22 July 2009

Kaleo Week #2 Questions

As a lead up to this weekend's message on generosity, I want to discuss this excerpt from Adam Hamilton's book, Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity. (Notice this is the fourth in a series of excerpts from the book - you can read the others here, here, and here.)

Does Adam hit home for you? Do you hear the "voices" of fear and self-gratification whispering in your ears? How do you cultivate generosity in your life?

For Deb and I, those two "voices" shouted at us constantly - especially when we were first starting out as a married couple. Nowadays we don't hear them very much, but it took us quite a while to move beyond hearing them every time we faced a financial decision.

Honestly, if I had to pin down one particular decision that moved us past the "voices" it would be our decision to begin tithing (giving 10% of our income to the work of God in the world). Once we made that prayerful decision, the "voices" of fear and self-gratification got much, much quieter in our lives.


Here is an interesting corollary article on passing the plate.

15 July 2009

Where Does Transformation Begin?

As University considers engaging in the Congregational Transformation process, I must admit that this article from the Alban Institute piqued my curiosity. Go ahead and read it...its a little long, but I'll wait for you to get back...go.

Pretty interesting, huh?

Honestly, the opening paragraph could have come out of my mouth at any point in time over the last few months. I think it has crossed my brain at least a thousand times - even if it never has made an audible escape yet.

This is the paragraph I want University to wrestle with as we discern our involvement with the congregational transformation process:
Here's the hard truth. If you're a layperson in a congregation that's experiencing decline, whether the congregation thrives is ultimately up to you and the other members. Your pastor can teach, guide, lead, support, inspire, even cajole. But in the end, congregational health is a function of how people in the congregation relate to one another, to God, and to their community.
Wow! I am caught between emotions as I reread that paragraph. I feel relief to know that it is not my job to make the congregation change, but I also feel discouraged at how quickly negative reactions have bubbled up from the congregation at our possible engagement in the transformation process.

Further in the article, the authors say:
The church-growth movement is often blamed for leading congregations down the path of thinking that bigger is better and that increased numbers equal health and growth. That movement did, however, help raise the question of how to measure congregational health. If the measure is not dollars in the bank or people in the pews, what is it? We hear congregations and pastors wrestling with questions that weren't on the table twenty years ago. "What's the fundamental purpose of church? What difference is a congregation supposed to make in the lives of its members and in its surrounding community? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does it mean to be spiritual? What difference do spiritual practices make?"
Indeed those are good questions. Question every church should endeavor to answer on a regular basis - not necessarily to find new answers (although that may be necessary some time), but to remind themselves of why they do what they do. When was the last time University asked some of these questions?

In addition to understanding our fundamental purpose as a church, we must understand what is driving us toward renewal. Is it fear of closing the church? Is it a desire to keep our programs going? Or is it something else? The authors posit:
Fear of having to close the church or to reduce the services offered to members typically prompts a congregation's desire for renewal: "We need to do something now, if we're going to still be open a decade from now." This desire to avoid death drives many renewal efforts, and it certainly provides energy. But if the congregation itself doesn't ultimately trade its fear of death for a longing for life, the efforts will end as soon as the danger has passed.
I have wondered (not out loud) lately if this "fear of death" rather than a "longing for life" is a transition in thought that we can make. Which are we more afraid of: failing ourselves in not being able to sustain our current level of ministry OR failing God in not responding to God's call to make disciples? In whom do we trust, us or God?

One more quote before opening up the floor for conversation:
Before others will turn to a congregation as a life-giving resource in their lives, the congregation has to be a place that offers life.
Are we life-giving? How? When? To whom?

13 July 2009

Drawing Near

"[L]et us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10.22

The writer of Hebrews calls upon his hearers to have full confidence in the power of God to remove the stain of sin and grant them access to the throne of God. The writer encourages the people to "draw near" because they are forgiven and redeemed people through their faith in Christ. This "nearness" comes about through a sincere heart of faith, a heart sprinkled clean, and a body washed in pure water.

The image of approaching the throne of God is a powerfully humbling one in that I struggle with my own worthiness to do such a thing. However, the writer calls us to respond faithfully to God's call to be nearer - he already made the approach possible through Christ.

It seems that Wesley's house metaphor rings true once again here - "cleansed from a guilty conscience" (justification) and "sincere heart in full assurance" (sanctification) and "bodies washed in pure water" (baptism as a sign of repentance).

