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!

Monday, October 15, 2012

missional life in the small(er) church

Some key posts gathered into one list. Hoping some Montreat Wee Kirk folks stop by!

  • Wednesday Night Experiment (series) - initial description and follow-up reports of our experiment of pushing the Wednesday night church meeting outside the walls into the neighborhood.  Some exciting results!!  Continue reading about year two HERE.
  • Missional Identity in the Small Church (series) - this series chronicles 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.  The initial link has links to the successive posts.
  • Each One Bring One - our September 2012 outreach emphasis with a home-grown video from our drama and children's ministry
  • VBS on the Road - the story of taking our Vacation Bible School outside the walls
  • Searchlight-in-Training - 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
  • Truth and Error (series) - study of truth and error in the local church from 2 Timothy 2
  • Frost Defines Missional (part 1, part 2, part 3) - blogged through Michael Frost's presentation on missional church at the 2007 Presbyterian Global Fellowship conference
  • The Talent Challenge - a real-life missional "parable of the Talents" exercise; two follow-up reports below
    • 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 start-up sewing classes

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

each one bring one

Last Sunday I preached on the text in John 1 where the first disciples (Andrew, Philip) found and invited their brother (Peter) and friend (Nathanael) to come and see Jesus.  I challenged the congregation to do the same in the coming weeks as we have worship and sermons (and other activities) geared especially for friends and others that might be new (or returning) to the faith.

Kathy Larson put together this excellent video for us to use as an illustration and application of the text.  It was especially fun for me because my 10 year-old daughter did the narration.

Friday, August 17, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (conclusion)

From the intro: ... If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

What God holds up to us in these Commandments is a picture of life ordered according to God’s wisdom, justice, and love. The Law may be compared to a parent’s rules for children. You may play in the yard; but not in the street. It is not only the rule, it offers safety, security, and in the extreme, even life over injury or death. So also, the Ten Commandments are not rules to hamper us, but rules to set us free. Keeping or breaking the Ten Commandments isn’t about salvation. Breaking them doesn’t take you out of consideration; keeping them doesn’t purchase you a ticket to Heaven. Rather, they form a description of what a God-ordered and blessed life looks like. To the extent that we experience that, we begin to get a sense of how good God’s Word and will are for us. To the extent that we fall short and live in disarray, we realize just what was lost in the Garden.

These are not rules by which we should measure and ask, “Am I good enough?” The answer to that question is that we are ALL dead in sin – dead in sin! Rather, the Ten Commandments are an example of God COMING AFTER US, to breathe life and hope into us – to offer us boundaries and a home and a place of safety in a fallen world where we are already at play in the street. God is already initiating His rescue plan. So our attentiveness to the Commandments at once shows us how lost we are and how God is already coming to find us through His Word.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).  For all of thebig10 posts in one post, go HERE.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (x)

From the intro: ... If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

X. The tenth commandment uniquely points towards a New Testament perspective, where we must even guard our interior thoughts, guarding against temptation and the sinful attitudes that lead to sinful actions. This aspect of the Ten Commandments is often overlooked; we think of the Ten as major crimes or sins of commission. But here we see that continued longing for what we don’t have is itself sin. Is this not Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden?

Next: conclusion

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (vi-ix)

From the intro: ... If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

VI-IX. The sixth through ninth commandments describe a God-ordered life in terms of our neighbors, not taking from them selfishly, but loving them selflessly. Murder, adultery, stealing, and lying all take from those around us. Their inherent selfishness breaks the first commandments and the community implications breech what Jesus will later call “love of neighbor.” In these commandments, we see that God’s design for humanity is not just individual and internal, but societal and missional. Indeed, you do see in the Ten Commandments what will be lifted up clearly in the New Testament, that the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (v)

From the intro: ... If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

V. The fifth commandment (parents) describes a God-ordered life in terms of home and family. So submitting our lives to God’s leadership and worship not only affect our use of time, but also our relationships. The commandment to honor parents is more than respecting mom and dad. It requires something of children, but also of parents. It gets at all of family life, from respect to obedience to communication to how parents and children should relate throughout life.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).

Monday, August 13, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (iv)

From the intro: ... If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

IV. The fourth commandment (Sabbath) describes a God-ordered life in terms of work, rest, and time. Often you will hear the commandments sub-divided into the first four about God and the last six about human relationship. But the Sabbath commandment bridges between. Most importantly, it speaks not just of one day in seven, but of all seven days. It marks out our time as all belonging to God, subject to the commandments already given. And part of ordering our life under God is to not to over- or under-prioritize work, rest, or the balance between the two. Issues of work, recreation, family time, personal time, exercise, health, rest, and worship are all addressed in this commandment. It is a prime example of how the Commandments bring order and structure to our view of time and life.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (i-iii)

From the intro: ... If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

A God-ordered Life

I-III. The first three commandments describe a God-ordered life with God alone as priority, vision, and worthy of worship, love, and service. They speak of God alone in the highest place, the place of worship, love, service, and obedience. Nothing is to take God’s place or even compete. It is the supreme and sole priority of God in our lives that orders all the rest of life. So these commandments speak to idolatry and worship, to obedience and disobedience, to service and to selfishness.

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).

Friday, August 10, 2012

thebig10 - more than rules (intro)

From a sermon on the Ten Commandments and from a forthcoming devotional study book on sin and redemption (e-mail or comment for more info).

I realize that most often we look at the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) as a list and consider each one as a self-contained unit. But the Commandments function as a whole, as a legal (in the biblical sense) and moral whole. Formally, they are presented as a covenant document. There are several covenants in the Bible, but at heart each is God graciously reaching out toward humanity and offering to intervene and help in the human condition. If you look at the Ten Commandments as a whole, you can see the way they describe an order to life – a pattern of living in obedience to and relationship with God. And it is that ordered life, which would also be understood in Scripture as a blessed life that is in view for all who would trust God.

Next: i-iii

God’s Law cannot save from death, but for those living in the ashes between Eden and the End, the Commandments offer a temporary shelter in the present world, with all the hope of a God who is coming to save us from death itself.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

ga220 reflection guest post - "making disciples"

The commissioners from the Presbytery of Charlotte were to report at our presbytery meeting today and a written reflection by myself and Kate Murphy was unintentionally omitted from the presbytery packet.  I had shared the "Disappointment and Hope" reflection from this blog.  The other reflection was by my friend, the Rev. Kate Murphy. Her reflection is below.

“Making Disciples” – the Rev. Kate Murphy

Reflections on the 220th General Assembly (2012)

After some soul-searching, I’m going to share this piece I wrote on the second day of GA. I don't write to tear down the PCUSA. This is the place God calls me to be, but I do trust God enough to tell the truth (as I see it)--because I think God is pruning and shaping us into something beautiful.

