Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Change Your Bookmarks and RSS Feeds

I'm resurrecting this blog and moving it to a new website:


Look for new posts in the new year!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thanks to Leonard Sweet for this idea:

One woman uses her celebrity to draw attention to global poverty and has adopted a child from a third world country.

One man formed one of the most explosively successful anti-poverty organizations in the Western world and who reminded lawmakers in Washington D.C. that:

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.[1]

Another man lives without refrigerator, trash, or electricity in the middle of New York City, so as to better respect the environment.

Can you guess who they are?

Angelina Jolie. Bono. Colin Beavan.

How many are Christian?

None of them.

Angelina Jolie doesn’t practice any religion. Bono is a lapsed Christian who is not involved with a church. Colin Beavan is a non-practicing Jew.

Where are the churchgoing Christians in this picture of courageous witness?

Still thinking?[2]

If God can’t use the church for God’s work, God will use the world.

[1] This is from Bono's speech to the National Prayer Breakfast.

[2] Here are a few names: (there are distressingly few): Jim Wallis, Shaine Claibourne.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Post-Wedding Thoughts

It's been a wonderful past four weeks, since Melissa and I got married. We received generous gifts and thoughtful messages and the love we felt from those who surrounded us was one of the best parts of the post-wedding experience.

In many cases, it was clear that people had given something of themselves. We received a couple paintings, several personalized gifts (a clock, etc.), and a few photos that were taken by our givers.

For instance, Marion Fuller, who I have known from church since I was a little kid, gave us a set of salad bowls.

They were made by her husband Harley, who passed away just a little while ago. She wrote in her note that "this was the only set that he made...he would have wanted you to have them".

These gifts are tangible reminders of community as we enter our married lives together. Every time I see them, I give thanks for the wonderful community God has blessed us with.

An Article

Hello Everyone,
I know this isn't an update so much as it is shameless self-promotion, but if you're online today, check out umc.org. If you log on later during the week, check out this link and then give me feedback!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MIA- Wedding

Quick bullet point update on my life

1) Life is good, but crazy- less than four weeks to go before the wedding. Melissa and I were at a high school friend's wedding this weekend, and it was a very "real" moment for both of us. As you might imagine, both stress and excitement are definitely up.

2) I finished the final Harry Potter today and really enjoyed it- thought it was the best book of the series. (And, for those of you who haven't read it and plan to, that's all I'll say!)

3) Wedding planning is also stressful- I finish up tuxes and hopefully finalize the service this week, and then have tons of details to wade through in the next 3.5 weeks.

4) Needless to say, blogging is not the top priority for me now, unless I can do it in ten minutes or less, so expect me to reemerge more once August 18th is past!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned

And not posted for a full 22 days. Quick update on my life:

1) Annual Conference was wonderful- Melissa and I did two postmodern-y presentations, one on the shift from modernity to postmodernity and the church's response and the other on emerging worship. Despite being given the worst slots available, we did relatively well in terms of attendance, with 12 coming to our presentation on postmodernity (despite it being directly before the ordination service) and 40 coming to our presentation on emerging worship.

2) The Generation X/Y Conference, as I have mentioned before, was utterly wonderful- thanks to Cameron, Laura, Amy, (who are all online, so I have to mention them to make them happy), and all the other fantastic people who made it one of the best conferences I've ever been to. I have to write an article for GBHEM about it, which should be completed this week- I'll post it here once it's completed.

3) We sinned horribly and got another bookcase, a dish rack, two sets of plates and bowls, an office chair, the largest candle I've ever seen, and a small deep freeze for about $300 (oops!). That would have been the case except for the small detail that we actually got it all at garage sales, and made out like bandits, getting all of the above for about $40.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why I've Disappeared

Not a good idea to have links driving traffic (like a whole extra 12 people to your blog!) and then not post. In my defense, my computer's monitor has decided to stop working and so had to be sent back to the Repair Gods of IBM for fixing. Naturally, my notes from the conference, e-mails, and life are stuck on a now impotent hard drive. Hopefully, this will be a temporary condition!

Friday, May 25, 2007

5/24-5/25 Gen X/Y

A quick post today, I'll try to post again tonight, once everything wraps up. What a fantastic conference! Doug and Tim are absolutely fantastic and this event has provided a great deal of clarity for me as I continue with my discernment process about church planting.

A few quotes that I've cut and pasted from my notes (and then off to lunch):

“We have detached our imagination from our faith”- Tim Keel

“Our brand of Christianity has been hard on faith because faith involves imagination, dreaming and seeing things that…we had before not been able to see.” - Tim Keel

“I don’t think there’s a more exciting time to be alive than today. I think that for the past millennium and a half, the church has power…Now, for the first time ever, we’re contesting what it means to be Christian in the world.”- Tim Keel

“We need a broader narrative about what God’s doing in the world that’s not differentiated by sacred and secular.”- Tim Keel

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another Lesson in Balding E

Another Lesson in Blogging Etiquette: Do Not Mention the Folically Disadvantaged Head of a Presenter, Especially If He Has a Google Tool Which E-mails Him Every time His Name Is Mentioned In A Blog. (It's Probably Not a Good Idea to do Self-Psychoanalysis Either)

P.S. And in case said presenter, (who by the way is a fantastic, wonderful, awesome, amazing pastor) visits my humble site yet again, I hereby retract my "baldness" comment, especially in light of the steady retreat of my own hairline, which will no doubt have disappeared, along with my hair, by the time I approach his age, judging by my genetics. (In case he's wondering, I'm not calling him old, not even "chronologically advantaged".)

