For too long I have held my mouth shut, afraid to offend or draw negative attention to myself. That was my fault, as I did not speak as what I perceived as offenses came to my door and now into my house. The integrity of people that I respect has come into question as well as the movement that I believe is essential to spread of the Gospel. The last seven months since I was a Commissioner at General Assembly, I have proclaimed the need for continued connectedness of our denomination. That we are stronger together than apart, despite our deep divides. As many talk about the richness of our denomination, our denominational leadership shows that value quite the contrary.
Tonight I glimpsed the new advertising for the Special Offerings and it makes me feel that we have begun to cross the line. In some nice play on words and pictures of minorities that the Special Offerings support, we have projected a message quite the contrary. Why are we mocking or stereotyping minorities using phrases that express that they are using drugs or alcohol? Aren’t these the same minorities that the largest growing part of our denomination and we choose to degrade them? This is an outrage. As a minority Teaching Elder who has children that reflect the images the pictures, I am offended. The first images that my children can relate to, in a largely Anglo church, are hinting that Asian and Hispanic children are high and drunk? Shame on the PCUSA for believing that these pictures and taglines were acceptable for the denomination that values multiculturalism. I for one will advise my church and others to not use the promotional materials that are distributed due to the offensive nature of the advertising.
While I believe something must be done. It is time for the people of the church to have their voices heard. I do not support withholding from Special Offerings, simply because this offering supports the very people that are being exploited. I advocate for pulling this campaign and reevaluate how we value our diversity.
I became part of this denomination because of the richness, theological conviction, and being a part of something greater than I. Those ideals are becoming broken apart as attempt to do ministry TOGETHER. We are fighting against each other rather than enabling and encouraging the diversity of God’s Kingdom.
The Rev. Sean M. Chow
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church
Laurel Springs, NJ
At the last General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I was elected as an Alternate Commissioner. That was perfectly fine for me as I got to walk around the Assembly, attend the committees that interested me, and got to sleep in when I felt like it. As our Presbytery was accepting nominations for this year’s Assembly, I had made the decision to simply watch from afar. There was plenty for me to do in my own church and Presbytery, that I felt that I was a bit overwhelmed. The appropriate answer was “no”.
That was when a couple of my pastor friends started to engage me in conversation about applying to be the Commissioner this year. I began to ask myself a number of different questions. Why me? What do I have to offer? Isn’t there other people to serve besides me? To be honest, I didn’t want to be commissioner. The more I sat and wrestled with applying, the more it became apparent. I needed to do it, if the Nominations Committee chose someone else, that was fine.
It bothers me that our denomination is in flux, that many conservative churches are moving out. I can identify with many of the issues that concern them. While I would not consider myself a denominational loyalist, God is not done in the PCUSA. There are many areas that excite me about what we are doing. The connectional nature of our church causes me to shout with joy at what some churches/ groups are doing regardless if they are progressive or conservative church. Simply they are sharing and doing the work of God, and that is exciting.
What truly draws me to be a commissioner is that I believe that I should be a voice of a younger (even though I am not that young anymore) generation of Pastors. We have a different perspective and outlook. I even have a different perspective than my other peers. Sometimes we tend to be vocal on social media or at events but we are not actively engaged as much as we should on other levels.
As this journey toward being a commissioner from my Presbytery has just started, it is overwhelming. Recently, I attended the Commissioner Training event held in our area. Something has stuck from all the information that put out there. We were told we are not to vote as our Presbytery would want us to vote, but as the Spirit of God moves within us. It is easy to turn this whole thing into a church political event. Simply, we are a group of Presbyterians discerning together for God’s will for our denomination. Now we just have to listen.
Often we find ourselves in over our heads. Sometimes it by choice and others it is the willingness to let our life be guided by God. As I sit here staring out my window, I am amazed what has happened in these past few months. The excitement of the possibilities are incredible but so is the apprehension. These awesome opportunities are ones in which I wanted to continue to reflect on and share with some others. Don’t worry/ get excited, I am not moving anywhere but something is brewing. But I felt the need to start writing about some of my experiences.
Tomorrow starts a new day in ministry but it also brings back memories of the past. A few years ago I was part of a fledgling fellowship group who spent time worshipping and studying out of my home. The community and the study was great. We had no real aspirations of being anything more. Maybe with time we could become more. Simply we were happy and content where we were and the small steps we were taking to push ourselves to something more. Then a consultant suggested to us that we had a enormous potential and we were not fulfilling what God was calling us to be. Within a month we were preparing to launch/ preview something more. Our team was excited… the possibilities that were floating around was endless. I remember standing on the stage/ pulpit area with my assembled “congregation” and shaking. In the matter of weeks we had gone from a handful of us to a borrowed Sanctuary of 45. I was shaking because people actually showed up. Did those people know that it was me that was leading this? After-all, it was me in all my insecurities and failures leading this. Ultimately, this group became part of something great and most of my core team has matured in faith as we walked those shaky paths together.
