Category Archives: Ministry

1-2-3 Meme

I have been tagged for the 1-2-3 Meme by good friend Matt Shedden. The game is to grab the book nearest to you and turn to page 123. Find the 5th sentence and share the next 3 sentences with everyone. Then you tag five people.

My book is Family Based Youth ministry by Rev. Mark DeVries. On page 123, the 5th sentence is:

In an extensive study of the effects of divorce on children, one fact stands out as a stark indictment to churches. Less than 10 percent of those children of divorce who were interviewed “had any adult speak to them sympathetically as the divorce unfolded.”

A convicting passage for me, no doubt. I have students from divorced homes, and I’m guilty of the indictment. Ouch.

An Open Letter to Congregations Welcoming New Pastors

My own thoughts (some hopefully beneficial, some potentially harmful) on just what to do about a new pastor arriving less than a week from today prompted me to draft an open letter to my church. It addresses the “fix-it” list mentality that we can get caught up in whenever new leadership comes into an organization…

January is here! No doubt, this is the month where God’s blessing on us manifests itself in the form of a gifted and passionate shepherd to serve as Pastor and Head of Staff. Thanks be to God! I can’t help but think that our gracious and providing God has a sense of humor. How appropriate that Pastor Bill arrives in January… that he arrives in a month saturated with new beginnings and new chapters, with renewed hope and renewed vitality. Personally and professionally, I’m very thankful for God’s blessing on us. I’m excited to work with a fellow climber, a fellow bibliophile, and a fellow questioning pilgrim, to name a few of Bill’s qualities.

The arrival of a new pastor after a long interim period is great news, but it’s also an occasion for extra diligence. Over the past few months, each of us has probably said that some problem or another will just get better when the new pastor comes. I know I have. But the more I think about it, the more I’m wary of that attitude. Indeed, the presence of a pastor inherently clears up certain potential conflicts. For example, although we could not have survived this period without the leadership of dedicated laypersons who stepped up to the plate, I eagerly anticipate having just one supervisor. Just one person to report to. Where hierarchy exists, it exists most efficiently in simple form. So, Pastor Bill’s arrival itself is somewhat of an automatic solution to certain organizational challenges.

But we know we’re not a perfect congregation. No congregation is perfect. There are still ways for us to streamline the way we carry the gospel out into Durango. There are still ways for us to more enthusiastically fold newcomers into our midst. There are still ways for us to harness 21st-century technology for the purposes of building God’s Kingdom this year. There are still ways for us to become a tighter family of many generations working together.

Join me in rejoicing that our Pastor has arrived, but also let us remain diligent, both as individuals and as a corporate body. Before I ask Bill to make a drastic change that I may personally want to see, may I give him the time he needs to observe us and strategize about how to best lead us. May I avoid the temptation to hand him a “fix-it” list. May I be eager to discern how my unique gifts might best combine with those brought by Bill. Join me in enthusiastically welcoming Pastor Bill in this way!

Let us take to heart how Paul ends his admonition to the believers in Rome: “And now to him who is able to establish us by the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ… so that all nations might believe and obey him, to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen!”

Willimon & The Offensiveness of Advent

I’ve had Methodist pastor Will Willimon’s blog in my Google Reader since last May when a colleague talked a lot about him at a retreat. Here’s a recent gem:

More than likely, Advent eschatology offends us for more mundane reasons. I am at church seeking personal advice for how to have a happy marriage or how to get along with the boss next week, only to have Advent wrench my gaze in our subjectivity in its insistence that whatever God is about in the Advent of Jesus, it is something quite large, quite cosmic, quite strange and humanly unmanageable, something more significant than me. I am not the master of history.

So let us begin with the honest admission that our real problem with these Advent/Christmas texts is largely political and economic. Tell me, “This world is ending. God has little vested interest in the present order,” I shall hear it as bad news.