P.P.S. And if he'll still talk to me after said sarcastic post, then I must be a lot more likable than I thought! :)

5.24.2007 Gen XY Conference Mid-Day

First, let me officially send a gloating smirk to my friends, Matt and Farrah, and my fiancée, Melissa, who are not at this incredible conference that is setting my mind on fire as we speak. It’s going to take me weeks, (if I retain anything in my sleepy daze) to process everything I’m hearing. What a fantastic conference!

Notable Quotes from Doug Pagitt this Morning

“Fear is powerful, but is just doesn’t motivate. Possibility has to motivate us.”

“There is no acultural Gospel or Good News, there is only Good News within a context.”

“Every place is as suitable for the Gospel as any other.”

"Truth is always played out in a situation."

Gen X/Y Conference Wednesday, May 23rd

Time I Awoke (Arkansas Time): 3:20 AM

Time I Spent In Transit: 11 Hours

People I Met On the Plane: Claudia, Freddie, and Isabella (who is 11 months old and remarkably well behaved) Martinez

Time I Arrived At the Mount Sequoyah Retreat Center: 3:00PM

Time the Conference Was Supposed to Start: 3:30 PM

Time It Actually Started Due to the Inevitable United Methodist “Technical Difficulties”: 4:15PM

Presenters: Tim Keel (The bearded, earringed, long haired pastor of Jacob’s Well in Kansas City)

Doug Pagitt (The balding, wispy-goateed, completely real pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis)

The Content of Our “Worship Experience”: 2 Songs, 1 Sermon, Communion, and 1 Song (Which depending on whether you like cookie-cutter contemporary or not, was either heaven or hell)

Time I Began to Lose It Due to Lack of Sleep and Excessive Extroversion: 5:30PM

Time I Ended Up in Conversation With Doug Pagitt: 6:00PM

Number of Times I Unwittingly Spilled Out My Angst Regarding My Discernment Process To A Crowd Of People: One

Number of Times Doug Pagitt was Around When I Did That: One

Number of Conference Presenters Who Now Think I’m Crazy, Uber-Intense, and a Little Bit Troubled: One

Number of Times I Now Wish That I Had Kept My Bloody Mouth Shut Until I Got a Full Night’s Sleep: Beyond count

Memorable Quotes From the Day:

Tim Keel on Losing His Faith: “I wasn’t losing the content of my doctrine, I was losing my way of life”

Tim Keel on Seminary Education: “I felt like I was being trained and going into deep debt for a world that didn’t exist” (And I completely agree with him!)

Tim Keel on Church Ministry: ““The Church has loads of organizations, but don’t have enough organism”

Doug Pagitt on Living the Christian Life: “I got into Chrisitanity thinking that I was going to be a full participant” and ““If I’m going be a Christian, I’m going to be one fully and completely, I’m not going to outsource any part of it”

Amount of Sleep I Got Last Night: 9.5 Utterly Comatose Hours

Hopes For Thursday: To Be Slightly Less Crazy Than Yesterday

I’ll post a midday update if I get a chance.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wow...It's Been Way Too Long

Hello Everyone,

To my 30 or so readers, sorry for my absence...I have no good excuse, although a lot of good reasons for not being around, like reaching the end of school, renting an apartment, and having some computer issues. So, very briefly, a quick update on my life.

1) Wedding planning continues apace, the rest of the save the date cards will go out this week and we're putting together the details for our reception this week.

2) I start my job as music director and (very) part time youth pastor at Trinity UMC and Monroe Community Church on June 3rd.

3) Melissa and I have rented our first apartment at Birchview Gardens, (I'll stay in it now, Melissa will move in during August).

Also, I will be blogging daily (perhaps even twice a day) in a couple weeks from the Generation X/Y Event, which will be led by Tim Keel and Doug Paggit, who are two of the top pastors in the country when it comes to engaging with postmodernity. Come check it out! Bring your friends!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gifted and Graced

I remember, going through the candidacy process for ministry, (although whether it was in the official material or not I cannot remember,) a lot of discussion about whether one possessed the "gifts" and "graces" for ministry: gifts being those things that come easily to us, that are blessed and magnified by God in our calling, and graces, those things that perhaps did not come easily to us, but are given to us by God to help fulfill our calling. (For some reason, I don't think this is what the UMC meant by this, but it made sense at the time to my teenage mind.)

This phrase has captured my attention over these past few months, as I continue to recover from a year-long relapse with my chronic illness and at the same time discerning whether or not I am called to plant a church.

Unfortunately, although I would like to be of normal health, I'm not, nor will I ever be. Chances are, the place I'm at now: about 80% of normal physically and not being able to do more than 35-40 hours of work a week without serious repercussions is where I'll be for the rest of my life. Getting in better shape, learning to stick with a routine, and getting extra rest will help, but it will not significantly change my physical capacity to do work over the long term.

Based on this, it looks like church planting would, not be a great option for me. (For that matter, full time pastoral ministry wouldn't look like a great option either.) Church planting involves very high levels of stress, 80 hour workweeks, and few (if any) breaks for rest, especially as the church is getting off the ground.

