Monday, October 19, 2009

1 year later...

Well today is an odd day, a year ago my father passed away after a massive heart attack. There are alot of jumbled emotions, I expect it will be a long day. If you think about it raise a toast to my Dad Bill McMurray today

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Compassion is always a good thing

One of the things I have found in starting a new congregation is that in talking with people about doing church a new way, people are pretty willing to talk. In fact they are willing to talk a lot... especially about hurts and struggles. I must admit I have been surprised by the amount of people I have met who struggle with addictions, or have suffered some type of abuse in their past. It only reinforce how much a community like the one I feel called to help create is needed. A safe, honest community of friends to experience faith and grow together in a life that reflects that faith.

Having said that, I wanted to post a link to a monologue from my favorite late night talk show host, Craig Ferguson of the Late Late Show. This clip is a couple years old now, but I still think it is admirable and one of the best things I have seen on television in years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcomed Friends!

Well, now that I have got a couple months under my belt at this whole, starting a new congregation thing. I am starting to feel like I kinda’ know what I am doing. I had planned on using this blog to try an record some of the things I have learned, and am learning, as I go through this process so that others can benefit from my wisdom, or as more likely the case... my ignorance and naivete’ ( I have always wanted to use naivete’ in a sentence)

The four areas that the launch team at Via Nova and I are focusing on, as we make this journey together, are: “Gathering people” = Getting groups of people together to have conversations about faith and “what church could be...” “Celebrating/Worshiping with people”= Gathering people to worship God and celebrate our relationship with God and each other. “Serve people” = If you don’t get that one...well, i guess a dictionary... and “Discipleing people” = Helping people form friendship and a community as they make this journey of faith together and grow spiritually.

Our first “Gathering people” event was two weekends ago, It went so well that we decided to do it again last weekend. It’s cool when doing a “church thing” is actually fun and you like doing it!

So anyway, I want to debrief a little about what I learned from the event:

Here in Vancouver we have a very good farmers market downtown. One of the members of our launch team came up with a great idea of having a booth at the Farmers Market to tell people about Via Nova (You Rock Kimmy!) So I went down to the Farmers Market one Saturday morning and find the information booth. I met a very nice gentleman at the booth and we started a conversation. Things were going well, he laughed at my jokes, I laughed at his... Then I make my first ignorant step... I say “ Well, I’m Pastor of a new church in town, and we were wondering about setting up a face painting booth at the market...” The nice gentleman’s posture changed, his facial expression changed, and he stopped laughing... His reply was “Well, the market is supposed to be non-political and non-religious.” Now I want you to know that I, in no way fault the nice info booth guy. That’s his job! I was just surprised at the change in his sub atomic structure, when I said I was from a church. But since Via Nova was wanting to just paint kids faces and have fun, we were in a weird grey area; not being there as a church, but there as face painters, so he wanted more info. “Are you gonna ask people for money?” he asked. “Nope, just paint faces, meet people and have fun” I replied .... “Are you going to confront people as they walk through the market?”... “Nope, just paint faces, meet people and have fun...” We talked a little bit longer and he started to warm up to the idea that maybe I wasn’t so bad, and we might be an ok group to be at the market...maybe... He gave me some other possibilities, but I could tell it was going to be a lot of work to get a booth. So I thanked him for his time, shook his hand, wished him a great afternoon and went home.

Here is the first couple of things I have learned from this exchange with Mr. Info Booth Guy. First of all, the “church” is not seen as a “welcomed friend” to an awful lot of people. I say that because at the core of what we are trying to do, and be, at Via Nova is to be involved in our city as welcomed friends in the community. That is not as easy as it sounds. In this part of the country “church” is not a welcoming word. In fact for the people with whom I have an affinity, there is still a bit of mistrust because I am a pastor and connected to the church. If we can’t live lives that contradict that mistrust and image, we will not get very far in forming this community God has called us to.

