Sunday, July 29, 2007

Feeling Rich

You know you have friends when you are invited on a picnic while they are in town visiting their kids. With time being in such short supply, when Dave and Renee Erickson invited me to join them in a picnic with Kris, Matt and TK, I felt rich. They did not have to invite me along. We could have just visited on the patio after church, telephone called, or emailed. But they wanted me to join their family for a precious picnic.
Two CEO's were being interviewed about their life, successes, and life-lessons. The interviewer asked them both what they did badly. After a long pause, one CEO looked down and said "I've built and run really large businesses and made a lot of money. But what I am really bad at is taking time for my friends like (and he turned to the guy sitting next to him)." At that moment both of them choked up and talked about an upcoming meal they are going to have together just as two friends. No agenda, no partners, just friends being friends.
Tonight, with that interview echoing in my heart, I realized that some of you reading this are those friends of mine. With some of you we have made the time and enjoying long meals and conversations. You have made me rich by letting me into your world and listening to me, laughing with me, challenging me, and loving me. Thanks!

Pay Attention

It snowed in Santa Barbara last night. The snow was not cold crystals of ice, but flakes of ash from the Zacca fire burning 50 miles north west of us. The wind shifted and the sky grew brown, then orange. The sunset was spectacular and the ashes fell like the beginning of a powedery snowfall in really cold temperatures, where the flakes seem suspended in the air. Last night the moon rose red.
Fires seem distant and more of a news story than a present reality. We are not threatened here along the coast. The marine layer keeps our moisture levels pretty high...for now. But last night got my attention.
This morning as I get ready for worship, I wonder what has my attention? Will the coffee makers brew enough cups? Will the dvd player work for the Inquirer's Class? Will anyone attend? Will the worship team do a good job? Who will I have lunch with today? Will I preach well or get lost in my own distractions? Am I aware of the 22 (now 21) Korean Christian hostages whose lives hang by a thread under Taliban captivity? Am I aware of the 111 million believers here in the USA who love Jesus but who will not come into a church? Am I aware of the deep and distant rumbling and spiritual yearning in our community? Can I get my eyes off my petty little issues about personal preference, personal control, personal space, personal entitlement and see kingdom issues? May God have my full attention!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

800 Backpacks

About 100 friends and members of the 4 churches in Montecito gathered at Montecito Covenant on Saturday July 28 to pack 800 backpacks for area children who cannot afford supply-filled backpacks this year. The 4 churches, call M-4, partnered with People's Self-Help Housing, a local non-profit agency that supplies housing, health care and tutoring for needy families. In just under one hour, all 800 backpacks were filled and then loaded into vans to be distributed next week to families before school begins. It was a good day!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Fresh Wind

Sailing in calm wind is excrutiatingly boring. Usually it's hot and flies come and the boats slogs through the water painstakingly slow. Then, if you are lucky, a fresh wind comes up. You can often see it coming across the lake as the ripples darken the flat shiny surface of still water. It smells different and it fills the sails, heels the boat over and off you go! It's what sailors live for; a fresh wind.
Alan Hirsch's book "The Forgotten Ways" is a fresh wind. It's so fresh I just ordered 6 copies for the church staff here. It will be mandated reading. Hirsch, an Australian gets it. He says what we need to hear and he points us in the direction we, in the established, denominationally anchored churches, need to go. It's a troubling book. The ways we have of doing church are not, by and large, doing the job. We are not transforming lives, not even staying even, but falling behind decade by decade. New church plants compensate for dwindling established churches. And it's not for want of trying. I've been to the seminars and conferences on church revitalization and congregational change. We go, we sit, we absorb, we leave, we revert to what we've always done.
At the end of his book, Hirsch points out 3 central assumptions of traditional (he calls "operative") leaders from the book "Surfing the Edge of Chaos" 1. The leaders are the Head, the organization is the Body. This assumption has it that intelligence is concentrated at the top of the organizational structure. Anyone else need not apply (see Kenton Anderson's blog today!) 2. A promise of predictable change. We know where the next 4 Midwinter Conferences and Annual Meetings will be, what will be on the agenda and who will be in charge. 3. An assumption of cascading intent. This final assumption means that once the leadership determines the course, initiative will flow through the organization from the top down with growing willingness and a veneer of popular buy-in. This is in contrast to an organic view that says real and lasting change comes from the bottom up and "the task of leadership is to foster condidtions that foster imagination, initiative, and creativity."
Hirsch leaves me excited that the real locus of power and transformative change is here in the local church. Get the book!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Confession

