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?
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.
I was searching the internet for some ideas for my installation and ran across a newsletter for the now Rev. Isaac Chung’s new church. I was intrigued by what his pastor wrote on ordination from a Reformed perspective.
Ordination holds opposites in tension. It sets individuals apart for a particular purpose, but calls them to carry out ministry in community. For pastors in particular, ordination rises “from below” – an act of the whole church, carried out by the presbytery, in order to choose and propose the candidate – and “from above” – a gift of God bestowing both skills for pastoral ministry and a recognition of dependency upon the Holy Spirit for their use. It is both the culmination and the beginning of the call to ministry. While God ﬁrst calls individuals to a life of service, the church then conﬁrms this inner calling, through Committees on Preparation for Ministry, Seminary, and even Pastoral Nominating Committees. Ordination, then, serves as the culmination of that initial call, with installation marking the beginning of service in the calling community.
The central act of ordination is prayer and the laying on of hands. It has been said that in this act, the candidate is overwhelmed by two conﬂicting feelings – a strange burden and a strong support. In those hands the weight of the church’s faith, the witness of the saints, presses down. Yet in those same hands, the candidate is upheld, given that which he or she does not have through education or natural inclination. It is truly a mystical event.
Finally, the pastor is a leader, but this role only arises because of those whom he or she leads. Martin Luther said that “there is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests… except for the sake of ofﬁce and work, but not for the sake of status.” If it were not for the laity, there would be no need of pastors, and the work of the church would collapse before it began. We are all part of Christ’s work, and are called as such. As Luther said, “we are all priests, as many of us are Christians.” The question, then, is not “Am I called to ministry?” but rather, “To which ministry am I called?” In the Reformed tradition, pastors are called to preach to the congregation, in the name of Christ, so that the congregation may preach to the world in the name of Christ.
As a person in the midst of transition, it is at a crossroads that I sit. For the past week I have been searching for a job, any job that will somehow supplement the lack of income that my family is facing. With that I have applied for anything from Aflac Insurace to College Enrollment Counselor to manning a register at Macys. What makes this so weird is that maybe I have a contorted view of a job. That maybe its more than earning a paycheck… its ones passion. Its their calling. Is it my calling to sell and offer Macy’s Credit to customers? Uhhh…. I am pretty sure that it is not. I feel that what I do must have a purpose.
Yesterday I got a comment on my facebook page that really bothered me. Not bothered in a bad way but one that challenges who I am. Am I suppose to spend Advent and the holidays worrying about the size on my line at $9 per hour or the real reason that I am called to. “You are going to be a great pastor Sean – and it saddens me that someone of your pastoral talent and giftedness will be standing behind a register and not a pulpit this Christmas season -behind the pulpit it is were you belong without doubt, when will the church wake up and see the gift you will be to the church?!” That comment made me think… do I push on in developing this ministry or do I sit on it. Sit on it in a time when the momentum is growing and great progress is being made.
Choices are running rampant in my head. In times like this which road do I choose?
1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)
It is easy to say that we trust or have faith in God. Saying it and living it are two completely different things. The past month has seen me go from two paid positions and one volunteer (with a hope of being paid) to simply the volunteer one. While the volunteer one is one that I am deeply passionate it has been a shake up in reality. How are we suppose to trust that God is going to catch us when we see nothing but the big abyss below. I will be the first to admit that I have had my times lately of self pity. Where I was ready to give it up and be a garbage salesman. Don’t know what that is… neither do I but that is what I clung to. Our nature automatically wants us to give us when our lives are not going our way.
Authentic faith is the basis for our trusting in God. It is by no accident that I was reading Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love this morning that read:
This place of trust isn’t a comfortable place to be; in fact, it flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught about proper planning. we like finding refuge in what we already have rather than in what we hope God will provide. But when Christ says to count the cost of following Him, it means we must surrender everything. It means being willing to go without an extra tunic or a place to sleep at night, and sometimes without knowing where we are going. God wants us to trust Him with abandon. He wants to show us how He works and cares for us. He wants to be our refuge. (p. 123)
Trust requires us to surrender. It means not holding onto our own plans but submitting and believing what God has for us. Though I may not see tangible evidence what is ahead… trust God. In those dark moments or self pity… trust God. In those times of wavering faith… trust God.