The second thing that sticks out for me as I think about Mr. Info Booth Guy, is that the first two things he thought of when I said “church” was “Are you gonna ask for money” and “Are you gonna confront people?” Of all the things that I pray we will be known for, as we form this community, confronting people and asking for money aren’t two of them. (Having said that, I do pray that we will the type of community that does call people on their crap, and stand for justice, mercy, life and hope as disciples of Jesus, and I do believe that you can tell pretty quickly what is important to someone if you look at their Visa Statement for about 15 seconds) In fact that part of the conversation with Mr. Info Booth Guy didn’t make me mad, or just point out a public relations problem the church has... It really just made me sad. Not “oh thats too bad” sad, but a “quiet, kinda cuss a little to yourself, cause something is wrong” sad.

Ok ready for the good part?... I am! We decided that the nearby park with the huge play structure is probably a better place to set up a shelter and hand out balloons, paint kid’s faces and have conversations anyway. So after a call to the Parks Dept. and a thumbs up from them, we set up a shelter and started handing out balloons, painting faces, handing milk bones to people’s dogs and having fun with people, while we talked about forming a group of friends who wanted to see the world be a better place as an act of faith. (Notice no use of the “C” word) We had fun! People said “thank you” to us, and things like “right on, that is great!” Even people from my motorcycle group came out and told us what a great thing we were doing. People sat under the tent and talked and laughed and smiled.

There was another “religious group” at the park that day as well. (They wore white shirts and black ties and had little name tags... the group name rhymed with “granola spitless”) People interacted with us in a very different way then they did with our tie wearing friends. People walked quickly past their tent and and avoided eye contact, or did that zombie stare right through them, thing. At about lunch time I noticed the difference. There were people people waiting in line to get faces painted, kids were playing with dogs by the tent people were smiling and having conversations with the launch team. I leaned over and said to one of my launch team folks “See all the people just hanging out with us?... Now look at the tent across the park and see how people avoid it? That’s what I mean by “welcomed friends” in the community. If we can get a grip on that we are on our way!”

Sooner or later we will find ourselves in the place where we realize what Jesus meant when he told us to love God and love everyone else. I’m glad that Via Nova is a community that is moving there!

I’ll post up some other reflections/learnings from this first Gathering people event.

Have a great week friends!

Friday, July 03, 2009

A name by any other name...

Ok, so it's official now, as of 12:01AM July 1st, I am appointed to a new church start in Vancouver Wa. My best wishes to Kathy Neery who is now the Pastor of Orchards United Methodist Church.

So, I have a pretty clear idea about what I feel God is calling me to begin in this new church start but am running short on ideas for a name. I wanna stay away from the "churchy" names that are so prevalent like "Living hope" or "Living waters" or "Crossroads" or any other thing that sounds "gimmicky" (No offense if you are pastor/member of a church named one of those :-)

The driving idea behind the community we are creating is a desire to be disciples that tangibly and intentionally make a difference in the city we are a part of. That means intentionally being involved in service as an act of faith and discipleship; being part of a community that shares their lives together, cares for one another and become "spiritual friends" on a journey of faith; and creating a community of faith that sees their identity as a compassionate community called to transform the world as disciples of Jesus, not a group of people that gather once a week for a worship performance or to listen to a "self help" lecture.

Those are the type of things that we want to reflect in the name of this community, but also stays away from the image of traditional/attractional Church that so many people are running from, or scared of.

Any Ideas?? Please post up a reply and let me hear them :-)

Monday, June 15, 2009

18 years ago today...

I know i promised to write some reflections about the language we use for church and what that says about our ideas regarding “church” but today is my 18th anniversary to the most beautiful and awesome woman i have ever met - Jennifer.
At the moment we have way too many unresolved things going on in our lives like job transitions for both of us, and being 7/8 of the way through buying a new home which is always stressful (anyone have $200,000 lying around taking up space they need to get rid of???) So instead of spending time today writing here I’m heading out to try to put together something nice (and cheep) for my anniversary. Talk to ya next week

Monday, June 01, 2009

Pick-ups or Motorcycles???

It has been an interesting week for various reasons. First of all, my family and I are in the process of finding a new place to live come July 1st, as we start this new chapter in our lives by starting a new congregation in the Vancouver area.

