Monday, August 07, 2017

The Day After #2--8.6.17

A fellow blogger used to do this Monday Morning Quarterback kind of thing where he would blog about how worship went the weekend before. I think this might be helpful. Only I am calling mine "The Day After", reminding myself of the apocalyptic movie of my youth. I think I will review with less of a tick-tock and more of a general summary.

The Night Before:
I had the sermon done relatively early this week. I focused on developing a more detailed script for myself of the communion service. I think it worked well. The first two months I was here, I did not get the congregation's way of practicing the Lord's Supper down well. Then, I tried to something more innovative and creative with communion (which leaned on more mainline tradition actually). It did not work as well as I had hoped. This Saturday, I scripted out and went through the traditional format for the church in my mind, clearly spelling out roles and words for myself and my chair of the deacon board. Seemed to go well, and I seemed to be more confident as well. 

The Morning Before:
Part of what I do on a lot of Sundays is review the Powerpoint presentation as a way of practicing my sermon in my head. I make a few notes on my sermon outline in pen/pencil. I write slide numbers to transition to next to points in my sermon. Correct errors or issues. 

Sunday School:
I sat in with this again this Sunday. We are currently using curriculum downloaded from the internet. I would like to get a curriculum in place that is more focused on active learning and standardized with the kids. 

A couple of weeks ago, a couple in the church said they were going to leave the church because I did not greet them often enough before worship. After some effort at patching things up, they were back this week. I made sure I greeted them as quickly as possible. It helped that they arrived a little earlier, and I a little later to the sanctuary.

For our main service, I am really passionate about blended worship. I think as a congregation, our best plan moving forward is to harness our assets as an intergenerational congregation. That means listening to the worship preferences of the old folks and the young folks. Lately we have been singing a hymn with our call to worship as we start off, and then singing praise songs or choruses after the greeting and announcements. I like the flow at this point. It seems to go well. 

Our children's message was well received. 

The sermon seemed to go well too. Because of time constraints, I eliminated some things about Jonah from the sermon that I can pick up at other points in the study.

I have been working at getting down from the platform and on to the floor as I deliver my message, This is at our executive minister's recommendation. I think it seems to go well. 

We had a liturgical dance meditation leading us into communion. That seemed to flow well.

Communion went better than it has since I have been here. I think it was because of  prayer,  a more scripted plan, and clear communication with folks beforehand.

I would like to have a second table placed on the floor in the front of the sanctuary with the elements placed on it so our deacons don't have to walk back, pick up, drop off, pick up again from the back of the sanctuary.

After Worship

We gave a former associate pastor a tour of our residence. He and his family used to live there. They enjoyed seeing how things had changed. I enjoyed hearing stories of what happened in the house.

We had dinner with folks in our church again. It was a great lunch.

I visited a senior in our church. She wanted to give me her dog since she could no longer have it. Turns out, after lengthy discussion with other family members, the dog would not be good with the kids.

The dog issue created a little rift between myself, some folks in the congregation, and our family. My family wants a dog. Members of our church want the parsonage to be a pristine little show home as they just remodeled it, and some members don't see pets fitting into the vision for the home they want us to live in. Other folks, including me, think a parsonage, even after a remodel, is meant to be lived in with a family and including pets. I'm sure this will come up again.

The church seemed more full this week, but attendance was down. That was discouraging.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

On Being Patient

When I was a kid, I fished a lot. I would get home from school, grab my fishing pole, and head down to the river to fish until dinner time (The world was a lot safer place forty years ago). Fishing was always a challenge for me. I was and am not the most patient person. In addition to this, I was very eager to catch fish. I was always wondering if I had a fish on. Every current and every snag felt like it could be a potential nibble on my pole. I would set my hook and start reeling my line in. And there would just be a poor, traumatized little worm on the end of my line. After a while, I added a bobber to my line and learned to trust it. Even more though, I learned that when a fish bit my line, I knew it. I may have thought I felt a bite before, but when the fish hit my bait, my pole would show the evidence and my hands would feel it.