Our son brought his youth group through town last weekend. It was a wild ride of food preparation, cleaning, washing towels, and more food. They threw frisbees, kicked soccer balls, flirted, teased and hung out. They worshiped with us at church, served food to the homeless and then drove on to San Francisco.
Then last night I read through "http://www.2o3ministries.com"> on Luke's blogand realized that I did not really take these young people serious spiritually. They were "just kids" on a mission trip. Then I read about the deep movement of God in the lives of these 14-18 year olds. And I had to ask God for forgiveness for not seeing them as he does. And that's when the wave began to roll me with all the others I so easily discount and don't take seriously;
my wife and my kids because they are...you know, my family
my staff because we need to get the work done
college students because they are just moving through
old people because they are too set in their ways
rich people because they have too much
poor people because they just want what I have
republicans because their minds are made up
democrats because their minds are made up also
my list got longer and longer as I confessed to God those people I discount, dismiss, stereotype, pidgeon-hole and don't take seriously. It's time for me to take everyone, everyone seriously.

Martha to Norway

Martha took off for Norway this morning. She boarded the Santa Barbara Air-bus shuttle for the ride to Los Angeles where she will board a KLM flight to Amsterdam and on to Kristiansand. This is her fourth trip to Norway. She began going to Norway with Northwestern College students to experience Euorpean printmaking studios and the apprenticeship environment. Once there, the Norwegian printmaking community recognized her talent and began asking her to teach them some of her more advanced techniques.
One of her students, Asbjorn Hollerud, is becoming well-known in his own right in Norway as a printmaker. He proposed a show of his work and those of his two artistic "parents": Martha and his Norwegian mentor, a man named Haken. The three artists were invited to hang a show at the Norwegian Museum of Printmaking in Oslo in August. Unfortunately, Haken died this year, so his presence will be missed, but his work will be displayed.
Martha will also be teaching for several weeks prior to the show at some printmaking studios. The theme of her show is "Losing Paradise" based on conflicting, competing and disturbing images of both beauty and ruin, joy and despair in both the human and ecological community.
I will miss her deeply during these weeks, but also know that this a great for her. You can see more of her work at martha's work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ends and Means?

A friend asked me if it's OK to put up with bad ministry practices because the ministry does such good work? This ministry has leadership that is entrenched and powerful, tied to the personalities of the founders, and really rough on its staff. Yet, they do really good work. Is it worth it to tolerate poor organization and the misuse of staf and volunteers for the sake of the mission?
I said "no". The ends do not justify the means. Bad things done for good reasons are still bad. Abusing people to help other people is still abuse. Leadership, especially Christian leadership, needs to be transparent, accountable beyond itself and reflective of Jesus' love. If not, short term gains will collapse over the long haul because toxic personalities and practices will errode any gains (think of Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker and PTL, Jimmy Swgaart and Ted Haggard to name a few). These were good people doing good things in Jeus' name in bad ways...and it all caught up.
The problem with independent ministries with founder-appointed boards is that they are not accountable beyond themselves, a spiritual cul de sac if you will. If a board member questions the leader, that board member leaves and is replaced by a more compliant one. I have seen that happen in small ways in denominational circles. If you raise too many questions, you can be guaranteed for a one-term experience in the denomination. Because nobody wants someone around who asks too many questions. Rather, these types of organizations value loyalty and team-spirit.
To whom are the ministries you support accountable and transparent?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

