Friday, August 08, 2008

Go World!

I'm watching the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and I'm overwhelmed, as I am every time this comes around, by the beauty of the whole thing. Sara commented, "This is so amazing! There is nothing else like this in the world."

True, isn't it? For me, the Olympics represent a wonderful hope for peace and a spirit of unity as sisters and brothers from countries that span the planet gather to celebrate what's best about humanity. Some will leave with medals and others without, but what matters most is not who wins the Gold, the Silver, or the Bronze, but rather the ideals of peace and harmony and the realization that there is a oneness that runs so much deeper than any differences in language, dress, color, religion, or culture.

Have you seen the Visa commercials? I wish they weren't for Visa, but the message is wonderful. In the voice of Morgan Freeman (ironically, recovering right now from a serious car accident): “There are six billion of us. We all come from unique places, with unique ways of looking at the world. We don’t always agree but for a few shining weeks we set it all aside. We come together to stand and cheer and celebrate as one. We forget all the things that make us different and remember all the things that make us the same. GO WORLD."

Go World. That will be my prayer during the days ahead, and long after the 2008 Summer Olympics have come and gone.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Broken Eggs

This morning, I was cooking some eggs, when two-year-old Rachel decided to reach up and grab the carton from the counter.

I was looking the other way when I heard the telltale sound: eggs cracking on the floor.

I turned around, and there stood Rachel, frozen, staring at that upended carton and six broken eggs, spreading out in a yellowy, oozing mess. The world stood still as she and I both assessed the damage, and the look of shock and panic on her face spoke volumes: she knew she had done something terribly wrong.

"It's okay, Rachel -- you made a mistake, but we'll clean it up," I said, wrapping my arms around her in a big Daddy hug. And at that moment, she and I both learned something about God's grace.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Learning from HopeSpring

Yesterday we participated in worship at HopeSpring in Winter Garden, FL -- originally a new church start that began as a daughter church of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, now considered an extension campus of St. Luke's. That may sound like an insignificant distinction, but actually it represents a huge and challenging change in identity for the people of HopeSpring, resulting from concerns about sustainability based on projections for worship attendance and financial solvency.

Our visit to HopeSpring provided some helpful learning:
  • Hospitality, hospitality, hospitality! We were warmly greeted -- in the parking lot, at every entrance, in the worship service -- and afterward, we were treated to a tasty lunch, complete with little buckets filled with treats with our table settings.

  • Holding worship in a school is challenging. They shared that with only one morning a week in the space, and no permanent "home base," it's very difficult to cultivate a sense of identity among people in the community. Additionally, they talked about the incredible commitment of resources -- time, energy, and finances -- it takes: about $20,000 a year in rent, plus all the equipment and the movable units for storing it; and human resources for transporting everything in a big trailer, schleping the stuff in and out, and setting it all up and taking it all down week after week. Add to that the challenges of working with school administration, time constraints, and difficulties with consistent air conditioning (a particular problem in Florida!), and it hasn't been a breeze. In a few months, HopeSpring will be moving into a more permanent home for worship and mission: 10,000 square feet of an old Winn-Dixie supermarket, which they're converting into ministry space.

  • Mother-Daughter relationships between congregations aren't easy either. Lead pastor Gary Shockley planted a church in Pennsylvania before -- a parachute drop -- and he went into this one naively thinking that it was going to be a piece of cake with the energy and passion of a large team of people already on board and significant financial resources to invest. Even with two years at St. Luke's building a culture of invitation and hospitality and nurturing a core group to prepare them, before the church plant even began, and even with significant funding from the mother congregation, the district, and the Conference, he's found it incredibly challenging to navigate all the dynamics. Particularly with the recent change from daughter church to extension campus, and all the resulting changes in budgeting and staffing relationships, it's been complicated.

  • Planning is an imperfect science. When they made their plans to plant HopeSpring in Winter Garden, the housing market was booming. They specifically targeted this community because there were plans for 60,000 new homes and a town center to be built. They did their homework, studying demographics and designing their worship and ministry to meet the needs of the people with whom they expected to be neighbors. However, only about 12,000 homes were built, and with the economic slump, everything has come to a screeching halt. The school is literally in the middle of nowhere -- a stark reminder that projections are only projections, and lots can change without fair warning.

