Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blog has moved

Once again I have moved the blog....this time not because of contextual changes ( didn't exactly suit me when I moved to Winona) but instead because of a new platform (Wordpress vs. Blogspot).

here is the link

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Advanced Reading Copy Review: "The Power of a Whisper" by Bill Hybels

I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Reading Copy of The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels courtesy of Zondervan.  I didn't know what to expect going in as I have never read any of the writings of the Willow Creek founder.  

Overall, it was a good book but really wasn't necessarily suited for me.  That however does not mean that it isn't worth reading, but for someone who was a Religion major in undergrad and then went on to Seminary it just didn't bring anything great to the table for my tastes.  Personally, I would have found it more interesting if it was just a straight narrative piece that talked about the way God had "whispered" to Bill and how his responses (either listening or ignoring) ended up changing his life (for good or bad).  Now, those components are in there, but they are inter-twined with practical advice, etc.  This book is great for newer Christians or those who have remained "surface level" but are now going deeper and that is who the book seems to be directed toward.  In that regard this is a great book because you get to enter into Bill's reflections on how God has whispered in his life, but also see how he lives out a life attempting to hear the voice of God.

The best part of the book is probably the fourth chapter where it talks about how one can discern whether a whisper is from God or not.  Bill shares five "filters" that he uses to help him discern whether a prompting is from God or something of his own mind/desires.  
#1-  Is the Prompting Truly from God - take time to reflect and ask again
#2- The Scripture Filter - Does it match themes in Scripture
#3 - The General-Wisdom Test - Does it go against wisdom and common sense?
#4-  The Wiring Test - Does it match background, gifts, education?  This doesn't rule out the possibility of extreme change, but points to if it is a 180 there probably should be multiple affirmations of it.
#5-  The Godly Counsel Test - Run it by Christ-followers who are mature in their faith.

This is probably why I think this book is best for newer Christians or those who are now going deeper.  It is a great guide to helping discern how God might be prompting individuals in their life and gives some narration of how Hybels has interacted with God's "whispers" in his own life.

Zondervan Blog Tour: "Insights on John" Review

Originally, I wasn't too sure I wanted to undertake a blog tour review of a book that falls under the "reference" section of my pastoral library but I decided to do it anyway.  I will say this much Charles R. Swindoll has done a wonderful job of integrating biblical scholarship with an approachability and engagement that often can be hard to find in the genre.

What I really likes is the way the book is structured it allows you to engage with scholarship while at times feeling like it is in conversation with Swindoll himself.  Throughout the book he has placed some entries called "From My Journal" and they do a wonderful job of getting "real life" insights while finding connection with the scholarship.  There are also sections within the text called "application" which try to bring the text into an application for one's daily life.

Probably my favorite part of the book is the integration of wonderful imagery and diagrams.  For those of who may not engage as much with just words, this is a great addition because it helps connect the text with images and concepts.  This leads to another form of engagement with the text which is great and can expand this book to be valuable to anyone who seeks to look deeper into scripture.

Overall, this is a good book to engage in deeper insight and reflection on the Gospel of John and a chance to hear a particular voice with insights that can be beneficial to others within the Body of Christ.  However, if one is seeking deeper scholarship that really parses and focuses just on the text primarily and application/insights lightly and secondarily you might want to look for something different.  I would not use this as my sole "commentary" Scripture research if I were using this for research/preparation for sermons, etc.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blog Tour: "And" by Hugh Halter & Matt Smay

Once again, I am honored to be a part of reviewing a book for Zondervan on their blog tours.  This time around, I am writing about a great book titled And by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.


And is a great book that talks about the importance of both "the gathered and scattered church."  Or in my own words this book attempts to show the importance of the missional church, but in a way that tries to combat the often seen argument for the "superiority" of the missional church over the church many have grown up in (Halter and Smay that the church most have grown up is synonymous with "consumer church").  Halter and Smay argue that it is not an "or" situation but rather an "and" situation.  Math geeks everywhere get what they are saying (including myself).

The Foundation of the Book

In chapter 5, Halter and Smay point to an article by Ralph Winter (it can be found here), in which Winter points out the two functions of the church termed "modalities" and "sodalities."  In reading, Halter and Smay you can see how this insight by Winter has really informed their argument for the importance of the "and" rather than the "or."  Really what Halter and Smay are trying to say is the need for the "second decision" communities (sodalities) to help with the renewal of the Church in God's mission.

Why This Book is Needed

Probably, the best thing I took away after reading this book is the fact that Halter and Smay don't argue for the superiority of the "missional" church (or the "sodality"), but rather they try to point out the importance of both local congregations and missional communities (para-church organizations, house churches, etc.).  Greatest of all they offer encouragement and advice for leaders within local congregations (pastors, etc.) who believe the church is called to much more than its current "modalic" existence.  Their advice to start with a small amount of people who desire more and move from there is something that should give most local congregation leaders hope.  It doesn't take "drastic" measures of scrapping the entire existence, it only takes trust in God and a willingness to start somewhere.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hospitality and Churches

    Photo by Lumen Photography

The above picture is a photograph of Chris Lomen.  Chris Lomen is an amazing young man who is rollerblading 4000 miles in an attempt to raise money to rebuild schools in Haiti.  You can learn about his quest by visiting here.

I met Chris on the third day of his trek that began on June 29 when his friend, and co-journeyman, Chris Hamby called our church to see if we had a place the two of them could stay at.  They explained that they were rollerblading across the country to try and raise money to help Haiti and I didn't hesitate to say they could stay at my place.  Why would I?  I mean c'mon here are two young guys traveling across the country and one of them is rollerblading the whole distance and they are doing it not for themselves but to help people in need.  That was a no-brainer.  Well really it is a no-brainer because Stacy and I have attempted to continue to practice and live out a life of hospitality that God has called us to.  We were blessed to hear their stories and to get to know them and give them some shelter and comfort on their journey.

Part of what the two are doing is making contact with churches in each of their destination stops and seeing if they can help by providing a place to stay, etc.  It seems like a no-brainer that churches would be the place to call and that churches would be the part of communities that would reach out and help people like Chris who are doing such a great thing.  No brainer, right?  WRONG!

(1)  Over the 4th weekend it figures that many church offices would be closed and that is what they ran into as to be expected.
-I want to address this quick.  Part of the issue with churches/pastors is that they tend to not be available 24/7 to those outside of the church.  This isn't always because they don't want to be contacted, but because they fear putting their home phone/cell phone on the message machine because of people who often perpetually hit churches up for money/support.  I can understand that, but how many people do we fail to help who in an emergency situation are unable to reach someone?  With Google Voice there is now no reason why someone couldn't put that number as a contact and have it linked to your cell phone and controlled by Google on what gets through, etc.  Anyway, that was a tangental soap box.