And still, in spite of this, I still feel a tug to continue discerning in this path, and I will be faithful to that. Ultimately, I believe that if God calls me, then God will grace me with the strength necessary to respond, whether that be through miraculous healing, job sharing, or a setting that can work with my physical limitations. And, if this means that I am not called to church planting, then God will call me to a ministry that will be even more deeply meaningful than the path I'm on now.

I think that we often forget, as a church, that in order to accomplish truly remarkable things, we must trust in God, and we must be willing to risk: in our ministry, in our personal lives, in our finances, in our expectations, and trust that God will carry us., even if we can't see how.

This is certainly one of those times for me.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Holy Week

Every pastor-blogger would understand why I've been mysteriously absent this week- the grueling marathon commonly known as Holy Week. For laity, it is chock full of wonderful worship services, easter eggs, easter dinner, and generally a good (or at least meaningful) time all around. For pastors, it is a long endurance test, at least four services (Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, and Easter), several sermons, high pressure, and a lot of late nights.

To round up my Holy Weeks stats:
10.5 hours driving, 3 nights getting to bed at 11:30 or later (not by choice), one prayer group, four services, three practices, 10 songs led on Easter morning, and countless cups of tea.

I am simply thankful that I've survived. Once I've recovered, I'll post something more.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Professors Should Blog

If anything has inspired, amused, and occasionally annoyed me at seminary, it is that so many professors are under the impression that their ideas can change the world. I've read countless articles and books implying that if people really believed what the author believed about (insert relevant theology/methodology/interpretation here) then the church would be saved, oppression ended, and the world redeemed.

Unfortunately, most of them have chosen a very clunky and cumbersome way to proclaim their message: books. The process of publishing a books (especially an aspiring PhD's student's first book) takes in the neighborhood of five to ten years, and its end result is often so expensive and esoteric that only academic libraries and other professors in the same field can afford to buy it. (And, if it gets really successful, then perhaps it gets foisted off on a few unsuspecting college/grad students as well!) Therefore, the reach of most academic books, (unless they are absolute dynamite) is extremely limited, measured in the tens of thousands, or perhaps even the hundreds of readers, rather in millions.

So I wonder, if professors care so much about their ideas, if they believe, that their ideas can change the world, then why not blog about them?

Blogs carry with them several sizable advantages over books:

1) They're cheap- anyone with a computer can write one, anyone with a computer can read one, without having to shell out $50-$150 for the privilege.

2) They're contemporary- if a burning issue comes up, then you can write about instantly, rather than having to wait 5-10 years to get a book published (at which point it is automatically outdated.)

3) Their success based on merit- If (and I admit, this is a big "if"), you engage with other blogs and post interesting, compelling material, then people will read your work. It doesn't require a PhD, a slick proposal, or connections with a publishing house to get your ideas out there.

4) Their potential audience is gigantic- An academic book reaches a very small subsection of the population (measured in the tens of thousands), a successful blog could reach millions.

Granted, there are some drawbacks. Blog posts don't lend themselves too long, complicated, interconnected arguments. However, with the advent of easy to make e-books, or even publishing on demand, it is still possible to disseminate more complex academic works to a wide audience. (In fact, blogging provides a built-in customer base for any would-be book author.)

Therefore, may I suggest to all the professors reading this post (of which I believe there might be one, who is already online here), if you truly care about disseminating your ideas, blog!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Liberal Tolerance Is A Lie

I was sitting in class this evening, and someone brought up a book that a lot of us were reading in a separate class, Purpose Driven Church. Immediately, almost everyone gasped in horror and disgust (someone even made the symbol of a cross at the book!) The passage in question, Rick Warren’s suggestion of starting worship with an upbeat song (never mind that most mainline churches do that) became the symbol of all that was wrong with evangelicalism- shallow, demanding only a one time commitment, and giving no impetus for long term discipleship. At the end of the conversation, the book symbolized everything wrong with all those big churches and those conservative pastors: it was “manipulative”, “shallow”, “boring”, and “irrelevant” for mainline ministry.

This was blatant, first class, shameless, theologically fundamentalist stereotyping. In the end, for many of my classmates, Rick Warren’s conservatism invalidated everything he said about pastoral leadership. Furthermore, their criticisms willfully ignored huge stretches of the book where Rick Warren talks about member’s rigorous discipleship training program (which would put most of our mainline churches to shame) or where he notes that his chapter on worship primarily refer to “seeker services”, which are geared exclusively for non-Christians, while members get a service with more depth later in the week.

I am not surprised by this episode, but I am disappointed. It’s a shame that my classmates, who have been lectured by liberal professors time and time again to “read a text in its entirety” and to “not prooftext”, have just willfully done exactly that.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve seen this happen at Drew. (And if you talk to any conservative student at my school, they can tell you stories about the times they’ve been stereotyped or even demonized by other students and professors.)

Oh well, so much for that much vaunted liberal tolerance.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Churches often encourages their leaders, especially their pastors, to be culturally static. The pastor is expected to dive head first into the church’s little universe- their social circles, their traditions, their activities. Many pastors take this leap for what seem like good reasons:

1) Why take time getting to know non-Christians in the community when I can spend time building relationships with the people who will support my ministry (and pay my salary)?

2) Why listen to “secular” music (or for that matter, engage with secular media of any type) when I can fill my heart and mind with music that will bring me closer to God?

3) Why participate in activities in the larger community (e.g. school board, community theater, rec-league sports, etc.) when the church needs my help for their programs (e.g pot luck suppers, family fun night, meetings, etc.)

