lives during the week, and rather than meet IN the church building, we are going to disperse in 3s and 4s into public gathering places in the neighborhood. We are not going to evangelize per se, but to simply go where people are and be who we are - at Caribou, at the pizza parlor, walking on the sidewalk, at the public library. My prayer is that God will open doors for us to meet our neighbors. It's definitely experimental; I'll let you know how it goes!

Link to 1 week in
Link to 2 weeks in
Link to 3 weeks in
Link to 4 weeks in
Link to Wednesday Night Experiment, year 2
Want to check it out in person? Come join us!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

gracious witness update

From time to time I comment here on denominational things, as we are part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and our lighthouse/searchlight mission is out of that context. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I served as a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in June of 2008 and wrote an overture that called on presbyteries to create a pastoral and gracious alternative to slugging it out in civil court when congregations seek dismissal from the denomination. That overture was passed by a significant majority. (Official record HERE) I have also tried to help encourage not only my own presbyteries, but others to follow through on this pastoral exhortation.

Both as author of that "gracious witness overture" to the 2008 General Assembly and as moderator of the Presbytery of Charlotte, I am pleased to be a part of a collaborative process within the presbytery to reach out to those in our midst who are wrestling with denominational identity. To be sure, there is no easy or perfect process to do this, but I think presbytery leadership has responded with integrity to the challenge from the General Assembly for every presbytery to pursue better and more pastoral means of addressing theological, missional, and relational disconnects within our bounds.

This "reconciliation process" has been before the presbytery council for at least one year and before the presbytery since early spring of this year. As we have done before with issues of this magnitude, we set aside time at our most recent presbytery meeting (September) to host a workshop and receive input on the wording and concept of the process. Based on input from that workshop, the writing team will seek to further improve the document, which will then be put before the presbytery for vote at the December presbytery meeting.

Further input or questions are welcomed and may be directed to me prior to the October 20 meeting of prebytery's council: robert@gspc.net

I'll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

missional themes, burnout, and other things

I spoke on missional themes this past week at the "East Coast Pastor's Conference," sponsored by Presbyterians for Renewal.

My first plenary talk was a study of John 17:15-21, adapted and expanded from the sermon on Jesus' prayer for us to go "Where they Are" (audio and text HERE).

My second plenary talk was a look "under the hood" of how we have been moving toward a missional identity at Good Shepherd. I am adapting and expanding on my presentation last February for a Presbyterian Global Fellowship seminar in Atlanta. I summarized that presentation in a series of blog posts which are worth re-linking below (if you want to go through them sequentially, there is a link to the next one at the end of each post).

I was also asked to preach for the communion service on the final day and shared personal testimony about two times when the burden of ministry has so far exceeded my own abilities and capabilities that I relied significantly on God's power and protection. Nothing like a room full of pastor's away from their churches to get some "Amen's" on being overloaded and weighed down! My confession was that I am so slow to rest in and trust in God... and to forget God's gracious provision when I do. Re-telling those stories was as much for me to remember as to encourage the other pastors. One of those accounts can be found HERE - "Five and Two is What?". The "punch line" application I made (though not the main point of the story) is to remember that we (including pastors!) are not Jesus in the story - creating a miracle out of every day stuff. Rather, we are the boy who offered his lunch in obedience and faith. We are also the disciples, encouraging other to share their "lunch" - but it is God who does the miracles. What a freeing truth! Now, if I can just remember...

I invite feedback, thoughts, and interaction!

talent challenge: family business in nicaragua

I wrote about the talent challenge a few posts back and several people have asked if any of the stories had developed further. At least one church family sent their money to Jason and Tiffany Hinton, who write to describe what happened with that:

We also wanted to let you know about the “Talent Money” that you guys gave towards starting a small business here in Nicaragua. Well, we finally found the right person, although it took a while. There is a lady named Damiana who volunteered to give sewing classes (how to make clothes- skirt, shirts, shorts, pants, everything) to Tiffany’s moms group. She has given five 3-hour classes so far, and the ladies who are learning are going to have a big sale in October and sell their clothes. It has been a big success. Anyways, we put some of our money, along with the money you gave, towards buying Damiana a “charger” for her sewing machine allow her to do more with her sewing machines, and a lot faster. Instead of doing side jobs, she can make it a more steady source of income for her family. Anyways, we wanted to let you know about that. We are excited for her. She is a wonderful Christian lady, and we believe that it is a good investment.
If any of you took part in the talent challenge, e-mail me and let me know how it's going!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

the kindness of strangers

The Presbyterian Layman read online about the theft of our shepherd statue and the subsequent gift of a kind stranger. They asked me to write an article to tell this encouraging story, and it has been posted here:


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

open auditions for our fall play

From our creative arts director... open to the community for audition/roles:


Sunday, August 30, 3-5 pm at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

Performances: Saturday & Sunday, November 21 & 22
Rehearsals: Sunday afternoons: September 13 - November 15 & evenings Nov 15-20

Characters Needed:
1 male, 1 female in their 40s
2 males, 2 females older teen/college aged
1 male, 1 female in their 20s-30s
1 male or female in his/her 50s-60s
2 male or female elementary aged children

Premise: Stuck in an airport on Thanksgiving, a couple who are getting divorced (but haven't told their kids yet) learn about what makes a real family from the unlikeliest of characters.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

piper, projection, and pornography

Back at the end of July, Matthew Lee Anderson posted an article on the Mere Orthodoxy blog entitled, "Perfectionism and Death of the Local Church." His article struck a chord with me and, unable to post my comment, I e-mailed him my thoughts. It turned into what I think is an unusual and fruitful reflection on some of the dynamics of "virtual preachers" and the local church. Here are some excerpts from that original post, my comments, and his reply. Please also see his complete original post HERE.

Anderson spun off an article on technology, "virtual church," and an interesting question raised by John Lagrou HERE:

The virtually-connected church now has on-line access to the finest teaching and preaching imaginable, accessible at their convenience, 7 x 24 x 365. Of what value is physically proximate information (e.g., stage-centric pastor) when the average person can now access the best sermons, preaching, teaching, and cross-referenced commentary on-line?
Anderson responds:
...Fundamentally, there is no reason why any local church should continue to listen to Pastor Bob drone on and on when they can get the video of John Piper instead. What’s more, why simply have John Piper when you can alternate with Mark Driscoll? The use of video among multi-site churches (and, full disclosure, I attend one, though not for this reason) destroys any in principle reason why such an ‘all star’ conglomeration of video sermons shouldn’t be employed.

It has been my hypothesis of late that the rapid development and adoption of new technologies is exposing our anemic ecclesiologies and misguided understanding of the role and nature of the proclomation of the Word. Until evangelicals properly articulate why the Church gathers and hear’s the Word of God, and then shapes its churches accordingly, we will continue to be co-opted by technologism.

And that is probably the strongest statement I’ve ever made publicly on the matter.

...John [Lagrou’s rejection of ‘comparatively mediocre religious talk’ is instructive. Most local churches are comparatively mediocre. But they are not ‘talk.’ They, even the least skilled among them, are charged with proclaiming the Word of God, and in no way is that comparable with a lecture or a transmission of information. It is on a different plane, for it is a plane where God speaks through His word.
All of this amounts to a defense of mediocre pastors and the recognition that even in their proclamation they are not alone. It is the duty of the congregation to seek, to listen, to ask the God who speaks to speak through His humble servant’s lips.
I wrote to Matthew:

I am one of those average, local preachers, and I love and appreciate John Piper (and his online teaching), so I definitely understand and am in the middle of what you are describing in the posting.

Here's the somewhat scandalous analogy that came to my mind (yet also seems to support your point, which I agree with): there is an aspect to online preaching replacing local (average) preaching that is almost pornographic. I'm not trying to say that Piper or Desiring God are prostituting his teaching... rather it is the idea of turning to a "perfect preacher" out there rather than submitting to God's Word proclaimed and lived out in the context of the normal, everyday local church. The beauty of marriage to a real, everyday woman is exactly that: the ins and outs of loving and living with an imperfect person. If, more and more, I turn to video preachers, I give up much in terms of community, accountability, and the back/forth of submitting to and growing with a local preacher.

The analogy surely gives out at some point because I do think there is value in listening to Piper, et al. periodically or even frequently, but not as a substitute for a local community of faith and preacher (and I can't think of how that observation parallels marriage). Nonetheless, I think the partial analogy is somewhat helpful.

I'd be interested in your thoughts.
Anderson was kind enough to respond:

...the pornography analogy is, I think, exactly right up to the limitation you point out. One thing JP Moreland has said is that men my age (27) see more images of more beautiful women in a day than a man a hundred years ago would see in a lifetime. The result of that, he points out, is the thought that I can do better. I have personally seen how that thought slowly transforms into I deserve better. As you point, a very similar principle is at work in preaching, and I think it's deeply problematic for all the reasons you mention...