(2)  After reading this blog entry, I was utterly disappointed in my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I quote the response from one church to their inquiry:  "we raised money for Haiti months ago, so we don’t really have a reason to help you."  

-Don't have a reason to help you? Are we serious? We have to have a cause to help someone? Doesn't the Gospel compel us to help those in need? Not to mention the fact that they weren't asking for money. They were asking for shelter and food. I can almost guarantee someone in that church had an empty bed that they could have slept in and easily could have added food to their meal to provide for two more.

Thankfully, Chris and Chris have found shelter most of the time and have only had to camp once or twice and thankfully their are hotel owners in these towns who give shelter, but how disappointing to see the church failing to provide hospitality.  I continue to pray that Chris and Chris will be watched over by God and that God's love will continue to be poured out in response to what they are doing, but now I am also praying for God's Church.  I am praying for forgiveness for all the times we fail (including myself).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Disciples or Apostles?

So a question has been running through my head a bunch lately at it is this question:  Should the church be "making" disciples or apostles?

I put making in quotation marks because really I question the whole "making" language as truly (as many have said in the past and present) it is God who "makes" disciples and the church just helps in the process.

Okay, but seriously I am wondering if our language of discipleship basically gives us a bunch of passive learners/consumers.  I mean if I am supposed to be a disciple doesn't that mean I am a learner or "pupil." The images that come to my head when I explore that is a student at a desk just furiously taking notes and learning from the one who has the knowledge.  Sound a little familiar?  Many of my acquaintances and friends who are Christians often approach church in the same way:  they go to worship but also mainly to "learn" from someone who has a knowledge.  They want to know what they are to believe.

Our language doesn't exactly challenge that notion even though most pastors I know cry about the lack of "ministry of all believers" being actively done.  Well what do we expect?  We say we are "making" disciples.... and what we are "making" is learners who need us (pastors, you know, who have the knowledge...even if that isn't what we want).

I have been reading Jim Walker's book Dirty Word, and a quote stuck out to me that connected with this thought running through my head.  He writes:
Koinonia isn't something we talk about, read about, or sit and watch.  Koinonia is action; it's what we do.  When I was learning to drive, I was told and I was shown.  I even got to use one of those driving-simulation machines in high school.  But it wasn't until I actually got behind the wheel and hit the gas that I learned how to drive.  Does the church teach people to drive by putting them behind the wheel?  Do we help people experience the kingdom of God?  Or is church a big tour bus where everyone piles in, and there is one driver who points out the window at the kingdom of God, but no one actually gets to get out and experience it? (emphasis mine)
What a great picture that I feel captures some of my frustration.  To me it feels like our language of making disciples creates nothing more than tourists on the journey of life, hearing about the kingdom of God and believing it is there but not actually going out into the world and stepping off the bus to experience it.

But what if we were about "making" (loosely used) apostles.  You know apostles (definition: one sent on a mission), those people Jesus gathered and gave the command to in Matthew 28.  Maybe instead of living the command of the story we should enter into the story.  What if we were about intentionally saying that we are going to send people out?  You are here and we will help equip you and then we are sending you out:  you are an apostle!  Currently, we have the language of apostles but in most circles it is the "clergy" who are in the category of apostle.  What greater way to reinforce the sense that clergy are the ones who do the work of the kingdom and the rest just sit and learn.

Personally, I would love to see an image of the church as a bus where the bus stops and the driver opens the door and says don't just look at it, GO EXPERIENCE IT!  Don't just learn it, GO DO IT!  YOU ARE SENT!

P.S.  Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling.  It is not polished.  It is not finished.  I just had to let it out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Zondervan Blog Tour: "Exponential" Review

This is the third book I have reviewed for a Zondervan Blog Tour and I was thankful to be a part of this one because I truly enjoyed this book.  I found in this book everything that I felt was lacking from the first book I read for the Zondervan Blog Tour:  Multi-Site Church Road Trip.

Some background:  I am working on starting a missional community within the life of Central United Methodist Church where I serve.  This book was one of those God-convergence moments where I was thankful that it was given to me because the Ferguson brothers have some very good practical and motivational advice that will help me frame the strategic steps forward. 

Let me start by saying that this book is a great read for any leader within the church (I think an argument could be made for it being a good read for any leader of a movement, but if you don't like Christ-centered philosophy then it might not be a good read if one is outside the church).  It is one of those often hard to come by books that is both practically and theologically grounded at the same time (it is sad that often books are either very "theologically grounded" but lacking some practical advice or the inverse).  Many of the theology behind their "practices" of leadership development, church development, and network development are based on stories from Scripture (see Acts is a favorite reference of Dave).

One of the best parts about this book is that their advice and thoughts are not only theologically grounded, they also are grounded within the narrative of their own experiences at Community Christian Church and the NewThing Network.  I often find it valuable if I can join a narrative journey with someone to see how their practices took root (both struggles and victories).

So what can you expect to find inside the pages that will help you?  A very strong guide to leadership development which helps make a vision given by God into an incarnate reality.  What it isn't is actually what is the best about it:  it isn't a carbon-copy formula.  The principles, in my opinion, lend themselves to the context one might find themselves in and can be adapted as such.  It really isn't communicated as do X then X and get Y.  Rather it is more:  here are some principles to guide your decisions and to help you turn the vision into a movement.  I particularly enjoyed their chapter "Reproducing Artists" because it took seriously the importance of the artistic and creative community in the life of the overall church and took seriously giving advice on how to connect with this community which in places has disconnected with the church.

One of the other benefits is that while the book progresses towards reproduction all the way from leaders to movements, those who may be parts of denominations still can benefit from the parts leading up to the "networks" and "movements" (for instance as a Methodist there might be ways to follow the network creation reproduction but I am not sure how and the movement part could be a movement of renewal within Methodism but the philosophies of the networks and movements by the Ferguson brothers would definitely push against the denomination in many ways).  The strong principles of how to take seriously reproducing leaders is one thing that I think the Methodist denomination could benefit from.

Now one thing some people might find annoying is the * within the text that links to a comment box that has a comment from Jon Ferguson.  Now, I say "some" people because some might find it distracting and others might be put off by Jon's sarcasm.  I, however, am not one of those people.  I found the addition of Jon's sarcasm and the break it brought into the reading helped transform the reading of a book into the feel of a conversation.  It kept the mood of the reading light and for me added some great laughs in the midst of the reading.

Overall, I think this is a great book that will be a great asset to God's movement in the world.  Thanks to both of them for sharing their insights.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Importance of Christian Truth-telling!

So today I was browsing my Facebook feed when a friend had a status update with a link to an article about a pastor getting arrested in D.C.  See it here.

Yes, the title of the blog post is:  "Prayer Made Illegal in Washington D.C."