As I write this right now, those same feelings are washing over me. For the past four months I have been making a concerted effort to reach out and develop relationships in the community. This is one of the first major steps in creating a new worshipping community. Tomorrow is our first “large” gathering, where we bring these people together for the purpose of developing a deeper sense of community and faith. The tone of this “new thing” really starts tomorrow, and my knees are shaking. Will anyone show up? Will it last? Is this what God wants us to do? Am I adequate? All these questions and more keep running through my head. One thing I do know… God is in charge and I am simply along for the ride. I am reminded that we are in this time and place for a particular purpose much like Esther:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? -Esther 4:14
Please keep us in your prayers as we start this whole “new thing” tomorrow.
This morning I was listening to Mark Yaconneli speak at the National Youth Workers Convention last year. He was talking about wonder and the need to grasp the wonder that is in God. He mentioned that far too often our churches response to changing times is rooted in anxiety. That the dwindling amount of young families causes a clear issue and the response is to hire a Family Pastor. Our response to issues is not determined by a clear cut discerning process but a reaction that is heightened by our anxiety level.
Our anxiety can be risen for a number of reasons, and some of them are based upon institutional needs rather than fulfilling the Great Commission. As churches continue to decline and membership age grows their is a natural tendency to want to attract others to our church. While at times the motives may be honorable, other times they may not be. For instance a church may see young adults not in church and want to see them more active. Is this because we honestly miss them and are willing to make the changes necessary to fit their needs? Or are we simply looking to ensure the survival of our current church institution through “giving units” and other numbers? The problem is that people can easily sense the motives for you wanting to be around them. If your motives are more about the institutional church and less about the person than we are acting contrary to what we as a Church and what God calls us to be.
When we respond to the needs around us not connected to our anxiety it comes from a place of honest caring for that family or individual. That genuine caring is what creates relationships and the potential beginning of a faith journey. Our communities need to develop out of genuine relationships with a person, rather than seeing that person for our own needs. Our calling as a church is to be out into the community and welcoming those imperfect people to where other imperfect people reside, the church of God.
My own anxiety gets the best of me at times and it causes me to take actions that are filled with fear and potential failure rather than one that is gracious and Spirit-filled. I pray that as we move forward as communities of faith that we not live out of our own institutional anxiety.
Years ago this shy and introverted one had to create a new persona. That new person was much more outgoing. It is difficult to be a Youth Pastor while harboring many introverted traits. At times you have to be a Pied Piper of youth, sometimes loud, and other times soft spoken. Too many in my church context know me this way. It is my unnatural side. While I may sometimes project a persona that is not my Meyers Briggs personality type, I am very much still my INFP. Which is not exactly an extravert. I have been pondering and looking for examples of people that have similar personality types in a church planting as I have. They seem to be far and few, but also are not the big “personalities”. When we look at the “personalities” of church planting or leadership they seem to be larger than life. You have the Louie Giglio, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Ray Johnson, and so forth. They are not exactly introverted styled people.
Yesterday I felt like I had the life force sucked out of me. This past week I have been pushing to meet and create contacts with a number of people. On the fourth of July, Laurel Springs had a parade and festivities and I was out there having developing relationships with people there. Then the crash came. It was late Thursday night and all I wanted to do was hide in my bedroom. I did not want to talk to anyone, simply hunker down. This introvert was mush.
In the days since I have been wondering how does my personality type affect how I do ministry? I have a number of reminders to myself, and at times I remember them. Maybe even act upon them. Here are some suggestions to you.
1. It’s not all about you.
In this world of where we think that we cause projects to succeed or fail, ministry is quite contrary. Though you may be the leader, your not in charge. Remember who ultimately is in charge: God. Let God lead, simply follow. Often times I feel that I am responsible if this is going to take off or not, I continually need to remind myself that God is in charge.
2. Team Mentality
God has surrounded me with a great team. It was not the team that I thought would walk alongside me, but it is who God has brought to our team. Where my weaknesses fail, others pick it up. Our team compliments each other. Too often we think of starting a “new thing” as the one leader in charge. While that works in some contexts, it does not work for me. By being introverted leader, it helps to be surrounded and encouraged by others.
3. Ride your strengths
Do you know what your strengths are? Often we see the weaknesses that we have rather than what gifts God has given us. As I mentioned above, God has brought a team together with a specific purpose. This team is unique. Why should I structure our project to protect my weaknesses? I need to use the gifts that I have been given and allow those who strengths (that are my weakness) to do what they are best at. Quit focusing on your weaknesses and play to your strengths.
4. Don’t let your fears paralyze you
I am good at second guessing my decisions or worry that they might be wrong. Often times indecision causes us to not make any decision at all. As leaders, we are sometimes afraid to put ourselves out there and wind up being wrong. Through my many years of ministry, I have failed many times. There is no doubt that I will continue to have moments of failure and times when I just want to curl up in the fetal position. Do not be afraid to fail, failure is a constant learning tool and a way to refine ministry.
5. Times of Rest
Set apart times to be alone or with your family. That means forgetting about work even when you need to get it done. My priorities in life are: God, Family, and Ministry. In that order. My ministry comes below my family and there will be times that ministry will come before your family but the general norm is that family over ministry. Take those times so you don’t end up like mush.