Yesterday, I worshiped at Mt. Ararat Baptist church with my friend Eustacia—and it was possibly the most powerful and authentic worship service I’ve ever experienced—the fellowship, the music, the dancing, the JOY—and the word. Rev. Curtis is an incredible preacher—but I’ve heard lots of really great preachers. What’s breath-taking is that you realize, the sermon is not the goal for him—it’s the tool, it is the means to the end—and the end is us. He’s preaching to create and deepen disciples, you can look around and see people changing, things breaking down in their hearts—in my heart. That congregation isn’t focused on being a great church (though it certainly is), and that ministry isn’t just making disciples, it’s maturing them. That community of faith teaches believers that life with Christ is not about knowing more or doing more, it’s about being more through the grace of Jesus Christ.

And I wonder, when did we in the PCUSA get the idea that there were more important things to do than make and deepen disciples? And we have—just look at what we gather to do at our big important bi-annual meeting. We don’t gather in committees to talk about evangelism, or spiritual disciplines, or stewardship, or worship—much less patience or forgiveness or love. We don’t want to be more in Christ—we want to do things in the world for God. I did not sit on the Ministry with Immigrants committee—we’re not interested in being church with strangers and ‘aliens’ in our country, we didn’t spend a second talking about that. I sat on the Immigration Affairs committee, because we’re focused on making policy, not disciples. We’re telling the world—and ourselves—what matters in the PCUSA. We’ve got more important things to do than grow deep in the grace of God. We’ve got to fix the world.

Why don’t we get that the most important work we have to do as an institution is to form the people that God sends out into the world? When did raising up and equipping the priesthood of all believers become insignificant to us? Don’t tell me we do it—we don’t even talk about doing it. And don’t tell me God does it for us without any intentionality and effort on our part. Nobody grows deep in God by accident. People whose hearts God lights on fire will go looking for a place to equip them to carry that flame out into a cold and dark world. Mt. Ararat Baptist is doing that work. And it’s not because they’re right and we’re wrong—it’s because God is equipping them to do it, because they’ve made it their primary work. I know God would equip us too—in our own way, in our own style, if only we chose it for our primary work. What if instead of writing policy papers for the US State Department, we tried to nurture and form disciples to go and be the State Department—or if we tried to be the body of Christ with and for the men and women God has already called to do that work?

Monday, July 16, 2012

ga220 reflection 4 - stuck: per capita is crippling my presbytery

AKA "Change is Hard"

In a previous post, I wrote:

Particularly around the dividing issues, I experienced the parliamentary maneuvering often as an effort by many to “guard what we’ve already won.”
An even more tangible demonstration of this point came when I put a motion before the Assembly to cap mandatory presbytery per capita payment at 18% of the presbytery operating budget.  The push-back came from folks who seemed to think that this motion would somehow reward or enable churches that withheld per capita.  For one, it is the right of sessions to do so; but more importantly, the motion had nothing to do with that issue, but with protecting presbyteries from the double whammy of a fixed tax that CANNOT adjust with dramatic budget declines in many presbyteries.

For example, in my own presbytery, per capita is fixed at nearly $300,000 (based on our membership).  Five years ago, when we had a thriving $2.4M operating budget, that per capita amounted to 12.5% of our budget.  In 2012, with a projected $1.1M operating budget, that same $300,000 per capita will be 27% of our budget.  In order to pay our mandatory per capita (which we will!), mission, staffing, savings, and critical infrastructure suffer dramatically.  The Assembly seemed so fearful of cracking a (logically unrelated) door for what were described as renegade congregations that they were unwilling to take care of a major health risk for our most important mid-council bodies, the presbyteries.

What’s my point?  It’s that we aren’t just stuck on some issues; we are really stuck… in the ways we debate, the way we refer and study, the way we spend money, and the way we do the same things over and over even though we agree that the results are problematic.  We are so stuck we are hurting ourselves.  Lord, help us!

Related: see the comment thread here for a lively exchange and perhaps further illustration of my point

Saturday, July 14, 2012

ga220 reflection 3 - stuck: the mid-council report

AKA "Change is Hard"

In the previous post, I wrote:

Particularly around the dividing issues, I experienced the parliamentary maneuvering often as an effort by many to “guard what we’ve already won.”

Neither conservatives nor liberals had exclusive rights to guarding their territory.  Another significant example came with the response to the Mid-Council Commission’s report.  With diverse members and wide-ranging information-gathering and visioning, this two-year study was nearly shut down in committee.  Further, the commission’s chair (Tod Bolsinger) told me he probably only had 15 min. with the committee, and with the disapproval of that committee, had none slated before the Assembly.  And this was one of the great refer and study groups from 2010.

I helped put several of the mid-council commission recommendations back up before the Assembly, but the proposal for non-geographic presbyteries was soundly defeated.  And here’s the part I want to note: both in committee and on the floor of the Assembly, the rationale given against non-geographic presbyteries seemed to primarily be about “not letting the conservatives get away with our property.”

But wait… the mid-council proposal guarded against that very thing!  It was to be a temporary experiment for missional purposes, requiring ongoing relationship with the presbytery of origin, and specifically leaving responsibility for property with the presbytery of origin.

What I’m saying is that out of fear of losing people, congregations, or assets, the Assembly missed the truly missional and forward-thinking gift of much the Mid-Council report had to offer.

Could it be that changing the way we do things might disadvantage us politically against the other?  That’s the sense I got, though I hope I’m wrong.  And at any rate, we did not adequately discuss, much less digest, the hard work of the mid-council commission.

John Vest, a member of the mid council commission, wrote an in-depth report and reflection on these same things.  I commend it for your reading: "Mid Councils Reform: Failure to Launch" (July 6, 2012).  I also commend a reflective article on the clash of cultures, the resistance to change, and the sovereignty of God, by Jake Horner: "...Adaptive Leadership" (July 12, 2012)

Addendum: over on the MGB forum on Facebook, Ed Brenegar made a valuable observation that ideas don't fall (or rise) by parliamentary vote, but by the will of those believing in them.  Even if the mid-council report had been approved and celebrated at GA, we'd still need to live out that vision and change locally, and there is nothing stopping us from doing so.  Sure, that approval would have added some momentum and exposure of the ideas, but I join those with a vision for healthy, local congregations reaching beyond their walls in continuing this work in practice! I blog about our missional experiment regularly at lighthouse/searchlight church, and would welcome your comments and interaction there.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

ga220 reflection 2 - there's stuck and then there's stuck

AKA "Change is Hard"

There was an interesting exchange in the comments over at StayPCUSA (a group of young evangelicals committed to staying in the PCUSA).  Hope Italiano Lee posted* about the ethos of the 220th General Assembly (2012):

…this General Assembly would rather expend every ounce of energy on fighting the issues than to even attempt to change the focus of our conversations toward strengthening and building up the body of Christ here on earth.
Landon Whitsitt, vice-moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) responded in the comments, challenging Hope:
Honestly, I find your analysis interesting because you all seemed to be an Assembly more willing to argue over how long you were going to argue and who got called on at what microphone than anything. When several persons, for instance, asked to simply be allowed to discuss having an AI on marriage, the body said “No.” I’m having a hard time finding something like that as being consonant with your assertion that you and your fellow commissioners were interested in fighting over issues.
Landon’s point is well-taken, but I interpret what he is describing as a more extreme expression of the pre-occupation on issues that Hope describes.  Particularly around the dividing issues, I experienced the parliamentary maneuvering often as an effort by many to “guard what we’ve already won.”