Now I understand the whole idea of making a title "catchy" so that it attracts readers, but blatant falsehood statements like this should not be coming from us as Christians.  If we are called by God to bring the Good News to the world and to show the truth of God in our lives, it is my belief that we just end up discrediting ourselves if we "slant" the truth or just blatantly "lie" about a situation.  If I were a non-Christian and read that title, I would be intrigued to read it, but then when I discovered the entire situation I don't know if I would ever trust that persons assertions or arguments in the same way (and probably would be suspect of other Christians because of it).

Why am I making a big deal of this and taking the time to write this?  Because, the agenda of some to make a persecution story out of anytime a Christian has a run in with the state ends up making true items of persecution lose some of their impact.  (see the great story of the Little Boy who Cried Wolf).

In the story the pastor who is arrested is trying to make a point.  He objects to the fact that Planned Parenthood facility was trying to keep him from interacting with people who were going into their establishment and so they got permission to build a fence and then hung a "No Trespassing" sign to try and keep people off of the sidewalk.  According to the story the pastor knows that the designation of the sidewalk has not changed from public to private (according to him, I don't know personally) and so he was asserting his right to be on public property and pray and read scripture.  That is fine.  But the issue of his arrest (which he consented to and was very congenial and non-violent and told the crowd to do the same....all the while saying that the issue would be addressed via public statement and a desire to get a national outcry....a method I commend) was not about him praying.  The police arrested him because of the questions over trespassing.  (whether it was really trespassing or not).

For the blogger to then go and title the post dealing with this subject as he did, he ends up detracting from the actual issue (which is the pro-life debate and how people deal with trying to witness to the importance of life) and tries to make it seem like a persecution of Christians issue.

I believe that as Christian's we have an obligation to speak the truth, there is no flirting the ambiguities of situations, etc.  We know that situations aren't black and white and that in every context there is a myriad of viewpoints and reasons and if we want to speak to injustices and speak to the truth of God and the Good News, then we need to communicate in a way that does not lead to false belief.  (I say this because I have now seen links and comments that talk about the government attacking prayer and outlawing it and then a whole debate about how if it was a person of Islamic faith this wouldn't have happened...all which is not true and comes from the beginning falsehood title).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Long Absence

I apologize for the long absence from writing.  Of course, I write this post as I ready myself for vacation and being gone for the next week and a half so the absence will continue.

I am finally figuring out that I have to just commit myself to a schedule and hold myself accountable and so from now on here will be the format:

Weekly Postings on Wednesdays
Random Book Reviews for Blog Tours
Possible Other Random Musings

Weekly Postings will begin on Wednesday, June 9th.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Risks of Community

About a week and a half-ago our community learned that a painting had been stolen from Ed's No Name Bar.  Ed Hoffman, the bar owner, first posted the news on the bar's Facebook page and then slowly it was shared wider as the local news outlets picked it up.

Now, I try to go to Ed's every Thursday night that my schedule allows because I have found that the people there are genuine, real, and the music is great.  The atmosphere is one that I enjoy because of Ed's love and support of the arts.  So it isn't a surprise that to have a painting stolen would be heart-breaking and very saddening to Ed and the community that enjoys the bar.

One particular paragraph that Ed wrote has stuck in my mind and I have been thinking about it ever since:
I have been open and offering free gallery space to regional artists for 3 years now and never has any one damaged or stolen a painting or work of art. I have always felt comfortable hanging my own work here. I volunteer and support local art in every way that time allows. I let my guard down and who ever did this made a fool of me. Personally, I am embarrassed that this happened, and have not gotten much sleep as my mind races about who, on a slowish night when I was familiar with most if not all of the people in the pub, would do such a thing.
Ed writing communicates the pain and anguish he felt (feels) over this loss, not only for him but the loss for the artist.  I have been thinking about that emotion for over a week and trying to understand it within the context of the community I am called to serve, the faith community.

What caught my attention the most was the fact that on the night when it disappeared Ed "was familiar with most if not all of the people in the pub."  It seems to me that this fact is what makes the situation hurt even more.  It doesn't seem that it is just a "random" person, but rather someone who knows Ed and therefore would know why Ed's is the way it is with the infusion of art and music in the atmosphere.  The hurt is magnified because it is possibly someone known by Ed, but also because it dealt with damaging the very source of passion for Ed.

I admire the way Ed reacted to the situation: he shared the hurt caused with the larger Winona community and asked for help, but just as importantly he didn't let this instance of violation stop him from continuing to share art at the pub.  That can be a hard thing to do, when we get hurt as people the usual reaction is to want to put up walls of protection to ensure it never happens again.  It would be understandable if Ed had decided to stop sharing art because of this instance, but I admire him for not doing that and I think that is something that people within faith communities could learn from.

Those who enter into a faith community, or any community for that matter, open themselves up to risk.  Any relationship brings with it inherent risks and loss of control because we cannot control another person's decisions and that can bring hurt.  In faith communities we open up our lives and everything that goes with it to other people.  We become vulnerable by sharing our joys, our hurts, our passions, etc. because we believe that God has called us to be unified.

But guess what: people are broken and that means that faith communities are no exception to people getting hurt.  As someone who has been called to serve a faith community, this means that I open myself up to hurt also.  If people disagree with me that sometimes means that people will attack me or badmouth me within the community.  The fact is this happens whether you are a leader or just a regular member of the faith community and when that happens it hurts and people react to that hurt differently.  Some people react by doing the same thing to the other person.  Some people react by leaving the community to ensure they never get hurt like that again.  Still, some people stay in the community confront the hurt by bringing it into the open and grow from the experience.

It is this third reaction that I believe we are called to live into as members of a faith community.  The first reaction, to get revenge, does nothing more than multiply the pain.  The second reaction protects the person who is hurt, but in some ways I think it helps neither the individual hurt nor the community.  The individual never confronts the hurt and therefore will enter any new situation without healing and with their guards up to protect them.  The community loses out because they no longer are able to experience the gifts that the hurt individual brings to the community.  The third reaction deals with the hurt, confronts the wrong that was done and moves towards healing.  The individual is able to heal and grow, the community continues to experience the gifts the hurt individual brings to the community, and hopefully the one who caused the hurt realizes their own brokenness and is able to make amends and change so that they don't hurt others in the same way.

As I reflected I couldn't help but believe that Ed responded the way that I believe members of our faith communities should when we are hurt also.  We don't stop being who we are and sharing those things that make us who we are, but instead we confront the wrong and work towards healing and through that trust that the entire community is able to grow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Self-Reflection on Baptism

So I am moving towards ordination this upcoming annual conference session in June.  It is an exciting event along the journey of following Christ for me.  As part of the process they asked us for our baptismal date.  Guess what, I don't know when mine was.  I know I was baptized sometime within the age range of 12-14, but I can't remember exactly and the church where I was baptized is now closed and the classis does not have its records (nor do the archives).  I can remember my baptism clearly in my head.  I can picture the whole event from the location in the church to still being able to remember how the water dripped down my face.