Second, I have had several conversation the last couple of weeks that I would like to unpack a little here.

Earlier this week i was sitting with a group, and the conversation turned to the new congregation I was starting. As I spoke about the values and methods I am hoping to instill in this new community, I found several people becoming defensive. It was very apparent that in hearing me talk about something new and different, they heard that the old style/system was was wrong or evil or worthless. It dawned on me that our churches (the ones that exist now) are pretty fragile, not only financially or in terms of facilities, but emotionally as well. I find myself reassuring people (my colleagues included) that the style of “church” they pastor or participate in isn’t evil, wrong, or worthless. After all it was in a church like that where I first learned of Jesus.

I admit that I am running up against something that I didn’t expect, even before the official date of an appointment to start a new congregation begins. This notion that a new or different church is a threat to existing churches. Well, let me clarify that. I always new that some people will always see a new church as a threat, due to turf issues and and the fear “of stealing members” (as if we own them). I have certainly run into that , but what i didn’t expect was the defensiveness and perceived threat that voicing something new is needed for a different group of people evokes.

It feels like a conversation I had last year with a stranger in a parking lot. I was riding my motorcycle and had stopped to get a coke and fill up with gas. I came back out after paying for my coke and sat on my motorcycle. For those of you that don’t know, motorcycles typically don’t come with cup holders, and drinking a coke through a full face helmet is not really very practical. I took a drink of my coke, screwed the lid on the bottle and tucked it into my jacket and was about to put my helmet on when I hear from the guy next to me in the parking lot “That's why I don’t ride those things...” I looked over and smiled and said “ya sometimes you have to be a little creative when carrying something”... He then went on for 5 minutes about how his pickup was the only vehicle worth a damn, and that motorcycles were worthless. I just smiled realizing 5 minutes of my life was gone that I will never get back, and restrained the urge to throw my empty bottle in the back of his pick up as i drove off. What a worthless conversation! If i were wanting to haul a palette of 2X4’s my SV650 wouldn’t be the vehicle of choice. If i want to get 50 MPG and always have a place to park, a 1973 Ford F150 wouldn’t be my vehicle of choice. To argue that one is worthless is just idiotic. To argue that a congregation that addresses the issues of discipleship and faith in a different way for a different group of people somehow implies another congregation is worthless is a conversation that i am growing weary of. But I also know that when I feel emotionally fragile or vulnerable I make arguments that maybe I wouldn’t otherwise. Your milage may vary...

Next week I will be writing a little bit about the language we use for “church” and what that reveals about us . In the mean time please continue praying for my family and I as we prepare to begin this new congregation.

1 month and counting till I am officially appointed to start a new congregation in Vancouver, WA!

Monday, May 11, 2009

More than "church"

Hi friends,

Sorry it has been a while since I have posted anything up on the blog. The last three weeks have been filled to the brim. I serve on my conferences Board of Ordained Ministry, so I was in Seattle for a couple days interviewing candidates for full membership in the PNW Conference. Then home for a day, then off to Ocean Park Retreat Center for the All-Church Retreat, that Orchards UMC does every year. Then home for one night in my own bed before Jennifer (my wife) and I flew out to Fayetteville, Arkansas for a week of “New Church Start Boot Camp. I was a little disappointed, I didn’t get to shoot a gun, or throw a grenade or anything :(

I have a lot to process, and mull over in my head after the week in Fayetteville. I have been appointed by the Bishop of the PNW Annual Conference to start a new church in the Vancouver area, beginning this July. The catch is that I have felt a call from God over the last three years to start something very different than most churches. The focus of the new “church” wont be a traditional worship service, but rather a community of disciples that actively work towards the transformation of the world, and hopefully ourselves along the journey. The building block of this congregation is the community and service we are a part of as disciples of Jesus, rather than the overwhelming focus being on a worship experience on Sunday morning. (although somewhere down the line we will be participating in some type of community worship together). As I sat in session after session at “boot camp” there was a presupposition that seemed pretty evident to me. There was a very real tendency to equate Church to a one or two hour block that we call “Sunday worship”. We talked about “previewing” the church to the community, and “launching”. In 99% of the cases I talked about with my fellow “boot campers” previewing and launching meant, Previewing a worship band, or a preaching style, or a worship facility, or “launching” a Sunday morning worship service.

