Saturday, March 31, 2007

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lost In Translation


I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine the other day. My friend has never really been that familiar with church, though she is growing to a place where she is getting more involved. Part of her journey is feeling like she needs to be a part of a Christian community and make her commitment to follow Jesus more formal and public.


As I was sharing how that would be done in our church, I came to the point where I felt compelled to share with my friend how to communicate her thoughts and desires to folks if she were to do that. I may have not needed to be a translator, but I think in the end if my friend decides to become a part of our church community what I shared will help her understand how to make that relationship a committed one. "Its sounds to me like you need to say that you have accepted Christ but feel like you want to make a 'profession of faith' and have never done that." Perhaps the reason I felt compelled to explain is because most of the lingo that our church uses here was foriegn to me when I came. As we were talking, I began to wonder, how many people are more than willing to be invested in a Christian community, but have their heart and desires lost in translation of a "Christian culture"?


This is what a lot of the book "They Like Jesus But Not the Church" is about. How do churches and Christians begin to break down barriers that are invisible to them but obvious to those who choose to avoid Christians and churches in the first place.


Something interesting to think about.

Quote for the Day

When we say, "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church," we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church never asks us for forgiveness."


Henri Nouwen
Bread for the Journey


Quoted from "They Like Jesus but Not the Church" by Dan Kimball (p. 246)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Purpose Driven Life


At our church we are just finishing up with the Purpose-Driven Life campaign. All in all it has been a very good experience for us. Worship has experienced a renewed vitality, and having our church all on the same page for several weeks has renewed our committment to one another. (This in spite of several challenges that have been set before us).
I just finished the book as well. I was dreading having to read the book and excited about digging into it at the same time. Most of the dread came from the fact that my theological/intellectual bent sees this book as kind of lowbrow and overly programmatic. Overall though, it was an excellent book and program.
I was especially moved today as I thought about the testimony of Rick Warren's dad as he died, and how he had to be restrained from his bed and desprately wanted to get up and find "one more for Jesus". Wow.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bathroom Humor

WARNING--TMI AHEAD FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

After a couple days of forgetfulness, I had to shop for toilet paper today. My Kleenexes ran out last night. So, between last night and this afternoon, I had to find toilet paper substitutes. Here is my list of substitutes for toilet paper in an emergency(not all of these have been used by me personally). Tell me what you would add to the list if anything.

1. Napkins from to-go restaurant purchases.
2. Dryer sheets
3. Facial Tissue
4. socks with holes in them that need to be thrown away anyway
5. Baby wipes

What else would you add to the list?

Another thought. You need to use the restroom at a place other than your home, and you know that...well...your stomach is upset enough that there are going to be noises, and you need to use the restroom urgently. You also know that there are no fans in the bathroom. What plans do you come up with to cover the noise and the odor of your impending bodily function?

1. Make an excuse to get out and go to the nearest public restroom
2. Run the water in the sink
3. Strive to contol the level of noise of your bodily function through vigorous restraint.
4. Ask to use the bathroom that is furthest away
5. Ask to have the TV volume turned up before you visit the restroom.

What else would you ask to add to the list?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Book Review of Bell's Sex God


I just finished my study of the new Rob Bell book SexGod:Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Sprirituality. All in all, I highly recommend it as a good read.
First of all, I think it is important to note, as Ben Witherington III did, that Bell's writing has greatly improved. Purely for reading sake, I enjoyed reading this book more than I did Velvet Elvis. While Bell's first book has some insightful, helpful words about what he thinks and believes, this book shows the heart of a pastor serving in a congregation of believers that struggle with their sexual ethics and behavior. In a graceful and compassionate way, he lays out what he believes to be a biblical view of sexuality.
Bell uses the word "sex" as a metaphor to communicate our embodied nature, and our desire to connect with one another in deep, meaninful ways. He spends a lot of time discussing romantic and marital relationships, but he also spends a lot of time connecting our ways of relating as sexual, embodied beings to the world around us in platonic, non-genital ways.
He tells some powerful stories, and does a good job at relating things that one would not connect with one another. Whether he is talking about Jessica Simpson and Nich Lachey, or he is talking about a releasing balloons at a wedding ceremony he officiated, he has a way of touching your heart and making you think at the same time.
My favorite chapters are "God wears lipstick", "Worth Dying For" (must read stuff for teen girls), and "Under the Chuppah".
I recommend taking the time to read and think on Rob Bell's new book, which I enjoyed as much if not more than the others.