I have been asking myself a question over and over in my head today in response to an article by Andrew Thompson about communion and the talks that have ensued on some blogs about "open table."  Here is the question and it is a total chicken-egg conundrum:  Was I a Christian before my baptism or was it after my baptism that I was a Christian?

The reason I ask this is because it causes me to wonder about how we approach doctrine and the sacraments.  Assuming that "open table" is no longer applicable, it would require me to be baptized in order to partake at the Lord's Table.  So in my instance I would have been excluded from the table until I was 12-14.  However, I had given my life over to Christ and decided to follow him from a very young age (I prayed the prayer when I was two, but really began to understand what I had committed to around 5 or 6 thanks to my mom and my Christian pre-school education).

At what point would Christ have invited me to dine at Christ's table?  Would Christ have said, "Sorry Justin, but to eat here you have to be baptized first."  To me that seems to be what we as a community of believers have constructed.  Participation to the table is by "invitation-only" and that invitation comes with baptism.  To me this seems like it confines the movement of Christ within the "practices" of the Church.  Now this might come as a surprise to some of my friends since I am a good Duke Divinity student who believes that practices are an important part in the life of faith.  I do believe they are important and that the sacraments are some of the primary means by which God imparts grace on individuals, but I can't get past how things don't just happen in strict order at times and to demand that they happen in a strict order seems contrary to what I have experienced.

Of course as a good Wesleyan, I have to take into consideration reason, experience, tradition, and Scripture (Scripture being primary).  So here it goes:

My own personal experience shows me that one need not necessarily be "baptized" to be a follower of Christ and to follow in the way of Christ and to have God move in one's own life.  I have also seen how friends of mine have been follower's of Christ and have had a dynamic relationship with a living God that moved them to be who they were without being baptized.

Tradition is a sticky one.  Traditionally it has been the understanding of the church that baptism proceeds being allowed at the table.  It is a rather new understanding (since the Reformation) that allowed for a distinction in practice.  Of course those also go down to understandings of exactly what communion and baptism are too.  What has been held by many is that "baptism" is a a mark of being a Christian.  I can't deny that.

But what about Scripture?  Scripture really seems to side with the tradition of the Church.  Paul's writings speak of the importance of baptism and even his own conversion story points to the importance of baptism.  However, both Paul and the Gentile believer's in Acts 10 were filled with the Holy Spirit before being baptized pointing and Cornelius seemed to be a devout follower of God before he and his family were baptized (of course the followers of Christ had to work through some understandings such as the requirement of circumcision to be a Christian).  It does seem to be appropriate to be baptized in response to the new understanding of identity as a Christian.  That I will no doubt affirm, however I don't see how that means it is a necessity.

To put my wonderings into pointed questions:  Is it "baptism" that incorporates us into the Body of Christ or is it Christ who incorporates us into the Body of Christ?

(Yes, I know that we understand that God is the primary actor in baptism and incorporates us through the act of baptism, but the question pushes me to try and resolve whether the "act" of baptism the one and only way God incorporates)

Monday, April 19, 2010


I am just going to lay this out there:  one of the things that I struggle with as a pastor is brokenness.  I struggle with the Church's brokenness.  I struggle with the local church's brokenness.  I struggle with congregant's brokenness.  I struggle with my own brokenness.

Brokenness means pain.  Someone is always going to experience pain in the brokenness, either it is the person who is broken or another person because of that brokenness.  We can't escape the brokenness we can only surrender either to the brokenness or to Christ.

Let me explain.  Often I think we surrender to the brokenness.  It is easier.  We can avoid it on our own terms or we can try to control it on our own terms.  In both situations, the brokenness wins.  There is another way and that is surrendering the brokenness to Christ.  Opening oneself up to the guidance of another is tough, it means facing our own brokenness and realizing we can't do it on our own.

I had a wonderful and painful conversation with someone recently who posed the inquiry on whether things were being done out of fear rather than faithfulness.  It really got me thinking about how often we surrender to brokenness because of fear from the individual level all the way up to the institutional level.

I speak of this from a personal level.  My own brokenness around issues with my father dominated my life for 25 years.  I surrendered to the brokenness rather than surrendering to Christ and trusting that my faithful response would lead me towards a better way of living.  I wanted things on my terms and I wanted to heal myself.  Of course that reaction was nothing more than surrendering to my own brokenness and how it had shaped me to want to have control over a situation in response to my inability to have control over what my father chose to do.  It wasn't until Christ broke through via the guidance of a supervisor at my field placement that I began to surrender to Christ.  Once I surrendered and said okay I am going to do something Christ is leading me to do even though I don't want to do it internally, then things began to be healed.  What if I hadn't responded faithfully (doing something I didn't internally want to do)?  How would my brokenness in that situation continue to control me?

These are questions I ask of myself, but I also wonder how often our choices as communities and as institutions are done out of fear rather than out of faithfulness.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully

I found this book a fascinating read.  Chalke and Mann have constructed a very engaging book dealing with Christian Ethics in a way that anyone interested in Christian living can understand and engage with.

For those of you who have read Stanley Hauerwas or Samuel Wells, Chalke and Mann are of the similar position (in fact the writings of both are referenced within the book).

Academically, this book is about setting forth "virtue ethics" as the best form of Christian ethics.  In the first two chapters, the framework is set for why virtue ethics are the best option over "deontological ethics" or "consequentialist ethics."

For those who may not be familiar with Christian ethics jargon, this book is still a great and must read.  Chalke writes in a way that engages the mind and opens up the messiness of life and all its ethical choices by pointing to a living and dynamic faith that comes from following Jesus Christ.  

Chalke writes, "The development of character traits or habits, such as honesty, justice and integrity, enable us to act wisely and in line with our beliefs.  Therefore, the question we should ask of any action is, What kind of person will I become if I do this?" (pg 39) and "But discipleship is not primarily about rules; it's about the development of habits and practices." (pg 76)

Chalke sees Scripture as the Story of God and God's choice to be present in the lives of people.  Through the story, God's character is revealed and a vision is cast.  Discipleship then is the action of developing the practices and habits that come from that vision and allow the disciple to enter the process of becoming more and more in-line with God's character.

If you want to gander at a section of the book yourself, check it out here.

My favorite part about this book is the inclusion of the "Thinking Christianly" section at the end of each four parts of the book.  These sections include two letters of differing views about some controversial topics.  Each letter is thought out by whoever wrote them and points to the messiness of discipleship and how answers aren't always easy as both letters often can be convincing.  The inclusion of these sections invites the reader to start "practicing" the "art of living beautifully."  After the two letters there are some questions that engage the reader to begin thinking about the topic individually or as a community.