I have always wanted church to be “more”; more than just a worship service, more than a bible study in the church basement, more than just a Sunday school program, (not that there is anything wrong with those things) I have wanted my world, and community to be different - to be changed because there were disciples of Jesus living there. I desperately want “church” to be something more than a worship experience.

I am finally seeing people recognize that “church” is more than just a pretty building, which I think is a great step for the community at large, but I know that when I say “I am starting a church,” and someone replies “Great! When do you start?” they have in there mind a “worship experience”.

So my work this week will be processing the gold mine of information that I received from Don Smith, and Bob Crossman at boot camp, and molding it and customizing it to fit a new community that is less about presenting a worship service, and more about forming a community of disciples that transform our world. If you have any thoughts please post them!

Having said all that “boot camp” was a GREAT experience! I came back with more practical tips and plans than I have had in three years of networking with people, and reading books. I and my family have a huge task ahead, that i am incredibly excited about!

Have a wonderful week friends!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Debriefed

I hope ya’ll had a wonderful Easter yesterday! Easter is one of those bitter sweet days for pastors like me. The congregation I serve has a pretty busy schedule during Holy Week, with a Seder dinner, Good Friday service, Saturday prayer service, and three services on Easter Morning. Holy Week and Easter are a pretty emotionally and spiritually charged time for me (Duh!) so each of those gatherings and events have their own meaning and emotional connection for me. There is a lot of effort and emotion that goes into them, so as I make those last few step on the journey of Lent, to Easter I am pretty exhausted (Not to mention i have had about the worst two week stint of allergy symptoms I think I have ever had!). It’s easy for Easter to be another item on a busy week, in fact the biggest item on the check list for that week.

I suck at taking my own advise. Typically, I tell people get rid of that idea that this is one of the biggest crowds that will gather all year at the church so, “I better have something impressive for them,” and just let them know that Jesus loves them and so do you. We’ll i try to have every preaching moment show Jesus in some way, but on Easter i spend probably three times the amount of prep-time for that preaching moment. I put a lot of pressure on myself to “hit one out of the park”. So again Easter can feel like a looming, ginormous event that I have to really perform for. I tell you this to confess that I am usually kinda grumpy and short with people all through Holy Week ( how pastoral of me huh?)

BUT, once we get into that time of worship, the incredibleness of what Easter is really about hits me like a ton of bricks. I think i set a record this year by not crying like a baby until about 46.8 seconds into the time of worship. Usually i make it to “happy Easter “ and I’m gone. This year I was halfway through the opening prayer before i lost it

After worship my wife made a great ham dinner that we as a family shared (My wife is awesome, and totally hot, in case you didn’t know!) My son said grace and thanked Jesus for loving us “and oh i forgot thanks for the food too... Amen” After dinner the kids got their Easter baskets, and we all played video games and relaxed (well, they played ... I watched, My family has a fondness for Zelda that i don’t share, I’m more a drive race car, fly fighter plane kinda guy) but it was a good day. Perfect after a long Holy Week!

I hope you had a similarly good Easter day!

Talk to ya' next week


Monday, March 30, 2009

Pastor V. 2.0... Maybe 1.8...

A letter was read during the worship services at Orchards UMC on Sunday informing the congregation that it was Bishop Grant Hagiya’s intention to appoint me to start a new church in the Vancouver, Wa area July 1, 2009. The reading of that letter brings to fruition over 3 years of work to answer a call that my wife and I have felt from God.

I don’t have a whole lot to write today on the topic, mostly because it is by far the largest thing occupying my thoughts today, and I have written much of my ideas in the pages of this blog over the past couple of years.