  • In spite of all the challenges that accompany any church planting project, God is faithful! HopeSpring leaders are genuinely excited about this new venture, and lives are being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. I suspect HopeSpring will be successful, even if it's not exactly what those who began expected, and even if it's not according to the timeline they originally developed.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Notes from Orlando, Day Three

Wow! Today was the best day by far. Honestly, some parts of the School of Congregational Development have been a bit disappointing, because I feel like a lot of what we're receiving is based on an older model of congregational development that isn't likely to engage younger generations or those in progressive cultures like Portland -- but today was really good.

First, we heard from Carol Howard Merritt, a young Presbyterian pastor from Washington, D.C. and author of The Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. She started out by telling a story about one of her parishioners, a member of the church council (or whatever they call the governing board in Presbyterian churches) who arrived late for a meeting, apologized for her tardiness, and explained that she'd run into a friend on the way there. When it accidentally slipped out that she was on her way to church, she'd felt the need to explain... to clarify... "No! It's not what you think it is! My church isn't like that!" And Carol confessed she finds herself doing the same thing, all the time, when people learn that she's a pastor.

Oh, man! Does that sound familiar?!

"Yes, I'm a pastor, but it's not like that! My church isn't what you think it is. We believe in peace and work for justice, and we don't reduce faith to moralisms, and we aren't homophobic or sexist or narrow-minded, and we don't think you have to be a Republican to follow Jesus!"

Yes, all too familiar!

"Church can be very scary," Carol says. "If you go to church and you still dare to admit it, you have some explaining to do."

As a young adult in ministry (although getting less young all the time, I must confess: I turn 38 tomorrow!), I found it fascinating to hear Carol's presentation. So much of it rang true, from my experience, both personally and with others from my generation. A few things to hold onto:
  • Six million people who used to go to church no longer do -- they're under age 45. They are "The Missing Generation." Six million!
  • Too often, we in the church think in terms of life cycles. We celebrate a child's baptism, we raise them in Sunday School, and we celebrate a big "graduation" when they complete confirmation. Then we send them off, expecting they'll come back when they have kids of their own. Then we plan ministries for Mom-and-Dad-and-the-kids, but we don't offer much for those in between. The problem is, only 25% of households have Mom and Dad and kids. 51% of women in our society aren't married. When the single young adult comes to worship for the first time, the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) message we convey is, "You are not what we're looking for."
  • Misunderstandings about young adults:
    - Employment: that young adults quit their jobs if they don't fit in with their yoga schedules. Truth: many, many young adults are in temporary employment because it's the only work they can get. They work long hours, and their productivity is higher than previous generations. Because they're in temp jobs, they have few benefits, and they are often the first to be laid off. 30% of people ages 19-29 have no health insurance -- particularly troubling when you remember that this is the time period when people have typically had babies... today many young adults can't even get a doctor's appointment!
    - Finances: that young adults prefer to "mooch" off their parents. Truth: young adults find themselves in terrible financial hardship because of the tragic combination of enormous student loans, the high cost of housing (particularly in urban areas, where young adults can find work), and stagnant wages. She described college students with whom she works who hold down four jobs while taking a full course load, and then celebrate that they've been able to keep their student loans to $50,000.
    - Commitments: that young adults are "commitment-phobic." Truth: marriage rates are lower (often because of financial insecurity), but among young adults who are married, divorce rates are lower, too. And commitment to a job can't be measured fairly, since so many young adults find themselves forced to work temp jobs.
  • Young adults aren't looking for entertainment in church: they find contemplative prayer and labyrinths to be incredibly engaging. Often the parts of worship that appeal most to this generation are times of silence.
  • Gen X (ages 25-45) is the most innovative generation ever in our nation. Young adults are eager to start new things. Gen Y (under age 25) is huge -- bigger, Carol says, than the Baby Boomer generation. At the same time, Gen Y is more institutionally minded than Gen X. So what if, she asks -- what if we allowed Gen X to develop new communities of faith to engage Gen Y? Wow! That question is rocking my world right now. It sounds to me like a recipe for the most incredible transformation of the church... the next Great Awakening, yes?