There's one other wrinkle, though, that I would add. One of the things that has bothered me immensely about evangelical culture since I started thinking about it is the frequency with which pastors leave their churches. That is, to me, enormously problematic and indicates just how badly evangelicals think about the role of the pastor. My observation is that most evangelicals don't actually think of their pastors as a member of their own community. They aren't an 'arm' or a 'foot' in the body of Christ, but rather something completely separate that can be dispensed of when things start to go badly. As such, they are easily replaced for better sermon-givers.
I'd be interested in any thoughts or response you readers might have.

Also see this RELATED VIDEO clip from Ed Setzer.

Update: In early 2011, I started seeing this notice at the bottom of the Desiring God (John Piper) RSS feed - let me just note how much I appreciate this!

Please Note: While we encourage you to join us for the sermon, we encourage you even more to give primary attention to the preaching in your local church. In other words, we do not intend for John Piper’s sermon to replace the preaching of the Word from your pastor in your local church.
Link: check out a great post by Dan Phillips at pyromaniacs on this same topic.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

talent challenge: mission benefit concert

Here are some photos from the mission benefit photo tonight at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. See this post for more on the talent challenge.

African Choir

Cathy Youngblood on piano

Ning Zhao, Violinist

Quartet that introduced each country by singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" in the native language.

Julie Johnson, violinist

A view of about half the sanctuary - it was packed!

Francisco Gross, missionary in Spain for whom the benefit concert was held

John Kaneklides, tenor - sang 8-9 songs from countries around the world and organized this wonderful outreach and mission support event!

a capella goodness

Here's Cathy Youngblood's arrangement of Psalm 118 by Shane Barnard. A small vocal ensemble from Good Shepherd is singing. Will Dolinger and Mike Slade (L-R) are lead vocalists. This was part of worship on July 26, 2009.

the talent challenge

Right before I left (for Sabbatical) at the end of April, I issued the “talent challenge.” Each person present that day received a card with a challenge to use and multiply what they received for God’s Kingdom. I intentionally did not give examples so that people might not be boxed in. I’d like to share with you some of the stories relayed back to me.

Note that this exercise isn't an end in itself, but is meant to be a parable. The point wasn’t to simply double the money and give it back; rather, it was to use it as one would use one’s own money, talent, or time, for the sake of something God is doing in the world - to practice an all-life-as-worship response to God's rich grace. Each of these are wonderful examples and their variety is equally wonderful.

One person planned a missions benefit concert. He used the money he received ($5) to pay for the promotional materials. The concert is to benefit Francisco and Shirley Gross, GSPC-supported missionaries in Spain. In addition to organizing this concert, this person added his own musical talents to the seed money. A love offering will be collected.

Another person, given $5, used the money toward sending a child to summer camp at Good Shepherd preschool. Sometimes you don’t see the fruit of a gift like that, but in this case we heard that the child woke up every morning asking his mom, “Do I have camp today?”

Inspired by the knitting ministry that came from two of our members traveling to Nicaragua, another gift of $20 and some cloth material went to Tiffany Hinton to help her start a sewing ministry. That person also decided to “match the gift” and invested another $20 in Bank of America stock for Good Shepherd. In addition to the matching gift idea, this also was seen as a way to support our local community and economy in a small but representative way.

Another couple received $5. They wrote, “We prayed and pondered what we could do to make it grow for God's kingdom. He gave us the answer via the 5-cents-a-meal offering the congregation participates in each month. We felt a burden for the hunger fund, especially because a number of people have lost and are continuing to lose jobs. We modeled our challenge on the hunger fund offering by deciding that we would increase it and call it "25-cents-a-deed." Every time we do something for someone (other than ourselves or each other), we put 25 cents in the box along with the $5 we were originally given. Whether we are doing something as simple as taking the neighbor's garbage out to the curb or driving a friend to the doctor or visiting someone at home or in a nursing home or taking a meal to someone, etc., we are depositing the 25 cents in the box each time. We are anxious to see how much we will have at the end of July. Funny thing about this, I received a request in the mail to fill out a TV survey ($5 was enclosed for completing it), so I did that, and then I was sent $10 for another very short one. We also deposited that $5 and $10 in our "25 cents a deed box."

Another person shared (very honestly!) the temptation to just spend the money on weekly needs like groceries or gas, but left the money set aside in the envelope. After seeing a notice in the Voice for the youth mission trip fundraiser, she came to the pancake breakfast and car wash. She found the conversation with church friends and youth a great blessing and decided to give the original $5 plus $5 for each youth she met and spoke with that morning. I can only imagine, then, as the youth return and report on their experiences the wonderful feedback of hearing the fruit of this investment!

One person who received $50 responded to a newsletter from GSPC missionaries, Phil and Arleen Blycker. In that newsletter they were looking for donations to purchase a third octave for a set of hand chimes. Because of an interest in music and the wonderful way music can spread the work of the Lord, she donated her talent challenge money to that program. They were seeking $500 and had a promise of $50 so now they only need $400.