Right now it is hard to patient as I seek to lead and grow this church. I know we need to take steps forward. We have even taken a few. Yet, as Jesus said, reaching out and living on mission for him is a lot like fishing. I keep hoping that I will be successful in growing our church. On the other hand, I know I need to be patient to respond to his timing and not my own. I will keep seeking the right holes to fish in, and I will pray that when God's timing is leading us in a specific direction, I will know it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Day After #1--Reflections on Sunday

A fellow blogger used to do this Monday Morning Quarterback kind of thing where he would blog about how worship went the weekend before. I think this might be helpful. Only I am calling mine "The Day After", reminding myself of the apocalyptic movie of my youth. I think I will review with less of a tick-tock and more of a general summary.

The Night Before
I am preaching in a different way than I ever have before while here at FBC North Platte. I am not sure that it is working, although my wife says it is.

Until about 2 years ago, I was generally a manuscript preacher. This means that I wrote out my entire sermon. I was trained to use sermon manuscripts in seminary, and Jene Bridgewater was one of my preaching mentors, and she always used a manuscript (usually finished an hour before worship).

Over time, I began to experiment with an outline that was shaped like a bulletin, and was only one page long. The first column visible was a cover, and the next three columns were the outline for the sermon. This allowed for a more conversational style, and more eye contact with persons in the congregation. I have continued this practice in North Platte.

When I came to North Platte, I prayed about what to preach, and I repurposed some sermons that had outlines with them. Now, after 6 months, the congregation likes to have a note-taking outline each Sunday. Sigh.

With this outline, a Powerpoint is also expected for the message. This had been the case for some of my sermons in Hot Springs, but when there were Powerpoint notes, they often were my sermon notes as well.

When I started this three part routine, I began by trying to put together the preaching outline first, and then derive my bulletin outline and Powerpoint from the prepared message. Lately this has turned around. I develop the Powerpoint and the bulletin outline first, and then draft the preaching outline the evening before, having it derived from how I put together the other two versions of the sermon. I think this works well.

This last week, knowing that people occasionally have a hard time knowing where we are in the bulletin outline, I took the bulletin outline of the message, and expanded on that with other material to flesh out the sermon. This seems to be a better process than vise versa, and the three-fold approach helps me to be more familiar with the material

Sunday School
I am sitting in with the children's class. I want to make kids ministry a priority here, even if we don't have a lot of kids yet. And, it avoids have to choose one adult class over another, or having to bounce around from class to class. It also allows us to use the two-adult rule.

We use an "internet" curriculum. It is not bad, but I think, as far as curriculum goes, we can do better. Especially if we want to grow the program.

I am still figuring out worship here at First Baptist. Historically, the service has been rather formal and somewhat traditional. Recently, there has been some movement toward contemporary worship and a more informal organization of the service. This more contemporary part of the service has been well done for the most part, but it is hard to sustain the momentum and depend on this every Sunday.

This last Sunday was a perfect example. We had nobody available for praise team. We attempted to have a mix between a more formal, scripted service and a less formal service with limited information. As we make changes, people still struggle to adapt. And I struggle to adapt to their "structure", and make it something comfortable for me.

There were hiccups, and not everything we tried worked (especially the children's song on video). Eventually we will get to a place ( I hope) where I don't feel like I am trying to implement other folks' vision for worship while also trying to do something that fits what I feel comfortable with.

The Sermon
People here in North Platte are Midwestern reserved. So I never really know how it is going. There are lots of times I feel like going to a manuscript would help me to craft my words better. And keep in better step with people's note-taking efforts.

I tend to move around a lot with my messages these days. I am not sure how that is working either. In the last three weeks, in part out of a recommendation from my Executive Minister, I try and make my way from the platform, down the stairs, to the floor, and then back up to the pulpit before I finish.