That brings me to my advice:  If you read this book, read it with a group of people.  Don't just read it as an individual disciple but read it as a group of disciples.  The "Thinking Christianly" sections bring about great dialogue and create an open atmosphere that seeks to discover who God would have us be.  After reading this book for review, I was so excited about the communal possibilities that I am using it with the college students involved in the campus ministry I lead and ordered each of them a copy.

Monday, March 22, 2010


After spending a chunk of time last night and this morning reading reactions to the Health Care Reform passed by the House last night, all I want to do is pray.

Pray that responses to what has become a decisive issue will not replace the Spirit of Christ all Christians are to exhibit.

Pray that individuals who will be helped by the reform are not forgotten.

Pray that all of us (left, right, middle, or whatever) will remember that the body is just one part of holistic health and that there is still so much brokenness in our world.

Pray that whatever may come that I will continue to seek out how Christ would have me respond.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: Multi-Site Church Road Trip

First, let me say that this book has very good information contained in it.  It truly gives the reader a picture of the various types of multi-site churches and also gives a picture of the different ways that multi-site churches can come into being and exist.

I want to list the things that I really liked first:

(1)  Application to my own context:  Anyone who is looking at multi-site or multi-venue worship/churches will find this book informative.  I particularly found Chapter 11:  Merger Campuses-No Longer a Bad Idea as it gave me some great information and insight into mergers which my church is currently in the process of.

(2)  The ending of the chapters usually has a section where the authors ask poignant questions that cause the reader to reflect on their own situation and how that chapter might apply to their life as a church and where God may be calling them.

(3)  The book is 100% a great reference and connectional point to give you information on churches that are multi-site and where they are located.  Whatever your church situation may be you will be able to find someone who has probably been in a similar situation as a church or has gone the direction you are hoping and this book will help you find that church and give you the information to connect directly with the source.

(4)  There were little sections in the book that really helped like page 150-151 with a section called "What Makes a Great Campus Pastor?"  These sections (highlighted within different chapters) contained great information that would give practical information to leaders of churches looking at possibly moving into a multi-site existence and what they might need to look for.

Now on to some things that I feel could have made the book better:

(1)  While the authors intend for the (meant to be funny) statements and pseudo-conversation with the reader about food to be a binding part of the story, I personally found them to be annoying and distracting and really they didn't serve any purpose (outside of being "cutesy")

(2)  The "road trip" actually didn't always give the reader an in-depth look at the church listed as the intro  church and focus of the chapter.  This I found extremely annoying because the church highlighted with information in the intro to each chapter was sometimes only used as a brief jumping off point to talk about a certain type of multi-site church.  For example Chapter 7: Fun with Technology highlights North Coast Church (Vista, California) as the church "visit," but in reality most of the chapter focuses on (Oklahoma).  The chapter was informative but the structure is very misleading as North Coast Church didn't play a prominent role in the chapter really at all.

(3)  That brings me to my third point.  I haven't read the authors first book The Multi-Site Revolution and this may play a part in my take, but this book seems like it would have been better if it had focused more in depth on 3 or 4 churches.  Practically speaking, played a role in a majority of the chapter and really was the main focus of 3 or 4 chapters, which is fine but I personally would have felt the book would have been better if it had just intentionally focused on for 1/3 or 1/4 of the book.  (just my own tastes in terms of structure and alignment)

In the end this book is a very good informational book for anyone who might be looking at multi-site (or multi-venue) existence.  It may not flow and focus like some of the books I am used to, but the information contained in the chapters makes up for that and makes it a worthwhile read (if only to really have a compact resource of connections so one could learn from others).

UCM Mission Trip Work: Day 3 & 4

So on Day 3 we worked at the old thrift store of Durham Rescue Mission for an hour (I forgot to take pictures) and then headed to the beach so the girls could see and enjoy the ocean and beach.

Day 4 we worked with the Women's Center of Durham Rescue Mission (specifically their health center and dental clinic).  Tomorrow and Friday there is a Dental outreach event happening in Durham and so we helped with the set up by getting some soda donated by Pepsi and then filling coolers with ice and soda for volunteers over the two days.

Then after that was finished we headed over to the Samaritan Inn (the women's and children's center of Durham Rescue Mission) to help at the Health Center and Dental Clinic.  We started with various odd jobs like sweeping, mopping, and clean up.  Then Dolly and Laney did some database control while Sally and I designed and went and purchased materials for a nametag holding board.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

UCM Mission Trip Work: Day 2

Today, we worked at the main campus of the Durham Rescue Mission.  We did various odd jobs, starting off by helping out the food house by sorting and stocking some canned goods and cereals.  Then after lunch we did some dishes and then sorted tangled hangers for the clothes house.

Tomorrow we will be working a half-day and we will be at the other thrift store for Durham Rescue Mission.

Monday, March 8, 2010

UCM Mission Trip Work: Day 1

We began today by getting a tour of the Durham Rescue Mission and learning about its history and philosophy.  It was a very informative time and the girls listed it as the highlight of their day.

For work today we went to help at one of their Thrift Stores.  We moved furniture, arranged clothing racks, sorted and priced goods, etc.  Below are some pics from the day.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review Coming Later This Week

I know I said I was going to have a book review up today, but I am on a mission trip and won't be able to get the review up until sometime between Wednesday and Thursday.

In the meantime here is a video to watch from Zondervan that explains the book a bit.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Intentional Renewal: Focus 5

(5) Move beyond the "church building" model

Why does church have to entail a "building" for "church?"  Last week when I wrote this focus in the preview, I was asking why we couldn't be church in houses, businesses, etc. (or a church building as we have done traditionally if it fits the mission)

Then on Tuesday, I gan an email pointing me to this.  Yep, a coffee-house church started as a coffee-house not the other way around (and I would argue there is a huge difference).  Really, this sums up some of the possibilities and shows that others are thinking outside of the boxes.

It actually looks like it would fit pretty much into many of the focus I put in my strategy (although mine probably goes a bit more radical in salary of clergy, etc.).  I would actually use this as the employment hub of the clergy and others and any other events and gatherings would just be added bonus.

I am not saying we have to get rid of churches, but why do we have to move that way?  Couldn't a network of house gatherings connected be the same thing?  Would this lead to better stewardship of our offerings by the church as a system?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Intentional Renewal: Focus 4

(4) Reorganize how we provide health insurance

In the preview post last week, I explained how health insurance is a huge cost to the church.  For instance, yesterday I shared how it cost my local church, the annual conference, and myself a total of $17,940 in premiums alone (that doesn't include the cost of co-pays, medication, etc. coming out of my pocket).

Now we had a child last year and if we wouldn't have had insurance our out of pocket for medical and prescriptions would have been $10,000 less.  Now we know that insurance is there in the case of major medical procedures which can't be predicted and we know that we join insurance groups so that healthy people can cover for those who have major issues that come up.  But what would happen if looked at things differently?