However, for a mother in a barrio in Mexico City who has lost four of her six children to starvation, to hear, “This present world is not what God had in mind. God is not finished, indeed is now moving, to break down and to rebuild in Jesus,” I presume that would sound something like gospel. For her the Advent/Christmas message presages a revolutionary conflagration.

A great deal depends, in regard to our receptivity to these texts, on where we happen to be standing at the time when we get the news, “God is coming.”

It’s Advent. Let the revolution begin.

 

From his most recent blog post.

Snow

Tonight went to a Christmas party at a house in a neighborhood in the hills west of Durango. Normally the drive takes about 15 minutes. Coming back down into town took maybe 30, 4WD and low gear all the way. It was so cool to see that much snow on the road! I’ve been complaining about how warm it’s been recently, and how little precipitation we’ve been getting. Last weekend we got a pretty good storm and Purgatory opened with a good amount of frontside trails available. Today the backside opened during a storm. So maybe all my complaining got us somewhere… or not. It’s just nice to finally have snow around. Hopefully the temperatures will stay down so we can keep it.

After we got home I took Rusty out to pee, since we had been gone about two-and-a-half hours. Now normally this involves a flashlight for any time later than 7:00. This was 8:30, and even though Durango doesn’t have a lot of glaring lights, what little there is was reflecting all over the snow and it was like a bright dusk outside. A wierd phenomenon to try to put into words. Just much brighter outside than one would expect it to be when the sun has gone all the way down.

I know I haven’t posted in a while, and this is a good excuse for me to write some, to get back into it. There’s been interesting stuff going on at work, but I’m carefully examining how much work stuff I talk about now that staff blogs are on their way to becoming a disputed topic. And that may have been saying too much, hahaha.

Well, hopefully February will bring plenty of blog fodder. Pending official acceptance, I’ll be taking an online class through University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS). “Theology of Mission and Evangelism.” Seeking to rethink these two major components of ecclesiology in the context of our ever-changing culture.

Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving vacation in Monterey has been great. Although this town is like Durango in the transient nature of its young inhabitants, I’ve been pleasantly surprised in how many people from the old days I’ve run into while here. A couple brief conversations with my closest friend Chris, and a longer hangout on the schedule for tomorrow. Great times with my brother-in-law Pat, wondering what it would be like to be Indiana Jones and halfheartedly plotting to drop off “the grid”. A pipe-smoking session with Uncle George, learning about his seminary days and hearing his stories of traveling to Brazil and moving around among parishes.

Went to church a couple times today. First, we caught a service at Shoreline, where I used to work. It’s definitely changed. They’ve built an impressive facility in an old warehouse. I’m really excited for Pastor Howie getting to see his dreams come to fruition. He started from scratch over a decade ago, and now the church has a thriving body of believers. What I admire most about Shoreline is its dedicated core of volunteers that keep at least some portion of virtually every component of the church running smoothly. They’ve got to be sold on the vision Howie’s casted. Major kudos there. Like I said before though, a lot has changed since I was there, as things do. The new facility, while impressive, didn’t quite resonate with me. The sanctuary is very spacious, and has who-knows-how-many thousands of dollars of technology, but it didn’t feel like a church. There were no Christian symbols anywhere. Really, this isn’t a rant… I’m a firm believer that you can’t make everyone happy. I just need my worship space to have some worship aids that push me towards an encounter with God. Anyway, the service was so-so for me, but I’m sure it’s great for the people it reaches. No faith community has a monopoly on how to reach and serve everyone.