For example, the Assembly's refusal to discuss the marriage AI could be avoidance of a hard issue (what Landon seemed to be suggesting); but it could also be a way for one side to prevent the possibility of “losing” to the other (except for the hopeful gesture I noted in my previous post!).

I saw this dynamic vividly played out around two other topics, which I will address in upcoming posts: the Mid-Council report and a motion to cap per capita. 

* http://staypcusa.com/2012/07/11/the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side-or-it-might-just-be-astro-turf/

Thursday, July 12, 2012

ga220 reflection 1 - disappointment and hope

I’ve been back from General Assembly for four days now and I’m just now feeling rested and alert.  Not only were the days long and intense, there was an overload of information, implications, opinions, and feelings.  I mention the last one because for this INFJ pastor, bearing the spoken and unspoken range of emotion for a room of 1500+ people is exhausting after 30 minutes, much less after a 15+ hour day.

I’m still processing much of the experience, and will share over the next few days and weeks, but I want to begin by sharing broadly on the themes of disappointment and hope.


I experienced great disappointment and sadness during the Assembly.  I was not disappointed to not be elected moderator.  I was not disappointed that some votes didn’t go my way (and not particularly elated over the ones that did).  I was disappointed that, as a whole, this Assembly seemed to choose the familiarity and “safety” of the old way of doing things over the admittedly risky possibility of something new.  The invitations were there from all four moderator candidates, from the community and example of the YAADs, from three significant two-year committee reports (Mid-Councils, 21st Century, Biennial Assembly), and from the stories and inspirational leadership of the GAMC.  And time and again, I saw or perceived the unwillingness of the body to relinquish any ground that could possibly be used by ecclesiastical opponents.  I’ll unpack some of that in subsequent posts, but overall, it left me saddened that several places where folks with theological differences could have come together around mission and ministry, we backed away and hunkered down.


There were shining exceptions to that disappointment, and those exceptions gave me great hope.  I found hope in folks like Emily Proctor, who extended trust and with whom (I discovered) I have more in common than we have apart.  I was blessed to begin a friendship with her in the midst of the Assembly, despite our differences on some issues.  I experienced hope when Chris Campbell, a notably conservative commissioner, moved to pull deliberation of an authoritative interpretation on marriage out of the “answer all” motion on the floor because he knew how important that discussion was to so many (even though he would have voted against it).  I experienced hope when Miriam Dolin, who did not support non-geographic presbyteries, nonetheless moved for the discussion of them to be put back on the floor after that topic was disapproved in committee.  I experienced hope from various places on the theological spectrum as a few questioned our tendency to refer, study, ignore, repeat, and instead challenged the Assembly to use money and resources to strengthen local churches and grow healthy disciples.

What gives me an extra measure of hope is that though we feel so stuck, the Spirit is yet moving in and through brothers and sisters like these.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

moderator election (2012) - opening speech, QandA

Opening speeches of the moderator candidates at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  My speech begins at 17:15.

Question and answer on the floor of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Questions Asked
  1. 00:05 - Jeff Krehbiel - TEC, National Capital: Pastoral dilemma over what to say to member in congregation who plans to get married to someone of the same sex in a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is allowed by the state.  What advice do you offer?  (RA, 08:28)
  2. 11:52 - Ed Bush - REC, Los Ranchos: What is the Gospel? (RA, 12:58)
  3. 14:05 - Tim Simpson - TEC, St. Augustine: What should I/you/GA do if an interest group is inappropriately influencing commissioners through gifts/trips? (RA, 16:45)
  4. 19:45 - Emily McColl - TEC, Los Ranchos: What personal initiative will you take to bring people who are different to Jesus? And how to keep churches IN the PCUSA? [at least that's what I thought the questions were; you can listen for yourself!] (RA, 21:55)
  5. 32:45 - Jeremy Glidden - YAAD, Genesee Valley: Please share some personal examples of dealing with conflict in the church. (RA, 40:10)
  6. 42:57 - Chris Campbell - TEC, Grace: Please explain what "missional" means and an example of how you have been a part of missional ministry. (RA, 47:35)
  7. 52:08 - Hunter Badgley - YAAD, Alaska: What are your ideas on fostering relationships and building community at General Assembly? (RA, 54:06)
  8. 60:03 - Chris Enoch - TEC, Redstone: With most of our congregations being small in size, what does a healthy, small church look like? (RA, 60:38)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

a box of crayons, the mid-council report, and the status quo

John Vest, a member of the mid-council commission, recently posed the question of whether the General Assembly will embrace some of the change recommended in the mid-council recommendations or whether we will protect the organizational status quo.  I'm with John on that question and am hopeful that we will hear and respond to the good work and vision of the mid-council commission.  Here's how I answered one question about that report in the moderator candidates' booklet.

In the Mid-Council Commission report a great deal of the narrative spoke to the emerging shapes and forms for mid-councils. In your view, what do you find especially promising in the narrative and why?

Pastor to youth director 1:

I want you and the kids to have an incredible lock-in.  I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing, creative, and fun things you do with them.  Just remember not to break anything, to clean up afterwards and make sure that on Sunday morning we can’t tell that you were here.

Pastor to youth director 2:

I hope you and the kids have an incredible lock-in.  I’ll be praying for everything you do and can’t wait to tell the congregation about it.  Don’t worry if things get a little messed up.  I’ll remind them that it’s a sign that we’re doing something right!
There is an interesting parallel between the narratives of the report and our attitudes towards youth and young adults.  In both cases, established leadership wants things to flourish, but we often hover, ready to swoop in if things get out of our control.  There is a necessary tension between risking “failure” and risking “success”; perhaps we need to redefine both and change the conversation altogether.

I find great promise in the mid-council commission report because of a willingness to allow presbyteries to adapt from organizations that “regulate” everything within their bounds to Christ-connected partners that encourage, equip, and connect local congregations in their mission and ministry.  This is the same move we have been trying to make in my presbytery (Charlotte) for some time, as well as in the church I serve (where we seek to equip and partner with each member for ministry and mission).  For us, a key question has become,

“What is God doing in and around us
and how can we be a part of that?

Similarly, I am drawn to the creative language in the MCC report about a large canvas and a palette of colors for experimentation; but I’ve had the experience of giving children a sheet of paper and four crayons.  It invites creativity but can also limit it.  What if the Spirit moves beyond the canvas or paints with a color we have not defined?  Will we shut it down or call it “out of order?”  What if a new ministry or worshiping community forms that is “beyond the frame” we have drawn?  If it ends up not bearing the name PC(USA), what is that to us if it honors and serves Christ in the world?  Let’s bless it and give thanks that God has moved among us and out from us!

Finally, the report names a crisis of trust as “the single greatest threat to the vitality and future existence of the church.”  Indeed, I have found in my presbytery that challenges of money and ministry are only symptoms of underlying issues of trust and relationship.  I welcome the encouragement to create, envision and experiment; but we must also take seriously the invitation to build relationships and develop “theological friendships.”  The significant value of these relationships is, perhaps, a hidden jewel in this report that we dare not miss.

