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.