This evening Anina and I went to a new house-church, Stone Harbor. It was planted by a respected colleague named Johnny Potter, and another humble Christ-follower named Tom Green. Johnny has this amazing quiet wisdom that makes him such a natural shepherd. Without any discussion, Anina and I both knew he was the one we each wanted to perform our weding (and he did). Johnny pastored at Shoreline almost from day one, but has felt called to start Stone Harbor very recently. The gathering is about 60 people that meet in the Potter home. Really cozy in there, hahaha. It was so organic and no-frills. Quite a contrast to how I felt while I experienced a Shoreline service. Fairly typical layout, with worship songs up front, followed by a brief and easy-to-take-notes-on message, then closed of with a time of singing and praying. After things ended, I was so amazed to see clusters of people spontaneously forming and praying for each other. The norm was for people to socialize for a few minutes, almost inevitably followed by a short but sincere couple minutes of praying for each other. But it was so low-pressure. Like, you know how sometimes people can be praying, and you feel odd if you’re not doing it too? Yeah, not like that at all. It was just what these believers wanted to do with each other. No pressure. Wow.

Originally this post was titled, “The Way It Should Be”. But I realized that I couldn’t use that if I really believe that nobody has the market cornered on ecclesiology. But I’ll tell you what… if I lived in Monterey, I would make my home at Stone Harbor. It was so refreshing.

A couple more days of vacation, and then back to work. More details to come…

Nameless Wisdom

Tony Myles is perhaps one of the guys whose blog I’ve been reading consistently since I jumped into the blogosphere. I think I came across his name in a youth ministry context, but now I really appreciate his wide range of pastoral insight.

He’s got a great post how anonymity might factor into the lives of Christians. If we don’t insist on getting credit for all the good works that Saint James spurs us to, we “taste true freedom, for when we practice positive secrecy we become less enslaved by a culture that hands out trophies for everything.”

I’m making no comment on how –or whether or not– I applied his advice, but you oughtta consider it for yourself and maybe come up with something new…

The Wait Is Over

Wow, I’m so relieved. Our church just called a new pastor yesterday, which means I have a new boss. The Rev. Dr. William Mangrum. This guy and I get along so well together, too. It’s crazy.

Side note: In thinking about how to describe him, I almost just spouted off a bunch of labels. Emergent Village, Rob Bell fan, etc. Bad, Russell, bad!

Bill and I both love reading. He’s got a head-start on me though. One of the biggest logistical problems for bringing him here is what to do with his 15,000 books. I’m really excited to have a superior that is so well-read, and that can introduce me to new authors and titles that will challenge me in all aspects of life… personal theology, ministry practices, etc. Continue reading

Catalyst 2007 – Rick Warren

“God’s Agenda”

  • If you want God’s blessing on your life, then you have to get with God’s agenda. 1st line of PDL: “It’s not about you.”
    • Stop praying “God, bless me.” Instead: “God, help me to do what you’re doing.”
  • The Kingdom is the single biggest image in the New Testament.
    • Where is it? Wherever Jesus is king… Heaven, earth, within you…
    • What is it? God’s people fulfilling God’s purposes on God’s planet for God’s glory
  • Cf. Matthew 25: If you want Christ to come back just get out and start sharing your faith
    • The disciples always wanted to talk about prophecy and signs; Jesus wanted to talk about evangelism.
  • God’s agenda is the church.
    • What if someone said, “I like you but I just can’t stand your wife (or body)?”
  • God created the entire universe just so He could create a galaxy just so He could create a solar system just so He could create a planet just so He could create an ecosystem… just so He could create a human that would choose to love Him and He could love the human back.
  • Your parents may not have loved/wanted you, but God did, and he made sure you had the ability to love them back, and in turn love Him.
  • God is a creator. You are most like God when you are creating. So stop trying to change culture. Create it.
  • The Moses “Staff to Snake to Staff” story
    • Why is that in the Bible?
    • Hint- When God asks you a question, it’s not for His benefit.
    • Likewise, when God does a miracle, it’s to teach a truth.
    • Moses’ Staff
      • His identification as a shepherd. Who he was
      • Symbol of Moses’ income. What he had
      • Symbol of Moses’ influence (over sheep :P). What he did
      • Take your ID/influence/income and throw it down.
      • God: “And if you surrender it to me I will make it come alive like you’ve never imagined. And every time you pick it up again, it’ll go dead.”
      • From that point forward, Moses’ staff is always referred to as the Rod of God… it pops up in the 10 Commandments, the Red Sea, Pharaoh, simply all over the Pentateuch
      • So: What’s in your wallet hand?