The last couple of weeks have been interesting as I have worked on transferring the many tasks and oversight of ministries that I have been involved in for the past three years. This last sunday was my last official sunday at Word of Life. And in all transitional times I am quite reflective on what has happened as well as what I wish had happened. In saying the latter I was thinking of how I wanted to create programs and studies that would better help families. I dreamed of the day that we could offer parenting classes to the community as well as being a supportive community for families. It is not like I am the first one to think about what could have been, especially since the community and has such a need.
Anyways. The last three years have been one that I have had the opportunity to do things that I thought that I would never have the chance to do. When I first came to the church, all I was concerned with was sitting in the back pew. But through my experiences I feel that I am better person. Not only was I encouraged and supported throughout the ordination process but consider many of the people that supported me as family. When the trials and rigors of seminary and life became too much or too stressful there was always someone there to put me back into perspective.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity and freedom that I have had in the past year. With an dedicated team we reinvisioned the church. The last year we got to try a different model than a traditional church. While the results were not as amazing as our heads thought it would be, it was a great experience. The chance to be in a church that is willing to take those leaps of faith is invaluable.
As in everything, good times don’t last forever. What is the future is still very much in the air. For now I will be working on developing the Front Porch ministry of the Presbytery as well as finishing up (hopefully) the ordination process.
Thanks ya’lls for all the support. Not to mention the great spanish lessons and I’ll need to collect on my tattoo hours soon (or maybe not).
Having just finished seminary and preparing to seek my first ordained called I am left in a state of limbo. It is not like I have moved to new ministries before, but things are different now. With the rise of social networking in facebook, myspace, linkedin, and twitter it adds a new dimension to leaving a place of ministry. I was reading a blog by our PCUSA moderator that started me thinking. When a pastor leaves a church usually there is little, if any communication with the previous congregation. While that is easy to do when one leaves the area it is quite another when you stay relatively close (i.e. Los Angeles area). In order for the congregation to move to a new era of leadership and growth the previous pastor needs to distance themselves. But how does that work in todays day in age.
1. Does one simply delete, unfollow, or “unfriend” everyone associated with the previous church?
This sounds a bit harsh since we do create lifelong bonds with people in our congregation. Is it their and our tough luck? Whether you believe it or not, being a pastoral presence brings a bond between members and their pastor. Can that be easily dismissed. I would argue that it cannot be. In the world of social networking it makes it hard to simply shun them.
2. Do we ignore conversation with previous congregation members?
Social networking is a two way street and that is what is so unique about it. If I was to put a status update then inevitably there will be a comment to respond. Or in reverse something is going on in previous members life, is it crossing the line to simply say that you are praying for them? Where is the line in two way conversations involving social networking? Of course there is the big line that is encouraging them to start a coup d’état in a previous church.
3. What is the statute of limitations?
Do we blackball people for 5-7 years? Social networking is great with reconnecting with old classmates or even students that were in your youth group. What about members that use to be in your congregation? How long do we hold off “friending” them?
Social networking a pastoral transitions are in a new age. For the most part we need to use common sense, but there is always that person that does not have it; therefore, rules must be created. Unfortunately we are in a new day where COM’s and Presbyteries are still working through these rules. Too bad the rules will most likely come after something bad happens.
There are those words in seminary that you see and scratch your head in wondering what it means. Then you scratch your head and wonder if anyone will even care if you know what it means. It seamed that happened to me many times in classes such as systematic theology. One of the words that made me go…. hmmm was that of providence. Apparently it is more than a place in Rhode Island. It has to do with the concept that God provides for human creation. To make it sound nice and that I went to seminary it illustrates “the depravity of humankind and the sovereignty of God”. In that God is all powerful and has a divine plan for us, it is our own free will that causes separation. That was a whole lot of seminary and now my brain hurts.