In Praise of Youth Pastors

"Dad, can some kids stay at the church for our summer mission-trip?' It was an innocuous question our son Luke asked me in April. July seemed a long way off and he said it would be a small group. He called later in June telling me the group was up to almost 20, could they still stay? "Sure" I said, "I can find a couple homes for 20." Then he called me last week. "Dad, the group is now 34, can we still come?" How do you criticize success? "Sure" I said "We'll find a way."
Saturday evening 3 vans rolled in to our parking lot right during a huge wedding I was not performing. Students from Valley Covenant Church in Eugene, Oregon had been up since 4:30 am and had been working in central LA all day with "Dream Center" mission. They were hot, tired and HUNGRY. Martha and I did a Costco run for two meals, spending over $250 for bulk foods. I grilled hamburgers and hot dogs like there was no tomorrow. These students ate, and ate, and ate some more. We got them farmed out to homes of gracious MCC church members and we ended up with 9 boys who, were HUNGRY again. We popped all the popcorn we had in the house (maybe a dozen bags) made juice, and laundered towels (they all needed long, hot showers). They decided to sleep outside on the balcony of the upper room of the church because our sprinkler system comes on at random times. They worshiped with us today in a blue t-shirted block and then spent the afternoon handing out food they cooked to the homeless of Santa Barbara. They hit the beach and State Street and returned to church around 5:30, HUNGRY again. I cooked 3 big tri-tips and Martha made a Mexican taco-style dinner. Nothing was left!!
Then Luke gathered them in our back yard with the chiminera lit and led them in devotions for over an hour. They sat stone still as he spoke. I remebered that. I remembered being a youth pastor and pushing myself into delirious exhaustion, sometimes behaving like one of the youths and sometimes hating them and wanting simply peace and quiet. But it's all for those magic moments when you've earned their love and trust and ina circle, with a fire, they open their hearts to what you have to say about Jesus. I got to watch our son do that tonight. I know youth pastors around the country (and world) are doing that night after night, unobserved, criticized by their sr. pastors for leaving messes, making too much noise, not getting enough kids to attend church and spending beyond their budget. All those criticisms are valid...until you see the circle and the attentive hearts, more attentive than they will ever be during one of my sermons. Bless them all!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Michael Vick: Just Say NO

Covenanters (especially many pastors I know) LOVE football. Midwinter Conferences sometimes include the Superbowl. Mike Holmgren is "sainted" among many of us for his leadership and philanthropy. There are long-held, totally irrational favorite teams and bad-boy teams. This is all well and good and fun.
Years ago, when I was a staunch Vikings fan, a boatload of Viking players on Lake Minnetonka hired strippers, got drunk and started having sex out on the lake. The underaged staff objected and the captain wisely brought the boat back to shore and called the police. But both Red McCombs (sp?) and Coach Denny Green did not have the moral courage to fire, discipline and reprimand these hormonally overcharged millionaires. In many of our eyes, that was the lowest point for the Vikings who were trying to win community favor for a new stadium. Bad leadership everywhere.
Now Michael Vicks is being charged with dog-fighting. Does not seem so bad until you go to Google Images and ask for pcitures of his dogs. It's worse than pornography. I will not post those pictures. It's too ugly, too brutal, too inhuman. His estate is filled with buildings dedicated to raising killing-machine pit-bulls. Those that do not make the killing-grade are dispatched by drowning, electrocution, shooting or body-slamming.
I know that in our constitutionally bounded society a person is innocent until proven guilty. But this quarterback needs a major time out. He needs to hear our roar of disgust and non-endorsement of this kind of ugly lifestyle. The hip-hop community needs to step up and call him on the carpet. Pastors and Christians in sports need to bring Jesus to this broken person. When is enough enough?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Possible Consequence of Children's Sermons

I love children's sermons. For 20+ years children have been a vital part of worship for me. The children's sermon is usually some distilled, tactile illustration of the center of the sermon text for the day. Both Dr. Fred Holmgren and Dr. Francis Anderson drilled home to me the challenge that if I could not distill a theological truth into the world of an 8 year old, I did not grasp the truth. So that's been my challenge. The children's sermons are very short and focus on one word or one truth and not a long, rambling discussion on things. It's not a time to play cute for the parents and mug for the congregation. It's for the kids. They matter. They count.
One of the ways I do a children's sermon is to set up a scenario where the kids need to help me out: count something, find something, discover something, fix something. Often I end up playing the fool. Well, last week I was illustrating Paul's prayer in Colossians 1:1-12 where he prays for minds, bodies and hearts by stacking interlocking rings on a pole. It's a common nursery toy. I mis-stacked them, backwards, much to the children's dismay. I just could not get them stacked right until one exasperated boy grabbed the stack from me with a snort and said: "Let me do it for you!" and stacked them properly, illustrating the truth that things need to go together in the right way.
But later Sunday afternoon I imagined a dinner-time conversation with the boy and his parents covering the topic of how really dumb pastors had to be. I mean, what is it that they do if they can't even stack rings in the right order?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Eating: It's What We Do!