Warren’s Response to the Moses’ Staff Story

  • After writing Purpose Driven Life, an AIDS trip where he accompanied his wife really turned him around.
  • “What’s in my hand?” – Affluence
    • I Corinthians 9 – “It’s ok to get paid for preaching, but I wanna do it for free so no one can doubt my motives.”
    • Not gonna spend the money on myself
    • Not gonna take a salary from the church
    • Gonna give salary back for 25 years
    • Gonna set up AIDS and poverty charities
    • Gonna become reverse tithers (give 90%, live on 10%)
    • “There’s a bumper sticker that says ‘Honk if you love Jesus!’ Well I wanna make one that says ‘Tithe if you love Jesus, any fool can honk!'”
  • “What’s in my hand?” – Influence
    • Psalm 72 – “Solomon’s prayer for more influence. It sounds more selfish than good ol’ Jabez! Solomon was already the wealthiest, wisest man on the planet.”
    • But it’s only selfish until you read the purpose: “So that the king may help the orphaned and marginalized…”
    • “I want to use my power for these people to speak up for those who have no influence.”

Catalyst 2007 – Andy Stanley, part 2

“Liberating Your Organization: Creating A Leadership-Friendly Culture”

Introduction

  1. There are organizational systems that are conducive to ministry, and there are those that impede ministry.
  2. There are organizational systems that free leaders to lead, and there are those that obstruct leaders.
  3. “System” defined: Your organization’s approach to getting things done.
  • Systems Create Behaviors
    • Preaching doesn’t. Curriculum doesn’t. Talks don’t.
    • Examples:
      • Family vs. Student Ministry
      • Marriage vs. Marriage Sermon Series
      • Western vs. Middle Eastern
    • The systems you inherit, adopt, or create will eventually what staff and volunteers do.
    • Anytime you hear, “Well, our people won’t…” you’re listening to someone who doesn’t understand the influence of systems.
    • Components of a System:
      • Expectations (rules)
      • Rewards (or lack of)
      • Consequences (or lack of)
      • Communication (content and style)
      • Behavior (of those in charge)
    • Systems have a greater impact on organizational behavior than do mission statements.
      • This principle explains why it’s so hard to transition an organization.
      • If a leader casts a vision and never addresses old systems, nothing changes.
      • “What’s happening down the hall trumps what’s hanging on the wall.”
      • People in your organization are only doing what you’ve led and rewarded them to do.
      • Ask, “What are the expectations in our organization? What’s rewarded? (Because that’s what will be repeated.) What brings consequences?
  • The New Testament does not present us with a comprehensive system or model.
    • In the NT we discover what the early church did. The NT does not lay out a comprehensive plan instruction church leaders what to do.
    • Think about it: They had a direct WWJD link, something that we don’t have. They had apostles. We don’t. We have the great opportunity to create the system that carries out the Great Commission.
    • Always differetiate between what is prescriptive and what is descriptive.
      • We can’t be a 1st Century church because we don’t live in the 1st Century!
    • The Old and New Testaments do offer some principles that should be integrated into our systems.
      • Delegation : Acts 6 / Exodus 18
      • Accountability: Acts 15
      • Authority : Romans 13
      • Interdependence : Paul’s discussion of spritual gifts
      • Point Leadership : Modeled in OT and NT
      • Seeking Counsel : Proverbs / Acts 15
    • Something not on the list is Congregational Rule. Some examples of its outcome: Golden Calves, Brothers Thrown into Pits, Following Kings not Prophets
  • System Imperatives
    • Your system should allow you to involve and hire the best person for the job.
    • Your system should provide you with the flexibility to get the right people to the table.
      • i.e. position of Youth Director does not automatically influence decisions regardless of inept person in position.
    • Your system should allow you to make complex decisions within the context of a small group of empowered individuals.
      • Simply cannot communicate complex decisions to large groups of people effectively.
    • Your system should ensure that only one person answers to “They”