The point is that when we act in faith many times we say that we leave our situations or our issues up to God. But do we? If we truly believe in the providence of God then we will act or respond regardless of what the human eye sees. If we are in a situation that we need to act in faith, then why do we need to see a tangible rope in front of us. Of course that would be nice to have all the ducks in a row when we step out in faith, but that is not necessarily there all the time. I am often reminded of a scene in Indiana Jones that can be viewed here. Faith without action is not real faith. Many times we get caught up in what we can see instead of rely on God providing for us (aka Providence).
The world and journey that I on has to do with faith. While it is scary since I cannot see the tangible items around me sometimes, somehow we are provided for. The last couple of weeks at Word of Life we have been hitting on the theme of not being lukewarm and actually living out our faith.
15‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Rev. 3:15-16, NASB)
A couple of weeks ago I posted on my facebook page that I needed an arch-nemesis. The response I got was that I need to love everyone and that Pastors should not have one. Granted theologically that is correct. But I would like to throw out a different angle. I was sitting in the church parking lot thinking about my past and where I have been led in this journey. It was always the “arch-nemesis” that pushed me to search within myself that forced me to be more than I thought I could be. That parent that thought that I was an awful administrator or the person that thought that I was not caring enough during a hospital visit. I am not saying that we need to look for someone to destroy us (as many arch-nemesis’s do), but perhaps we need to look to a more dulled down version of our comic heroes. In Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men they each had an arch-nemesis. Whether they were Green Goblin, Sandman, or Doc. Octopus. While there intention was to destroy our heroes, rule the world, or have wealth beyond the imagination. I would like to offer a pastoral alternative.That alternative being pushing who I am as a pastor. No matter where you are or serving in a “perfect” church we will always have those people within the congregation. Someone that does not agree with you. I recall several congregational meetings in which were called in order to agree the installation of a new pastor. The pastor was great, but someone had to voice discontent. Not because the pastor was awful, but simply to disagree and being the voice of the discontent. Pastor’s run into them all the time. I had a congregation member that was not pleased with my sermons, no matter how good they were received or how good they were. Jokingly he would come up to me after service and tell me my sermon could have been better. Did he not know how well I exegeted it? Talked about the nominative pluralities and everything. What I have learned from these people is that they push who I am as a pastor to do better. While I may not like it they are put here for a reason.1. Arch-nemesis push us to do better- Far too often it is easy to be complacent in ministry or comfortable in the position in which we are. A arch-nemesis is one that is always on your heals and does not let you become comfortable. As pastors it sometimes is easy to enjoy the congregational love and not want to shake the boat. The nemesis does not let us get too comfortable in our chairs.2. Arch-nemesis force us into areas where we do not see possibilities- There are always alternative ways or something that we should be doing, but sometimes we cannot see it becoming a reality. Without someone to push us, shove us, or throw us into those directions we will naturally not go into those areas.3. Arch-nemesis deflate our ego- Each sunday after preaching everyone comes up to you and tells you how good your sermon is. Even if it is awful and was taken off the internet. This causes us to have our ego boosted. The amount of positive reinforcement to negative is incredibly skewed to the positive. I have friends that keep my ego sane and deflate it, but we all need those people to keep us even keeled.I can list those that have been my arch-nemesis’s over the years. Some I am more thankful for than others. They have been put in my life by God to push me and encourage me on my journey. Every pastor needs an arch-nemesis to push their status quo.
I have spent the last couple of days in a sense of internal conflict. Some of the questions I have been arguing over in my head and those around me is where is the church’s or our own sense of responsibility for the church universal. While I do feel that I have a call to pastoral ministry and it have been mostly verified by the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, our Session, and by others. In Presby-speak it needs to be verified by the Session, Presbytery, and a “Calling” Church.Anyways my definition for a call has been shaped by the words of Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor who writes, “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The place where a GOD calls you and where the needs of the world meet is where our calling is. That is so true, for each of us we have our own calling. That calling has been put into us by God. Whether it is to be a teacher, minister, office manager, to serve others, be a behind the scenes person or whatever makes us glad. The place where our own personal call and the place where the worlds desire and need is becomes our personal calling.Social responsibility is something entirely different but yet the same. It comes from several different passages.Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.“orMatthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Our sense of responsibility can also be called social responsibility. This responsibility also comes as mandate and a call from God, but is different than our own personal call. Social responsibility is not a personal call but a universal call. It was best described to me by my wife last night in a pretty cool illustration. She said if someone where to knock on our door with a need right now we would in our best way possible to help them. If they needed food we would help them to the best of our abilities. If they needed a million dollars it would be beyond us and would take a community to solve the problem. The Bible talks about that we need to aid and love those around us. Those that need someone to listen to them, support them, be a confidant, among a myriad of other things.I am socially responsible for many of the issues in the world but that does not mean that it becomes my singular focus. Social responsibility is a broad focus while a personal calling is narrow. We need to balance the “other” issues that God calls us to while we continue to pursue our God given calling.