In this new era of social networking there is far too many ways to communicate. Within minutes people can know where you are simply by “checking in” or what is on your mind. For many social media is something to avoid, they want to have no digital fingerprint out there. Then there are the many that embrace it and it is an integral part of their daily lives. Look around, on almost any commercial or where a company is trying to market to you there are links to social media. Social media is the wave of the future, and can be used as a tool for ministry.
A couple weeks ago I was talking to one of our Elders that serves on our Communication and Technology Committee. It had to do with how we are perceived in our community and how technology can be used for ministry. This last week this article was released that articulated our thoughts pretty well. It has to do with the attractional model of ministry, where one just expects people to walk into our doors. This is contrary to a missional model, where one goes and brings the church to the community. While we look at attractional vs. missional as a form of evangelism, we need to also apply it to our social media. Do we simply wait for people to find us? Or do we engage in people outside our community through social media?
As I have been pondering the use of Social Media in developing this “New Thing”, I have been trying to sketch out ways to communicate with the people I interact with. Much of my time is out in the community developing relationships with people. Sometimes those conversations could last minutes and others could be much longer. It is highly unlikely that I will get their phone number and address to send them a newsletter of our upcoming events. Then how do I get people to know what we are doing and interact around it?
While I do not dare to say we have created something comprehensive, we are experiencing. Our connection to the community will start with business cards with a catchy web address or QR code simply to get people to our site and information. Developing this new thing will take a lot of communication, and the forms of communication is changing. Being on this new front and trying to be relevant to the community calls for us to use whatever means we have. It may be facebook, oovoo, twitter, instagram, or one of the many other forms out there. The point is we need to be where the people are.
We have found that interaction on Facebook has been key in interacting or gaining exposure to people not associated with us. Last year during Vacation Bible School we had 2500 people looking at our Facebook page. Granted that is not how many people that attended by that is how many attendees and attendee friends/ family saw us. Why would we not want to be effective in bringing that many new and old eyes to what we are doing. The question now becomes what can we do to be more missional about what we are doing. Us going to the community.
Social media has created new avenues of ministry. While we all are trying to figure out how it all works in communicating to the larger community, we need to understand one thing… its not a fad that is going away.
The story of my life seems to be new adventures and leaps of faith. In many ways I have been thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. At times I did relatively well… and others I sank. This new chapter in my life is no different. We have been talking about taking that leap of faith for what feels like an eternity. Now it is upon us and there is a sense of awkwardness that ensues.
As we are creating this new community (which still remains nameless not due to the lack of trying) I am being made how painfully aware of how inadequate I feel. The questions begin to mount that I am able to do what is necessary to make this community succeed? Am I the right person? Who am I going to talk to? These are the questions that rattle my head at night. While I would like to say that I have that confidence and bravado that causes me to have unswerving self confidence… I don’t. Instead you get me. A person that is on a journey of faith that allows God to use me in new and creative ways. I realize that this journey of creating a new worshipping community is a difficult one, but I am glad for the team that in the last couple of years have shared the same passion and vision. The team that has taken shape has not been put here by accident but a God thing. It has been amazing to see the core team’s journey to get where we are now.
For the next little bit my blog will simply be a journal of our journey. Some of it will be full of excitement and others will be dealing with the inner turmoils within us. I was told by our coach (guide/ consultant) that I need to share what is on my head and heart. While I am doing some of that here, we could always use your support and prayers. You can sign up for my personal weekly prayer and thanksgiving newsletter or you can get the updates of this “new thing”.
God is definitely doing a new thing here in South Jersey, and we (me especially) are thankful to be a part of this plan. Thank you for your prayers.
Over three years ago, in the middle of the struggle to find a suitable position I remember the wise words from my Senior Pastor that this next chapter of my life would need to be about my families needs and not my own. That while my innermost desire was to not only get an ordained position but to be a part of starting a new church. The church that I was called to had no dreams of starting a new church, in fact it was not even on their radar. That leads us to today, where my iPad seems to be filled with scribbles, sketches, and notes on where we are going and being. For six months we have planned for this moment. The moment when we go from thinking and praying to DOING.
As we take this step there is lots of unknowns. Where are we going to find these people for this new ministry? What is it truly going to look like? Those questions that revolve around the ministry. Then their are questions about myself. Can I do it? And then my own doubts come in and overwhelm me. If I did not have these doubts then I would concerned that I have not thought this whole thing through enough. But despite myself, I am to be used for something truly remarkable.
I am convinced and feel called to do and lead this new ministry/ church. The word that I have felt for so long is “it’s time to go and lead”. That is where we are going. Looking ahead the rock that we are rolling up the mountain is steep but at least the rock is moving. As I have broken down the basic plan of how this whole New Worshipping Community is going to form it is not rocket science. Simply go, meet people, and be. It really is not that hard. The hard part is putting myself and my team in the position to do it. To do it through the exciting times and the times we are feeling overwhelmed.
Pray for us. This is going to be exciting. I will be posting way for you to pray for us and be a part of what we are doing as our social media end begins to take shape. Hold on…. “we are on a mission from God.”