This thinking entails that ministers have little contact with the outside. Their perspectives get warped. Inch by inch, they begin to think that their church members are the norm for the wider community: that everyone knows what words like “doxology” or “benediction” means, that activities beloved by the church will appeal deeply to the unchurched, that advertisements and promotions that resonate with our church members will touch the wider community as well.

If we, as the church, are primarily concerned about engaging the community for the sake of transformation, then this is a deadly rut. Seth Godin, who I have blogged about before, talks about the same phenomenon with business leaders, and has a technique to help them break out of their ruts, called “zooming”. The premise is this: in today’s world, cultural/technology/business shifts are happening so quickly that it’s important that business leaders remain flexible. Therefore, successful leaders must consistently challenge their norms by engaging by continually challenging their assumptions and their routines. (He suggests simple techniques, like taking a different route to work in the morning or listening to a CD from a genre of music that you don’t like.)

This technique is equally important for church leaders. So, here are a few tips for how to start zooming, church style:

1) Get involved in the community. Join a book club, a community theatre, or a volunteer project and build relationships with people who don’t go your church.

2) Keep track of cultural trends- subscribe to a few blogs, watch the latest popular television show, or turn on the radio to the top-50 music station to see what people are listening to.

3) Change up your spiritual life- experiment with new spiritual disciplines, read parts of the Bible that you’ve avoided (and preach on them!),or find a spiritual director to help keep you accountable.

4) Read the top books in both church leadership and business leadership, especially from those who will directly challenge you. (e.g. Adam Hamilton, Peter Rollins, Shane Claibourne, Seth Godin, etc.).

5) Never say “I don’t have enough time! The church needs me to do (insert important ministry here)!” This is as (perhaps even more) important than your committee meetings, pot luck suppers, and other church-centric activities. Churches that effectively engage with their community grow spiritually and numerically. Churches that remain isolated die. If you, as a church leader, can’t break out of your box, how will the congregation ever be able to?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Another Quick Post

You know you're getting old when it's 8:30PM and your body's telling you it's time for bed. So, since keeping awake right now is my greatest concern, I'm going to keep this short. First, a stream-of-consciousness preview of topics that I'd like to write about in the next few weeks. (And you, my faithful reader, are allowed to harass, threaten, or blackmail me if I don't come through!)

1) Zooming (Another Seth Godin idea)
2) Why Professors Should Blog
3) Who is Church?

Finally, links to a few nifty websites and posts that I came across this week.

1) Swap your paperback books here
2) Wikihow- wikipedia plus how to manuals
3) How to save electricity
4) An insightful post about privilege and charity in the West

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Quick Update

I’ve been meaning to post regularly, and over the past month or so, I’ve done pretty well. However, with the craziness of this past week, I blinked and realized that it was Saturday, I hadn’t posted in a week, and I was driving home the next day.

So, with my abject apologies, here’s a quick update on my life. I’m home this week, so I have absolutely no excuse for not posting again.

At any rate, here are this week’s highlights.

1) I got into my inaugural accident on Wednesday evening. Note to all you young drivers: always check your blind spot before you switch lanes, especially during NJ rush hour. Thank goodness, the other car wasn’t damaged, but my front side driver’s door is not looking good, and my driver’s side mirror was completely obliterated. The car is currently camped out in a NJ body shop, getting fixed.

2) Yes, the wedding plans are coming along. If we really like you (and have your e-mail address), expect a save-the date e-mail by the end of the week. The rest of you will have to wait for it to come in the mail, which will happen hopefully next week!

3) School is remarkably sane. My chronic illness is under control, my coursework is reasonable (and I’m even enjoying most of my classes), and supervised ministry at my church continues to be enjoyable and challenging.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stop Preaching! (Part Two)

(Scroll down to see my first post on this topic)

Deemphasizing preaching is not as radical idea as you might think. While the United Methodist Church (and indeed, almost every church) considers "Proclaiming the Word" and preaching synonymous, this has not always been the case. For instance, while there were itinerant preachers in the Middle Ages, they were not people's primary source of information about the Bible. Rather, they learned through visual images, such as stained glass, which, through a complex code, communicated not just a Biblical story, but interpreted it as well for the viewer.

Let me briefly suggest some ways to remedy the overemphasis on preaching.

I wonder then, what it would be like to "proclaim the word" to all people, paying equal attention to all intelligence types.

What it would look like if we proclaimed the wold in a way that appealed to intrapersonal intelligence? Maybe it would be lectio divina, where people "pray" the scriptures, listening to them several times, meditating on them and possibly sharing how God spoke to them afterwards.

What it would look like if we proclaimed the word in a way that appealed to bodily-kinesthetic intelligence? Maybe it would be a series of stations where people had the opportunity to create something (e.g. draw, paint, write, do a ritual) in response to a text.

What it would look like if we proclaimed the world in a way that appealed to interpersonal intelligence? Maybe, rather than delivering a sermon, you could lead a structured discussion on the text, preparing by having some key points, researching the text well, and providing relevant illustrations based on where the discussion goes.

Once we remove ourselves from the "preaching" box, the possibilities are endless.

Stop Preaching! (Part One)

We are a word-addicted church.

We open our worship with written words on a page, read litanies for special occasions, sing songs with complex lyrics from a hymnbook, articulate our doctrine and structure through 800 pages of, yes, words, and feel like we've accomplished something at Annual Conference when we pass a resolution in print.

