Archive for May 2015

Things get crazy when we move

Back in the 1970s, Loren Mead identified “Five Developmental Tasks” for transitional leaders. In the next few weeks, some of you will be moving to a new church and/or your church may be recieving new leadership. These five tasks provide a check list for healthy transition:


1) Help the congregation come to terms with its History.

For the lame duck pastor, this means helping the congregation view the coming move in the context of the church’s larger lifespan. Pastors come and go. The church goes on. Looking at history has a way of diminishing our myopic obsession with personalities. History is something we come to terms with. We must each accept our failures and dropped balls. Both Pastors and Congregations can be gently led to make confessions and receive forgiveness and assurance.


For the new pastor, coming to understand the congregation’s history is vital. New comers to a family system (all congregations are complex family systems) can easily blunder into hidden conflicts and cross-cultural taboos. Knowing the congregation’s history also provides valuable clues about the church’s sense of identity. Further, asking long time church members to tell you the story of their congregation is a great way to show that you care and are willing to listen.


2) Help the congregation to discover a new sense of Identity.

Church leaders often fall into the trap of confusing their congregation’s identity with the aspirations and personality of their current pastor. A lay person will say, “We are very mission-minded here at First UMC.” In actuality, the long suffering pastor who has been at First for fifteen years has had to use all of her energy to get them to do the minimum of outreach. There is a brief moment between pastors, when churches are free to think about who they are when they aren’t trying to please the pastor. I believe each congregation has a unique calling from God. Their true identity is something that remains constant, even as pastors come and go. A new pastor is more likely to be successful in taking them to the next level if they can help the congregation discover a new sense of identity that aligns with latent personality or DNA that the church is already familiar with.


3) Set in motion needed Leadership Change.

When you leave your current assignment, there will always be some church leaders who will use this opportunity to step down from their positions. It may be that they were tired and didn’t want to tell you, or that they feel the new pastor should will need a new broom to bring in sweeping changes. You can help by informing the new pastor of these changes. Further, there are some office holders that need a nudge to leave where they are ineffective and move onto an area of service that the new pastor will find beneficial.

As a new pastor, you will want to involve as many new leaders as you can in the committee structure of the church. People who, like you, are relatively new to the congregation, are more likely to support the changes you will be inviting the congregation to consider.


 4) Help the congregation to renew the relationship it has with its Denomination.

For United Methodists, every change in pastoral appointment brings a renewed interest in the local church’s relationship to the conference. Paying apportionments (mission share) and participating in district functions are always positive attributes for a congregation. It is easier to build healthy habits and restore strained relationships during a pastoral change. No matter how you feel about your own experience of the appointment process, it is vital that you present the denomination in a good light. The people do not need to hear your personal complaints. Further, a good relationship with the denomination will be a good thing for the local church in the long run. It is in their interest that they do all they can to be a church in good standing.


5) Help the laity commit to new Directions in ministry.

Just as you are trying to grow as a person and take your professional skills to the next level by participating in a move, so also the churches involved are committing themselves to traveling a new direction in ministry. It is your responsibility to help the church you are leaving be open to new ideas and opportunities. It is also your responsibility to help your next church make the transition to where their ministry needs to be in the future.


These five words: History, Identity, Leadership Change, Denomination, and Direction, are key to promoting healthy attitudes in congregations as they change pastors.

additional author: 
Loren Meade
Romans 8:12-17

Here is a challenge: use these words, “for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” (Romans 8:13) to speak about addiction. I say this cautiously: first, because the passage speaks in a very elegant way about the Holy Spirit and most congregations need to hear that message. Second, because none of us want to repeat the judgmental, temperance, language of our grandparent’s church. Third, because only a few in the church will be ready to hear the message and act upon it.


That being said, note a few advantages to this passage as a teachable moment in the discussion about drugs and other addictive agents in our society.