I will say this; although my wife and I are beyond excited to be called to this new chapter in our lives of ministry, we enter it with a tear in our eye. We have served Orchards UMC for 9 years. They are are the only church my kids have ever known. I have baptized kids there, I have officiated funerals for dear friends there. I can remember trying to make sense of the attacks on September 11th during a children’s sermon in the sanctuary of that community. I have prayed with families when son’s and daughters, husbands and wives, moms and dads were deployed to very dangerous places for military service, I have rejoiced when soldiers came home to waiting families, These are friends who I chose to share my life with. I say “chose”, because some think that when you are appointed by the Bishop to serve a congregation you are automatically part of a community. That is not the case. You choose to be part of a community. It was wonderful to have friends from that community meet me on the platform after the worship service, and hug me and tell me they loved me, and will miss me, but that they know God is calling me to this work.

The church I feel called to start doesn’t fit well into the United Methodists boxes and categories. There isn’t a manual that I can turn to page 3 paragraph 5 and read how to do this. At this point I have probably as many questions as I have answers, and this blog will be a place where I work out ideas, share thoughts and stories of this journey.

For those of you that read this blog fairly regularly, please be praying for my family and I, as we prepare to begin this chapter. AND be praying for this new community that will be forming in Vancouver, WA. - Pray that this would provide the perfect avenue for those who have given up on a relationship with God will find new life in it, that those who have wanted “church” to make a difference in the world will answer a call to service, that those who have felt alone and lonely in their journeys of faith would find a compassionate community of faith hope , love and service. JUST PRAY.

Have a great week friends!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coffee with Pastor Suit

Ok I admit it. I am an eavesdropper. As I sit in Mon ami coffee shop today I have spent the last 15 minutes listening to the conversation behind me, as i surf my web site.

I also have to admit that i know nothing of the backgrounds of the people I am going to be writing about, and that i have my own personal “chip on my shoulder” that will affect my hearing of their conversation. And I wish that the clothes they were wearing were different but hey i didn’t get a chance to make the wardrobe call.

The two guys behind me are having a deep conversation about church. One is wearing a black expensive suite and tie with shiny shoes the other is in jeans sweat shirt and converse shoes. Its obvious that the suite guy is either the pastor or on staff in some way at a church and the other guy is deciding weather he wants to be involved with his church in some way.

I wasn’t planning on writing about my two fellow coffee house patrons this morning but I was intrigued by their conversation. Mr. Sweatshirt seemed to pretty knowledgeable about the Christian faith and especially with the teachings of Jesus and had a pretty well thought out theology of community and grace. which is where i think his rub with Pastor suite came in. But what stood out for me was the lengths sweatshirt guys went to to avoid being labeled “liberal”. He said “I don’t wanna sound like a no rules liberal” and other like phrases. To which pastor suit would reply “Oh no i don’t think you are that...” Sweatshirt man jumped from topic to topic ; leaders in the church being divorced, grace those that don’t fit the “behavior” of the congregation. He used phrases like “whose in and whose out, who is like me?.” Pastor suit responded in several ways and ultimately said “well, it takes practice”. I didn’t know if he was saying it takes practice to welcome those who look, act and see the world differently with God’s love... or it takes practice to not be bothered by the fact that people like sweatshirt guy wont be welcomed...

I think Mr. Sweatshirt, as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, is a liberal... DUN DUH DUNNNNNN........ Maybe not in a political agenda sense, but in a “liberty” sense. In fact it took all that I had, not leave my business card on his table, because i was resonating with him on a pretty deep level. BUT I also feel for Pastor Suit and his inability to really address the frustrations Mr. Sweatshirt was struggling with. In my very biased opinion, one was speaking about issues of discipleship and incarnation, the other was talking about organizational identity and church growth. One wanted to know how is being part of this group or church going to make me a more compassionate person and a disciple that connects and transforms the world. One wanted to know how you could be a member of his church.

They ended up talking about some non “churchy” things as the conversation ended.

I wonder how many of these conversations happen all over Vancouver. I wonder how many faithful Christians are struggling to find communities that encourage them and even join them on their journey of discipleship that isn’t rooted in “join my church” but in liberty found only in Jesus.