This is from the FAQs section of The Simple Way (new monastic community Shane Claiborne is a part of):
What do you all do about health care?We are challenged by our vision and Gospel mandate to “love our neighbors as ourselves”, especially when millions of people in the US don’t have adequate healthcare (48 million to be exact), one of them was a five-year-old on our block that died of asthma a few years back. And while we are grateful for the tireless labor of folks working toward health care for all, we are not willing to wait for the government to do what the Church is meant to BE. We are excited by the creative initiatives to create structures of mutual care, ways of bearing each others burdens like the early Church…. One of those is called Christian Healthcare Ministries. Each month folks contribute money to a common fund of which over 90% goes directly to meet needs. Members receive newsletters that tell who is in the hospital and how to be praying for one another. CHM now has over 20,000 members who have collectively paid over 400 million dollars in medical bills over the past 20 years. Check them out: And this is not an ad for CHM, but more for the idea of CHM and so many others… see it as an invitation to join a Christian medical collective that is already out there, or to start one… 48 million folks are waiting.
What they use is just one example, but what if we as United Methodists created a collective that extended not just to "clergy" but to laity also?  Part of the "benefits" of our clergy could be reduced monthly cost compared to the larger collective participant.

For instance in Christian Healthcare Ministries the Gold package is $150 per participant (family would only have to pay for 3 participants max), Silver package is $85 per, and Bronze is $45 per.  So say clergy get 50% off the level they would select.  That's it.

I know this would be very complicated to set up (more complicated then I want to delve into), but doesn't this seem like something that could be extremely valuable for a focus of one of our General Boards as a possibility?

Agree? Disagree? Other ideas on health insurance?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Intentional Renewal: Focus 3

(3) Rethink how clergy are supported and support themselves

I wrote in the preview post posing the situation where our clergy would graduate from seminary debt free and then would be placed in communities with only certain things paid for by the conference.

So before we begin lets take a look at my pastoral compensation here in Minnesota (we have a step-program where there is the entrance minimum and the salary increases $450 for each year of service...I am on step 3):

Salary = $34,321
Housing Allowance/Utilities = $13,200 (Rent, Phone, Utilities)
Pension = $7794
Health Insurance = $17940 (80% church, 10% AC, 10% pastor)
Mileage = $2000
Professional Expenses = $1000
Continuing Ed = $1392

Total Cost to Local Church = $74,059 (not including the $3588 the AC and Pastor pay for insurance)

The first church I was placed at had a parsonage so the housing/utilities section was about $7,200 less, and the overall budget was $142,000 (usually ended up spending $126,000) with 90% designated to operating expenses, building, and pastor........leaving 10% for educational material, programming, and mission.  Seems excessive to me and personally (note that this is a personal opinion) it doesn't seem to bring about a good stewardship of the gifts God has given us (yes, I struggle daily with the cost of my servanthood to the church....).

So what if we placed pastors in communities and provided just housing, utilities, continuing ed, and put money in their pension (health insurance will be covered tomorrow).  For example we will just use my package as an example (this will obviously vary slightly based on geographical location) to see how much the yearly cost would be:

$13,200 (Housing and Utilities- Includes everything including cell phone & internet) *Assumes no parsonage--parsonage would allow savings of roughly $8200*
$7794 (pension)
$1392 (continuing ed--unused continuing ed would be banked for future use)

Currently = $74,059
New Proposal = $22,386 *or $14,186 (if parsonage owned and paid off)

Now, of course some might be asking how people are going to pay for food, gas, clothes, car, etc.  My proposal was lets place clergy in a community and have them get a job (part-time should do).  Here are my estimates (dont' have the exact on me right now) of our costs per month

Food = $600
Transportation = $650 (300=gas; 171=car payment; 90 = insurance; 89 = maintenance and repairs budget)

That would be $1250 plus say another $150 (to cover clothes, diapers, other expenses) making that $1400 per month.  Now there are all kinds of factors that could play into things like spouse, etc.  My wife makes about $1000-$1400 a month in a job that allows us to not pay daycare, but then we pay for Micah to go to pre-school (a choice not a necessity) at $450/month (all day every day).  So most months what Stacy makes would cover our expenses and whatever I would work under the system would be above and beyond this (which could account for those unpredictable things, offering, saving for kids education, house purchase in retirement, helping others, toys for kids, etc, Stacy's student loans) ***all of this would be assuming being debt-free***

Assuming I made minimum wage (either $6.15/hr or $7.25/hr depending on company and requirement by state of MN *this will vary depending on state) and worked 20 hrs/week:

$6.15 (or $7.25) X 20 hours X 52 weeks = $6396-$7540/yr = $533-$628/mo

Obviously, hard choices would have to be made about preschool, etc. (and this is assuming that there is a spouse who is emphasis would be on contextual understanding of family dynamics that determine some of the compensation...for instance if Stacy worked full time as a teacher she would bring home about $2000 net per month but then we would have daycare costs making it about even with what is listed as our current situation)

But in our current situation we could totally do it, and if I had known this was what it was going to be like in going into the ministry then that obviously also would effect how I prepared for the life, etc.

Would it be hard?  Yes, but I really think it would align us with some of that whole John Wesley crazy (I don't think he was crazy but I am pretty sure most people would think he was crazy if he were living today with his beliefs on living, poverty, etc.)

What are the benefits?

-Money given within network could be used for mission and spiritual growth (along with supporting conference structure that would supply clergy...some networks would supply more than others, just like churches do now)

-Pastors would be out in community working and making connections

***Important that I think this model follows the tent-making example of Paul***

Obviously it is going to be a little more complicated, but this is just the beginning of my thoughts.  Anyone disagree? Agree, but?  Fine tune?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Intentional Renewal: Focus 2

(2) Redefine the responsibilities of clergy

In last week's preview, I talked briefly about how the reality is that many clergy have to spend the majority of their time in the administrative role (or also if they don't spend a majority of their time it will end up hurting the church or making the job for the next clergy harder). This is not necessarily because the clergy want to spend their time there, but because the system of the church as it currently is has come to depend on it.

Here is what you need to do (1) Find a Book of Discipline, (2) Look up and read paragraph 340. (I would link to it so you didn't have to go through all of this, but see my post below as to why it must be this way)

To sum it up the responsibilities elders are called to are: Word and ecclesial acts; Sacraments; Order; Service.