Even as I preach with notes, I tend to look at my notes less. This means that there are times the sermon does not flow the way it was planned, but it makes for a more heart-felt conversation between myself and the church.

I had a senior-pastor that discouraged the conversational tenor of my messages, telling me I could do conversational preaching if I wanted, but it would not work and it would not last very long. I always have that in the back of my head.

The sermon was on the armor of God. I finished the message with the refrain "Are you ready for the battle? Are you ready?"

After Worship
We had folks over for lunch. We are trying to be hospitable, and to teach the church to be the same way by setting a good example.

It was a good time, although toward the end of the dinner I got to speaking to much and listening to little. Which meant some of the other folks were eager to leave sooner than they might have been otherwise. Not a bad thing. I just need to reign myself in and facilitate a broader dinner conversation.

I like having people over for meals. And, practicing hospitality is something Scripture tells us to do.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Beginning to Blog Again

I started blogging for three reasons. First and foremost, I needed the practice in writing, and having the discipline of developing an online journal would help in that process. Secondly, I wanted a way of recording my thoughts and opinions in an articulate way before they escaped me. Third, before Facebook was open to the public, blogging offered a unique way to network socially.

Since December 2004, I have slowly dropped off in my writing production on Friar Tuck's. Part of this is due, I am sure, to the rise of social networking. I am also confident that part of this lack of blogging discipline is due to different priorities in my life from when I started the practice. However, another reason is that I have not done as well at time-management and reflection to have this as a priority.

Also, the nature of blogging has changed. In the early days of this blog, it was highly confessional. That was a good thing and led to some raw, honest, powerful conversations. As my ministry profile has increased, and my personal life has expanded, it has been harder to share more openly about what is going on in my life. Moderation is good. Just like our President doesn't need to tweet his every thought, I don't need to blog all of mine.

However, I do feel convinced that my personal journey and my ministry journey will be benefitted if I choose to blog more often. So I am going to try and make at least one post a day for the next month or so, and see if I can make blogging into the powerful tool for intellectual growth and professional development that it once was.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review of Teach Us To Want by Jen Pollock Michel

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Teach Us to Pray: Longing. Ambition, and the Life of Faith
by Jen Pollock Michel
ISBN 978-0-8308-4312-1
IVP Crescendo
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I actually finished this book about a year ago. I then had the distinct privilege in going to a presentation about the book by the author. I have been very impressed. even though I am just getting around to writing the review.

Teach Us to Pray is a wonderful, readable, and also intellectually powerful study of the Lord's Prayer as a prayer that trains our desires. Deeply conversational and confessional in nature, Michel takes the Lord's Prayer step by step, at times leading her readers toward conviction of their sinful and unhealthy desires, and at times positively encouraging the readers, reminding them that God made human beings to be desiring creatures.

Throughout Teach Us to Pray Michel reflects and tells stories well. The book is very quotable, and so at the bottom of this post, I will have some quotes I have harvested from the book. Although written by a woman for a line of books directed at women, the book is easy to connect to for people of both genders.

This book deserves to be read for years to come.

"We pray best when we need God most" (p. 197)

"Holiness is formed in us more unspectacularly and more incrementally than we expect--wherever the practice of small everyday faithfulness is required of us" (p. 198)

"Storytelling and story keeping: these are acts of faith. They preserve faithfulness." (p. 189).

"We easily dismiss desire, arguing that the goal of Christian life is obedience" (p. 23).

"The Bible is not just information about God: It is the living voice of God" (p. 47).

"Holy trust believes that whatever God chooses to give is enough" (p. 84)

"To say that God is good is not the same thing as saying that life is good." (p. 101)

"Clarity and certainty are not the soil in which faith grows." (p. 112).

"Desire expressed in prayer risks on grace" (p. 118).

"In asking for God's provision we're admitting our inability to self-sustain" (p. 127).

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?