Summer Wednesday nights from 1993-2005 were exclusively reserved for sailing: in Muskegon, Michigan with guys from our church out on Muskegon Lake and in Minneapolis with Dayton Walker on his M-20 on Lake Minnetonka. Nothing got scheduled for a Wednesday night that included me, unless it was an emergency of some sort. When we arrived in Santa Barbara, the first thing I noticed was the yacht harbor and the "Wet Wednesdays" when boats raced out on the ocean. My pattern could continue! Yeah!
But Montecito Covenant Church had another pattern called "Suppers under the Oaks." I was not required nor even expected to attend all the suppers. Everyone in church knows of my love of sailing and would easily release me to go sail. But I can't. These suppers are TOO great! About 100 people come each Wednesday night from 6:00 pm till ?? and just eat and hang out. All ages show up. There is often a table of high schoolers and a table of senior citizens. But the rest is a wonderful hodge-podge of new-comers and old-timers, singles and families, college students with jr. high schoolers. The Adult Committee (uner the leadership of Bob and Wendy Ludwick) oversee the direction and theme, but release control to different hosting teams, so that each Wednesday is different and delightful.
I get the chance to visit (really visit) so many people who slip by me on Sundays. There is no program or structure, just eat, visit, have fun and love each other. Honestly, I do not miss the sailing because this is so good, so healthy, so missional. It's a place where new friends are enfolded and loved. It's where the social barriers of age and status evaporate and all you see is people loving people. It's what we do...and need to keep doing!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Time Out?

Kids routinely need a time-out to calm themselves down, to get out of a combative mode, to remove stimuli that they cannot handle. Every parent has used a time-out with good results. A child goes into their room, maybe tearfully, but slowly settles down and re-enters family life with some new perspective and control.
Vacations are adult time-outs, when we step back from the relentless stress and pace of working life and try on a different pattern; travel somewhere, sleep in later, hike, swim, golf, read, or write. Sabbatical leaves are much more intentional time-outs for professionals who need to re-charge their interior lives by getting away for an extended period to study, research or reflect. I have benefitted from a sabbatcial leave in 2000 that changed my life. We got away to France where I began a long journey into the meaning of sacred space. And while the manuscript has been rejected by publishers, for very good reasons, the topic remains alive and vital in me. Now every other year I "bank" vacation from a previous year (with church leadership approval) so that we can return to France for longer periods than 3 or 4 weeks. I so anticipate this time out that I don't mind skipping a vacation one year so that I can get away longer the next.
Recently I corresponded witha church member who took a different time-out. They took a time-out from the church. The were a super-active couple, involved in many areas in the life of their church. They were turned to for all sorts of tasks and led well. But slowly, after years, church turned from passion into work and obligation. They began to resent the intrusion of project tasks into their Sunday time. Sabbath rest turned into an hour of worship bracketed with committee meetings before and after worship. So they left the church for a year. They told their pastor they needed a time out and he agreed, though not without some reluctance, to let them go with blessing. After a year away, visiting other churches in their community and sleeping in on some select Sunday mornings, they decided it was time to return to their church, their friends, their family, their community. They told me that church is different for them now that they gained some new perspective from their time-out. I wonder if we pastors don't need to be more creative when caring for burned out church members, encouraging them to back away, even take a time-out?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bon Fete Natioanale

It's Bastille Day, or in modern parlance "fete nationale." We have celebrated the day in Paris with friends, in the little village we stay in every other year, and here at home. Tonight Martha has invited Dick and Diana Trautwein and Lisa Holmlund to join us in a warm summer evening meal. The smell of cocque au vin drifts through the house. We went to the local cheese shop and spent an embarrasing amount on five different cheeses for the cheese course. Martha has an olive tray, tapinades, baguette, and an apricot tart. It's a night to wait for friends to arrive, have drinks and apetizers, and then cook the last things and eat slowly and visit long.
In France the long tables were brought out on the lawns along with all sorts of beverages and foods that went on and on and on. France taught me how to eat. No casseroles or hot dishes. Never eat a meal in a car driving or sip coffee while driving. Stop you work and eat. The biggest surprise to my French friends was working meals. How do you eat and work, they ask? Work should be work and eating....ah, it should be eating.
bon appetit!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Versailles: a removed reality