  1. It speaks about the ‘way’ of death/flesh and the ‘way’ of life. The focus is not on the addictive substance or activity. Addiction is a process. It entraps people, not just by hijacking the pleasure centers of the brain, but also by reinforcing habits and social activities. Many of those I talk to worry more about losing their friends than they do about losing their drug. Paul says we need to replace the life of the flesh with a life of the spirit. That means Christian fellowship and supportive group therapy.
  2. The context of Romans 8 is Romans 7. Here Paul speaks about how our good intentions fail. We, all of us, become at some point in our lives, enslaved to sin. The twelve step program’s, “recognize that we are helpless to help ourselves,” comes into play.
  3. Paul offers hope. The great faith statement: those who live by the spirit are children of God (14). We are not alone in our struggles… we have a God who jealously desires our freedom.
Your brain on meth
Pentecost 2
People used to choose churches that looked like churches

I rushed to get to the bank and found it open. Good thing, because we chose this bank for its multiple locations and convenient hours. There was a time when people chose a bank because it looked like a bank — big vault, rigid hours, paternalistic attitude, etc. There was a time when people chose their church because it looked like a church. Big vault = high theology, rigid hours = fixed-in-the-marquee service times, paternalistic attitude=paternalistic attitude.


Churches used to emphasize membership. Today, people need to be invited to partner with you. This happens on two levels: 1) healthy congregations partner with your life to help you grow spiritually and become a better person. Small group meetings and worship services are planned as partnering events. 2) healthy congregations are in mission to transform their community and want you to partner with them.


Guess what? I’ve noticed that whenever I go to my bank I am bombarded with partnership invitations. They have a monitor running a powerpoint showing how by working together with them: I can save for retirement, repair my credit, buy a new home, etc. Paternalism is banished from their slides. This is financial discipleship formation. I can even use a mobile app to weave my bank partnership into my life 24/7.


Oh, and did I mention that they serve decent coffee? Why can’t my church be more like my bank?

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27

What if we prepared for Pentecost the way we prepare for Christmas or Easter? We spend the month before December 25 buying presents for those we love. What if the fifty days before Pentecost became a time in which we thought about how God has gifted us? We each have received spiritual gifts, natural talents, and places of service, by the grace of God. The post-Easter time should be used preparing ourselves — sharpening the saw, as Steven Covey says — for more effective service and more fruitful lives.


Hopefully our Lenten journey in preparation for Easter varies from year to year. One year we may study the Lord’s Prayer, line by line, seeking to understand the mechanism of prayer. In the Pentecost that follows, we could make changes in our church to make it a more solid house of prayer.


Some years, the key emphasis of Lent is upon the work and life of Christ. We arrive at Easter glad to hear the news that he lives, and was not defeated in death. Now, we should arrive at Pentecost amazed by the news that the Holy Spirit allows Christ to work in our community through the Holy Spirit.


This year, Pentecost falls on Aldersgate. Those in the United Methodist tradition should be preparing to evaluate how their church lives out of the same spirit that warmed the heart of John Wesley. Like the early church in Acts, Pentecost pushes us into the streets to show our commitment to social justice. It was the heart of a missionary that was prepared for the spirit on May 24th. John Wesley was also a man prepared for his Pentecost by a life of personal piety and daily devotions. Such things matter.

5/24 prepared Wesley to serve, Daily Devotions prepared him for 5/24
Aldersgate Day
Life's forces have both direction and magnitude

Lately I’ve been telling people that all authentic long range planning in the church is driven by two outward and upward forces or vectors — a vector is a force with both magnitude and direction: Vector 1) The drive to reach new people, and Vector 2) The organizational charge to nurture our faithful and make them into effective disciples for Christ. Any action plans or goals that we develop for our congregation must move in at least one of these directions. Hopefully our goals serve both vectors, for this is where the energy of the Holy Spirit and our faithfulness to the scriptures lies.


