Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review of Faithful Presence by David E. Fitch


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Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission
by David E. Fitch
IVP Praxis
ISBN 978-0-8308-4127-1
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Right before I moved, I received the book Faithful Presence from IVP Press. After I moved here to North Platte, I also received a copy of this book from our Executive Minister Robin Stoops. It has taken me a while to carefully read through this book, but I have finally finished the text.

The central idea of Faithful Presence is that there are seven spiritual practices that simultaneously promise God's presence and lead us into a missional presence in our world. Each one of the practices promises that God will "show up" as we live out and share these disciplines. The practices are:


  • The Discipline of the Lord's table
  • The Discipline of Reconciliation
  • The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel
  • The Discipline of Being with the Least of These
  • The Discipline of Being with Children
  • The Discipline of Fivefold Gifting
  • The Discipline of Kingdom Prayer
Fitch then goes on to share a model for living the disciplines as the church in three realms:

  • Close circles: Believers in Christian community (the church) submitted to Christ and one another
  • Dotted circles: Believers in the neighborhood submitted to Christ and one another as they live their faith outside of church buildings or the safety of a "holy huddle".
  • The half circle: Where the Christian and christian community goes out into the world as a guest, seeking to live and share the presence of God in that space
I found this book powerful, intellectually stimulating, and believe it will be a significant text in how the church seeks to live on purpose in the world to reach the world for years to come. Eschewing quick fix programs at every opportunity, this book shares values and attitudes believers should embrace in their life together, and as they seek to live on mission in their community and world. Biblically grounded, culturally wise, and pragmatically astute, Fitch lays a foundation for church's in the future that is based on historical models of Christian community and outreach, without embracing traditions and structures that have hamstrung Western Christian mission in recent years.

This is a must read for pastors, church leaders, and followers of Jesus seeking to live their lives in a way that grounds them deeply in their faith, and empowers them to multiply their faith as well.

Our deacon board is studying this book together right now, and seeking to move forward in ministry and mission with the guidance it provides.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Shoptalk: Funerals are different wherever you go....

I am preparing my first memorial service for a member of our church here at First Baptist Church of North Platte, NE. As I do so, I am reminded that different places do things radically different based on the region of the country, the size of the congregation, the size of the community, and the culture of the people that make up the church and the community.

Here are some of the differences:

Reading of the Obituary
Some people think this is necessary in a service, and some people do not. They like or dislike this tradition for the same reason. I think the history of it stems from a melding of the secular and sacred, with the reading of the obituary being an official secular announcement of death. Much like when ministers would say, "by the power vested in me by the state of _____________"

Procession with the Body
This sometimes was dependent on the nature of the facility. In certain churches, this has to be done immediately following the service. Then people can be greeted and visit. Other churches process the body to the back of the sanctuary, often in an overflow area. Others have released the crowds of folks, and brought the body to hearse well after the service. One church I served in, for example, processing with the body was difficult because stairs had to be navigated.

The Funeral Home
These folks all have a different way of operating from one another in relation to pastors and churches. Some places are low on capital funds, and so they insist in having the family of the deceased write personal checks to musicians, pastors, and church ladies for the church service. Others make that kind of thing a part of their package deal. Some funeral homes like having pastors present with the family as they meet with them. Several do not.

Funeral Meal
In some places, a church plans to prepare a meal for nearly everyone in town. Another congregation only allows folks who are family and who are serving with the funeral staff. Some prepare elaborate meals for everyone. Others buy Subway sandwiches and provide side dishes and deserts that are homemade. One church I served prepared "open-faced sandwiches" prepared by church ladies. Still others simply offer a cookie and beverage reception.

There are several other differences I can't think of. What variations have you noticed?

Monday, May 15, 2017

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 The difference between stubbornness and perseverance is discernment. I had a friend who was stubborn. He kept working jobs that net little to know income. He wouldn't listen to anyone. He argued with his wife, yelled at his kids, and constantly strove to get ahead. But, he put blinders on. He thought that if he kept doing the same thing the same way eventually it would work, even though it never worked. I feel bad for him.

 I know another person. He had a dream. People mocked him. Progress was slow at first. People worried about him. He had his failures. However, he learned from his failures and pressed on. He was tenacious. Eventually, despite everyone's doubts, he experienced success. He persevered. Sometimes you need to know when to quit. Sometimes you need to have the grit to press on. Things I have been thinking about with some recent reading I have been doing.

More Hemmingway, less Dickens

One of the things that I have enjoyed about being at First Baptist Church of North Platte is the increased level of participation of lay people in worship leadership. Lay people choose and lead praise songs. They lead the hymn singing and make the announcements. Members of the church do the offering, take greater responsibility for the Lord's Supper, and do missions presentations during worship.
Our order of worship is generally less formal than the church I arrived here from. However, one of the few portions of our service that is "scripted" is the offering and the offering prayer. During each service, there is an introduction to the offering that serves as a "mini-devotion" exhorting folks to give. One of my predecessors has years of these things typed up. Sometimes I borrow his work. Other times I borrow from my liturgical resources, drawing out the invitation to the offering and the offering prayer. I find in both cases, I edit the texts I am given. This is because, I believe in worship resources, we need more Hemmingway and less Dickens.
A lot of worship resources use large words and long sentences. They write in an intelligent fashion, but not in a way that connects as clearly with the everyday person in the pew. So, when I transcribe many of these resources in the last few months, I am changing high rent words into language that is more common. I am chopping up longer sentences into shorter more succinct ones. I am exchanging flowery language for more earthy words. We need less Dickens, and more Hemmingway.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When Things Don't Go the Way You Had Hoped

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I left worship a little frustrated last week. I tried to lead folks toward doing something new in worship. It did not work as I had planned, desired, or expected.  We thought we had our bases covered, but people behaved in a way I did not anticipate. Folks I had hoped to earn the support of were mildly disappointed. I spent the last few days feeling bad. I think I am over it now. 