Zenos Hawkinson, my history professor at North Park College, believed that Versailles was a brilliant idea of the French royal family. It removed potential leaders from Paris and plunked them into a remote location with arcane rules of behavior that consumed all their time. They dressed in ridiculous clothing and practiced elaborate social rituals that meant nothing. What this did was to keep potential political threats out of main-stream life.
Alan Hirsch's new book "The Forgotten Ways: reactivating the missional church" makes me think of Versailles in the church today. We have allowed leadership to be about the attainment of degrees and idea-transfering and less about disciple-making and life-transformation. We cluster potential leaders into places called seminaries grouped around denominations and keep them out of the main-stream of life: the local church. We maintain obsolete traditions and rituals, tribal customs and routines that take all sorts of energy and yield very little transformation.
Hirsch's book forces me to look at my own time-investments and where I spend time maintaining the ship and where I invest in transforming lives. I am grateful for a church that is eager for transformation and maintenance. When will the seminaries get it?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Church in Jail

I went to jail last night again. This time I led worship in a tight sleeping room for about 16 guys, noisy, smelly and brightly lit by flourescent bulbs. It was a far cry from the beautiful sanctuary I led worship in earlier in the day. Not many of the MCC crowd were tatooed up their necks and on to their heads. At church we have a worship band that plays music well with powerpoint to lead the words. The jail church has a boombox and worship cd of Calvary Chapel praise songs.
I preach the same sermon at both places. But after the jail service, a young man came to me with a tatoo tear on the corner of his eye (meaning he killed someone) and said "I gave my life to Jesus seriously last year when my cousin was murdered. I was in jail at the time and gave my heart to Jesus at the funeral service. I want to study to be a youth pastor." Wow! we talked for about 5 minutes before the guard escorted us out.
I love having both experiences on the same day. Both are clearly church and both need a pastor. The jail is culturally distracting to me. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to have all privacy removed and be locked into holding pens for months on end, waiting the disposition of a case or serving a short (year) sentence. Yet, there is something spiritually bare and vulnerable there. These guys sing loudly and badly and don't care if others sing along or not. They always choose the song "Sanctuary" to sing. They linger to visit and talk about Jesus, the Bible and requests for prayer.
The same types of conversations grab my heart at MCC: taking next steps spiritually, a request for prayer for a wandering child, a comment about God working deeply in one's life. Where I get distracted is by organizational busines details that are necessary, but not spiritually central. Or I allow myself to get diluted with conversations about water pumps, flowers, insurance, new locks, or golf. Is it me or the setting? I wonder if I kept a picture of jail bars near me, I would stay more focussed?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Scolding for Jesus?

She was scolded by a church member for not knowing that her budget was over-spent. He was scolded by a staff person because he did not go through the right channels and offended him. I get scolded once in a while for overstepping my bounds, choosing a new hymn, or not consulting with someone who felt left out. There are some people in the churches I've served who really like to scold others into compliance, telling them off for their own good! Often the scolding persons are technically "right". A procedural step was skipped, an authorization was not signed the right way, the group did leave the room a mess, etc.
But does scolding anyone really do any good? Have you ever been scolded into good behavior? Has a good scolding softened your heart toward God and the other person? No, I'll bet not.
I think that some Christians have switched the 12 disciples for the 7 dwarfs, and take numbers to be the designated "grumpy." Some think that it is a necessary organizational behavior to grump on board (ever heard someone say that they are just being the "devil's advocate?") and scold others for their stupid mistakes and inept behavior. Scorn too often becomes the seasoning and flavor of conversations among Christians: contemporary music lovers scorn traditionalist with choirs and organs, and traditionalists can scorn those who sing "7-11" songs (seven words sung eleven times in a row). Old-timers can scorn the ignorance of new-comers to time-tested traditions and new-comers can scorn the encrusted resistance of traditionalists. Pastors routinely scorn meddlesome lay-people and I know lay-people scorn imperious pastors. Local churches scorn remote and removed denominational officials and denominational leaders scorn disloyal local pastors who don't raise support for their causes.
So, when did Jesus appoint anyone to scold anyone else? As I read and preached on Luke 10:1-12 today, I read Jesus telling us to bring the announcement of "Peace to this house" and "the Kingdom of God has already come near" to both those who accept and reject the gospel. The only biblical "scolder" I am immediately conscious of is Jonah....grumping away about Nineveh's sinfulness and God's compassion.
I think I need to try a totally "scold-free" week and see what happens.