For the mid-council report in various forms and sections, see the page here.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

hope for the church

Earlier this year Moderator Cynthia Bolbach and a group of other ruling and teaching elders posted a video entitled, "Hope for the PC(USA)."  They invited others in the church to share with the church why we believe "this to be the beginning, not the end, of what God has planned for us."  What follows is my answer to that invitation...

I have great hope and conviction that God is alive and well and at work in this world in which we live. That was just confirmed in person as I sat at the corner coffee shop and had a conversation with the manager who has become a friend, who shared some of her own personal burdens, the help she gains from her recent faith, and her desire to follow God's leading in her work and life. That she had no church background or desire to know God did not stop God from pursuing and finding her. Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

I have great hope that God is alive and well and at work in the part of the Church called the PCUSA. I see it as I share stories with friends across the presbytery and across the country. For instance, I see it in my good friend's church - a "transformation church" that has struggled to cling to life, battled the prospect of change, and embodies new life in Christ. Despite struggle and tears, even accusations and opposition, I have heard and seen the Gospel of Jesus Christ SHINE through her and those remaining to become God's church in their neighborhood. I see our presbytery responding to a vision of becoming less about institutional maintenance (survival?!) and more about asking what God is already doing through the congregations of our presbytery. Despite resistance to change, guarding of territory, and fear of the unknown, I have seen the Spirit stir and move in and among our presbytery.

I am not ignorant or indifferent to the challenges before us. John Vest's "Pathos" post earlier this year was piercingly truthful about the ways we fail and fall short. But my hope is not pinned to institutional "success," human merit, or theological position. Honestly, I have been disappointed by people all across the theological spectrum; I have also been greatly encouraged, challenged, and witnessed to by people all across that same spectrum. People are people... and they sure aren't God. My hope comes from a conviction that God's ability to move, work, help, and save is not dependent on human success or faithfulness. That doesn't let us off the hook in terms of faithfulness or obedience, but it sure keeps me from becoming hopeless.

Finally, I have great hope because of my own congregation and ministry. And lest that seem obvious or self-promoting, that hope comes precisely because of my own keen awareness of my limitations and failures. One of the ways I describe our congregation is "ordinary people; extraordinary God" - and I mean every bit of that. There is nothing I would deem good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, Jesus-centered or wayward as Hell, in the denomination that I don't also encounter in my own congregation and my own life. And God keeps showing up, stirring us up, calling us back, cleaning us up, and sending us out under the Word, sealed in the Spirit, and following the Son.

Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

Friday, May 25, 2012

training, habit, desire, and character

Once upon a time, a bedtime scene played out at my house that happens more frequently than I'd like. One of my beautiful, precious, beloved young daughters (seriously - they are amazing) lost it, started yelling, hit her mother, and kicked her sister. Having been warned only 5 minutes earlier (not to mention every day of her life) that she may not hit her mother, I took her up to her room to go on to bed. For nearly 30 minutes she alternately yelled and cried, "It's not fair! It's not fair!" After a long time of this, realizing she could not and would not listen to me, I left her alone for a time and only later was able to talk to her. What happened was also familiar - she had wanted something and was not getting her way. Though we responded to her with boundaries and expectations (like, "you need to wait for 2 minutes until this show we are all watching is over") she wanted what she wanted NOW. And despite the fact that she desperately also wanted to see the end of the show (the really not fair part!), her desire for her own wants took precedence over the rest of the family, the "rules", and even the carefully explained boundaries.

I describe all this in detail because we really do bend over backwards to be fair to our kids (as they are constantly comparing their treatment to their siblings treatment). But, despite all the fairness we could muster, when my daughter didn't get what she wanted, the whole world became unfair.

What was I doing anyway? Was I trying to make her miserable? Was I trying to control everyone around me? Was TV more important than what she wanted? Did I make up arbitrary and meaningless rules to rob her of her happiness? No, ultimately - and maybe you can't explain this to a five year old - I was trying to teach her that trickiest of human lessons, that she is not the center of the universe. I don't mean that in a mean way - in many ways, she IS near the center of my universe! But I believe from the depth of my soul that one of my chief purposes as a parent is to show her the face of God and that God is the center of the universe. This is the "missional" or "searchlight" lesson played out in the parent/child setting. Ultimately that involves teaching her that loving and serving God is more important than self. And closely tied to that (says Jesus), loving and serving others is more important than self. [But then, just to keep it challenging, I'm also supposed to teach her that she (herSELF) is important because she is created in God's image to reflect His glory.]

And as a parent, I train her for this by walking her through the steps of gracious submission to God and others again and again until it becomes habit, then desire, then character.

And anyone who has trained, coached, or parented knows, that process comes with many, many hours of "that's not fair" and even an occasional, "you hate me!" That's what stinks. It's no fun having your child rail against you claiming you aren't fair and don't love them, when nothing could be further from the truth. What I cling to as those cries rip my heart out is the conviction that I am being faithful as a parent and the hope that one day they will "get it."

I often tell people that becoming a parent was and is one of the most significant things to happen in my own spiritual life. That's because I finally got a first-hand glimpse at how God sees me and God's infinite patience and love toward me when I rail against Him in frustration. I get reminded of it every day, and that's a beautiful thing.

Re-posted from 2008

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

more than cookies, pt. 2

I was looking at some favorite posts and this one from 2009 is worth sharing again! 

[continued from yesterday...]

Highlight #2 - Monday, March 16 (2009)

The next day we had a memorial service for Larry Wilson, the husband and father of some long-term church members. Though I had Larry a few times over the years, I really "met" him for the first time last October when I went to the hospital to pray with him. He was dying of liver failure related to alcoholism. In order to get a liver transplant, he was required to be clean and sober for six months, and attend regular AA meetings the whole time. Larry's story is a long and amazing one - too long for this space. But the short of it is that he turned to God in the process, asked me to baptize him, and started coming to church (when he could get up). His health continued to vary wildly, but spiritually he grew steadily and strongly. As part of AA and in conjunction with his new faith, he began making amends to family and friends he had wronged. I shared in the memorial service that after seeing God deliver him from near death several times during the six months, I was sure that he was going to make it and have an amazing story to tell. He did all that was required, but in the end was denied a transplant.

I talked about the story of Jesus healing the paralytic, when he said, "Which is easier - to forgive sin or to tell him to be healed, rise, and walk?" In the end I recognized that while healing Larry would have made a spectacular testimony, God had already done the real and harder miracle - transforming this man into a faith-filled child of God. His family said that the last six months (much of which was in and out of ICU) was the best six months of their relationship with him. He became a new husband and father, and their testifying to that was amazing.

The memorial service was not unlike the previous day - it was packed with people who weren't church "regulars." There was a big group from church - because they knew the family so well. There was a big group from Larry's golf club, where he spent so much time. And there was a group from his AA meetings. Those who spoke represented all these groups. And their testimony of what God did in Larry was amazing. The service music was unorthodox... Larry's son's best friend - a 13 yr. old singer/songwriter (see related post) sang two original songs to start and end the service. She also covered a Lynyrd Skynyrd song called "Simple Man" that fit well into the story from Luke 12:16ff that Larry had marked in his Bible. And we had a trio from church do a bluegrass arrangement of "I'll Fly Away" as the congregational hymn.