This word-addiction is especially apparent when it comes to preaching, one of United Methodism's self-proclaimed hallmarks. We have licensed people as "local preachers", we talk proudly about the great "traveling preachers" in the early 1800's, we make all our seminarians take a class on preaching (though not necessarily on worship), and for most churches, "The Proclamation of the Word" (which is always the sermon) comprises the central part of the worship service.

This is a horrible, inexcusable tragedy.

Now before you run screaming to my local DCOM or BOOM (and if you don't know the words for these acronyms, then you can hardly be called United Methodist!), or earnestly inquire as to what they're teaching us at those crazy "liberal" seminaries, let me explain:

The study of multiple intelligences tells us that people understand the world and make connections to it in different ways. Some people acquire information best through hearing something (musical, linguistic), others through images (spatial), others through doing something, (bodily-kinesthetic) some through interactions with others (interpersonal), others through self reflection (intrapersonal), others through music, etc.

Consider for a moment then, how many types of intelligence a typical sermon reaches, delivered verbally from a pulpit on a Sunday morning (by the way, this exercise works equally well with learning styles.)

Can't come up with many?

Well, neither can I.

The typical sermon, the vaunted "proclamation of the Word", the very center and climax of a typical Protestant worship service, appeals almost exclusively to only one type of intelligence- linguistic intelligence. All other people are left in the dust, required to either adapt (or simply to tune out). (And yes, you may point out that we do have hymns that could appeal to musical intelligence, but remember, most are sung to 150 year old tunes with 150+ year old lyrics while being played on an instrument that went out of style nearly a century ago. I think traditional hymns have a lot to offer us, but our rabid, exclusive devotion to our ancient-white-people style of music doesn't always speak to today's worldview and culture.)

Needless to say, when the central part of your worship service primarily speaks to only a small group of people, you have a problem.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

YouTube Goodness

United Methodist History in Claymation (Watch this soon, it's being taken down!)

Scambaiters convincing would-be scammers (the type that e-mail you to share about their 100 million dollar bank accounts) to do the classic Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch

Monday, February 19, 2007

What I've Been Reading

Here's what I've been reading this past week:

1) A fantastic and very disturbing series of articles (Part 1, Part 2) in the Washington Post on how injured soldiers returning from Iraq are treated.

2) A post by a blogger on how to buy original art at reasonable prices.

3) A short article on how to improve air quality in your home.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Great Methodist Rip Off: Part Two

How could a denomination offer materials in a way that is affordable for their members and fiscally responsible for them? A few ideas:

1) Don't overcharge for books. For instance, Cokesbury.com regularly prices its books a few dollars higher than their competitors. You lose sales and goodwill when your built-in customer base (e.g. UMC clergy and laity) have to go other places to find affordable materials.

2) Offer good free materials on the internet. You don't have to give away everything. Instead, pick and choose what resources to highlight. For instance, you could give away the worship planner (see previous post), chapters of recently published books, or a few top quality articles in .pdf format.

3) Offer the majority of your resources online as a subscription. For a scaling annual fee, offer hundreds of articles, out of date books, worship resources, planners, etc. The denomination gain a constant revenue stream that would pay for offering the materials online and churches would have a genuinely affordable option when looking for resources.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Great Methodist Rip Off

I was thinking about the penny pinching, miserly nature of our connectional hierarchy as I learned today that the General Board of Discipleship (which, now that it's been renamed GBOD, must now be automatically relevant) has taken their weekly hymn resource off its website. This planner provided suggested music across all UMC music resources based on theme and scripture for each week. Apparently, (my fiancee had used it) it was quite well done and extremely useful when constructing a service every week.

When, in preparation for leading Sunday worship, she visited the site, she found that they had been taken down, and that instead of getting these resources for free, they were now only available in a $16 book.

Our blessed worship people made a passing effort to explain their decision, saying that they're responding to "customers requests" to have all the planner in one book, (what customer requests that you remove a free product and charge for it instead?) "flexibility of use" since the resources are now in one place, (why not add cross-searching abilities into the web site or simply publish it as a free .pdf for download?) , and, believe it or not, due to "price concerns", after all, since it's only thirty one cents a week, anyone can afford it. (How generous of them! Especially considering that churches were paying nothing for it before!)

I do give them credit for listing customer complaints at the bottom of the page. However, they never respond to those complaints specifically, instead simply assuring us that they thought seriously about it.

Quite frankly, if they're going to take away a free resource and make us pay money for it (and yes, for a poor seminary student like me, $16 is a lot of money for a resource!), then be honest with us and admit you're doing it to make a profit. Pretending that you removed the resources from the website to help out "customers" (by the way, customers? since when are the constituents of the churches who pay for your budget via apportionments mere customers?) is dishonest and condescending.

Rather than giving us the resources to equip us for our ministries, they're going for a cheap buck and hoping we don't notice. Unfortunately, this seems to happen across the board in United Methodism. It's the reason why "our United Methodist Publishing House" doesn't give away ANY resources,and charges prices that are significantly higher than places like Christan Book Distributors and Amazon.com. It's the reason why there are Wesleyan Foundations (UM college fellowships) that can't use the Methodist order of worship because they don't own a book of Worship and aren't an official United Methodist Church (Contrast this with the Episcopalians, whose entire Book of Common Prayer (which is far more central to their worshipping life than the Book of Worship is to the UMC) is open source, free to anyone to use).