Concluding Remarks:

  • “We have different gifts, according to the grave given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently.” Romans 12:6-8
  • You create a system where leaders are free to lead, and guess who will flock… leaders!
  • Congregations led by the “We/They” tend to end up with system dysfunctions.
  • The current system you’re gonna take all your notes back to has the potential to crush everything you’ll bring back. So, learning as leaders to deal with the nuts and bolts is absolutely necessary.
  • Before God created man, He created systems (solar, ecological, etc.)
  • But even in man, the human body is the most sophisticated system in existence.
    • Because the body is a system, it’s a meaningful experience to go to the doctor, a medical systems expert. This is why you don’t just pray when you get sick.
  • If you don’t approach problem solving systematically, you’ll spend the rest of your career blaming, firing, and being critical of people, and never getting anywhere.

Wrapup/Debriefing Questions:

  • List 3 behaviors that you wish characterize your organization (apply on many levels: church, youth ministry, staff).
  • List one thing you’re systematically doing to encourage each of those behaviors.
  • List the things you’re doing (maybe inadvertently) to encourage the opposite behavior.

    Catalyst 2007 – Erwin McManus

    “Solomon was wrong.”

    • It’s not a popular idea to deny the Teacher’s revered sayings, but it just won’t go away.
      • Eccl. 1:9-10 What has been will be again… there is nothing new under the sun.
      • An oft-quoted, a prevailing thought in the leadership frameworks in Christianity
    • We’ve rarely stopped to question what he said here, but we disagree with him in other places
      • Jesus said burden is light, but Solomon said it was heavy
      • Places in Ecclesiastes where we know Solomon was wrong. Not the best to build your worldview around a guy who says it’s all meaningless
      • When you’re having your worst day, don’t write to other people on how to live.
    • Solomon says it’s all a circle. What is coming is simply what has been in the past. Why is it that we’re so quick to embrace this?
      • It’s in our language. Worship band leader: “Let’s make history!” So, it’s ok for us Christians to make history (literally what has past). Or a magazine that says “Let’s change history!” …
      • But what would the typical Christian response be if Erwin says “Let’s change the future!”?
    • We don’t understand what our role in time is. We’re so careful not to infringe on God’s sovereign space, we sit apathetically by waiting to respond to it.
      • But Hitler’s and Stalin’s create history when we wont.
      • Maybe it’s time that we recognize that if only the most evil feel free to create the future, there’s something wrong with our understanding of our role in the future to come.
    • The way we’ve been taught is, “If it was evil, it was us, but if it was good, it was definitely God.”
      • But we weren’t created to live in neutral. If all our actions produce evil, then we should only sit by and react to stuff.
    • Isaiah 43:18-19 “Stop thinking about the past!” (contrast “Do not forget….”) “Now I’m doing a new thing, but will you even be aware of it?”
      • If only God had read Ecclesiastes, He would have got it right.
      • God: “Stop living in the past and get engaged in the future I want you to be a part of.”
    • We have to begin to rethink our relationship to history. We can’t change history, and to make history means that we’re doing something that really matters.
      • But to create the future means that we’re pursuing where God is going into the future.
    • Part of our dilemma is we’ve stopped being honest about the meaning of life.
      • We enter into relationship with Christ, God sets us free. Now we’re free in Jesus to create and do good works in him
    • When we’re only preaching to Christians, are we communicating at the deepest level of humanity?
      • Erwin: “When I sing Christian songs, I have a hard time with some of them, where I want them to be true.”
        • Never been a moment where God was really all I wanted. “God you are all I want, but I could really use a cappuccino.”
        • Exhale if Jesus is all you need … Nice, isn’t it? … Now feel free to inhale when you realize you need oxygen too.