For the past ten years I have been hindered. First the doctors told me I had weak ankles, then gout, then arthritis, then rheumatoid arthritis, then gout, then something else, and so on. For the better part of the last decade I have been hindered by this. My children find it amusing that I use to be athletic and involved in a number of sports. They cannot remember a time where my physical health was not an issue. I remember wondering how I was going to keep up with my kids. Who is going to teach them to ride a bike or throw a baseball? While I was not debilitated it was issues in the back of my head. When older members (by 30-40 years) of the congregation were moving faster than I was, then you have a problem.
Since making the move to the East Coast several years back I have been determined not to let it limit me. I have moved away from foods that caused me flares and stopped taking the steroids that I was dependent on to make it through the day. Simply stopping the steroids I lost 30 pounds in a matter of months. Whoa. Food choices such as no turkey gravy and staying away from seafood helped a bit. While that increased my quality of life, it did not drastically. There were still many activities that I could not take part in simply because I was afraid that it may cause a flare. Too often simply doing something has caused a week of incredible pain, that only steroids could take care of.
This year I have made a concerted effort to not be limited by my physical conditions. I have started going to the gym and so forth. It was when I went to the doctor a couple months ago that something changed. He told me everything that my previous doctors had diagnosed me with was wrong. What?? He did not know exactly what I had and was going to pursue it, but he put me on a regiment to improve my quality of life without restrictions. In the past couple of months I have began to try running, played paintball, bowled, and been more active.
A long story to a point. I look back and wonder what could have been in those years that I lost. It took me a bit to get over the fact that if I been advised to manage my symptoms better these last few years could have been so much more. After wallowing for a bit, I have come to the place where I need to make up for lost time. Though I have reached or about to reach a new age milestone I look forward to how active I can be. Should be interesting in what trouble I can get myself into.
Are you imaging tents,old fashioned fire and brimstone preachers, while “When the Saints Go Marching In”? Revival services have disappeared from the mainstream. My wife will talk about the revivals she had at her church growing up. Last year I got a flyer about a local revival and I looked at the flyer with skepticism. What is it that draws such apathy and reluctance? Could it be simply that we are Presbyterians and think those that do it are “other churches”? Maybe or maybe it could be that we don’t know much about them.
This past month I have been preaching through a series that originally was focused upon the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit moves us. That was MY plan… what actually what has happened is more than that. Our church for awhile has been feeling the tug that we need to make a impact in our community. Not one in voice, but one in our actions. While many are getting this nudge, moving ourselves out from the pews has become difficult. We, along with many Christians have become too comfortable with our faith. Stepping out is something that other people do, because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t want to be labeled as “one of them”. Turning the corner to a much more outreach based church has not happened as fast as we have wanted. It is a work in progress.
It was in the planning and discerning process for this month that I began to hear a theme of “revival”. I had my first sermon beginning to be sketched out and realized that I needed to go further. It was on Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones. The question of how far could I really push the idea of renewal was constantly on my head, besides how much could I really teach in one Sunday? While that lesson came to being, the second one on John 15 and how we are to be transformed developed. I was beginning to sense a theme, AND I felt that our church was called to spend ernest time in prayer. Being the Associate Pastor while the Senior Pastor was gone, I couldn’t simply call for a season of prayer. So I took it a bit lightly, but the nudge and prodding remained. The anxiety level at our church was high due to the Boston explosions as well some serious medical issues with some core church members. I did call the church to prayer and over 30 members showed up! Wow. Tonight I continue to plan for this Sunday’s sermon, which has a deep revival theme. For all the preaching I do on it Sunday my words alone will not start a revival. It starts when we as followers of faith and when we the church long for something more to the extent that we are willing to submit ourselves.
Our churches need a revival. Not one with tents and everything having a “revival” theme. But a revival where we turn with brokenness to God. Our church longs to help the community, and that is great. Before we can go out into the community we must ourselves get on our knees and ask God to move. We need God to move within us, to move us from complacency to following God’s will. Revival first starts within us before it can even reach the house across the street. God will not use the “frozen chosen” with barely a heart beat to transform the world. The ones that are used are the ones with the heartbeat of God.
Tonight I pray for revival within our community, region, nation, and the world. But it must start with me.
What does a Session, Presbytery, or a denomination do to change the tide of shrinking churches and non- relevant ministries? What are we doing to change the tide? Should they sit in their board rooms sketching out what needs to be done? Probably not. A groundswell needs to be created by the people themselves and not from a top down structure. In essence it cannot be created artificially but must be created organically. This is where we have gone wrong in the past as we have made decisions from the board room instead of with the community that we wish to be with.
Your probably wondering what a groundswell is? Simply it is a group of people that begin to gather for a particular purpose or not. Many times it is simply for community. Then community happens, then a movement. It was not artificially created by a demographic study, but simply happens. As our church has been looking at growing many have told us that we need to simply create a “Contemporary Service”. The problem is that our church does not have critical mass in order to sustain a new service. What must be done is that we need to begin gathering people. This is not going to happen over a new service. By adding a new service we would be hoping that people would come in our doors. This is not how ministry is often done today. We don’t even know what a “new community” would even want. This is where a groundswell comes in. By creating community, and undercurrent is created by the community. The community gets excited and determines what suits their needs. It is not a professional survey, but programming is determined by the people.