When a denomination overcharges its members for the resources you need to do ministry effectively, then you know it's in serious trouble.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More Contextless Links

While I'm sitting in front of the computer, cleaning out my bookmarks...

A Church for the Homeless

Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year

Malcom Gladwell (writer of Blink and Tipping Point) on how to solve homelessness

Global Warming: A Fact, Not a Debate

This past Sunday morning, I learned yet another important lesson of pastoral leadership: set two alarm clocks on Sunday morning.

Whether it was a glitch or my body frantically beating the alarm clock into submission while I slept on peacefully, I’ll never know, but instead of getting up at 6:00AM, with plenty of time to pray, practice my sermon, eat breakfast, and get to church for the 8:15 service (I have a one hour commute, one way), I opened my eyes, thought it looked rather light out for that early in the morning, and checked my alarm clock to find out that, in fact, the time was 6:55.

I uttered an utterly unprintable (or rather, since this a blog, untypeable) phrase or two, got up, and, fueled by some incredible combination of panic, adrenaline, and blind fury, was out the door, dressed, packed, shaved, and showered in twelve minutes, and at the church by five minutes to eight, due to some speedy driving on the highway and the judicious running of one red light. (And, as an aside, to my mother, who is probably the only person reading this blog right now, I know that was really foolish (esp. running the red light) and I will never ever ever ever do it again, especially if I plan to blog about it afterwards!)

Needless to say, everything turned out okay. I even beat my pastor to the church (which, come to think of it, is not a great feat). However, I shudder to think that in an alternate universe somewhere, that I stretched, rolled over, and found out that it was 8:30AM. Thank God it wasn’t this one!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pray With Podcasts

If you're like me, prayer can often get lost in the press of life. One way to take time for God is to download daily prayer from the internet. There are several daily prayer podcasts that you can get manually on a website or subscribe to using a podcatcher like Juice.

Here are four that I've found:

Pray-as-you-go.org - This provides new podcasts for Monday-Friday of the week, sponsored by Jesuit Media Initiatives. They involve music, a scripture passage, and then a guided reflection or meditation on the passage. I've used this on a regular basis for several months and it's fantastic!

Order of Saint Luke Podcast - This is a weekly podcast for their daily office. (Inconveniently, they put the entire week's podcast on one .mp3, so you'll have to remember the time when each day starts and fast forward)

Orthodox Liturgy- This is a recording of Orthodox nuns doing the offices for all the major and minor hours of the day. I just discovered this site today, so I can't speak to its quality, but I'm excited to try it out! They also broadcast prayer at the appropriate times on their internet radio station.

Episcopal Offices- Morning prayer, noonday prayer, and Compline (evening prayer).

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Church, According to Seth Godin, (Cont.)

It’s amazing how so many lessons from the business world apply so readily to the church. Seth Godin is one of the top business bloggers. His book, Small Is the New Big, is a collection of his best blog posts, arranged in alphabetical order, from over the course of six years. I’ve learned more about leading a church via his book then I did reading all six books I was assigned during the first semester of my supervised ministry class (which may say more about Drew than about Seth Godin)!

One of the sections of Godin’s book, (You can read his posts here and here), talks about the local max. Most businesses, Godin says, look at their life cycle like the chart below. You get a good idea, you make money, you have success, (point A), you peak, and then you decline (point B). Many of us can probably recognize this chart from our churches: they will have a good period, generally under an excellent pastor, will peak, (often at around 180 or so in attendance) and then begin a gentle decline downwards. At some point, the church bottoms out, and a similar period, with similar success begins again (e.g. just repeat the “local max” graph over again) or the church closes.

Godin suggests that the graph of a truly successful business looks like this.

When we’ve reached the local max, we form the foundation for a much larger, more successful, more effective organization, (the big max), not by doing A, which is what got us to doing the local max, but by operating completely differently (point D), which comes only when we successfully navigate the trough (point C), where it looks like our organization might fail entirely.

Here are a few ways that this directly applies to church life.

1) The first graph describes the lifecycle of churches especially when they reach the barrier of two hundred in worship attendance. Reaching two hundred in attendance necessitates a ministry paradigm shift, because pastors can no longer have consistent one on one contact with all their parishioners, because old organizational structures collapse under the weight of more programs and responsibilities, and because parishioners no longer feel “intimacy” because they don’t know everyone they see on Sunday morning.

Most of our pastors, if they’re even good enough to get people to this point, are not trained to see that the “local max” of their congregation is simply one step towards their “big max”. Therefore, rather than helping the church take a step back so they can eventually grow in ministry, pastors do the same things that fit when the church was one hundred people, only more. They visit more parishioners, they preach the same way, do the same programs more often and subsequently get burnt out.

2) What would happen if we trained our pastors to think of two hundred in worship attendance as only a stepping stone for a church on its way to a better place? What if we taught them how to navigate the trough, (point C), and gave them tools to develop new paradigms for ministry (D)? If we did this, I think we’d be surprised at how many that have between 160-200 people on a Sunday morning would become churches of 500 plus in a relatively short time. (And, for you New England United Methodists out there, think about what a difference churches that size could make in terms of finances, resources, collaboration, and mentoring for the rest of the conference.)