Luke 10:1-12: travel tips

Yesterday I saw 5 weddings on the beach when I went swimming. 3 happened simultaneously, side-by-side on little patches of sand. The roads were clogged with not only regular beach-goers, but limousines and wedding traffic. As a destination location, Santa Barbara gets its fair share of vacation travelers. Having just traveled to Portland Oregon for the Covenant Annual Meeting and to Minneapolis for a wedding, I have participated in and witnessed how we travel. We carry lots of stuff.
My briefcase is loaded with a camera, ipod, cell phone, adapter cords, lap-top, books, magazines, tablets of paper, my GPS device, tickets and reservations.
Jesus, in today's lectionary text from Luke, give the disciples and us some different kind of travel advice: take nothing: no purse, bag or sandals. Greet no one along the way. Bring only the greeting of "Peace to this house" and "The kingdom of God has already come near you." That's all you need: a presence of peace and an awareness of kingdom.
As I sit in my office in the quiet early morning hours, surrounded by thousands of books, comfortable appointments, art on the walls, and files full of ideas, I realize how much stuff I carry around and how I need to hang a lot up and take the peace and kingdom awareness. I need to travel more lightly.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A New Game: sharing

I am learning a fun new game: sharing. Sharing is difficult for senior pastors. We like to lead and decide and be in control. Nowhere is that more precious than in the arena of preaching. It's what I do. I love to preach and I'm not always sure quite how it all comes together in the mix of study, prayer, observation, exegesis, eisegesis, and creativity.
This coming year Montecito Covenant worship will be exploring the growth and devolpment of the church as a follow-up to the last two years of preaching through the big themes in the Old Testament and last year through the life of Jesus. It's time to look at the church. So I outlined a year of preaching through the book of Acts with supportive Epistles. Then I tried something new: I invited in some scholars in our church to examine, critique, comment and suggest how the series could be structured better. Each person brings profound skills: Philosophy, New Testament, and Theology. They shred my outlines with great ideas and comments, suggestions and provocative questions. They suggest authors and articles. Together we spun off into tangents crtiquing current evangelical culture and modern assumptions. The time together shoots by all too fast. And at the end of the discussion, they THANK me!? I try to thank them back, but they insist that this is great fun and an honor to contribute to the preaching direction in their local church.
Now the question I ask is; why did I not do this long ago? In each of the churches I have served I have had wise scholars as part of the congregation I barely tapped, except to sit on committees of one kind or another. These friends came so alive as we talked together, they we eager to agree for a next lunch to talk about worship progress. There was no fighting or bickering about turf or tradition, but just fun playing together!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What husbands are good for!

It was one of those unguarded comments that when she said it, both my wife and she laughed embarassingly. They were struggling with the dvd and asked me to help. When I got the dvd playing she said: "It's one of those times when you really miss a husband: the remote, barbequeing and driving!" Yikes!

Baptized into?

A very good friend told me he is excited about doing a baptism. Baptisms are always exciting for pastors. They indicate a sign of serious commitment to Jesus and the willingness to "go public" with personal faith. Only this friend is a camp speaker and is offering baptism in the context of a camp setting. My question is this; into what kind of community is this believer being baptized? Where is the church? Where is the on-going nurturing and discipling community after the camp setting goes away?
Since moving to California, I have heard several stories of individual Christians leading a person to Christ and then going out and baptizing them in a private and intimate sort of setting; no church, no fellowship, no pastors. Is this radicalized individual faith like the Ethiopian Eunuch who Peter baptized or is it a critique on the church that has been too lax in evangelism? Camps, retreats, and conferences have done the evangelism that the church should be doing, that I should be doing. The institutional church has long given up aggressive evangelism and outsourced that task for Bible Camps around the country and great gatherings like CHIC (a national Covenant gathering of high schoolers every 3 years). If we (the local church) have not being doing the job, should we have the right to complain (or at least raise our eyebrows) when individual Christian leaders go off and baptize people outside of the context of the church, or is that context actually the church (where 2 or 3 are gathered) as a substitute for the organized institution?
What does the emerging church do to traditional understanding of the sacraments? There seems to be a whole-sale ignoring of I Corinthians 12 in favor of immediate spiritual gratification. There is no catechumenate, no preparatory period, no examination, just a decision and a baptism. My fear is that this process will yield poor churchmanship, poor body-life behavior over the long haul.
Maybe a better process would be for camps and retreats to more intentionally partner with home churches and connect new believers in to fellowship communities, into which they can then be baptized. Just a thought.