Diction

I recently talked to someone who wanted to hear me preach. At first, I thought of referring them to our secretary to get a cd from her. Then I remembered that I could also refer them to the website. In the process, i took the time to listen to and critique my own sermon.

My first thought as I listened to the sermon is that I really need more practice in public speaking because I said the word "ummmm" too often, especially at the beginning of the message.

My second thought was that the sound of my own voice bothers me.

My third thought was that my Senior Pastor's advice to pay more attention to the proper use of diction in my speech makes me sound a lot more competent and intelligent in what I am saying. I would say it makes me sound about 10 IQ points higher with than my usual "awww shucks" way of talking.

The power of proper ennunciation, as well as the appropriate accesorizing of ties with one's wardrobe is something I have been paying a lot of attention to on the television news. Who said television is a waste of time?

Quotes for the Day

Some of the most comforting words in universe are "me too."
Rob Bell

Lust promises what it can't deliver
Rob Bell

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quote of the day

To be a disciple is to share in a lifestyle where the cross is the culmination.
John Howard Yoder

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Quote for the Day

The only one's that are afraid are the one's that think they are alone.--
St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Team Process Theory--More learnings about my ministry

Warning: What is written below is written more for me than anyone else. Blogging helps me clarify my thoughts and feelings, and get feedback from people about what is on my heart. If you disagree with me now, I may agree with you tomorrow. If you don't like the way I am thinking through my problems, you are welcome to refrain from reading. But, since this is one of the few venues I have to speak, be heard and be supported outside of my closest friends and family, I plan on continuing to write.

One of the insightful things I have learned about teams at work was about the nature of how teams develop.

The process looks like this:
--Forming
--Storming
--Norming
--Performing

Although not a perfect straightline process, this is a progression from the first to the last part of team development.

A team starts with forming. In the forming stage we get to learn a little bit about one another, what our gifts are, who everyone is, and exactly what our tasks are as we begin to learn together.

Stage two is storming. Sometime after forming a team and getting it going there is almost always a storming period where there is tension or discord in the group. People disappoint one another. We realize that people cannot live up to the idealizations we have set for them, or that they have advertized themselves to be.

What I found interesting about this theory, and I tend to agree, is that all teams have to go through a time of significant storminess and conflict to be a high functioning team. If one avoids conflict and dealing with the storminess, either because of transition (people move on because they don't want to deal with the conflict) or because of avoidance (the team avoids the issue), the team slips back into the forming stage or is perpetually in the storming stage.

So then, if a leader looks at a team that has gotten to know one another, and there is conflict, this conflict should be seen as a blessing. Why? Because the conflict shows that the team is growing. It is moving past the saying and doing what is expected, and beginning to have real movement towards a goal and toward synergy.

It seems central then, that leaders do their best not to avoid conflict. I will admit this is hard for me, especially being in a position where I have little to no power. Conflict often feels like loss to me. I feel very alone in conflict, especially in a church where I am very clearly "the outsider" demographically, in relation to history together, as well as in relation to leadership influence. Nevertheless, conflict should not viewed as disunity. There is no unity without honest disagreement and conflict. Unity is often formed through working through disharmony.

The norming phase seems to be about adapting. Once we have moved through conflict, we become real with ourselves and one another about our limitations and strengths. We seek to support one another, and reorganize our team in a way that seems to be good for everyone.

Once we have normed after the conflict, then we can move on to being a high-performing team.

On our staff at work, and in my youth ministry teams, it seems like we are so eager to avoid conflict that we never really get to the norming stage, much less become high performers. Part of this, I believe in both situations, is due to a high rate of turnover. Since 2000, our church staff has been through 4 youth/associates, 3 children's ministers, 3 secretarys, 2 financial administrators, and we have had to cut 1 visitation minister.

It is also due to our inability as a congregation (including but not exclusive to the people I work with) and as staff to deal with diversity of thought in a productive, proactive manner. We don't know each other well enough on our staff to get to the point where we can empathize and understand one another. And, as we work in this departmental structure of ministry (as opposed to something more intergenerational and wholistic) everyone is scrambling for support for the ministries they were called to lead.

One of the things that has happened here at our church lately is that our congregation has been forced to deal with a lot of storminess. My friend Ken said that he believed that this was a pruning work of Christ's church by the Spirit. I think there is a possibility that the way we have and will respond could make that a reality. But, it will take some hard thinking. It will also force us to confront some difficult decisions that our congregation has not even began to process through.

