Archive for October, 2015

Why Small Groups Matter

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

As we move into November, our small group and its fall “Living Gratefully” campaign is winding down.  What a blessing “Living Gratefully” has been.

Why are small groups so valuable?

  1. They create a “family” of sorts, made of up of a wide variety of ages and perspectives who can all share around the adventures of life.  Just in our group the ages ranged from 20 to 69.
  2. They allow people new to the congregation a simple mechanism to connect with others in meaningful ways.  In our overall fall campaign for example, 7 of the 10 groups were led by people relatively new to our church.
  3. They capture the lived experience of faith. Within the group there are those falling in love, those losing loved ones, those restlessly searching for purpose, and those calmly resting in times of deep peace.  And each of those is looking to God for help.  Each of those belongs.
  4. They allow for leadership from the bottom up vs. the top down.  I grew up in an era where small groups were really doctrinal classes led by a Pastor.  Great value there.  And it is a different era, one in which we can celebrate people’s willingness to lead in things spiritual.
I love this piece of New Church theology…
… all the life a person has come from God by way of communities. (Secrets of Heaven 8794)
I have found that to be blessedly true.

Marketing a Church

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Is it possible to “market” a church?  Unsure. What I imagine is this….

We need to create churches that are worth talking about

Much of what people talk about in churches is, frankly, not worth talking about.  If conversation tends towards carpeting, music, “good” sermon/ “bad” sermon, who-is-doing-what-with-whom, I think we miss it.  Those conversations, tintilating as they are, will ulitmately fail to inspire growth though they will inspire gossip.

And a blessing … there are countless things so very bright and worthwhile to allow on “center stage” in terms of the great coversation to be had by a church. Mission, purpose, questions around faith and culture, pain, birth and death.

We need to serve our wider communities self sacrificially and with contagious generosity. 

The above … the best “marketing” there is provided we serve cleanly without a “so that we grow” agenda.

There must be a word out there for the opposite of entropy – where things fly apart.  A word to describe the fall of a church where things fly apart because they collapse in.  As New Church theology notes again, and again, and again, when charity/ service takes a back seat to other concerns we pull ourselves from the blessed order that will in the long run not only be our redemption but our joy.

Let it all go

“Caring and not caring.”  ”Pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you.” A hard balancing but churches can do it.  Just work THERE. Right THERE. Pouring our lives into love and service sacrificially. And God will bless it. Sometimes in ways we anticipate. Most often in ways we don’t. So in the end, when we have faithfully done what was ours to do, let it all go.


Inclusion and Division

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Many read and comment on this blog who are interested in church growth.  That is the audience for today’s post.

Fascinating to read the challenges and changes facing the Catholic Church.  And the amazing part … simply change the names and you have the same contentious “script” that many Protestant churches are moving through.  And what are the main issues embedded in that script?  It seems the seminal issues appearing again and again include the role of women, divorce, homosexuality, concern for the poor and the environment, and the role of clergy.

These are clearly heated, contentious issues argued with great vigor by those desiring a more inclusive church and those desiring a more traditional church.   Given that rawness, civil dialog comes hard and at times appears impossible.

So what is the solution? The way forward?

I would imagine there is no one solution.  I imagine this is a tension we will live with in the upcoming years, not a problem we will quickly solve.  Likewise this inescapable tension will gather more “steam” so to speak as numerous churches experience continued decline. (Only 6% of churches experienced growth last year)

My hope is that respect … even through gritted teeth! … reigns.  Both sides claim to be stewards of the Christian message.  Both center on God.  On God’s Word.

My belief is that a more inclusive model is being born.  My prayer is that it remains inclusive.  Inclusive of many of the groups noted before. And inclusive of those who see the world and the future of Church differently – traditional and progressive.  As one priest noted in regard to welcoming back divorced parishioners to communion…

Everyone is trying to find a solution, putting together concern for the institution of marriage, and compassion to people in difficulty.  We just have to find a way to put these two together. 

A beautiful statement.  A meaning underneath the words that echoes a third way.




Football, Anchoring, And Just A Lot Of Questions

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

For starters, I love football.  Passionately.  I don’t watch many games live because they are too anxiety producing.  But I watch dozens on replay, hours after I know the score.

And well there is struggle.  A great deal of questions.  Over the past two weeks…

  1. USC fired its head football coach as he struggled with an obvious alcohol addiction.  Maybe the pressure was relentless?
  2. USC’s AD, Pat Haden, later collapsed on the sidelines at the first game under an interim coach. Passed out.  Not alcohol induced.  Nerves I would imagine.
  3. Michigan State beat Michigan on a last second gafffe by the punter.  Michigan’s punter later received so many death threats that Michigan’s AD wrote an open letter imploring the no doubt small group of wayward fans to stop the harrasment.
  4. The young man who scored Michigan State’s last touchdown in the miracle win broke his hip on the play.  How will that turn out?  A legend maybe but maybe a legend who never plays a down as a starter again.
  5. Johnny Manziel, Heisman winner and QB for the Browns, well just look at his exploits this weekend.  An argument with this his girlfriend … while driving … that became so heated several people called the police.  No big deal he said.  Alcohol involved.
The struggle is this … a gnawing worry that we have anchored far too much of our lives in sports. And as a pastor, I know that comes with a cost.  I hear constantly from parents who can no longer bring their family to church on Sunday because of athletic commitments.   The anchor for life becomes sport/ athletics.
And that sounds so old and fuddy-duddy doesn’t it?  Like some 1950′s Father-Knows-Best line.
But I do know this … faith lived well, lived courageously builds character too.  Builds teamwork.  Builds commitment. Builds dedication. Builds a moral foundation.  Gives a higher perspective. And maybe on some Sundays church does those things even better than sports do.
It is not a conversation about Sports or Church.  But maybe there is space for “and.”  I hope so.