3) Going from a church’s local max to its big max requires innovation. Godin suggests taking resources gleaned from your local max, and investing them in a small independent team that invents a completely new product, one that might even compete with the “mother ship”. For churches, this may mean starting new church services or new ministries (e.g. a Saturday night service in a different worship style or a young adult group). However, it most likely means starting a new church on a different site, because the old leadership will be too invested in the success they previously had (the local max) to be willing to shake things up enough to simply take the organization to the next level.

4) What if those of us who are United Methodists were to see our denomination via these charts? In the United States, our local max was in the late 19th, early 20th century, at least in terms of people and finances. But what if that was just our local max? What if we were just in the trough (point C), waiting for a new strategy (D) that will make us more successful than ever before?

I’m not sure whether this is truly a viable possibility or not- it seems to me that we are still trying to live in our glory days (e.g. our pastors are still trained in 1950’s ministry) and that our structure is too invested in perpetuating itself. So, what if the United Methodists were to birth a new conference or new district, and resource it with money and personnel (and a minimum of interference) to find new ways to do church and ministry? Why not birth a new denomination of new-generation Methodists, better able to minister to the emerging generations? Now there’s a thought that could get me in trouble!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

RSS Feed

I now have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to using Sage or some other feed reader. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Doesn't the Church Ever Change?

I have recently started rereading Seth Godin’s brilliant book, Small is the New Big, which is a series of blog posts about marketing, management, and leadership. He writes about why managers and mid-level workers are often so unwilling to make decisions and take significant risks, pointing out that the system in most companies is designed to discourage people from taking risks and innovating. By remaining “competent” in their own, often outmoded paradigm, they are rewarded with promotions, raises, and stability. Breaking the paradigm, or doing something that will threaten this competency means that they must risk their personal and economic security, possibly lose the goodwill of their employers, and withstand negative repercussions from the system. Therefore, even when a system (e.g. a business model for a dying company) is obviously not viable, people will avoid innovation, which ultimately guarantees a slow and inevitable death.

For anyone who has ever participated in the United Methodist Church’s system for identifying, training, and deploying pastoral leaders, this situation should sound very common. Think for a second about all the ways our dying church encourages pastors to keep the status quo:

1) Our United Methodist Seminaries- who train our future leaders using an educational paradigm born in the 1950’s, which encouraged pastors to be educated, to reach the people who walked through the doors (rather than those outside their doors), and to value personal and economic security, and send out their students to do supervised ministry with pastors who lead in that paradigm. This means that our pastors are taught about only one paradigm of pastoral leadership (and heaven help that any of our blessed seminaries ever touch anything so *gasp* radical as resources by those *big* churches such as Church of the Resurrection or Willow Creek), a paradigm that emphasizes stability and passivity.

2) Boards of Ordained Ministry- comprised of people trained primarily by the above seminaries, almost all in that one paradigm of leadership, who evaluate candidates for pastoral leadership primarily based on their ability to articulate theology, and who do not reward those who innovate, buck the system, or take risks. The candidacy process designed to serve those who reach the Board of Ordained ministry inevitably describes only stable, non risk-related situations for ministry. For instance, if you’re in the elder track (which were our local church leaders come from), they describe full time appointments in established parishes, rather than the possibilities of innovative and potentially risky ministries (such as church planting).

3) Our System of Appointments- which addresses the concerns of 1950’s pastors by providing people with lifelong tenure (which eliminates the need for training after you leave seminary) regardless of competency, free houses, and free health insurance. This gives our pastors incentive to take existing churches that operate in old models and to lead them their existing outdated paradigms, rather than risking change (and possibly shrinking or even dying) in order to find a better model, since it might put at risk their free houses, decent salary, and health insurance. This model does not fit people who want to risk and innovate (e.g. church planters) because ordination requires economic security (e.g. an elder with a full time appointment MUST have health insurance) and strongly encourages that pastors to be placed in stable old style churches, rather than to grow something new on their own. If you want to take a risk, then you have to work around the system, the system won’t work for you.

4) Our pastoral culture- which encourages people to look out for their salaries, health insurance, etc. before they think about serving the Gospel. (As I’ve talked to people about the possibility of planting a church, I can’t count the number of people who’s first concern was about how that would work with my candidacy process, with ordination, with health insurance, with financial security, etc. rather than talking about the importance of taking such a risk.) It’s also a culture where pastor actively discourage one another from taking risks and discourage those who strive for excellence. (When I wrote a paper on New England United Methodism a year ago, I heard multiple stories of pastors who’s ideas for outreach to their community or collaboration with other churches were ignored and derided by “experienced” pastors. Needless to say, after a few years, these previously idealistic pastors became “experienced” and mediocre as well.)

5) Our attitude of scarcity- if you listen to Annual Conferences or to leadership in local churches, people talk of keeping what they already have, rather than for reaching something new. A good pastor is one who bails out the sinking ship. A “naïve” or “renegade” pastor is the one who decides to build a new boat.

All of this will result in death, if don’t believe me, check out our budgets, our membership and worship attendance numbers, and the morale of our leaders. If we continue in this paradigm, then we will be dead in another thirty years, no doubt about it.

Wouldn’t it be better to risk, and at worst, die a quick spectacular death rather than a long painful one?

Why don’t we radical restructure our seminarians educations to focus on growing churches, on new models for leadership, and on planting new churches, rather than sticking to the safe “theological education” model which has churned out thousands of ineffective leaders over the past few decades? At worst, this model could fail to produce effective leadership, which is where we are right now anyway.