Kind of like the Girl Scout Sunday service, it was a wild and out-of-the-ordinary service... and it was GLORIOUS. Jesus and joy were all over it, in stories and language that made sense to everyone present.

God is alive and well and moving in the world. If we churched folks can get up and get out and follow God's searchlight mission in the world, we may just get to see some amazing things and be a part of what God is doing. Last Sunday and Monday, I got a peek!

Monday, May 21, 2012

more than cookies, pt. 1

I was looking at some favorite posts and this one from 2009 is worth sharing again! 

Last weekend was a highlight in ministry and personal experience of worship. There were two reasons for this, though either one alone would have been a "highlight."

Highlight #1 - Sunday, March 15 (2009)

The first was last Sunday morning. It was "Girl Scout Sunday." This simply meant that the Girl Scouts who use our church were invited to come participate in worship: ushering, reading scripture, and sharing briefly during the announcements about who they are and what they do (besides cookies!).

"Simply" misses what happened altogether. There are two troops that meet in our church. One is a brownie troop (6 yr. olds) that we started. It's about half church kids and half from our nearby neighborhoods. The other is an older troop (11 yr. olds) who are all from the nearby neighborhood. They were meeting in the neighborhood clubhouse, but when it burned down about a year ago we offered them space to meet.

I remember some of the discussion when we started offering space to neighborhood groups free of charge. How is it explicitly evangelistic? How does it advance the Kingdom? We concluded that it was an expression of being a good neighbor and even if there was no direct evangelistic application, it was still a good witness and worth doing.

I had chosen the scripture text some two months ago, not knowing at that point about "Girl Scout Sunday." We had also unwittingly scheduled the children's choir to sing. In fact, until close to the last minute, the Girl Scouts were coming the previous Sunday, but when they found out I would be out of town we moved it to the 15th. So, the way the Sunday fell, I was preaching on James 2, on favoritism in the church. Funny how that worked - the sermon was on Christians not making church all about their favorite things and favorite people, but learning to follow the heart of God for the people of the world - our neighbors living right around us.

The 11:00 service was rather circus-like in that there was so much unusual stuff going on. Kids singing, moving, a long (but awesome) children's sermon, girl scouts doing stuff in an unfamiliar context. Anyway, at about 11:45 I got up to preach and gave a shortened version of the same sermon.

The long and the short of it - through a simple act of opening up a room in our church a couple of nights a month, we had the opportunity to meet, worship with, and hear God's Word on a very relevant topic with 23 young girls and their family and friends. And the scouts asked us if they could come to worship!

Check back tomorrow for highlight #2, which followed the very next day!!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

1 of 1001 new worshiping communities?

So, mission leaders in my denomination have cast a vision for 1001 new worshiping communities in the next ten years.  At a conference this past winter, one of the speakers said something like, "If we really understood what it means to reach beyond our walls and share the gospel (and broaden our definition of "worshiping community" beyond a new church building), this would be no problem at all; we'd have 10,001 new worshiping communities!"

That comment got me thinking about our Wednesday Night Experiment, particularly the group I have been a part of, and I thought, "Well, if we aren't there yet, we're getting pretty darn close!"  So, I wanted to share and reflect briefly on one of our several groups going outside the walls on Wednesday nights.

After a potluck dinner about 6:15pm every Wednesday night, I jump in my car and drive two blocks to the corner Caribou coffee shop.  It's the go-to coffee shop for the extended neighborhoods around our church and day or night there are always neighbors to be found.  For three years now, Jim Terrell and I (with an array of guests) have been playing bluegrass music from 7-8pm (how that started for us here).  Three years in, we recognize almost all of the folks showing up. 

When we arrive, there might be anywhere from 2-10 patrons in the store.  By 8pm when we wind down, there are as many as 3-4 musicians, 8-10 church members, and 15-25 patrons who come regularly for the music.  The store has put up a sign advertising the live music and each week we seem to get the regulars and a few new folks. We know the baristas by name - indeed, several have become good friends.  We know most of the regulars and have had the opportunity to learn their stories: a school teacher who likes to come grade papers and listen; a retired couple who haven't been in church in a while, but who love "the Good Shepherd people"; a Catholic mom who brings her two daughters every week for hot chocolate and the music; the owners of the music store next door sometimes drop in; and many more.  Our church folks also know most of these folks - that has been organic, not a "hunt them down and evangelize them" strategy, but a "hey, I saw you last week" kind of slowly growing friendship.

The buzz in the neighborhood has also grown slowly, because a lot of these same coffee-drinking, bluegrass-singing Presbyterians also volunteer when the neighborhood elementary school has a workday or open up our church for neighborhood association meetings or for girl scout troops to meet.  What kind of amazing word of mouth is it when I ask a visitor how they heard about our church and they tell me that someone at the coffee shop (who doesn't attend our church!) suggested they try Good Shepherd?!

Would I call it a church or a worshiping community?  Probably not a church, but certainly an example of some Presbyterians BEING the church.  Maybe not technically a worshiping community, but I tell you when we throw in an old gospel tune like "I'll Fly Away" and you hear all those voices join in - voices of Presbyterians, agnostics,  Catholics, retired, preschool, teenaged, and the other assortment of people that wander into a coffee shop on a Wednesday night - all singing along, even harmonizing... man, it sure sounds like a worshiping community to my ears. 

Maybe 1001 isn't such an impossible sounding goal after all!  :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

what is the "wednesday night experiment?"

In the Fall of 2009, we initiated what I called the Wednesday Night Experiment (original post).  I wrote:

So, on Wednesday nights, instead of traditional church Bible study in the building and on the grounds, we are taking it to the streets.  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!
In my view, the experiment was a great success with many wonderful surprises (live music, group home ministry, housing project neighbors, prayer needs at the bookstore).  Amazing what can happen when we venture outside of the church walls with the eyes and ears of faith!  It wasn't just going to those places though, because we get coffee and drive through the neighborhood all the time.  It was making the intentional connection between the two worlds of church and life that we so often keep separated.

In subsequent years, we have explored developing the content of the experiment.  That first year all of the groups were given the same set of discussion questions, based on the previous Sunday's sermon.  In the Fall of 2010 we had an organizational night and generated about 12 potential topics or activities and let people gravitate toward ones in which they were interested, while bearing in mind that these would be suited for public settings.

Some of these topics/activities included:

1.  Sermon discussion (like last year)
2.  Book discussion
3.  Movie discussion
4.  Headline news discussion
5.  Service/hands-on group
6.  Games group
7.  Prayer/Accountability group
8.  Scripture study
9.  Prayer walks
10. Video interviews/documentary
11. Live Music
12. Basics of Faith (to be held at church for visitors or newer Christians)

Here are links to four posts suggesting models for the experiment:
We have just completed the third year (Sep 2011 - May 2012) of the experiment, with the following groups: 'inside' book club and 'outside' book club (both involved non-church folks at points); men's group home small group, lectio divina group (met at church), and live music group.  I continued to participate in the live (bluegrass) music group and we've been steadily growing to an average of three musicians, 8-10 church members, and 10-20 neighbors.  It has been a regular and steadily growing crowd.  I hope to write a separate post about that group and some of the dynamics we've experienced there.