One person who received $5 decided to purchase organic green peppers and then plant the seeds. That person shared several setbacks and some of the learning process. He wrote, “I was hoping to demonstrate that with a little personal effort, we can take something we already buy then take the parts we don't use and multiply the return. Sometimes I think children and teenagers feel like they can't do as much because they can't get jobs, drive, etc. So I was hoping to do something that everyone could do and had a measurable return. After all, who doesn't like a plant full of free $2 green peppers they would normally buy anyway? I'm hoping to be able to share a lot of the fruits with people I feel may be having a difficult financial time. I can't say that the concept of seed money wasn't an influence as well. What I’ve learned from my failures are far more valuable lessons than what I've learned from successes.” Even beyond these wonderful lessons, he went on to write, “As you may already be imagining, my involvement in "organic gardening" has already blossomed into experimentation, several new acquaintances in the industry and several ideas that have evolved from the root idea. I think the developments over the next few months will be exciting.

Another person gave $50 to Samaritan’s Purse after looking through one of their catalogues. That amount went to a program to “Train a Believer to Preach the gospel.” She wrote, “It is my belief that by using the funds in this manner, the Gospel can be spread to people throughout the world who will hear God’s Word and learn of His never-ending love for us.” Again, this is one of those examples where we may never see the fruit of the planting, but through trusted ministries like Samaritan’s Purse, a long-time mission of Good Shepherd, we can support God’s work in the world.

Another person shared that she tithed a portion of her $20 gift back to the church and used the rest to sponsor a friend in a fund-raising marathon. Challenging other friends to match her gift, the support level is already over five times her initial gift.

There are more stories to be told! (Some shared with me at the door after church). Bottom line, the message and challenge of this parable is this: God has blessed us richly through His grace! How will you respond?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

free stuff!

Do you like to listen to stuff online, on your iPod, or other mp3 player?

What about reading Christian classics?

You can have both through Christian Audio, a site with Christian audiobooks for download. Each month the site offers a free download. For August, it is Dante's Divine Comedy. Here's the link, with instructions for using the AUG2009 coupon code.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 12 - re-entry

Well, I didn't get to post any song clips yet, but I did finish the recording by midnight on Sunday night! I have some friends reviewing the rough mixes, like I do with the book, and hope to have both book and CD proofed, edited, and ready for publication and distribution by September.

I've also called an old youth group friend from Lenoir, who plays in a bluegrass-funk band, and she is going to add some fiddle/violin on a couple of tracks. I'm looking forward to seeing her after many years and getting a little more "help from my friends."

I started back at Good Shepherd on Monday the 27th, and have my hands full catching up after twelve weeks away. I spent Monday catching up with the ministry staff, reading e-mail and mail, and prioritizing to do's for the next few weeks. Today (Tuesday), I rejoined the men's morning prayer group and enjoyed seeing those guys again.

While this is the last "sabbatical fruit" report, I imagine the fruit of the sabbatical will be the subject of sermons and postings for some time to come. I feel like I learned a number of valuable lessons and know those will salt my ministry for some time.

I do hope to get some of the worship songs up over the next few weeks, and plan to make the CD available on iTunes when it is ready.

Thank you to Good Shepherd and the many folks who stepped up to cover for me while I was gone. I know of no other church that can cover 12 weeks of preaching internally (we did have some pastor friends come preach on communion Sundays). I am excited to be back in the midst of this dear congregation that is my church family and home!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 11 - with a little help from my friends

We started the week worshiping at Matthews Presbyterian Church, where we have several friends. We've been enjoying visiting different churches every week. Well, Heather and I have... the kids have been missing Good Shepherd... well, they did really like the church a few weeks ago that had the service on TV and juice and pastries to eat while we watched.

Monday night the whole family went to the Lodge bar/restaurant on Colony/Rea to eat dinner and hear Jim Terrell provide live entertainment. Jim stepped in to lead the music at VBS and our kids were all really excited to see him. Elizabeth was especially excited that he played harmonica on some songs! Jim has a beautiful voice and had a great playlist that included some great Eagles songs. I (and others) were singing along! I think he plays most Monday nights, starting at 7pm, so go check it out! (I'm pretty sure we also spotted Ric Flair... brought back childhood Sat. morning TV memories.)

The rest of the week I've been hard at the recording... up most nights until 3am trying to get all the CD tracks ready for the background vocals. And that leads to the title of the post... a number of friends are helping me out on this. Mike Slade came over last night (Fri) for 3 1/2 hours to sing on a bunch of the songs. Katie Meeks is coming over tonight, and John Kaneklides on Sunday night. I know each of them will add so much, and I appreciate their friendship and help on this project so much!