As a pastor i hope i never find myself in the position of saying “it takes practice...” rather than “what can i do to help you answer this call to be what God is calling you to be?...” After all the Kingdom of God is at hand isn’t it?

your milage may vary...

Monday, March 02, 2009

News that my friend Sisyphus needs to hear

I have been re-learning a lot about Greek and Roman mythology lately. The main reason is that my son has discovered a new series of books called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which retells many of the stories of Greek mythology with a modern twist. Last week my son and I were getting a hot chocolate and latte' at one of my favorite coffee shops in Vancouver called Mon Ami before he went to school. While we were enjoying our warm beverages I was reading a small local weekly paper that was on the table (I’m sorry i don’t remember the name of the paper or I’d provide a link) Anyway, one of the articles/advertisements was an interesting thought about the myth of Sisyphus, the poor man who angered Zeus and was doomed to push a rock up a hill only to have it roll down the other side for an eternity. The article mentioned a french philosopher named Albert Camus who saw the myth in another light. Camus proposed that the only way Sisyphus could bear such an eternity was if he “loved the rock”. The article then went on to say we should join a gym and work out more. A part of me agrees with Camus, not so much about the joining a Gym part, but changing our attitudes about difficult things. Sometimes the things we dread can become the things we love. But an even larger part of cringes at the idea.
If we talk ourselves into “loving the rock” it may make the task bearable, maybe even enjoyable, but it erases the hopes and dreams of a life. I want to ask what about the dreams for Sisyphus's life, his kids his family? If we talk ourselves into desiring the absurdity of pushing a rock for eternity what happens to the dreams of our soul.
Maybe this resonates so sharply with me because I find myself in relationships with clergy who are more and more loosing the dreams of their call. They find themselves serving institutions and organizations as a necessary evil of “doing the work of the gospel” Their dreams as young men and women answering a call from God to offer a relevant gospel to their peers... for faith to be something that transforms all of creation, was lost somewhere in the trustees meeting over the color of the carpet at the church building or in questioning whether the doughnuts at coffee time should be powdered or have sprinkles... or (Insert your own misguided priority here). I hear more and more from my colleagues in ordained ministry and from seminary professors who are training a new generation of ministers, that it is increasingly difficult to live out a call from God in the church as we know it today. In fact I find more men and women NOT pursuing ordained ministry because if they do it means giving up a significant part of what they believe God is calling them to be. When we, who are frustrated, describe the type of church we dream of, the priorities and values that would guide it, we hear too often “we don’t have any churches like that” from our judicatories and cabinets. Even worse I hear from colleges who have been told “we don’t have churches like that, maybe you better just learn to serve the churches we have”. From an institutional standpoint I see the point, and in fact wouldn’t expect a different answer from cabinets and judicatories, but for those of us who desperately and passionately answered a call from God it sounds like “Sisyphus maybe you should just learn to love that rock”
I guess my point in all this is if you are one of those who has answered a call to serve God as a minister of the Gospel, or if you are feeling the inklings of that call, don’t give up on the dreams God’ breathes into your heart. Don’t settle for pushing a rock when your soul cries out for community and creation transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Friends live this gospel wherever you are, and never lose sight of what God is calling you to be. Tell Sisyphus what Isaiah told us. “A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Have a great week friends!