My role models for Pastors are not the best. In my years as a Youth Director and as an Associate Pastor I think I have seen them all. First is the dictatoral style of pastor that is literally IN CHARGE. You cross him/her and there is trouble. This style of pastor has a tight reign on the vision, Session, staff, and everything that has to do with church. Then you have the laid back pastor. That lets you do pretty much whatever you want to do as long as they do not catch grief from it. I can go on and on. Then you have the ego driven pastor, absent pastor, clueless pastor, spiritual pastor, emerging pastor, transforming pastor, team based pastor, and so forth. This is not to say that these are bad, but each has its own pro’s and con’s.When I graduated from Seminary I thought I had a good idea of what a pastor was. That was until I got humbled. Going into ministry I thought to myself how great, wonderful, and spiritual I was. Then I ran into the meat grinder of ministry. It has nothing to do with the actual ministry that I was involved in, but that being a pastor is more than administration, worship services, staff meetings, and all the inner workings of the church. If I spent all the time that was needed to prepare worship, sermons, and administration the congregation would bolt. That is because people don’t come to church because we can pay all the bills, have shiny railings, or the best put together worship service. There is something more: they are cared for.The last month has been a learning time for me. One would think that being pastoral is what I learned in school. It is actually, but I think I missed something in between getting mad at the vending machine for not having the right snacks and committing the order of worship to memory. I am sure they taught it but I did not digest it. Being a pastor is about being there for the congregation. Last week I sat with one of my elders in his backyard. He spent a good hour showing and teaching me about how to prune trees/shrubs the “asian way”. Me, being a bad asian did not know that the amount of branches need to be an odd or even number. Oh well, learn something new everyday. For a good two hours we sat on a stone bench that he built on the hill above his yard. I did not even bring up issues of the church. We had a good conversation about HIS life and background. Stories about how he can to be the person that was sitting next to me. At the end he looked at me and was genuinely glad that I came to pray for him and care about his life. There was no agenda for the visit, just to be pastoral to him. Pastoral, nothing about the administration of the church, order of worship, or complaints about the contemporary service. Just caring for a man in the congregation.That visit alone recharged me and made me enjoy what I do. Would not change what I do for the world.
Being a family member of one that serves a church can be quite a difficult thing. For instance the cut short vacations when there is an murder in the local middle school or the times when special dates get cut off (at the ice cream shop… oops I have a Deacons meeting fifteen minutes ago) or the constant state of being distracted. Yup that is the life of a family of one that is in the ministry. One thing that I swear to myself is that I pray that my kids do not grow up hating the church, due to my responsibility to it. I can honestly say that the past couple of years and specifically the past six months have been rough on the family. I have been charged with moving the congregation to a new facility, starting new ministries, training others, General Assembly, Presbytery commitments, and somehow took an intensive on Hebrew. Somewhere in the midst of that my family laid. I am sure more than a few times they got the short end of the stick or that I was not home to tuck them in. While I have worked hard at being there for them in different ways, I am sure that it was not the same.This past weekend we were in Truckee for a wedding that I was doing for a family member. I had just finished my Hebrew final the week before, was in finishing studying for the Ordination Examinations, and trying to get the papers and permits necessary to move the church. While it seemed that everything fell apart around me, I had more than a few moments of the weekend, about how cool my family was. While I was hobbling around, I managed to get Jenn and the girls off to a stable where they went on a trail ride. Considering it was my girls first time on a horse, they were a bit scared. As we raced back to the resort where the wedding was going to be performed I was amazed by something…. the smell on them. Wow horses can smell. Besides that was the giddy look on their face. During the reception in which I raced to change out of my dress shoes (they hurt) I spent an hour dancing with my clan. It was pretty cool dancing with Hunter, Jenn, and Lauren to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby”. That night as the girls were getting ready to go to sleep the words of one of my mentors from long ago rang about the priorities in life… Personal Relationship With God, Family, THEN Ministry. Far too often that order gets messed up and needs to be re-prioritized. They are more important to me than my ministry and I sometimes forget that.