Friday, May 11, 2012

communication and community

The North Carolina Amendment One vote has been on my mind and heart. My heart goes out to all who are personally grieving the outcome of the vote. I have a particular grief as well, a grief over our apparent inability or unwillingness to engage each other productively and compassionately. This was (and still is) nowhere more apparent than online, particularly on Facebook and in comments of various articles and sites. Now before you dismiss this as one more pitch for civility, here’s what I see as the grievous issue: we are fighting a war with each other and we ALL are losing!

Neither “side” on the amendment issue was exempt from this. Even the word “sides” indicates only two tribes: for or against, with the other as the enemy. My Facebook wall was plastered with descriptions of a “war on marriage” and “hateful bigots” and the like. And tragically, these were not only friends of mine, but friends of each other. It’s so easy to post a sentence, label, or ‘like’ something and not have in mind the 100, 200, or 1000 friends it goes out to. I understand that we have strong opinions and feelings, but is that really what we think of each other? What is grievous to me is that we’ve lost the sense of compassion toward the other. Particularly in the last week leading up to the vote, just about every post I saw was some form of bullying (on both sides) – brute exertions of power and force to generate a desired outcome.

“If you don’t vote ____, then you are against God!” (saw that on both sides)
“If you don’t vote ____, then you are against families!” (also saw that on both sides)
“If you don’t vote ____, I don’t ever want to speak or see you again!” (again, both sides)

And this goes out to… all our friends?

I’m not saying that strong opinion or feeling is wrong; it’s not. And I’m not saying that those who lost this vote should not be grieved or even angry; that’s human and natural. What I am saying is that if anger, force, bullying rhetoric, and political enemies are all we can muster, then it’s not going to get better for anybody. If this vote was “tyranny by the majority,” then the opposite vote in another year will be the same in the other direction.

There is a better way. It is simply this: listening and understanding the other deepens community, and that is of benefit to everyone.

I did not post my position on Facebook. What I did do was sit down with the 7-8 people who asked me what I thought and listen, ask questions, and reflect together. I’d like to think they then did the same with 7-8 friends. Some of us agreed; some of us differed; each of us learned and grew in the context of friendship and respect. 

I’ll also go so far as to say that in the context of that kind of conversation, one can actually express far more of one’s deeply held beliefs and opinions than in the kind of salvos I saw regularly on Facebook and other online forums, because if you see me coming already declaring you the enemy, you are either going to fight or run. It turns out that there are a number of complex questions that we need to wrestle with as a society. That’s not going to happen in a tweet or status message. It might happen if we sit down to listen and understand. That doesn’t require you to change your mind or your vote, but it sure helps you put yourself in the other’s shoes, and that is what builds community and a common society.

If you want to know how I voted, let me buy you a cup of coffee.

Friday, March 30, 2012

spiritual discernment in community

Listening to the Word and Spirit in Community
Council Discernment in the Presbytery of Charlotte, Spring 2012

What do you see? 
~Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church cemetery
At the Next conference, Theresa Cho shared the “Urban Legacy” process she is leading in the Presbytery of San Francisco to draw together the diverse city churches in conversation and discernment. Recently she has blogged about the follow-up to that first event. Inspired by her sharing of the process in San Francisco, I thought I would share some of the recent discernment process used by the Presbytery Council here in Charlotte. We are trying to lead our presbytery through what I have described as a financial, relational, and missional crisis [PDF].

We dedicated our March Council meeting to an extended (almost two hour) process of prayer, scripture, discernment, and discussion. What follows is the basic outline of what we did. My hope is that the Lord will use this to lead us in faithful directions.

“Letter to the Exiles”

Our group of about twenty-four (Council + staff) began by moving away from the table into groups of three. After an opening prayer, we read Jeremiah 29:1-14 in two different voices. Then, I read the passage in several sections as follows, with time for discussion in the groups:
Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying, (Jeremiah 29:1-3)

Who all has been affected by this exile and what does ‘exile’ mean to you as a leader in the church? What from the past weighs upon you?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’(Jeremiah 29:4-7)

What is God calling us to in the present – what does it mean for us to build, live, plant, eat, marry, reproduce, and multiply? For what shall WE seek and pray?

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.(Jeremiah 29:8-9)

What must we watch out for in the present calling?

“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’(Jeremiah 29:10-14)

In terms of our ‘hope’ and ‘future,” what is the place of waiting, faith, seeking, and finding?

We closed that time with some directed prayer, including periods of silent listening and “wa9iting on the Lord.” Next, our acting General Presbyter, Timm High, lead us in a similar discernment around the John 5:1-10 passage below:

“Do You Want to be Made Well?”
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. *** One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” (John 5:1-10, NRSV)
***(Other ancient authorities add, wholly or in part): waiting for the stirring of the water; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.

We read the passage first without the variant reading (v. 4), then another voice read with it. A number of observations were made, but in the context of our Council conversations, one thing that jumped out was the “technical change” nature of getting to the water when it was stirred up and the “adaptive change” of being willing to be healed, taking up the mat, and beginning to walk. (The additional adaptive leap of apparently breaking the Sabbath rules – and the subsequent pushback – was also noted.)

At the top of the post, I asked what you see in the picture. I think in many ways this is the question before us as a presbytery and as congregations.  Is it beautiful spring growth on a living tree or death marked by the gravestones?  May God give us eyes (and faith) to see what the Spirit is doing.

Friday, March 16, 2012

what is a denomination?

Barry Ensign-George has written a thoughtful article entitled, "What Does it Mean to be a Denomination?"  As I was reading it I looked at the word, 'denomination,' to think about it's usage in everyday language.  Many people I know (often even within the church) use the word 'religion' to (incorrectly) describe the differences between Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc... - as in "I'm Methodist, but she is the Baptist religion."  All that is to say, 'denomination' does not have widespread usage, much less is it understood.  So Barry's post is a welcome explanation and invitation to consider this terminology.

The only mainstream usage of the word that I could think of is do describe different denominations of money.  20-dollar bills are said to be a different denomination than 5-dollar bills.  As I was about to move on to breakfast, I had the thought that many in the church and world probably think in those terms more than in the carefully thought-out terms in the article above. 

For example, some faulty but overheard commentary, translated into the currency analogy:

  • "It's all money, but we're more of a $20 denomination than a $5 denomination (or that very pedestrian $1 denomination over there)"
  • "Twenty $1's is worth as much as one $20.  Maybe that explains why there are more ______'s than ______'s"
  • "Oh that bunch over there? ...that's not real money (i.e. counterfeit)"
Not real encouraging to hear that kind of thinking, is it?  But I fear that's how many in and out of the church think of "denominations."