18 Seconds

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Amazing to tour a news studio.  Monitors everywhere.  And a central monitor counting web traffic.  Counting top stories, daily peaks. Average time readers spend on each story? 18 seconds.

And the sunrise that same day, that morning, was beautiful. Bright. Crisp fall day. Too good to actually be shoe horned into language.

“18 Seconds.”  I wonder where we are going. So fast. Writing for things to be scanned not read.

And the sunrise. Different. Peace. Calm. That reminder that God is here too. A deeper movement, something beyond 18 seconds.

5 Years and New Models of Leadership in the World of Churches

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

A recent post by a friend started with THINGS ARE CHANGING … FAST….

Very accurate.  The speed at which change is occuring is remarkable.  And churches need one thing more than ever as a way to cope with rapid change … agility.

  1. Agility to work with shifting concepts around attendance.  Sunday attendee?  Online?  Small group but never at church?  Service but never small groups?  A lot combinations beyond what was imaginable just 5 short years aog.
  2. Agility to serve a very wide clientel.  Congregations are serving NATIONAL audiences often.  There are local needs … and you have many localities in one congregation.  Look at old churches.  What do those beautiful old buildings lack?  Parking.  No need for it given they drew from several mile/ block radius.  In 5 years the definition of “local” has shifted dramatically.
  3. Agility to empower lay interest and talent to drive programs.  Two basic models … the pyramid and the tree.  Top down or bottom up.  Better be agile enough to be top down about the critical need to be bottom up!  The top down of 5 years ago is rapidly winding down.
  4. Agility to work with many faith systems.  People are not necessarily looking for one faith system.  They are looking for a church community that works for them, that reasonates with their heart.  Don’t be suprised at the Christian who loves Buddism and hangs out with Franciscans.  The “shingle” out front does not matter as much as it did 5 years ago.

For these new models to flourish, we need clear and clean water to sail in.  We need clear and clean air to breathe.  This list from Seth Godin is spot on for churches seeking a way forward….

Expectation: When people wake up in the morning expecting good things to happen, believing that things are possible, open to new ideas–those beliefs become self-fulfilling. We expect that it’s possible to travel somewhere safely, and we expect that speaking up about a new idea won’t lead us to get fired. People in trauma can’t learn or leap or produce very much.

Education: When we are surrounded by people who are skilled, smart and confident, far more gets done. When we learn something new, our productivity goes up.

Civility: Not just table manners, but an environment without bullying, without bribery, without coercion. Clean air, not just to breathe, but to speak in.

And we need this to give shape to agility … we need to be SUPER clear.  We are here to follow Christ’s model of love in action.  To look at that model and do our humble best to live it.  Simplicity, contagious generousity, radical welcome.  Live it better each day.  Better than we did 5 years ago.  And hopefully something we are doing even better 5 years down the road.

The Role of Clergy

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

I have been many things – teacher, administrator, coach, electrician, cook. And now … a pastor.  A very blessed job.  The “last of the generalists” as someone put it.  A job filled with moments of incredible joy.  A job filled with moments of deep pain.   And all of it blessed.

At this time the role is dramatically changing as the very nature of church shifts.  Fr. Richard Rohr speaks to the challenge of how many clergy are seen, thoughts that speak as well to the opportunity to serve better.

We clergy became angry guards instead of happy guides, low level policemen instead of proclaimers of a Great Gift and Surprise both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed at the heart of all creation. 

A great deal of truth in that statement.  And a great promise of what could be.  And what could be? Hint…  smile as you read those two words “happy guides.”


Roseburg Oregon And The Grief Among Us

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

We are all struck by the tragedy in Oregon.  As that tragedy struck was informed of friends of a NCL family who experienced the catastrophic loss of a child.  So sad.  So very much beyond words.

And how do we craft words in response to those moments? Those moments that simply defy description and at the same time call simply for words that somehow grant us handles, somehow allow a grasp, however tenuous, on what breaks our hearts.

The words I know, the words I have come to know, are not words of pithy explanation that somehow make sense of what makes no sense.  They are words woven back to the nature of the faith.

That nature – and this phrase admittedly overused – go back to the very nature of the cross. To Christ’s crucifixion. Words returning to God who walked among us.  Return to God who suffered.  Suffered alone.  Suffered as we suffer.  And suffers with us.

That is compassion.  The very essence of faith.  Faith not as in a belief system that counters all doubts with glib assuredity.  But tempered faith that is able to deeply grieve and hold the sober, quiet knowledge in the midst of crushing distress that God is here too.