Hopefully, my week 12 post will have a few early snippets of songs (though I want to spend most of my remaining time mixing rather than posting). I'm out most of Tuesday to moderate the summer presbytery meeting... so really I only have a few days (and recall that mixing can take as long as recording!). But, I think I can get close.... at least a lot closer than I thought I would five weeks ago!

I'm also beginning to have church planning pressing in at the edges.... so much to do the first week back: August newsletter, sermon planning, Bonclarken planning, officer training, Wed. night planning, confirmation communication and planning, etc... (This is me writing it down here to see if I can keep it at bay for 8 more days!) Now I don't have to remember - I've written it down. :)

I continue to hope to hear from Good Shepherd folks about their "sabbatical assignment" - I've heard from 6-8 people or families... hope to hear from the rest!

'Til next week...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 10 - final push

Looking back...

My family and I returned on Tuesday afternoon from Montreat and the "Christian Life Conference." The teaching and fellowship were wonderful and the Good Shepherd worship team received much encouragement for the worship music. Here are some pictures of us in action...

And Cathy leading a conference hymn on the organ.
I particularly like
the photo (all
by Paul Detterman)...
the way Cathy's
head is inclined
toward the cross
on the front wall. :)

Pressing on...

10 weeks down... where did it all go? And the next two weeks are punctuated by a trip to Greensboro and presbytery responsibilities. Only a handful of "sabbatical days" left.

"Final push" may sound like the opposite of restful, renewing, ect... but part of the joy of this time has been seeing some long-awaited projects moving toward completion. I realize that I may not completely finish these by the end of the sabbatical, but I think I'll get close... at least close enough to finish in Aug/Sept.

So, I've been recording into the wee hours. The only thing is that of all the instruments I play, I have the least control over my voice. And honestly, it's a $200 guitar as voices go. I know what I want to sing, how I want to sing, and I can get the notes... but there's only so much I can do past that. But, this isn't really about commercial viability or vocal awesomeness as getting my creative juices flowing and sharing some music with others. So, I'm pleased with how it's coming together. The CD will definitely have some variety on it... I'll leave it at that for now. :)

So if you are praying for me, pray for good use of time, good vocal chops, and the logistics of getting some friends in for background vocals. Thanks!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 9 - retreating... in a good way

Wow - 9 weeks of 12 have flown by!

This past week was good in every way. I progressed significantly on the music recordings, adding electric guitar to a number of songs. I also got the proof of the new study book, The Breadth of Worship, out to several people to edit and review for me. And I got out on the bike several times - three different outings of 5-15 miles, which felt GREAT.

I had also decided, for personal reasons, not to pursue the novel I started in the Spring. But, encouragement from my daughter (for whom I was writing it) have convinced me to try to finish. It won't happen by the end of sabbatical, but I am excited about it again. I let her read the first three chapters (all I've written) and she really wants to hear how the story turns out. So, hopefully, we'll have The Gift in time for Christmas!

I'm finishing this week at Montreat at the Presbyterians for Renewal "Christian Life Conference." Three other members of the Good Shepherd worship team are with me and we are deeply enjoying leading music for the 500+ person conference. I am particularly enjoying Dr. Kenneth Bailey, who is the morning Bible teacher. He spent his life and career teaching Biblical studies in the Middle East and his direct knowledge of that culture opens up so many facets of the Biblical text. The conference runs through Tuesday, so I'll have a half-week on my return to get back to recording.

I can sense the... what shall I call them... opportunities :) of the Fall awaiting me. I am excited to share with the congregation what I have been doing and learning. Through these sabbatical experiences I also believe God is preparing me for the coming months and years of ministry. I look forward to seeing that unfold. I'm resisting the temptation to get into planning for the Fall (or even August), knowing what a flood of work will be waiting. But I'm not dreading it; rather, I'm excited to jump back into life and ministry post-sabbatical. Hopefully, that is the sign of a healthy sabbatical!

I imagine the last three weeks will pass in a rush. There is still much I'd like to accomplish, but I've also come to peace with letting things progress at the pace they need. So, some of these projects may extend into the Fall and beyond. That is fine and good. Spending all this time on projects I love has strengthened my call to ministry - I don't wish I were doing this full-time, but am still convinced deeply of my call to ministry. And yet, I also see the great value of building time for these pursuits into my personal life. Music and writing (and exercise) are so life-giving and renewing, and I need that to continue to be at my best.

I'm writing all that down so I won't forget. Ha! (and if I do, just refer me to this post!)

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