In light of this I have been fortunate to be a part of a team that is trying to create a groundswell through a growing community. What we are doing is not very traditional in many senses and even raises an eyebrow or two. Our team has created a monthly even called Wing Fest where we go to the local bar and simply have wings. At first it was pretty awkward because I am not a bar person. As the months have passed the staff some of the locals have begun to recognize us. Also running into previous members is an interesting experience. More than a few times I have been told that it was good to see me where everyday people are. That is a great compliment! I have also taken an idea from a good friend of mine where they go to the local bowling alley to hang out. Currently we are going monthly to the bowling alley for $1 shoes, $1 games, and $1 food night. It was packed with people! People to interact with and maybe want to be a part of our growing community. As we head into the summer we will go weekly. Those are only a few of our ideas, the general idea is to simply not do everything in the church but be places where you can meet people.
If I can do it, so can you. Creating groundswells and community is not hard. At first it is awkward, but isn’t God calling us to be out in the community instead of waiting for people to walk in the doors. Ministry in this new climate is vastly different than previous generations. We have all the tools to start a groundswell within our church and denomination. All it takes is a bit of creativity and willingness to go there.
I hate when people say all the church wants is my money. Or when people say that you got to give God something in order to receive blessings in return. Have you ever heard the church asking for money in such a way that it gives you a shooting pain behind your eyeball? You probably have and if you are not rooted in the church it probably turned you off. Even being a Pastor at a church it turns me off.
This past week I have been pondering Stewardship and giving. It all started when I heard that KLOVE was doing their annual pledge drive. I understand that they do not do commercials and are donor supported. BUT how do we ask for money and why? It is usually during their pledge periods that I turn the station until it passes. Simply because some of the illustrations that they use cause me to cringe. Many of them revolve around the the idea that if we give to the station, God will bless them back. That someone gave in faith and “BLAM” something happens. Granted I do believe that God can do and will do whatever God’s will is. But still we perpetuate the vendor mentality of God. That if you give, then you will receive. If we look at the book of Matthew:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?- Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
We need to realize that God takes care of us despite ourselves. That God gives, and gives abundantly. Many times it is not exactly what we want, but we are cared for. Simply by giving an extra $50 will God open the treasure chest and your life will be so much better. You and I are valuable to God and we are taken care of.
There is also a perception that we view people entering our churches as “giving units”. That if we bring in so many people we can continue to operate as we have been. Or as members move on (in many ways) we need to offset their giving by bringing in new members. Too often I hear rumblings that “All we want is people’s money”. In some sense that is true. The lights, heating, repairs, and programs have to be paid for. Without members giving how would we continue? When we begin to look at people in the church as dollar signs to continue the church’s way of life we lose focus. When evangelism is not about bringing people into a deep understanding of the grace that God has given them… we miss the point. When programs become more about the church’s members entertainment, then its core focuses than we have missed the point. In giving we are responding and giving back to God what is not ours… it’s God’s. That is the essence if giving. Giving is not a bill or a fee to be in “the club”, but understanding all of what God has done for us and wanting to give back in some part.
Too often we portray a bad theology of giving. Instead of giving being all about our response to God it becomes all about us. When we are dealing with ministry and money it is important to point it at the right direction. No matter how good the intention is sometimes… we just miss.
What if I put out in my blog I was was against semi sweet chocolate? That somewhere in the Levitical laws it was declared unclean and remains unclean to this day. So if you were to eat semi sweet chocolate you were to be condemned by God. Anyone seeing this post and liking semi sweet chocolate would feel judged and not likely walk into the doors of your church. While God has been prompting that person to go to church, we may have simply gotten in the way. Instead of working for the good of God and our church, we become a hinderance.
Lately I have noticed an increased amount of articles and blogs written about how we need to hold onto our faith stances. Whether those issues are sociological, theological, or whatever they may be. I do hold onto some deep theological stances whether they be about justice, the Bible, social issues, and a myriad of other issues. But I also realize that I am called to be a Pastor or the technical term for me within the Presbyterian Church, a Teaching Elder. In that I am called to be pastoral in how I apply my own personal beliefs. The world and our community is large and I doubt that we all agree on every issue. Why do we make some larger than others? Why must we agree on every issue beyond our essentials? We will not, but if we let the issues divide us then we have larger issues. Issues with our own community or lack or it, and our ability to reach those around us with the Gospel.
By coming out for or against semi sweet chocolate, I immediately endear my self to some colleagues and to others I am quite the opposite. This does not help in creating unity within our Presbytery or other circles. Many of us have experienced it. The looks or the unwilling to talk with other people with dissenting viewpoints. In the past couple years, there are colleagues that will not acknowledge me beyond a head nod simply because I am one of “them”. Too bad they do not know me, but I am categorized and moved on. I am not saying my semi sweet chocolate haters are right, but simply over a disagreement we have chosen not to have community with those that are in the same profession.