Monday, July 02, 2007

adolescent church?

Adolescents are wonderful people, but their lives are usually pretty much wrapped up in themselves. It's all about them all the time. If you are a parent of an adolescent or adult child who was an adolescent, you know the change that happens (or you pray happens). There is some mysterious change when an adolescent begins to see others as more than augments to themselves. They begin to take other people's viewpoints and perspectives into their consideration. They move from being consumers to sharers and producers. They ask questions and listen instead of just spouting their strong opinions.
Have you ever thought about churches in the same way? I know a church that conducts great ministry, but seldom shares the news with others. They have stirring concerts and speakers, but tell no other churches. They host significant services but seldom invite other churches to send representatives. The logic they tell me is that they are kingdom focussed, seeking to reach the lost but not share with the saved. Then there are the churches I know who take great efforts to include other churches and pastors, acknowledging a bigger kingdom and ministry than just them. I was part of a service like that recently where the host pastor invited me to have a more-than-significant role. We are sensing that in Montecito as the M-4 churches are doing ministry together, and avoiding taking individual credit. It's much more funworking with mature, adult churches than with adolscent churches. Mature churches seek to communicate aggressively with those around them in ministry, and adolescent churches have never given this idea a thought. The question I wonder about is this; do churches grow up or can they get stuck in a permanent adolescence?

Going Home?

Returning to a place where you are loved deeply is disorienting. Martha and I have been in the Twin Cities all weekend, driving over 600 miles back and forth to wedding events and connecting with friends and family. Yesterday we worshiped at Salem together for the first time since we left 2 years ago. We were barely able to get in for the service, hugging and greeting old friends along the way. Mark Pattie, the new senior pastor, was most gracious to let me borrow an alb for the wedding. He too greeted me most warmly after the service, along with Kay and Bev. It happened to be the last Sunday for the Contemporary Worship Coordinator who is taking a position with another Covenant Church on the East Coast.
What touched my heart the most was the organ and Cindy Reents' way of playing hymns. I never knew how much my heart responds to such musical artistry through the organ. Her way of interpreting each stanza of every hymn differently welled up my eyes with tears. Salem has a deep musical heritage unlike any chuch I've been a part of. Yet, the emerging contemporary service created so much pain and conflict. Seeing Jeff announce his departure, brought back those memories as well.
We tried to launch a contemporary service along-side two traditional, liturgical services.What began as a non-competitive idea turned into an entrenched conflict of polarized viewpoints and narsh words. I wish Mark and the staff God's guidance and grace as they negotiate the next chapeter in Salem's life. So, while I miss Cindy at the organ and the great choral strength of Salem, I am so grateful to be at MCC where the spirit regarding music and worship is one of open-eyed adventure and excitement about learning and growing. We do not have a pipe organ and probably never will, but we also do not have battle lines and wounded relationships.
Visiting my parents, staying with our son, eating with old friends, driving through familiar neighbors all seemed so easy and natural, but it's not home any more. Watching Liz pack up her car and drive off to find a new life in Atlanta left a lump in my throat, but I left here too, sensing God's call to new places, new people, and new challenges. I can hardly wait to get on and off the plane today on our way home.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Strange People You Meet

We are in Minnesota this weekend for the wedding of a former confirmation student out at a farm way south of Minneapolis. After the ceremony all the guests lined up to into the huge tent for dinner. A woman stood next to me and looked up at me quizzically? I hate that! What she was doing was asking if I remembered her? What church did she used to attend? Did I perform a wedding for her years ago? Her son or daughter? Did I officiate at the funeral of her loved one? No hint....just a widening smile as she knew I did not immediately place her.
It was Liz who blurted out her identity with a yelp..."Dr. Dunn!!" This was the neuro-surgeon who saved our daughter's life 11 1/2 years ago in a dramatic emergency surgery to remove a major tumor from her cerebellum. She was as excited and happy to see us (really to see Liz) as we were to see her. For the next moments we reconnected and re-expressed our deep thanks and appreciation for her skillful actions.
In those moments we were slammed back into the worst and best days of our lives; when we almost lost our daughter and then received her back. God is good!

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