      • Adam had a need for human companionship that he was previously unaware of. Adam’s naming all the animals, then God puts him to sleep to create Eve. Putting Adam through a learning experience. 2 gazelles, 2 gophers, 2 rabbits. “Get the theme here, Adam? No? Just go to sleep, I’ll fix it…”
        • God understood Adam’s need far more than Adam understood his own, and God had joy in meeting those needs.
        • All of creation is a testament to how much pleasure God finds in meeting our needs.
    • A man on TV with healing oil, selling oil that had cured lady’s dog from cancer.
      • What has gone wrong? Somebody has to be sincere. Somewhere. I have to believe that. Maybe the old lady that sent in her welfare check to buy the oil for her dog… maybe the dog is the only sincere one?
      • “Somewhere down the line someone figured out that Christians are incapable of discerning what is authentic and what is inauthentic.”
      • “How is it possible we’ve lost our capacity to connect to what it real?”
      • Every person without God who watches that show has to know that it is not real. But why do we fall for it?
    • At one point the memories I had became less trustworthy than the stories I had been told. I had disconnected myself from reality. My soul was sick. The human spirit cannot live in falsehood. We’re designed to live in truth. Our souls long for the real, the authentic.
    • What is the future of the church?
      • We’re in a great moment now, because for the first time in a long time we’re allowed to tell the truth. We didn’t mean to be disingenuous, but we were. Our Jesus stories don’t have to be dramatic.
      • Say you were 6, you had never robbed a bank. You tried, but you couldn’t drive so you couldn’t get there. You ate your vegetables. You didn’t even go bad there. You met Christ, some of you actually even love your parents. Then you came to faith, and somewhere later you came to a crisis of faith and you pushed away from Christ. And you came back to Jesus but you have to make your past sound dramatic.
        • But do you?
        • God just keeps putting the pieces back together and creating something beautiful.
        • Mosaic is a gathering of pieces that is put together by the hands of an artist. Something that is beautiful when it’s put together, especially when light shines through it.
      • Lot of ways of describing human history: Nations, empires. Art, dance. War, conquest. Anthropology. Sociology. Geopolitical. But through scripture, human history is a conflict between tragedy and beauty
      • God creates us among beauty and we bring tragedy into it. And history is all about God taking it all and creating something beautiful
      • Solomon may have had it most right when he said “time for everything” in chapter 3. God has made everything beautiful in its time he has also set eternity in the hearts of men.
      • There is nothing more powerful we can do as leaders than to call our people into engagement with the honest authentic narrative of God’s activity in our lives.
      • God is making everything beautiful in its time. He is the source of ultimate beauty. Is it possible for the source of all beauty to go unrecognized?
      • “I have trained myself to leave the worst for the best, and I have been nauseated by the overpowering strength of it.”
      • Is it possible for us to have trained ourselves to believe that to live an inhumane life is what it is to be human?
        • Is. 53. – The one who was most beautiful was the one who walked among us and we didn’t get it, he was seen as horrid to us.
        • John 1 – Real life, real humanity was walking among us. He was in the world, but we did not recognize it.
      • EM: “Was at a church that didn’t want me to be their pastor. They wanted me to be their speaker.”
        • “I’ve got enough neurosis, I don’t need the church stuff.”
        • What the world needs from us is not great sermons or brilliant messages. Ned them to take them to a place that they cannot go without us. Because we have been with God, and now we want to take them there.
          • We need less teachers, and more poets. Able to find the beauty in the most painful experiences we go through.
        • “God is making all things beautiful in your life. And if you’ll listen carefully and look with care you’ll see his fingerprint on everything you encounter.”

        An overwhelming but not explicitly stated message in Christianity is that you can’t be human because it will bring the whole movement down. But the movement really started when God stepped down into flesh and was human.