And then from Marcia McFee, the coolest stuff ever about music and worship! If I had come just for this seminar, it would have been worth it. Just a few snippets, because it's late and I'm tired:

  • One size does not fit all. Use the full repertoire: jazz, traditional hymns (including with new arrangements and even new melodies), bluegrass, old and new contemporary (which really is not an oxymoron), global, Taize, blues, Iona, popular songs...
  • Question: Is this the right song for this moment, to evoke the feeling I'm trying to create? It's not just about using the right genre.
  • Question: How do we create an environment in which to experience the Holy? ... for this message... for this place... for these people?
  • Think like a filmmaker: create a "score" or "soundscape" for our experience of the Holy. Use music for transitions. Let it be the glue for the layers of worship, connecting the verbal, the visual, and the visceral.

Good stuff today! Lots to process! Lots to utilize!

Personality and Prayer

In some spare time this afternoon, we made Erica take the Myers-Briggs test, and learned that she's an ISFJ. Sara is an INFJ, and I'm an ENFP.

Carlie (a fellow ENFP) shared this blog post (ignore the title and subtitle of the blog) that shares prayers for each Myers-Briggs type. They're pretty funny.

The prayer of an ENFP: "God, help me to keep my mind on one th - Look! A bird! - at a time."

What are your Myers-Briggs letters? Don't know? Take the test here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Notes from Orlando, Day Two

Greetings from steamy Orlando -- day two of the School of Congregational Development.

The day began with Mark Beeson, senior pastor of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana, whose talk was called "Innovate or Die." His presentation was very inspiring. A few nuggets:
  • Most of the people in our churches are underchallenged. Our churches are full of what Beeson calls "high capacity" people, and we ask them to do things like hand out bulletins, when they are capable of so much more.
  • If you can do your ministry by yourself, your vision is too small.
  • The most dangerous person on your team is not the person going backward while everyone else is moving forward, and not the person going completely in a different direction -- everyone knows they're completely off. The most dangerous person is the one who's just a little bit off, who claims to be on the same page when you confront him/her. This person will wear you out, Beeson says. You need to deal with it.

I'm a little confused about Granger Community Church, though. Apparently they're a United Methodist congregation -- at least that's how they were presented today -- but I get conflicting information when I do a Google search. Their own website says "nondenominational." What's the deal?

I went to two excellent seminars: "Creating a Discipleship System," with Claudia Lavy (formerly of Ginghamsburg Church, now part of the consulting team Deepening Your Effectiveness); and "Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit" with Lovett Weems of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Both were very helpful.

A few nuggets from Lavy:

  • The church is called to the ministry of life transformation. We get so caught up in the day-to-day stuff of the church that we forget our calling: life transformation.
  • Lavy's workshop included a quick run through some excellent stuff about the stages through which people develop a deeper and deeper trusting relationship with God. I recommend the book Deepening Your Effectiveness: Restructuing the Local Church for Life Transformation by Dan Glover and Claudia Lavy, which provides an in-depth look at these steps and how they ought to impact the ministry we develop.
  • Particularly helpful: at stage 3, the new or rededicated believer is asking the question "How can I help?" Be careful! When we take energetic new believers and invite them to serve before they are spiritually developed, we push them on a road to burnout and cynicism. The real question they're asking is "How can I fit in?" So how can we invite them to deeper spiritual development? The question for us: Do we want actively serving believers or spiritually developed servants? Lavy says our churches are full of actively serving believers, but they're drying up on the vines because we're not providing the spiritual nourishment they need to become spiritually developed servants.

A few nuggets from Weems:

  • In 1784, Methodists were called "the most insignificant religious body." Eighty years later, in 1864, Methodists were the largest denomination, and 50% larger than the next largest denomination. How did that happen?
  • We should develop "so that" statements for everything we're doing -- i.e. "We offer Vacation Bible School so that..." Everything should be organized to accomplish the mission.
  • Thousands of churches across the country have said, "We love our traditions more than our children." We refuse to change, even if it means we are failing to pass on the life transforming message of God's love to the next generation.
  • In the early days of a church, that church will be very responsive to the needs around them, but gradually that changes. Instead of looking upon the world as our parish, we begin to look upon the parish as our world.
  • "Leadership is helping God's people take the next faithful step." -- Scott Cormode
  • An alarming statistic: from 1980-1990, there was an increase from 1.8 million to 4.3 million people who claim prison as their primary residence. From 1990-2000, that number saw another 70% increase.
  • A district superintendent is not the steward of the United Methodist Churches in his or her district -- pastors do that. A district superintendent is, rather, the steward of the United Methodist witness within that geographical territory. This is an important distinction.
  • The primary question a district superintendent should be asking: How do I improve the quality of pastoral leadership for the pastors in my district?