The outside world sees our infighting, and wonder why they should even enter a church that cannot get along with each other. Earlier I talked about how I am called to be a pastor. I am not called to be a pastor of those that agree with me. My primary job as a pastor is not to do the bulletin or make sure the Sanctuary is properly decorated. It is to follow the prompting of the Spirit to lead people to a deeper understanding of God and faith. By stating publicly that “I”, the pastor do not believe that semi sweet chocolate should be eaten we only further entrench those outsides thoughts about the church. Those thoughts are simple: we are judgmental and hypocritical. We as the church have not done a good job in trying to change this perception. I am not saying that we should not talk about our viewpoints of the tenants of our faith, but how do we do it. Is it done in a way that that divides or in a way that offers differing viewpoints in attitude of unity?
I am grateful that I have found a community both locally and larger that sees me as who I am and not for my stances. I can look around the table, Facebook group, or prayer letter and see differing chocolate views but sense unity around it. While we may disagree on some issues; we care and want the best for each other.
All this talk about chocolate is making my sweet tooth take over.
It seems everywhere we look there is conflict. This past week I saw a number of my friends change their Facebook profile in support of marriage equality. As many supported it, there were others that did not. As I scanned through my newsfeed at times each others “passions” turned very personal. An “us vs. them” mentality emerged on both sides.
While the marriage equality issue was raised this week, it was not the only issue that raised an “us vs. them” mentality. Some of the issues might have been over people’s right, a decision, or a change in course in business. Which makes this conflict more than a simple issue, as it can enter into our relationships in a local or national. Recently our Session spent some time discussing the issue of conflict or rather what to do when conflict arises. I remember many in the room discussing that we would not have conflict, but as we work to transform and engage in outreach opportunities… it will arise.
As our staff and Session work on transformation, the key word is “change”. No one really likes change and inevitably it causes conflict. Too easy situations can turn into a “us vs. them”. While our church has often talked about the need to be unified through this process, it does not necessarily happen all the time. When an issue is not addressed or defused it can easily jump in the stages of conflict. Truly I do not believe that our church is to sit idly by, rather we are to be innovative and creative in what our church is to be a part of. On the other hand, are we willing to engage in conflict? It is a hard decision for any Pastoral leadership team or Session to want to make.
The above arrow shows the stages of conflict if unresolved. It is easy to move from a lower stage to a high one without much effort. We discussed that in order to avoid the “trigger” events that cause an escalation there must be constant dialogue and a diffusing of the “us vs them” mentality. This mentality does no church any good as it simply makes everyone angry.
Life is not pretty, there will be conflict. Conflict in the church, conflict in our work, conflict in our relationships, conflict over our ideals, conflict in our families, conflict over national issues, conflict within city government… you get the picture? There is nowhere we can escape conflict, but we can help diffuse the situation or ignite it further. Which are you?
Each spring break from 1988 through the early 2000’s, I joined a couple thousand students and staff with Azusa Pacific University‘s Mexicali Mission Trip. Whether I was a youth, college student, APU volunteer, or Youth Director in some form I was there. And I loved it. Spending Holy Week in sleeping in tents and working in the local villages did something remarkable within me. Each year I came back transformed. It was in 1988 that I encountered and realized a loving God cared for me. A different year, in the middle of a worship service I committed myself to vocational ministry in some shape or form. As I later led groups, friendships deepened to incredible depths that years later they still run strong no matter the distance. Stories of adventures still are highlights of get togethers with students or leaders even though some of them have turn into myths that we are not sure actually happened.
As each Holy Week comes and goes, I long for those times as a student and a leader in Mexicali. Each Holy Week held something special. For some incredible reason as we were on these mission trips and Holy Week was laid before us, I was taken back and challenged. Sharing Communion with a couple thousand people who have experienced the highs and lows of ministry on Maundy Thursday has incredible meaning. Riding high from the whole mission experience as we often walked sleep deprived and still dusty after driving home through the night… but still making it to Good Friday Services. Or telling the stories of how God worked in us and through us on Easter Sunday. How Great was our Risen Lord and Savior in the middle of all that happened to us! These Holy Weeks were not your average Holy Weeks but ones of deep spiritual meaning.
It is those same experiences that I took the many students years ago is the same experience that I long for my children and our church’s youth to have. I pray that my own children have the opportunity to grow and be molded spiritually in the same way that I was. This afternoon I spent a bit of time trying to convince my youth leader that we need to fly our group cross country next year to participate. Then I realized how much it would cost to do this and how untenable it was. The destination is not important but rather the experience and what results is what I long for our students to have. To have the opportunity to push everything aside and be completely open to what God has to say to them.
To be completely open and honest before a God that cares and loves them.
P.S. One of the very few pictures of Mexicali that I still have. Here is to many great friendships that result.
You know those moments. Standing at the foot of the mountain looking up. The journey looks ominous, too ominous. You begin to hesitate and think that you are not the one to undertake this. That you would surely fail. Fear begins to creep into your mind that moments before were brimming with confidence. The wonder why do we get charged with his monumental task instead of someone else. Don’t you know who I am? With all my failures, past improprieties, and lack of overwhelming self confidence, I have still been tapped to be a part of conquering this mountain.
