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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!

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.

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