May we recapture the best of what it means to embody "distinctive ways of living out the Christian life" (Ensign-George) and let go of the mammon-mindset that is demonstrated in the kinds of comments named above!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

the witness of the laity

Hot off the NEXT conference, I headed back out of town to Fayetteville, NC, for a "lay renewal weekend."  Interesting to have just come from a "future of the church" conference to go to what has become mostly a thing of the past, though perhaps one of the most life-giving forms I've been involved with.

I experienced my first "lay renewal" when I was a child. My main exposure to it was my father's involvement as the host coordinator.  I remember going with him to his office to make posters and handouts related to organizing it (yes, my administrative training goes WAY back).  The most lasting impact of that 1976 (or thereabouts) renewal was that it changed my father's faith and life significantly.

In the years that followed (1977-1992), my father led multiple teams of laypeople, at the invitation of other churches, to conduct what I have heard described as a "Presbyterian revival."  The heart of the lay renewal format is lay testimony and small group discussion.  There might be a preacher, but every gathering is marked by non-preachers sharing their faith journey, struggles, and more.  And it was always transforming for the churches we went to as well as for the incoming team.  And what a blessing for me to grow up surrounded by that - hearing ordinary people talking about an extraordinary God, who had touched their lives in so many diverse ways.

And so, I served on the music team this past weekend - not as the preacher, but as a musician.  And some seven or so laypeople from my church went and shared testimonies.  I saw the familiar and glorious movement of the Spirit as the host congregation tentatively engaged and then enthusiastically engaged.

Our coordinator is one of the last leading this model, and this is presumably his last renewal.  I threw out some 'seeds' to one of the younger folks from my own congregation about whether he might pick up the ministry.  We'll see.

It's fascinating to have this 'old' experience right after the newness of the NEXT conference.  While the lay renewal weekend model probably needs freshening, I see much of what was valued at NEXT (and in other 'future' conversations) in it: empowered laity witnessing and leading; small group open-ended discussion; an outward-focused multiplicative model of training/equipping; an openness to what God is doing in the midst.

God is good!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

ministry passions

I'm archiving/moving things between blogs... this is the "ministry passion" page I created when I was standing for moderator of the PCUSA in 2012. 

Some of the distinctive areas that I am most passionate in pursuing in daily life, relationship, and ministry...

Co-officiating a wedding with
presbytery colleague, Rev. Leslie Dibble
Truthful and Hopeful Collegiality
From an early age my father lifted up the value of a liberal arts mindset: the ability to listen and learn from any and all contexts.  Focused through a real desire to have the attitude and mind of Jesus Christ, this has translated into what I would call a "truthful and hopeful collegiality" that finds authentic friendships and community the best place to seek and speak truth in love.  Even when differing theologically, I have found a freedom and invitation to share honestly as I listen and learn from friends of all perspectives inside and outside the church.  For example...

Gracious Witness Overture
When I was a commissioner to General Assembly in 2008, I was convicted to write a commissioner's resolution calling on presbyteries to be a "gracious witness" to the Gospel and the watching world by developing a pastoral response to congregations seeking dismissal from the denomination.  While this action, approved by that General Assembly, has morphed into "gracious dismissal policies" - the original action ties together much of what I'm about... a pastoral love of the church, a desire to listen well to one another, a passionate concern for our mission and witness to the world around us, and a calling to be a resource to the denomination.  See the link below for more of the story and the contents of that original overture and Assembly action.
  • Gracious Witness Resolution - the story of the overture I wrote in 2008 appealing to Presbyteries to create pastoral and grace-filled ways of responding to congregations seeking dismissal; the story in itself (also linked in the post) is interesting
Lighthouse/Searchlight Church - missional ministry model
In 2006 I began developing a metaphor for ministry with my local congregation - we would strive to become a "lighthouse" of welcome, guidance, and sanctuary in Christ; we would strive to grow as a "searchlight," carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ out into our nearby neighborhoods and community.

"Wednesday Night Out"
bluegrass at the neighborhood coffee shop

This has been a long journey - as our understanding of church and Christian identity has been transformed by God's Word and Spirit.  Our guiding question for ministry and mission is: "What is God doing in and around us and how can we/I be a part?"

My "Lighthouse/Searchlight" website chronicles much of that journey and features regular posts along the way. This has impacted every area and ministry of our congregation, including creative arts, youth ministry, local missions, and more.  See the links below for one specific way I have sought to bring this to our presbytery.
Good Shepherd Youth
  • Searchlight Presbytery? - some ponderings on whether the presbytery can transform in some of the missional ways our local church has been transformed; submitted, along with follow-up to the middle-governing bodies commission, which was formed by the last General Assembly to re-vision how our presbyteries and synods might better serve the mission of the Church
This is a help site I began before the 219th General Assembly (2010) to "simplify and organize the whirlwind of information, technology, and competing voices for commissioners as wellas for folks back home."  In addition to being a resource for thechurch, this is also an expression of how I endeavor to listen to andbring to the table all the perspectives in the church on variousissues.  A current page detailing all the different conversations about "what's next?" demonstrates the way I've organized the site.  There are also links to news sources across the spectrum, and closer to General Assembly, a more topical organization of key issues.

Pastor Robert teaching at the confirmation retreat
Teaching Church Models 
Over time, at Good Shepherd, we have had more and more opportunities to share resources with other congregations, sessions, and pastors. We have cultivated lay preachers among our ruling elders (and a few youth!), have had a regular stream of seminary interns, and have opportunity to "take on the road" much of what we do at Good Shepherd in both teaching and creative arts. Most recently, at the invitation of some seminary professors and administrators, I constructed a proposal for "Intentional Residence Communities" as a new model for theological training for  ministry.  We are in conversation about hosting a pilot project for this model. 
Teaching "Biblical Theology of Worship" at
Bible college in Nicaragua
Worship, Music, and Creative Arts
Too much to squeeze into one space!!  Here's what goes on every bulletin, and we mean it:
The style of worship at Good Shepherd is an intentional blend of ancient, traditional, and modern forms of liturgy, prayer, music, and communication.  Our starting point for planning each service is God's Word, the Bible.  Each week we seek to provide effective and numerous ways for worshipers to gather around, hear and respond, and go forth into the world with the good and hopeful Word of God in scripture.  We also intentionally gather as a family of believers of many ages and backgrounds, and so use all the means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God.  It is our hope that each person present will not only worship God in Spirit and truth, but also in community.  It is a joy and a privilege to worship God with you this morning!
Our commitment to the arts and my own interest in worship, music, and the creative arts has been blessed and multiplied so that we have artists, actors, songwriters, screenwriters, and more.  We see creative arts not only as an integral part of our worship, but of our mission as well, and are seeking more and more ways to connect with our neighborhood, community, and world through the arts.  My D.Min. project was on the theology of worship and music and I've written other material on worship, including music for worship.

Technology and Ministry
I am a computer enthusiast!  And as with music, one of the things I most enjoy is exploring how this interest can be used in ministry for the Kingdom of God.  I am a blogger, twitterer, faceboooker, and more... but am eager to help teach and resource others to use these TOOLS for ministry.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

nextchurch, pt 3 - open sourcing

I want to reflect on the alternative models of discernment that were used at the NEXT conference.  And let me say up front that while this is a general critique, I do mean it to be a friendly critique.  I am interested and fascinated by these models, and saw how much energy and involvement and creativity they unleashed.