Monday, February 02, 2009

A rose by any other name... might smell like a lemon

Have you ever had those moments where you hear something differently than anyone else? I have had two examples of it in the last few weeks. I wanna get some thoughts down on LCD screen about one of those experiences. It was on inauguration day. I was watching president Obama's speech over the live internet feed on One of their features on the live stream was a connection to face book where you can see people's status updates as the speech was underway. As the speech unfolded I was amazed at the status messages that were scrolling down the right side of my screen. One in particular made me shake my head. It only flashed for a moment but someone had posted " 'so and so' is calling all her friends to say we can live again!" Now I understand that many people don't like the direction our country seemed headed in recently (I included). I understand that many people don't like the politics of the Republican party (even some of us who are registered Republicans) . I understand that many people don't like George W. Bush on a more personal level, or the way he expresses his faith in God. But to say "I can live again" now that a new administration is in office?? Give me a freakin break... Some of us are just spoiled. Tell that to the millions of people who have been brutally slaughtered when they stood against their government’s policies, or spoke out. “My album only went quadruple platinum after i said bad things about our president in other countries”... Oh God the horror of the persecution... I can hear people in Laos saying “Holy crap how do they live in America when your album only goes quadruple platinum?” (Ok getting off my soap box). What I found even more ironic was that I was utterly unimpressed by our new presidents speech! While others were expressing euphoria at the new found life Obama was offering I was thinking "Wow, this is the same speech I have heard from president Bush at least 4 times, Senate Republicans and Democrats too.” Appeals for God's blessings on our country, personal addresses to our enemies, pledges to defend our "way of life"... Even comedy central picked up on it ...

When I was in college, Gov. Jerry Brown was running for president and he came to my college to make a speech. I was never planning on voting for him. I figured his first official act as president if elected would be to legalize pot. I wasn't really his “demographic”. In fact I was holding a student advisory position at the college at the time, and Gov. Brown was using our office as a staging area before the speech. I was amazed to see the Governor's body guards dressed in tie die t-shirts, dread locks and sunglasses. BUT Jerry's speech was an eye opener for me (no i didn't vote for him). He spent the majority of the speech laying out how the two parties are basically run by the same people, corporations, and same pursuit of power and money. No matter what party you vote for you get the same thing... I think Jerry was right. He went on to say that he was a candidate who was going to be different than the same old politics and policies (and yes he would have been... I don't mean that in a good way :-) But from that moment on I have viewed political rhetoric with a heightened sense of skepticism.

I prey that our new president does lead us into a new chapter as a country. I hope that those who heard something i didn't are motivated to be something, and do something different. I do pray for God's blessings for our country (and for all the other countries of the word for that matter!) But most of all i pray as my entire congregation does every sunday that God's "kingdom would come, on earth as it is in heaven"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Duck, duck, goose

Awhile back I was at a seminar in which Len Sweet was one of the speakers. As part of Len’s presentation (I call it a presentation rather than a lecture, If you have ever sat through the shot gun blast of information that is a Len Sweet lecture you know what I mean) he brought up the subject of a phenomenon known as the “Well Curve”. Many of us remember the good ol’ “Bell Curve” in which the majority was lumped in the middle forming a bell shape. In recent years we have seen a trend, rather than the largest grouping being in the middle we are finding more people attracted to either end of a spectrum creating a “well” in the middle . In churches we used to see the majority of people congregating in the middle-sized churches, with a few being involved in the mega-church style or in a small home group discipleship style of church. There seems to be an exodus in the middle-sized church as people either move towards the mega-church style or flock towards more personal communities leaving the middle-sized churches in difficult straights.

I was thinking about this the last time I was out on a motorcycle ride around the lake and a few things came to mind that I’d like to put down on LCD screen about the whole church size conversation.

As I start, I need to let you know what my back ground is. I am the product of the mega- church. The church I grew up in was seeker sensitive before we knew that's what you were supposed to call it. I heard Bob Schueller speak from the pulpit, My father was on the board of trustees and helped dig the ceremonial first shovel full of dirt as a multi million dollar building was created. I learned about Jesus and grace and forgiveness in the classrooms and worship services of that church which I dearly loved and still do. When I was a young seminary student and pastor my dreams were to become the type of pastor that worked as a CEO of a mega-ministry such as the one I grew up in. I realize that there is something inspiring about worship together with a huge group of people, and the potential good such churches can do with the resources they command is inspiring as well. I am pro big church.

BUT somewhere along the line, God pulled my call in another direction. I found myself talking with more people who wanted something different than a big building on a hill and million dollar projects. They wanted community rather than institution. They wanted to be doing something that made a difference in the world rather than being a part of a ministry of their church that changed the world. They wanted partners on a journey of faith. To be honest I wanted that too.