I actually had time today to do some of the things that I have been wanting to do. The reason for that was that I was suppose to be studying for my Hebrew Final on Monday Night. So instead I chose to do things that would help me avoid them. On that note I ran across the Presbyterian Outlook that was on my desk. It is a almost weekly magazine that is pretty well balance. With that I mean that it takes neither the progressive or conservative points of view. It does well staying neutral, at least as best as one can. Anywho… I ran across an article that stirred me. It was on the Church Unbound Conference that was held in July.Brian Blount, President of Union Theological Seminary was quoted in the article when he spoke as saying:“Well, what does an unbound church look like?” • The unbound church isn’t tethered to its safe space sanctuaries, but operates behind the enemy lines of poverty and social injustice.• The unbound church isn’t tethered to tradition, but builds upon tradition to create new traditions as it engages the world in new ways.• The unbound church isn’t tethered to just doing mission trips but has begun a journey that will recreate itself fully as a missional reality.• The unbound church isn’t tethered to the idea that church members ought all to look alike and think alike, but drags people of every physical hue and theological complexion into its spiritual and missional endeavors.• The unbound church doesn’t sit on the sidelines while politicians and lawyers and activists decide our social fate; it lives and operates as powerfully on a social and political battlefield as it does in a spiritual bubble.• The unbound church doesn’t just fight for issues that affect people in its neighborhoods or congregations, but is willing to exhaust itself and its resources on behalf of people it does not know, may never see, and will certainly never join.• The unbound church doesn’t fear fights that may cost it dearly, because the unbound church is free from fear and ready to follow Christ’s call into any and every draconian situation that is devouring God’s people.• The unbound church doesn’t do its high wire ministry act with a safety net, because it doesn’t fear falling before the dragon. It believes that no matter what happens, God will raise it up again.“Live unleashed. That is our calling.”All I can say is… wow. I wish I was there.
The church that I serve is in the midst of some serious transitions. We have a tentative moving date and much to be done. Basically in just over three weeks we will be moving into a new facility. That is if no new hurdles arise, and in working with the city those are bound to happen. As we move from Westminster Presbyterian Church to a new facility in the heart of the city. This is an exciting time for our church and we as leaders must take a new approach to this move. This is not merely a change in location, but a rebirth of our congregation. While we only have one service currently we are looking to start off with four services at our launch (that being two on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening). This mindset is not only for services but expanding our Recovery groups, Bible Studies, and everything we are currently involved in.
I find myself in a sort of logistical hell right now. Somehow I found myself leading the transition team much like heading the relocation team. I am excited about the possibilities that we have in front of us. The only problem is putting everything into place. We often forget what it takes to logistically put a church together. Yesterday, I was online shopping for a communion table and baptismal. Today, it is looking for a website designer and looking through Cokesbury for everyday church supplies.
These are exciting times in our ministry here in Oxnard. Somehow in the midst of our human chaos, God has led us to this place. While I am feeling overwhelmed many times on what is going on, I am excited beyond words on what God is going to do through us.
“The church is called to undertaking this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.” Book of Order G-3.0400.
It it is not often that one quotes from the Presbyterian Book of Order in ones sermon. Yesterday was one of those days. I was preaching in the morning about how we (the church) are the living embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven, but not totally revealed (a whole another subject in itself). As as church we are called to be ones of unity, living out the embodiment of Christ, and are to be sent (John 17:20-26). Blah, blah,blah… I could just keep writing on what I preached on, but I won’t (because you can buy the CD, actually you can’t, we are not that high tech). But the point is that we, as our congregation are to shed our labels. No longer do we want to be the know as the Hispanic New Church Development or the poster-child of Hearts and Hands in our Presbytery, but point to Christ in all things that we do.