Now I would like to sum up the new responsibilities under the same categories:

Word and ecclesial acts
1. Teach the Word of God; empower others to teach the Word of God; and be a resource for worship planning implementation.
2. Oversee the network to ensure that Biblical interpretation is within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy (we can debate what is orthodoxy some other time). (I.e. Make sure the Bible is not being interpreted in a way that goes counter to the message of Christ)
3. Preside and Weddings and Funerals as needed (including marriage counseling when needed)
4. Counsel when needed (and keep confidential what should be kept confidential)

1. Teach the Methodist understanding of the Sacraments (Holy Communion and Baptism) and other means of grace
2. Administer the Sacraments (this is where I struggle the most because if there are say 50 units within a network how is an elder supposed to administer Holy Communion on a regular basis---this might take some adaptation that others might not be too enthused about---possibly even myself)

1. Maintain regular contact with those units within the network and connect the units together by regular all-network communication and/or events
2. Be a resource for materials of Christian education, worship, and mission
3. Maintain the connection of the network to the larger organizational structure of the UMC
4. Maintain observance of The Book of Discipline within the network and each part of the network

1. Model the servanthood of Jesus Christ by participating in work that helps the community the network is within
2. Help to connect the network in service to the community
3. Teach the importance of servant leadership to all and model it in personal daily life.

I am not much for detail, but these would be the main requirements. Is there something that should be here? Is there something that shouldn't be here? Please leave a comment and let me know.

I purposely did not add 500 things (exaggeration) like the Book of Discipline because I believe each network would have its own context that might influence and determine much of the other stuff.

To summarize biblically: I would envision an elder/clergy being much like Paul in the NT traveling to churches, establishing churches, and maintaining contact, but obviously on a more regular basis because of ease of travel/communication.

The Book of Discipline and Why I Think It Should Be Online Free

Image borrowed from Cokesbury

As I am working on writing my post of Focus #2 today, I wanted to reference to The Book of Discipline and paragraph 340 which lists the responsibilities of elders and local pastors. The problem is that means a few things:

(1) The clergy would easily be able to reference this by breaking out their copy
(2) The laity would have to find a copy (which every church should have one) and it would assume that many know what The Book of Discipline is. (I have found that those who have had leadership do know of it---for the most part---but many that haven't do not have a clue what it is even. Now obviously this could be contextual, but this has been my experience)


(3) I would have to type it all out (and since we Methodists aren't known for our brevity on things...that would mean a bunch of typing....funny thing is I probably could have done it had I not gotten frustrated and decided to write this post).

What I hoped to find was an online source of The Book of Discipline to link to so that my readers (lay or clergy) could easily reference what I was writing about. There is one via Cokesbury (subscription service) for $14.

Now maybe it is my generation and my living in a world of open source, but to me that seems like we are kicking ourselves in the foot. Now I understand that it takes time to put together the book and changes made via General Conference, but why do we not make this part of the cost and have it able to view openly on the internet and integrated into our denominations homepage?

It seems to me that as United Methodists there are two formative documents that guide our life as a community: (1) The Holy Scriptures (available for free online in various translations) and (2) The Book of Discipline. Yet, the majority of our members do not have easy access to the document (once again I am used to instant access so this may be a criticizing of my own generation, etc). Most people would have to go to the church and find the copy of the book, which means the church would have to be open and wherever the copy is kept would also have to be open. In some rural areas this could mean a significant drive and in urban areas it could be a significant drive and time consumer also.

So I ask, if The Book of Discipline is such an important part of our denomination (seriously it is our ruling book that the Judicial Council rules off of), then why do we not have it free and easy to access? Shouldn't that be an important part of our apportionment dollars? (I personally think this would be a great use of our apportionment dollars--if we are taking seriously the importance of the book to our denominational life that is)

Is there an online edition (free) that I missed? (I hope so).

P.S. If there isn't one that I missed then I am pretty sure I am not the first to have this thought or even write about it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Intentional Renewal: Focus 1

I have to start this off by saying that Craig Groeschel of (He is formally of the UMC) wrote some very interesting stuff that pushes the UMC to think about what we are doing and I have enjoyed reading his posts (thanks to fellow clergy Melissa Meyer) and you can read Shane Raynor's thoughts and get links to Groeschel's six posts here.

This week I will be writing expanded posts on the 5 areas of focus I listed last week in my envisioned intentional renewal strategy. Up today is:

(1) Place theologically trained clergy in communities not churches

Okay, last week in my mini-description of this focus I ended up talking about desiring to see clergy placed in communities (intentionally) and not in "churches." In Minnesota, our placements are to the church and community, but in reality is 90-95% (if not more) of the clergy's time and energy is going towards the "church" where they are placed (and most of that energy is spent maintaining the system already in place or helping the church survive).

What if we started to place new clergy in communities rather than in churches (funding for this will be addressed in a later focus on Wednesday)?

(1) Theologically trained clergy would have the most important foundation: understanding who God is and who God has called us to be within a larger orthodox Christian understanding. Instead of just being equipped via a practical ministry model that may or may not go out-of-style. The leaders who were being sent out would be trained in the core matters of faith which should be the foundation of all of our lives as leaders of God's people. We want people who know the Scriptures (the story, history, etc.), Tradition (what have others within the history of Christianity thought and taught about God), and who are able then to take those things and respond to their context. This means that "practical" training does not disappear but rather it is in response to the exact context where the person finds themselves. (It wouldn't do me very good to learn all the new ways that ministry is moving within technology if I were placed in some of the areas of rural Minnesota where maybe 20-60% of the population has internet and uses it regularly...there it would be better if I learned practical ministry skills like rural dynamics, relationships, etc.)

(2) Without having to worry about maintaining buildings (people could meet wherever: homes, businesses, fields, mountains, wherever) the money given to God in the offering could be used to help transform the community that the people are living in. When roughly 1/3 of many budgets for churches is used to "maintain" the building via utilities, insurance, mortgage, maintenance, then we have to start asking ourselves if we are being good stewards. (Think about this: what was the maintenance cost to churches when they first came into being? I am guessing about what it cost to build them since there wasn't electricity (or insurance), etc.) Why aren't we using the things we already have (like homes or local businesses) for gathering places?

(3) Because clergy would be placed in communities, the focus would 100% be on the people and the community. As much as we like to say we place clergy in communities that the churches are a part of, we truly know that the church gets all the attention (and often that is a certain few people....the gatekeepers) With no office the clergy would have to go out and build relationships and be out in the community. (this would have a two-fold benefit with #2....if someone asked who they were they would say their name and that they were a united methodist clergy. Instead of having to be able to invite them to a church they would have to connect them with a person within the network or invite them to his or her home....I know scandalous responsibility)

(4) It wouldn't matter if the communities were urban, suburban, or rural. (This will make more sense when we get to #3) I think this might benefit rural situations the best because of the lack of having to maintain buildings on a fixed amount of people/growth possible. Urban or Suburban settings find it difficult as the lifestyles of those settings can make having a "common and easily recognizable" gathering place an advantage.