Why don’t we reform the candidacy process to require mentoring for people in on the edge situations with daring, innovative pastors, rather than sending them in to learn old methods from people who were good leaders in 1950? At worst, our pastors won’t learn how to lead churches, which they don’t know how to do anyway.

Why not allocate millions of dollars to recruit and train pastors to plant new faith communities specifically geared to reach postmoderns and Gen X’ers, rather than spending money to prop up a system that supports pastors that speaks primarily to people age sixty and up? At worst, we could go bankrupt, but we are heading in that direction anyway.

In the end, I wish that we would rather go down in flames, trying to do the work of Christ, then shrivel up because we wanted to play it safe.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jesus Heals

I preached this Sunday, and for the first time in my life, used a manuscript. The passage was Mark 5:24b-34, where Jesus heals a woman with hemorrhages. As part of my sermon, I did a reinterpretation of the passage, using a typical high school as my setting that I thought I'd share with you.

At this point in Jesus’ career, in the local Sea of Galilee high school, he was on the top, the winning quarterback of the football team, bound for a Division 1 university, the talk of the town, with a rapidly growing posse of friends, suckups, and wannabees, all trying to mooch off his glory and advance a couple levels up the social ladder on the wings of a smile or a word.

We can all guess where the woman with hemorrhages would be on the social scale. She was another one of those people who we can all guiltily recall if we think back to our teenage years, an unfortunate blip on the high school radar. I wonder what it must have been like for that woman, the loser, the class joke, the Napoleon Dynamite of her school, hustling quickly, silently from class to class, arms full of books, head down, dressed in old second hand clothes from the local Salvation Aarmy, two sizes too big, smelling like she hadn’t taken a shower in week, hair in long, clumpy, frizzy waves down her back, a person perfectly suited to be tormented or ignored. I wonder what must it have been like for her, trying so desperately to fit in, taking up a job so she could buy clothes at the Gap, sitting at the same table week after week with the “cool” girls, who alternately ignored and abused her, trying out for the field hockey team and the drama team, only to be cut from both. She would be at the end of her rope, no one to talk to, even her teachers giving her a wide berth.

I wonder what it must have been like for her to watch Jesus go down that high school hallway, surrounded by crowds of friends that she would never have, hearing the gossip about them as they pass by, “He won the state championship on Saturday, I hear he’s going to USC to be their starting quarterback, did you hear he got a 1580 on his SAT’s?” And perhaps, in that one moment, she thinks, “If I could just touch him, if he could just speak to me, just look, no, just even glance at me, then maybe I could be healed. Maybe I could find friends to spend time with, to share secrets with, to laugh with, maybe I wouldn’t be teased and tormented every time I went down the hallway, maybe, just maybe, all of this could stop; I could be human again, part of the community again, just a person, again.”

And so she dives into the crowd, squirming past person after person, as the triumphal procession marches down the hallway to Jesus’ next class, gathering steam, people, energy, and excitement. Students stop opening their lockers and join in the crowd, just to see what’s up. Teachers, chatting to other teachers outside the doors to their rooms, stop and stare. Everyone looks at the local town hero, going in triumph, crushed by the mass of people, the mass of popularity, heading to his next class.

And finally, she comes behind him, and he’s just in reach. She stretches out her hand and her finger lightly brushes the back of his shirt. Time stops. Suddenly, in painful clarity, she notices that Jesus has stopped walking, the crowd has paused as well, and he’s looking around, saying to one of his friends, “Who just touched me?”

His friends laugh, punch him on the shoulder, “Good one Jesus! You’re in the middle of a parade! Every popular guy, hot girl, and famous jock in this hallway is around you right now!”

But Jesus remains unconvinced, his eyes scan the crowd. Suddenly, she realizes that the faces in the throng are fixated upon her. She hears voices saying, “What is she doing here? She doesn’t belong here. She’s such a loser, and oh my gosh, she’s almost touching me! Get away! Get her out! Send her back to wherever she belongs!” In despair, she falls to her knees, oblivious to the pain as she hits the hard tiled floor.

“I did it, Jesus,” she says. “I touched you. I’m nobody in this school. I thought maybe, just one glance, just one touch, and I could be human again. I could have friends again!”

The crowd jeers and tenses itself for the explosive sarcastic comment, the push, the disdainful roll of the eyes that will send this woman back to where she belongs.

But it never comes.

Instead, Jesus bends down, kneeling with this girl, who is quaking in terror, and kisses her lightly on the cheek. “Go and live in peace, my dear and beloved friend,” he says, “And be human again.” With that, he stands, and moves off down the corridor, leaving her kneeling in his wake.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Record Setting Two Blog Posts in Two Weeks

If anyone's still reading, I'm going to try to make an effort to post at least once every week. Depending on how I'm feeling, it may be a journal entry, a reflection, or perhaps a few links. This week, as I try to dig out from piles of work leftover from last semester, a few links (which have no overarching context or theme) that I found interesting this past week. Enjoy! (or not!) And, if you feel really daring, leave some feedback on the blog! (I got the idea from Jordan Cooper, who puts up links like this on his blog a couple times a week.)

Christians hanging out with the type of people that Jesus did.

A poignant, entertaining, and insightful blog by a cook at a homeless shelter in Canada.

A nice article on Barack Obama- one of the most intriguing politicians in American today.

Why Methodists don't immerse.