I think both experiences have a unique fingerprint of God on them. The church I grew up in has literally fed thousands of people who were in need, It has raised thousands of dollars to build seminaries in Africa. My friends who are members of more personal communities, have fed those in need and sent money to projects overseas, as well as across the street. They have gone shopping as families to provide meals for others, opened their homes as friends and put a personal face on the ministry they felt called to. Both of them inspire me!

What disturbs me is the rift that seems to divide the two. I find that in the area of new church development, at least in mainline denominations, there is an infatuation with the huge institutional mega-church. If a new congregation doesn’t have a hint of (Insert your denominations favorite mega-church) to it , or if it doesn’t have building plan and property acquisition in its initial plans, it is “risky” or “cutting edge” My denomination seems to forget all too easily that it was Methodist class meetings and societies that changed countless lives of individuals in England and early America with groups of 10-15 people. Not only were lives changed but the climate of entire cultures were redirected because of the influence of these small societies. More than a few historians point to the fact that England avoided the same kind of bloody revolution the French experienced specifically because of the Methodist societies and classes giving a voice to the poor. Similar things can be said for the Kenya while other countries were experiencing bloody tribal wars.

Again let me say I am pro big church, but I am very much against the notion that the work of God’s kingdom is best done in that setting. For many the personal communities of emerging churches are the God send they have been waiting for. A small community that replicates itself over and over, in many cases can in 20 years have a more profound effect on individuals and communities than a mega-church with 2000 in worship services on Sunday mornings.

While on a motorcycle ride around the lake I stopped to pray and enjoy the view and I noticed that as fall was coming, there were in front of me about 15 or 16 small groups of duck all over the lake. A bunch of three here, and five over there, and four a little farther away. There were probably 50 or so of them spread out with their little duck friends close by. As I was watching the ducks a shadow blocked out the sun. A huge flock of geese flew over the lake and then came in for a landing. They were huge and noisy and honking and everyone and everything on and around the lake turned to see what was going on when they landed. They dominated the attention of the whole lake. They landed with a splash and the whole group paddled over to a shallow section of lilly pads and started to eat. It dawned on me that this was a model of the church right in front of me. I quickly counted the geese and there were about 45 in the flock. There were just as many ducks on the lake but they didn’t seem to command the attention the geese did. I’m not sure I would be willing to say it’s better to be a goose rather than a duck, but it seems that in many of our churches today we do say such things by our actions of support or lack of it. I am so thankful there are flocks of geese on my lake, but I am rooting for the ducks too!

Your milage may very...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mark finds his groove...

Hi friends,

Well, it has been a while since I have posted anything up on the blog. I have kinda' be in a funk for the last couple months, and not in the mood to do much writing.

For those of you that read this page regularly, you know that my father passed away in October. I have found that when something traumatic like that happens the rest of the world doesn’t stop, or really even slow down for that matter. Not because the world is a cold dark hearted place, but just because people have their own stuff, and the world keeps spinning. My personality is such that when major events happen in my life, especially traumatic ones, I want to stop and go away for a while. I don’t want to talk, or write or "share". When I can spend some time processing, and in a sense find some handles, then I’m ready to jump back into the swing of things.

The problem as a pastor, especially at the end of October, is that you don’t really get an opportunity to stop and go away for awhile. The season of advent is bearing down, children’s programs are planned, holiday open houses, and all the rest. If you are like me, when you pull back and don’t engage those things wholeheartedly you feel a sense of guilt about short changing those people you serve, at least I do. That's my stuff, and in no way a comment on the congregation I serve. They have been compassionate, caring and graceful to me as I wade through all the emotions, responsibilities and busyness of the holidays while feeling like I’m running on half a tank of gas.

Having said all that, I figured it was time to start getting back into a routine. Part of that routine is getting back to writing every Monday. So this is my first stab at getting back in the groove. I have several things I’ll be putting down on paper (or more correctly LCD screen)in the days ahead. In the mean time have a wonderful week and tell someone you love them today.