It could be quite easy to do the status quo and make our way through ministry, but is that what we as a church is called to? The Book of Order says that we need to fulfill the mission of the church, otherwise known as evangelism, to the point of its own life. That is a radical thought! How many churches can say that they do that or even willing to consider that: put the risk of closing the church doors on the line for the sake of the mission of the church.
And Trusting in God Alone…uh.. smart elders would want to have everything nice and structured and organized. Maybe a nice pie chart and everything else, maybe a plan b or c. In order that we can be best assured of success. That is not what this is saying. It is saying “JUMP! and I’ll catch You”. Trust in God, and not to what you can see, make logic of, or touch. Put full faith in God. Remembering that God is the author of life or in charge of everything… That’s right God is in control and not me.
Doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ. Going beyond ourselves, huh? What does that look like? A new service or maybe two? Outreach to the underprivileged? Stretching the congregation to areas that they have never even dreamed that they are capable of? THAT IS WHAT IT MEANS!!!! It is not about what we are comfortable in doing or even willing to do, but beyond that. I loved having a fifty year old former elder who worked for NASA come and be present with wild and reckless Junior Highers. That was beyond himself and it made a difference in the kids lives. And in it all transforming themselves and others in fuller knowledge and depth in their own relationship with God.
In other words: GAME ON!!!
A church in Florida recently challenged its married members to participate in the “30 day challenge“. The theory is that they wanted stronger marriages in their congregation. I guess it could be done through sex, but what about… uhh… communication? While I do see the point, reading a recent article in Christianity Today entitled The Life You Always Wanted (In Bed). It states that the church in Florida has grown by fifteen percent since the challenge has been extended. I guess when I preach this Sunday that is what I am going to preach about, church growth…BAM!
It seems that the idea of the church as becoming a sex therapist is a growing trend. With all the books that are being published, curriculum developed, and it being used as a tool for evangelism. Granted, we the church need to care for the WHOLE person, and sexuality is becoming more overt. Maybe it is the traditionalist in me that wants to steer clear of this area but it needs to be discussed. How can we discuss healthy marriages without talking about the pink elephant in the bedroom. We can’t. But it must be done with a degree of tact.
I can see it coming already, tomorrow Pastor Ron is going to announce his next sermon series is on sex. And it will cause more than a few members in the congregation “to throw up a little in their mouths”. Quote courtesy of his daughter Alicia. Yeah… I see this is one that he will pass on, but I am preaching on Sunday…hmmm…15% growth….hmmmm
Don’t you hate it when all logic tells you that you should not do something, but faith and urging of the Spirit tells you quite the contrary. Yesterday our Session sat and pondered our future as a church. We could continue along and be satisfied with the status quo. Logic tells us that we can get by as a church that way, there is nothing wrong with our little niche we have created in Ventura County. Or we can feel the prompting of the Spirit and acknowledge the doors that are opening before us. It came back to a simple theme: Go Big or Go Home. That theme puts us in a scary place one that may put our very survival as a church at risk, but we are doing what we are called to. How many churches actually get to that point where their survival is on the line in doing the work of Jesus? I can say honestly not many… or at least in the PCUSA. While many non-denominational churches come and go… where they do leave it on the line, in the Presbyterian Church I would say that it is a rarity.As we plan to go big or go home, please keep us in your prayers. A verse has been circulating among the elders today that says: “They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” Exodus 29:46 (NIV)While many can consider us to be stupid or reckless, isn’t that what God calls for us to be in response? Far too often we get rocked into a sense of being complacent and we do not become what we are called to be. That is agents of change and reconciliation in the world. I actually quoted our esteemed moderatorat the Session meeting (and it shows I am a geek). “Nothing is too hard or too wondrous for God.” This definitely going to be a time where we discover who we are. I am excited to tell the story of our church in a couple of years, how God moved this congregation and not us.Pray for us on this journey that we are about to undertake. It is exciting, no doubt about it.