I will admit this is a work in progress, but I am hoping that those of you who read this might give me feedback and thoughts. I am only able to better define my position when being challenged or refined through the thoughts of others.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

UMC: A Vision of Intentional Renewal Strategy

Okay, so if we build off the assumption of yesterday's post and say that renewal is going to come from going outside the church and bringing about renewal from the outside-to-inside rather than focusing on the inside in the hopes of pushing it outside then what could be an intentional strategy for doing this?

(1) Place theologically trained clergy in communities not churches (Expanded Detail coming March 1)

Now, I know when we are placed at churches we are placed to serve the communities also. However, what if we just intentionally placed clergy in communities as missionaries to create networks of Christians. (Note: Not to build a church, but to build a community of disciples networked together) They could be named UMC Network: Winona; UMC Network: Nashville; UMC Network: New York, etc. (I am somewhat imagining as a possibility some type of adaptive morphing of the class system set up by John Wesley....maybe house fellowships)

Of course, the question should be raised: How are we going to fund the clergy position if there is no church?

(2) Redefine the responsibilities of clergy (Expanded Detail coming March 2)

Let's be honest: In the current system the primary time consumer for clergy is: administration (under the umbrella of "Order"...specifically referring to elder orders now). What if we thought of clergy more as missionaries whose primary task is to help make disciples and to connect them, enabling them to take over (administration of sacraments would follow an adaptation of circuit rider method just in local network....)

(3) Rethink how clergy are supported and support themselves (Expanded Detail March 3)

What if we had our clergy graduating debt free (student loans, etc.) and sent them into communities and only provided the following: housing, utilities (cell phone, internet, and water, heat, garbage, etc.---not tv or landlines---), and insurance will be dealt with in another topic. Clergy would be responsible for finding work to pay for necessities outside this and any luxuries. (yes that means finding jobs and might I suggest possibly choosing jobs that mean interaction with people)

(4) Reorganize how provide health insurance (Expanded Detail coming March 4)

Health insurance is a huge cost to churches/conferences/pastors and is only continuing to rise and will continue on that pattern as long as we continue on in classic models. Shane Claiborne inspired me to rethink how we do health insurance through his book Irresistible Revolution and how he participates in a health insurance co-op. There is some promise, I believe in the model and their intentional network that involves prayer and support is an inspiring model.

(5) Move beyond the "church building" model (Expanded Detail coming March 5)

This is connected to the item #1. The fact is buildings cost money to build and maintain, so what if we used buildings already constructed. The possibilities are endless: homes, stores, etc. (we could even look at recycling buildings that are abandoned and reconstruct and meet there and maybe incorporate housing, etc.) Church buildings could still exist, but I think we are going to have to move past the mentality which says to be a church means to have a building (or be moving towards having a building).

I am still thinking of more and would be interested in others reactions to the above or any suggestions they may have.

My plan is to expand each point in detail next week in daily posts.

Winona 360 Update w/Links

While my blog has been neglected, I have been doing weekly articles for Winona 360. This has pushed me to meet deadlines (something that I have not done successfully the last 3 weeks due to ordination and job responsibilities) and to make sure I have a weekly article (this has been done). It has been a great experience so far, even though I have no clue whatsoever if anyone is reading them at all (outside the editor).

Here they are in order with links:

1/27: Reflection on Tim Tebow ad controversy (before the ad aired and was uncontroversial)

2/3: Reflection on Politics and Faith

2/12: Reflection on Christian and Secular Music

2/18: A Reflection on Lent

2/25: Reflection on local variety show

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shane Raynor, The Gospel of Luke, and Me: What is really inside those doors?

This morning I was catching up on my twitter feed after walking Micah to school and happened upon a link to this article by Shane Raynor on his blog "The Wesley Report." (Side Note about "The Wesley Report." While I miss the daily links to Methodist blogs around the web that Shane used to do, I really like him sharing his voice on subjects--plus I know the work of doing all those links had to be consuming) To sum it up, Shane writes briefly about why he is supportive of new church starts.

One particular paragraph Shane wrote stuck out:
Established churches are often full of history, entrenched families, power struggles and politics, especially smaller churches. Even congregations that express a desire to grow sometimes aren't willing to make the sacrifices to do it, especially when those sacrifices involve giving up personal sacred cows. Pastors who try to grow churches that have "old-school" mindsets will usually spend most of their energy trying to convince the congregation to grow rather than actually making it grow. That's why more than a few of our "churches" are really chapels, and the sad reality is, many of these churches will never be more than what they are now.
I think Raynor is right in his assessment and it is a subject I have been struggling with internally since I entered appointed ministry in the summer of 2007.

Of course, God works in mysterious ways, and this morning I happened to be reading Luke 4-6 for a bible study I am doing with a pastor friend of mine from here in Winona. I had The Message translation on hand and started to read and came to Luke 5:36-39:
"No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine."
I have heard this passage hundreds of times and read it hundreds of time, but this morning it took on new meaning for me. The quotes from Jesus come in response to those at Simon's house who are asking why he is always spending his time at "parties" (Peterson's translation) instead of being like John's disciples and the Pharisees who were known for "keeping fasts and saying prayers." Contextually, I think we could easily translate this into those at Simon's house asking, "Jesus, why are you always hanging out at bars, restaurants, and coffee shops? Why aren't you in the church like all those other pastors?"

That brings me to the way God spoke to my heart in terms of this subject. What if a big issue facing the church is that we are trying to renew from the inside instead of renew from the outside? Let me explain. God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, brought about renewal by looking outside the normal paradigm of the Judaism system. God didn't do it through the Pharisees or Sadducees, he did it through fisherman, tax collectors, etc. The lives of these ordinary individuals outside the religious system brought about a movement that changed the landscape eventually. I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that what Jesus is saying about the fabrics and wine containers points to this reality. (Does this mean that to push the analogy if God had used the system we would have ended up with a blown up system and the movement dead like standing around with some broken wine skin and our wine absorbed into the dirt below never to be enjoyed?)

This brings about a string of questions that are running through my head...

Are we trying to patch up our old work clothes (churches in the current system) with fine silk (clergy being trained in the missional renewal mindset)? How is it working? Are churches being renewed (is the fabric holding) or is the patch being ripped off the old clothes (either the clergy adapting to the systems desires or leaving the system)?

Does the narrative within the Gospel of Luke challenge us to think about how we are spending our resources? Seriously, think about this: How much money of ours is used to "maintain" and how much is used to "advance the Gospel" in tangible ways that show fruit?

Are the new church starts and our growing faith communities in places outside the United States within Methodism the hope for renewal as they draw new people into transformed lives that witness to those within the current system?

Could renewal come from within churches by using a "church within a church" model that allowed missional renewal to occur? Is this possible since it still seems one has to overcome the "chapel" mentality of the current church it would be within?

Just thoughts and questions running through my head on this day....

Coming Tomorrow: A Vision of Intentional Renewal Strategy