BUT... I don't believe that they were an expression of true community.  And I think if you asked anyone involved, whether in planning or participating, experiencing true community would be a very high value in these processes.  So, why do I say this?

On Tuesday morning we engaged in a large-scale open source (corrected - thanks MMD) model in which people were invited to name (actually to "shout out") topics around which each was willing to host a conversation.  The leadership indicated that there were some "plants" (ok, I guess, if it's to get the ball rolling; at a certain point, too many plants kind of bypasses the open-ness... but we didn't know whether there were 3 plants or 23; in hindsight, I might have suggested to the leadership that they risk not priming the pump or saying, "We'll suggest 2 to get us started, but are looking to you to fill this out.")

About 1 second after they announced this method of topic-naming, I tweeted something like, "I'll be interested to see how this works out between the extroverts and the introverts."  Now, I'm not super-shy, and will speak up when needed, but with very little notice, it would be highly unusual for me to stand up and shout anything in a room of 600 people.  What WAS helpful is that this process went on for some time, with perhaps 40 topics named.  I did finally reach a point where I felt like everyone who had even a small desire to name a topic probably could have.

So I chose a topic (which I shall not name)... and went to find the group.  And the leader had moved from the identified location.  So by the time I located the group, the circle was closed and conversation had been going in earnest.  They invited me in and I listened hard to figure out exactly what the topic was and where the conversation was.  Enter extrovert/introvert dynamic #2... for the most part, three folks in a group of eight dominated the conversation, including steering it in a pretty narrowly focused direction that was a lot of "here's what I'm doing at my church."

So here's what's going through my mind...
  1. I'm white-male clergy in a mostly female group; I've learned to listen first and talk second 
  2. I am fairly introverted and am not prone to blurting out my thoughts ahead of others
  3. I was really not interested in a "and here's what's going on in my church" repartee (that was distinctly off-topic even though the process wasn't rigidly topical; I was going to do my part not to take us further in a direction I wasn't interested in going)
The 'host' jumped in a few times to broaden/redirect the topic, but did nothing in terms of inviting conversation from the quieter members of the group.  And I guess, who could blame him; the parameters of "hosting a conversation" were not really defined other than the initial naming of a topic.  I suppose some are more effective hosts than others.  I did appreciate that the two quietest members of the group (other than me) did invite my comment at the very end, and I thanked them, but I wasn't looking for a last word; rather a better opportunity to participate throughout.  (And honestly, I'll take some responsibility here; I wasn't interested in the direction the conversation took and I got a little distracted thinking about the whole group dynamic.)

I don't share this to say, "poor me."  In fact, I was fine and appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this process.  Rather, I'm thinking through the strengths and weaknesses of models like this and wondering if:

a) other more introverted folks had similar experiences and;
b) if there are strategies in such a model to include more of the community rather than give the vocal/engaging people priority

One such model of inclusion might be to integrate Twitter or (old-school) written comments/questions into the process so that "speaking up" isn't the only way to participate.  Or perhaps at the beginning; invite EVERYONE to write a topic on a card and then share it with two neighbors.  If you are fired up about your topic, then shout it out.  If you aren't that vocal but one of your neighbors is; maybe they'd jump up and shout on your behalf.  I don't know... this is new to me and I'm thinking out loud.  But I look forward to checking it out some more.

Finally, I will add this observation.  In 2008, I was a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.  Part of that process is being assigned to a committee and I was assigned to an "experimental committee" on using a consensus model for decision-making.  It was a (widely noted) disaster.  In trying to offer constructive feedback, I suggested that such models (and I'd extend this somewhat to the model at NEXT) works best with smaller groups who have established some trust.  That General Assembly committee not only didn't have trust, but was struggling with distrust of each other and the process.  At NEXT, there was a much higher trust level, so I found the extrovert/introvert dynamic more prominent.  I wrote to the GA committee chair that I could well envision using such a model with my session or another church group where we had high trust, personal relationships, etc...   I think in settings with relative strangers, additional preparation or strategies need to be used to make the open discernment models more effective than what I have experienced so far.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

nextchurch, pt 2 - who we are and who we're not

I'd like to reflect on another aspect of the NEXTchurch conference I attended in Dallas: how NEXT relates or doesn't relate to the Fellowship of Presbyterians.  I have seen numerous tweets, FB comments, and other commentary noting that very similar conversations are being held around the church (NEXT, Fellowship, Mid-Council Commission, 21st Century Church Commission, nFOG, etc...) on new, open, flexible, emerging models of mission, witness, and BEING the church in the world.   And I agree that very similar conversations are being shared in many places.

I went to the Orlando conference of the Fellowship of Presbyterians.  And we were having that conversation.  I just got back from the NEXT conference in Dallas, and we were having that conversation.  And here's the thing... my focus in this post is on NEXT, but I will say that the Fellowship/ECO is facing and will have to face what I think is a pull in two directions.  One is to have this, shall we call it "emerging missional church" conversation, and the other is the "how will we separate from or differentiate from the Presbyterian Church?"  And I understand the importance of that second conversation (not really the focus here), but I think it pulls in a different direction than the first.  And so you have folks in Orlando who aren't really in "all that missional stuff"; they just want out.  Etc...

Well, I think NEXT has a similar dual-pull.  And I heard it throughout the conference.  On the one hand, like the Fellowship, GA commissions, and others, we were having that conversation about where God seems to be leading the church in terms of mission, witness, community, authenticity, etc...   And that vision of WHAT WE ARE (or could be) was what was most exciting at the conference.  And then I kept hearing bits and pieces of WHO WE AREN'T.... and I couldn't help filling in the blanks.  In prayers and keynotes and liturgy and sermons:
  • We aren't pulling away from the denomination (like them).... 
  • I have some conservative friends who are way out of step with the culture (no argument; should we not then be at NEXT?).... 
  • A prayer full of paired opposites - Jew/Greek, slave/free, gay/straight - and including evangelical/mainline (is that the right pairing?  I know many evangelicals remaining in the mainline)... 
  • And the ending message with a very clear dig at the Fellowship/ECO, "an ecosystem that is monocultural is NOT sustainable"
In a geographic break-out group, I raised this point... NEXT is going to feel pressure internally and externally (and systemically) to define itself by who and what it is not.  And if it does that, it's going to become an affinity group (I've already heard "Covenant Network 2.0" floating around).  And if it becomes that, it's okay, but I think it will have missed becoming what many present in Dallas (including I'd say at least 50-100 evangelicals present*) sense that it could be, which is a broad new expression of what God is doing in and with the Presbyterian Church.

My challenge to the NEXT leadership and participants?   Keep saying WHO YOU ARE and resist the pull to say who you are not.  That alone will go a long way in keeping this what you/we say we want it to be.

*My observation is also that of those listening and looking at the Fellowship, there are no small number who are not looking to leave the PCUSA, but are interested in the emerging/missional conversation found there.  There is great potential to come together around core Christian identity or to keep settling back into our corners.

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