I stand at one of those moments. It is something that I have wanted to do for years, be a part of something that is new and will make a difference. People have told me that I can do it, that I have the right thought process to do this. I even have some past experience in it. Then why do these doubts still rise?
Too often we encounter these thoughts at the base of the mountain. Those thoughts can easily paralyze us from moving forward. In “Christian-ese” we use the word called/ calling, in common everyday meaning it is fulfilling our God given task. Everyone is given a calling. It can be recognized by our reaction to a God given burden upon us.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one bodyand one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.- Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)
How we react to those callings? You and I can either run or head up the mountain. I choose the mountain. That does not mean that I don’t have self doubts with myself, no wonder I surround myself with a great team. We are not sent on “lone ranger” tasks by ourselves, but are supported/ encouraged along the way. Each time moments of self doubt creeps into my thoughts I remember my purpose: to live a life worthy of my calling. It does not mean I cut and run at the first sign of trouble, but dig in with the strength that only God can bring and the team that I have been blessed with.
It’s time to dig in and take on this mountain. Should be fun, there is nothing else I would rather want to do.
For the past couple years I have been under the care of a doctor whose core belief was to drug you and answer questions later. When I would go visit him, he would start writing prescriptions even before I got examined. Even when I got the drugs, he would add a bit extra in. For example I had a gout attack last year and he gave me some Vicodin for the pain for a couple of days as needed for pain. He gave me 50 with a refill. Really?
Anyways, I went to a new doctor today. Like many new doctors there is a huge introductory time with forms and many questions. Good thing I brought my wife since she was able to put my medical history together. There would be some huge gaps in my story. This new doctor had some concerns with some of the medications I have been on and the follow up exams. After more than a few vials of blood were given up, an EKG, a lecture on my exercise habits, and a tetanus shot I headed home.
Then the hypochondriac in me came out. Wait a second… did he find something? Did he need to take all that blood? Why did an EKG need to be taken? Why do I have a ultrasound of my heart scheduled? It all ended with the thought that maybe he found something. Maybe he wants to confirm it before he breaks it to me. Am I on the downhill slide?
SLAP! That was the figurative head slap that my wife gave me to get me out of my funk. She had to explain to me that I was approaching the give Four- oh. That meant that my health care was hitting a different level. There were more that had to be done by marking the next decade in my life. Even those words stung. I was getting older and now I was being watched more closely by my doctor. I am guessing getting older is a part of life. In many ways it scary with the possibility of a major medical condition looming on my horizon. The thoughts of a life altering condition approaching…
While I don’t particularly like the extra probing, the end result is important. That preventive care is important. I know too many people that simply avoid seeing the doctor due to its inconvenience or lack of health care. I am thankful to live in a situation that it is provided for and praying for those that lack this right.
All in all to say… if even I can wade through all this, you can too.
I just read an ABC News article on how a Porn Star is becoming a role model to underage kids. Really? Or the admission by one interviewed that she first started looking at pornography at the age of 10. As I had been and continue to dip into Youth Ministry, I am constantly shocked by claims of underage drinking, sex, drugs, and so forth by JUNIOR HIGH STUDENTS. Sure I am concerned but not shocked by High School students, I understand the culture. That is to understand the culture that is prevalent, but not condone it.
Throughout Lent I have been leading discussion groups on The Power of A Whisper by Bill Hybels. The purpose of the whole study brings you to a point that you look within yourself and ask the question what breaks your heart in the world. Is it human trafficking, is it latch key kids, or simply the issue(s) that cause you to weep. In understanding that it is God what whispers those places of discomfort to us. While there are many types or styles of whispers given to each of us, there is one that leads us to react. That whisper is the whisper of discomfort. Perhaps we cannot get a news piece out of our mind, watched a documentary which was moving, or lived a life that caused discomfort.
Our reaction may be small to start. A desire to want to respond. Perhaps we will give up some measure of personal comfort to start to engage in the issue. Then the time will come when we are asked to respond and our choices simply are yes or I am comfortable where I am. Which choice will you make?
I realize as I watch the news or read articles the world is a huge, ugly, and scary place. The issues that are in the forefront is not the issue for me. I could not be part of the solution for multiple issues. While I agree wholeheartedly that human trafficking is immoral and wrong, it is not where God is leading me. My issue is not your issue. But hear this… you have a God given issue. Find it… and engage it.
For the past six months our church has been engaged in discovering what is the next step for our church. We have begun to look at statistics that show that we are in the downward arc of growth. This is not bad considering our church has encountered these problems before. In each downward arc, the church (and God) managed to turn the pattern around and grow. Realizing that a majority of our members agree with this, we have begun to engage in the hard work of discerning where we are to go next.
For the past couple years we have hired a church growth consultant that has been talking about to reengage in evangelism. As a number of us have come together to look at the possibilities of what could possibly be… it exiting. Exciting to be a part of reshaping the direction of our church. Exciting to interact with people that do not enter our doors. Exciting to be used.