A show that I often watch on the Discovery Channel is called It Takes a Thief. It is about two former burglars breaking into people’s houses and showing them how unsecured their house is. In the end they give them a full security makeover. Sure the premise is to show how to be safe and give great principles on protecting your home. But the flip side it shows how to break into houses. Maybe it can be an alternate career if this whole pastor thing does not work. Or I can be a Tuna Wrangler. All this is showing me is that I watch way too much Discovery Channel.
Anyway, today I helped (not alone) a congregation member “secure” her home. It was interesting going through someones home looking for ways to break in, thus securing it. In a couple of hours we secured the widows and re-keyed the locks, all for under forty bucks. And on a budget too, I got skills there. Something about it was James Bond-esque. Or not. I wonder if I should put that on my resume under “Other Skills”.
Experienced Pastor with skill in preaching, teaching, discipleship, and breaking and entering skills.
Maybe I will leave that out.
As I was driving to Pasadena for class yesterday I had an epiphany moment. I can actually tell you where it happened. Cruising at 20 mph on the 118 Freeway near the Resenda Blvd Exit at 5:30 in the afternoon. Is that enough detail for you? It hit me that my life may be vastly different in the next twelve months. I will graduate from SFTS/SC in ten months, hopefully will pass the rest of the ordination exams in a month, pass the final certification from the Committee on Preparation for Ministry later this year, and be actively seeking a call. This is more than a little exciting but also leaves many balls up in the air that I will be juggling. Not only am I still on staff at Word of Life but need to complete an internship this fall. My prayer is that in the next couple of weeks that it will be wrapped up. This does not even include my Presbytery stuff that I am involved in which is the Chair of the Nominations, a member of the Presbytery Council, and Chair of the Lay Leader Training Institute Steering Committee. Did I also mention that I have a family and a wife that sometimes sees me?Anyway I was not trying to moan and solicit empathy. I know that all that I have gotten involved in was my own doing. As I look to the future I need to form an exit plan for some these activities. If all goes well, most of these activities cannot be left at a whim, but require long term leadership. I need to seriously look at some of the activities and begin to limit my involvement in them. This does not include the church which I serve, but the extracurricular stuff.This is an exciting time for my family and I. It seem that the long journey of the past several years is about to end, and it seems the world is our oyster in many ways. There seems to be different opportunities around us. We could move to Australia and watch the Aborigines, switch my major and become a Physicist like Donald, or maybe find out if it is possible to have an ordained call to a church on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Is that a validated ministry of the PCUSA? The point is that I need to prepare for the next step in ministry while looking to the best interests of the ministries/ organizations/ people I serve. I seem to recall this from a class I had last semester, Supervised Ministry Seminar. While it focused on transitioning out of the internships we served, basic principles apply.By the way, anyone see my wife lately? How is she doing? Just kidding, I saw her this morning.
Jenn and I took several sessions in martial counseling several years ago. It was in a time when I was transitioning out of a church into a seminary. We were worried that the stress could put problems into our marriage and open up conflict. With that knowledge we decided to go to marital counseling on order to strengthen our communication within our marriage among other issues. The times that we went were alright, besides the rather lame exercises we were told to do. But something arose out of it. MY COMPETITIVE NATURE. Your thinking that counseling is not a win or lose exercises, apparently you are not in my head. I often joked who would win or lose in the session. Did I look better than her or was she the better one in that session. I even joked that if I began to lose, I would use the scorched earth policy, which means that I would foul the waters so bad, no one would look good. “If I was going down, so was everyone else”. Needless to say this idea did not sit well with my wife.As I was thinking of this tonight, I was thinking of the church. That we often look at many philosophies, ideas, or ministries as win or lose. And if we start to lose, everyone is going down with me. As I reflect on the previous couple of weeks it saddens me as individual churches and organizations square off against one another in attempt to get their point of view across. We do not need to live in a win or lose world on issues within our denomination, but most of all we do not need to create an atmosphere that is uninhabitable for everyone. Often we forget some of our theology, that has been in my head lately. The Kingdom of God is here but the full realization of it has yet to come. We, the church are the current embodiment the Kingdom, until Christ comes in full glory. Please do not destroy it.