Will we ever move through our storming phase? I suppose we will have to wait and see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Moving past blaming (even myself)

Last week everything was getting to me. It seemed like one problem was piling onto another with the ministry, and there was no way I was going to climb out from under it with any sort of future. It took me over 20 minutes to get my socks and pants on one morning, and I cried about every day that week (I usually cry once a year or so.)

Things still do not feel like they are going well. But I seem to have gained a little bit of perspective, thanks to a quick lesson on team dynamics and some focused thinking on my time here in this place.

When I came to Colorado Springs I was clear that I needed a strong team around me in order to implement the kind of ministry God was calling me to lead. I emphasized team ministry so much that the Senior Pastor sarcastically asked me if I do anything else. I was assured when I came that we had a team in place to do youth ministry.

When I arrived, it was made clear that I needed to recruit a team of people to commit to working with the youth weekly for the next year in the first week and a half without knowing anyone. Thankfully, we had a middle school sunday school teacher. I was automatically put in with sr. high, and I found a couple of people to work with me.

Of course, I came here after having being told that we had 15 middle school and 25 high school youth attending youth group each week. When I showed up, we had 9 kids for the first outing, and 7 kids for the first month of youth group. That was middle school and high school combined. I don't think the people on the committee lied. Actually, it quickly came to be known that none of those people were directly involved with the churches youth ministry, including the youth representative.

From the start, the ministry I tried to lead had a lot of anger and baggage. In the last 4 years, they had four different people in my position. Two had been asked to leave. One had been a strong leader that did a lot by force of personality, and left after a little more than a year (as most people who do things by force of personality do in youth work). The other was the children's person who had filled in half time in the interim period. As a result, there was an alternative youth group within the church that refused to come along and support the church's offficial ministry. There were powerful parents who were unwilling to support a summer trip to most of the places we looked at. And, we had leaders who from the start tried to run the group themselves. Not to mention, each of the leaders was gone at least 1/4 of the time with the youth group I was leading.

Nevertheless, we gained a few people and grew a little bit in that first year. On our trip, we had people drop out at the last minute, and other people decide they were going to jump in and go for the ride to San Diego. Most of the kids had a good experience, but the adult leadership was difficult to deal with. And, by the end of the first year, one well-monied powerful family was out to run me out of town.

I went on vacation at the end of the summer, came back, and the family that had a difficult time with me blamed it all on my weight and appearance and wanted me disciplined. Even though I led the youth on two major trips that summer (they had done one in the last four years), I was told that I did not fit the image they wanted to project.

So, this along with our children's minister's departure from staff meant that I had to start the team over again. The only folks that really stayed around the whole year were my friend Dan and his future wife Jennifer. Other people we had on board would come along for a couple of weeks and then resign their position in working with the youth. Nevertheless, we grew a little bit more. That summer we had a trip to South Dakota that was a little bit smaller, but it was full of younger teens with a lot of energy.

The next year we transferred our middle school sunday school teacher up to youth ministry. By the fall of that year we had doubled in size from our original 7-9 kids, and we had new teens visiting each week. It felt like we had synergy. Our youth team was also antsy with what was going on with the rest of the church and was pushing a alternative worship service with me leading it. Things felt like we had forward momentum.

Starting in the fall of 2005 the youth team started being more animated about the need for a second worship service. They went to my boss, and each told him seperately that if he did not support the second service and push it forward and advocate for it they were going to leave the church. So, my boss came into the meeting I was leading and basically forced the service ahead in November 0f 2005. I was holding out for making sure we had a core group of leaders and musicians to lead, plan and set up the service to make it a ministry that was going to be viable long term, and not lay on the shoulders of too small of a group. I lost.

The service went from January to May 2006. By May, the core team had gotten burnt out and tired of change not coming fast enough, and they stopped being committed to helping with the service. It died. And with the death of the service, both families began to seek other places to worship. Once again I had to start over with a new team of people. I was devestated by this, but comforted because I seemed to enjoy strong relationships with these friends in spite of their departure. So much so that both couples have stayed committed to the young adult ministry I lead to this day.