I want to draw near to God on an hourly basis, not just a daily basis. I want everything I do to be born out of my time spent reflecting on God's Word. I need to make this time each morning a priority that never gets trampled on by less important things.

I need to rest and reflect with God's Word in my heart. I will not be able to to sustain this pace of ministry without doing so. Without concerted effort to change the parameters of my morning, this will just be another good idea that won't get any traction. This idea needs traction, feet, legs, arms, hands, and heart - it needs everything I've got and a God who can fill in the gaps for me. I think this idea also needs some help from a few good buddies - we are made to be in community, right?

Lord, you have set a high calling before me and I know that I must rely on you to carry it out it its fullest. Holy Spirit, nudge me to put my relationship with you as priority #1 and speak to the hearts of those who would stand in your way. As I draw near, keep my assurance full and my faith strong. In Jesus' name. Amen.

08 July 2009

Great News for a Great Congregation

I received a very exciting piece of news in the mail on Monday afternoon from our District Superintendent, Rev. John Rosenburg. University UMC has been invited to participate in a three-year congregational transformation process in conjunction with the North Texas Conference’s renewed efforts to develop new churches and transform existing ones.

This process will begin this Fall under the direction of Don Nations of DNA Coaching and will offer the staff and lay leadership on our congregation the opportunity to learn in training events, coaching sessions, on-site visits, a personalized consultation report, access to the client-only side of the DNA Coaching website, as well as other tools and resources throughout the process.

Here is a quote from Rev. Rosenburg’s letter, “Because I believe in you and your church, the N[orth] T[exas] C[onference] will pick up half the cost for the churches who accept this invitation.” Our District Superintendent believes that University UMC can once again be a “vital and vibrant congregation which makes a significant impact on [our] community”! He believes in us and I believe in us!

The Church Council will meet on Thursday night to discuss a number of topics, including a vote on this invitation. If you, too, believe that University UMC can be a “vital and vibrant congregation” then let someone you know on Church Council know how you feel. This is an incredible opportunity for us to hear from church growth experts as well as local church “heroes” who are doing incredible ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. This will be a great time of learning, stretching, and growing that will launch us into the next phase of the life of our congregation. Please be in prayer for the Church Council and the rest of the leadership of our church as we begin this process of transformation.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.
The Mission of the United Methodist Church, Para. 120 Book of Discipline

02 July 2009

Two Difficult Questions, Part 1

On Monday afternoon I received an email from a church member who has become someone I can rely on to be inquisitive and thoughtful regarding just about everything - especially on spiritual matters. He read this article from Saturday's newspaper, recalled Romans 12:2, and posed two very interesting questions. Questions that I have wrestled with for the last few days and have just now been able to gain some clarity on.

Here is an excerpt from his email:
Toward the end he describes how "contemporary" services have been important in reaching out to the new generation, and how churches that don't reach out, can lose their vitality. This reminds me of two things. First, how we have experimented with this new format earlier this Spring. Second, how Grant Street UMC has died, apparently of "old age."
He continues with his first question:
By experimenting with contemporary worship, are we trying to conform to the world, and leaving behind our faithful Christian transformation?
Here is my answer:
No, contemporary worship is not "conforming to the world" in my understanding. I believe contemporary worship has the potential to provide a life-transforming experience for countless people who cannot (or have not) connect(ed) musically with organ, choirs, and hymns. It provides an on-ramp for non-Christians to find commonality between their life and the life that Christ offers them (and us).

Also, establishing a contemporary worship experience does not necessitate leaving behind "faithful Christian transformation" because it allows new people (and perhaps some current people) an opportunity to connect with God and have God transform their life in a way that we are not currently offering.

Now, as a pastor of a multi-generational congregation, I understand that a contemporary worship experience would not meet the needs of all of the people whom we are trying to reach with our Sunday morning worship experience. If University were to offer a contemporary worship experience, then we would need to keep the best of our current worship experience - thus moving to two worship experiences on Sunday mornings. This endeavor provides its own challenges, but that's for another post.

I'll end my answer with this...offering a contemporary worship experience is not a panacea - it will not cure all that ails us as a congregation. There is much work to be done on other fronts as well, but I was not asked about those fronts in this email.

Here is the second question:
Or by refusing to utilize contemporary worship, are we trying to conform to a world that is dying, and refusing to let ourselves be transformed by Christian growth?
I'll post my answer tomorrow!