How do you respond when you do something different, and it doesn't "flow"? Do you abandon the project, deciding that we have tried this once, it did not work, and we will never try anything like that again? Do you consider that new routines are more difficult, and try again with some adaptations again the next opportunity you have? Do you beat yourself up for days, or realize that bumps in the road are part of the journey? 

God has given me a more tenacious and stubborn temperament. So, I would generally opt to try again, making improvements in communication and design that are necessary. Often changes like changing a golf grip, establishing a new health routine, or trying communion a different way require going through the awkward phase of trying something new before things feel like they work and fit. There is a part of me that says to myself in moments like these--moments when things don't go as planned and people complain--that I should abandon new experiences and the possibility of failure and stick to what has always been done. 

 How do you respond to moments like these in your life? Do you try again, or chose to abandon your effort to try something new?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review of the Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile


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The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
by Ian Michael Cron and Suzanne Stabile
ISBN 978-0-8308-4619-1
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I read this book about 6 months ago, and it has been marinating in my mind since then.

Prior to reading this book, I was never a big fan of the enneagram. The first reason for this aversion was I associated "enneagram" with "pentagram". The second was the way the enneagram was used in circles that were spiritually insightful, but had no adherence to Christian teaching.

After reading The Road Back to You by Cron and Stabile, I have both an educated understanding of the true history of the enneagram, and greater knowledge of the enneagram's usefulness to personal development. The enneagram was developed by a Christian teacher named Evagrius, whose development of the enneagram corresponded to helping people avoid one of the seven deadly sins that was most closely related to their personality type. Since then, this tool has been used by spiritual seekers across faiths and around the world. Lately, social scientists have begun to do their own work with this inventory of personality analysis. Some of their work has been fruitful.

So the enneagram journey teaches you to own your strengths, while also acknowledging that one's gifts and strengths have a "dark-side" that requires growth and work to overcome. The internet tests and some of my friends I trust say they believe I am a 5. That may be correct, perhaps with a 6 wing.

If this is correct, it would mean that I would have to confront the fact that some people think of me as more detached, that often I will experience my emotional responses hours or even days after the emotional trigger has been pulled by someone (I had an employee I supervised who referred to this as being a "crock-pot" thinker). Also, I may have a tendency toward a "scarcity" mentality.

This book has some growth steps and helpful description of each personality type. It also has some helpful anecdotes that will give readers a mental picture of what each personality type may look like in real life situations.

All in all, I thought Cron and Stabile were both intelligent and down to earth, informative and engaging. I am eager to hear what others I know of think of this text.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Testing the Waters: Haphazardly intentional preaching in a new place

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These first few months at North Platte, as in most churches, I am trying to get a read for the congregation, the community, and my fit here. Most churches think most other churches are the same as them. The truth is, each pastorate, each pastor, each congregation, and each congregational culture are a lot different. And, while there are some common skills that transfer across settings, each church ministry is unique. Each church I have served had a different way of doing accounting, a different leadership structure, a different facility for worship with different resources. 

As most of my regular readers know, I think of ministry as more of an art than a technology. So while there are disciplines to effective ministry, it is also a matter of improvisation, feel, connection, expression, and relationship. 

Right now, in North Platte, I am working through a sermon plan that may be a little haphazard, but is also thoughtful, intentional, and purposeful. I am testing the waters as I sure up some foundational matters of life together and of faith in Christ.

For the first month, I preached a series called "Coming Home". It was based on a series I worked through before, but with a lot of modifications. The plan through this series was to lay the groundwork for some core principles for doing church well. Through this series I reminded the congregation that they were to be a congregation of radical grace and forgiveness, that they were to be a "family" on a mission for Christ, and that in order to fulfill that mission and grow in their journey with Christ they needed to stay connected to him.

This month, I have been preaching through the Lord's Prayer. This has a multi-pronged goal. First, I want to have something practical to connect with folks. I want them to reclaim their heritage as a praying church. I want to remind the church of the kingdom values that they have. And, in a more practical sense, I want to have a sermon series that is both topical and exegetical.

After Easter, I am looking at crafting a sermon series based on the book of Ephesians. This continues the themes of a church on mission, and of victorious Christian living, but also allows the church to experience a series that is strictly "bible to life". Ephesians calls us to resurrection living, but also reminds us that we are living in a spiritual struggle between darkness and light, and that our loyalties, commitments, and decisions have not only personal implications, but implications beyond what we can think of imagine.

This allows me to continue to "sure up the foundations" through preaching, but also allows me to develop three sermon series' of different types to see how the church hears and responds to the gospel most effectively.

What about you? How do you approach the preaching task in new settings? What expectations of and aspirations of others do you come with?