Starting in the fall, the worship wars ensued, with the more powerful lobby pushing a more traditional worship agenda. More people left during this time as the worship moved in a less kid friendly direction. In November, in addition to our tug of war about worship, we also began a congregational spat over the homosexuality issue. More families left at this time.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to find people who are willing to committ on a weekly basis. The junior high Sunday school teacher I had lined up to teach after Christmas dropped at the last minute. My service activity leader refused to show up or help plan any service activities. In November, our worship people with youth group left the church and thus could not help with youth group. Last month my small group leader with three children in youth group left the church looking for a larger church with better preaching and a larger youth group. As the second family left I again got the "Its not you...." speech, and they offered to be a reference and explain the difficulties of the challenges I faced to future employers.

At the same time that the homosexuality debate was beginning, one of the couples that had been helping me with youth group decided to return with their teen daughter. As they have returned they have been more and more critical of our youth ministry and my leadership of it because of the loss in numbers.

Last week this all came to a head for several reasons. First, the couple that returned wants to make the youth room into a coffee bar, which would not always be a bad thing. It is, in fact, a really good idea. The problem is, we do not have a cart or anything like it, so it makes our youth area another place where we cannot run and play and goof around (basically like everywhere in our frumpy church). When I disagreed on the location for the coffee bar, they got angry with me and made my whole ministry miserable.

At the same time I had a parent/teen meeting to discuss the future of youth group. In this meeting the parents and teens basically told me that if I was a more charasmatic, exciting leader than everything would work out a whole lot better.

There were a lot of other things going on as well, and it seemed like at the time I was most depressed I had more things piled on my plate to deal with than I could bear. I about just threw in the towel by Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, I had time to reflect. As my girlfriend came over after her staff retreat to work on team development, I had an epiphany. First of all, with my skill set it is extremely hard for me to get things done without a committed team of supporting people around me. I am an intelligent, strong strategic leader with a lot of gifts. I am not the charasmatic,entreprenurial type of person that can make something out of nothing by force of my personality.

I am a plodder who does my best work in a group of people that have been committed to helping me for quite a while. This is why our young adult ministry is sucessful. I have had a consistent weekly team of people doing the same ministry with me for nearly four years.

I am beginning to move past blaming for what has happened, both blaming myself and blaming others. Our church has been falling apart. I have not had a consistent team. Other people have all had their own issues to struggle with and deal with as well.

There is no use blaming myself for the problems at First Baptist. It is not all about me.

There is no use blaming God for sending me to the wrong place. I have to trust.

There is no use blaming the people who could not hack being a long term part of the youth ministry. They each had their own issues.

There is no use blaming people who attack me. The Lord is my shield and defender.

The only option now is to move forward. And to begin to look for what God has for me next, because what it feels like what this church needs right now is someone else besides me.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Signposts

When I was just beginning my service for the kingdom of God while I was stationed in Belgrade, Montana, I had the privilege of serving 9 months with a pastor that was an awful supervisor, and a great mentor and pastor to his congregation. There are several sermons I still remember snippets of from memory of his sermons, which I can say about very few others. One of the sermons I remember best was his last sermon at Belgrade Community Church.

The sermon was based on the last sentence in I John "my little children, keep yourselves from idols". There was a lot about Dosteovesky and the novel the Brothers Karamazov. And, even more memorable, there was a lot about signposts.

In this part of the message, he warned against fads in spirituality, and about trying to build ourselves up into false gods of our own making. He also talked about how really what God has called us to be was signposts. Like John the Baptist in the famous painting where he is working to move to the sideline while pointing to Jesus, Pastor Dave compelled us to believe that we are called to be nothing more than an arrow pointing to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. Like roadsigns along the interstate, we are meant to provide direction for others to find Christ and his kingdom.

As I was rereading this concept from another author and preacher, I began to wonder about how this works in my own spriritual journey. I think about the whole roadsign metaphor, and so often I feel like I am this lowly roadsign announcing an upcoming turn, while surrounding me are larger, brighter and more colorful billboards announcing exciting destinations where people can gamble and put their kids on waterslides. Where once I was a bright and sturdy sign that was brand new, I am now a roadside sign battered by winter storms and peppered with bullet holes from a shotgun on my lower-right corner. These years in Colorado have certainly been the most trying of not only my calling, but of my faith in general.

And lately, I have been wondering, whether to honestly stand strong in the middle of storm after storm, seemingly worse for wear, is actually doing anyone else any good. Does my honesty about what is on my heart commend my faith, or push people away from it? Does my willingness to remain firmly rooted in the storm that seems to perpetually surround the ministry I am a part of make me a more effective signpost, or not?

These thoughts are unfinished, but this is what is on my heart today.