While I and several of our core leadership may be excited about the possibilities, it would be unwise for us to assume that everyone thinks the same as we do. This past Session meeting we began talking about conflict and change. How many times when change is made it can polarize people into groups and in cause deep divisions. In Session we discussed how do we defuse potential trigger points. The biggest thought was to create an atmosphere of unity. Unity of the church moving in a sense of mission… together we are doing this mission. Often times it may be groups of people that are doing the “mission” rather than an “mission” birthed of the church. While conflict is a byproduct of change it must not be simply brushed under the rug. Rather it needs to be engaged and dealt with on many different levels. From the Ruler Elder on Session to the average congregation member to the shut in. It is in that spirit of unity that we have begun to really study and plan change instead of change that is not well thought out.
These next couple of months should be exciting as the conversation starts on how we can do “mission” together.
When I first came to my current call, I was told that I needed to take a class by Franklin Covey on organization and prioritizing. Many think of this as a Day-timer system. Well, me being a technology guy, lugging an organizer around with me everywhere was not my cup of tea. After some time of trail and error, I got rid of it for my Apple iCloud system. Whew.
So here I sit with my own system that I created all on my own, but I see a mountain in front of me. Our church is in the process of transformation and rebirthing something new. While many of these details are still being sketched out, what I do know is that this is an enormous task. This is going to require a huge push into the community and those around us. Realizing this our Pastoral Staff has began to look at how do we do ministry in this new context. After all we still have the have same amount of hours in the week and my family might want to see me every now and then.
There is an illustration that has large rocks, some stones, and some sand. But it cannot all fit into on container. Unless you first put the big rocks in first, then the stones, and finally the sand. As we venture into this new reality are looking for the “must haves” of our ministry. Obviously, we are to lead worship and and provide the Sacraments. So they are designated our big rocks. Something of a less priority but still important is designated as stones. What is left is the sand. In figuring this all out it takes juggling and shifting of rocks as well as roles. We are beginning to understand what a congregation member thinks is important is not necessarily important (or top priority for us). Restructuring Sunday School may be a good idea, but not a priority for us. Another may think that being at every midweek dinner to do the prayer is vitally important, but what about meeting/ being introduced to a mother that is getting her first break of the day at the gym.
As we move forward in what God is calling our Pastoral Staff to do, it may (and will) wrinkle a few feathers. We cannot get everything into the jar of our lives but are able to do so much more when we realize the importance and priority of it.
Each week Cliff and I lead a couple hundred people in worship. Each week one of us preaches, and as we are greeting at the door we are told how wonderful our words are. When I was a younger pastor I gushed over these words. So and so thought that I was that great… perhaps I am the next Lloyd Ogilive or Tony Campolo? Perhaps not, but it did cause me to puff my chest out a bit for the next day or so.
I read a book recently that talked about vision. It was about the purpose of the church and worship. We are not there to entertain or play music that the congregation is suppose to be playing. Nor is it suppose to say something profound that everyone will forget by lunch at the Olive Garden. Rather we are the eyeglasses to God. I like many wear glasses. The glasses serve the primary function of being able to see the world in which I live. It brings clarity and focus to the brilliant colors of God’s majesty. While my glasses serve a function, I do not stare simply at my lenses, but they bring clarity to something beyond. So is the purpose of the church and a worship service. It magnifies something beyond.
With those words in hand, I have been really thinking about my role in leading worship. It is not all about me, or the choir, or the special music. It is all about what we point at and to. What we bring clarity to. Realizing that God does not want us to perform but to get out of the way of worship. Us Pastors are merely the glasses that bring clarity to a God that many times is beyond understanding. This is more than the Pastors and a service, but also our programs/ events as well. In all that churches do, we need to magnify what is beyond… to step aside and not let it be all about us. Last night I talked about Nehemiah 8 and how Ezra taught the word of God from morning until noon. We focused on the idea that it was not all about Ezra, but to who Ezra was pointing to. You see Ezra was only the glasses and magnifying the God beyond.
The future is bright for the church. While many say that the church has lost its cultural relevance, its place in the world, and only see the crumbling “traditional” church; there is also so much promise.
This past weekend I participated in our Presbytery’s Congregational Life Sunday in which I was part of a roundtable discussion on 1001 New Worshipping Communities. We took our participants to the coffee shop down the corner and simply shared what was on our hearts. Each of us we not called or led into leading something new, but we also shared that we can be supportive of those that are creating something new.
I love being given an open floor with people that dare to dream. Those that are not afraid to fail, trip up, or fall on our face. Honestly, that has happened to me in more than a few instances. While nothing concrete came out of our conversations, the best part was that we planted a seed. A seed that tells people to go to their own contexts and create. We are not going to tell you how it should work, rather tell us how it is going to work in your backyard. As our Presbytery struggles with how this works within our polity infrastructure, we are intent on being permission giving. I got asked a question yesterday about the possible competing nature of these projects. Competing over funds, priority, and what not. My response is what we do does not have a competing nature but one that works in collaboration. Where we care and give the best of ourselves to only to the project we are involved in but to bend over backward in helping those in process.
What’s next? Only God knows.