This shouldn’t seem strange to us, for there is within our personal lives a similar nurturing of the Holy Spirit. Children are born into this world with two outward and upward desires: Vector 1) The drive to experience new things and to be creative, and Vector 2) The organizational charge to do good work, make things, and provide for ourselves. Sometimes these vectors are placed in opposition, people are told they have to decide between experiencing everything (vector 1), and working to be successful at one thing (or to have material security). This polarity breaks the human heart. The Holy Spirit calls us to be both creative and nurturing. A full life sends us outward to experience new things and deeper to live lives of service. 


In both my personal life and in my consultation with congregations, I have advocating the practice of discerning waypoints rather than fixing SMART goals. We can be more inclusive of every idea brought up at a planning meeting if we say, “What kind of things can we do that will help us to be both more welcoming of new people and grow in our effectiveness as disciples? What’s a good first step? We don’t need a five year plan, just a place to begin.”


Try translating this to your personal life. What if James is right when he says: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) 


Instead of setting big goals, like “I’m going to lose 25 pounds by July 1st,” try discerning the next waypoint to a healthier you. It may be to start each day with a walk. Similarly, we should ask, What kind of things can I be doing that both help me to be more creative and help me to express love to my family? What’s a good first step towards a more compassionate life? What is the Lord willing to do with me today? Leaders who can get out of the “life by objective” mindset on a personal level will be more sensitive and flexible leaders in all of their church work.

Psalm 1
Mark 4:30-32

I like Psalm One, especially with the clear progression of verbs found in the RSV walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands… nor sits. One imagines a young person listening first to some bad advice, then finding himself loitering with the wrong crowd, then in time, becoming fully stuck in an addiction, financial folly, or illicit lifestyle. Wickedness is an active, dynamic thing, until it is not. It is easier to steer a life away from tragedy while it is yet unformed. Be careful the rut you choose, you’ll be in it a long, long, time.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about goal-setting and the role that visioning should play in our personal lives. It seems to me that the wicked are much more intentional about marketing long range self-help than are the compassionate. The wicked begin their sermons with, “You can do whatever you fix your mind to do.” Jesus began his sermon, “blessed are…” He focused on forming the generous heart in his disciples first, before he told them that the goal was to make disciples of the whole world. He began with inner peace and rooted spirituality (taught people how to sit), then branched out to spreading salvation/healing (walk to all nations).


The wicked are always going somewhere and asking you to join them. They go to Arizona and build a wall. They go into the city to buy drugs. They go to Wall Street and create Ponzi schemes and real-estate bubbles. They go to the Midwest and buy family farms, reseeding the earth with GMO corn and Round-up resistant soy. Once they have convinced you that you are in control of your own happiness, they ask you to stand with them so that they can grow richer and more famous. Eventually, their subjects are reduced to unthinking zombies — people who sit together because misery loves company.


Not so the righteous! Psalm one gives us the image of a fertile tree as the ultimate good life. Jesus builds on this in his parable of the mustard seed that grows to become a useful fixture in the community (Mark 4:30-32). We still need to think about goals and visions for our lives, but that needs to be done in the context of discerning the spiritual gifts and resources that God has already placed in our lives. We root in order to grow.

Be careful the rut you choose, you'll be in it a long time
Easter 7
Are you keeping in touch with everyone

Sometimes I attend a nearby church that is clueless on communication.I don’t think that they are alone in having problems adapting to digital age. Because I am an irregular attender, I find myself asking questions like, “What time is the Ash Wednesday service?” or “What craft items do they need for VBS?” or “Is the church still collecting items for flood relief?” I could always call the church office, but when are they open? This church puts out a weekly bulletin, which is packed with worship parts and cryptic notes. This bulletin is optional for those who attend the contemporary service. Let’s face it, no one really reads the bulletin any more. Thank God for the church web site. Wait a minute, it hasn’t been updated in over a year! 


This is all exasperated by the way people schedule their lives today. Most of the faithful are irregular, like I am. Their personal schedules shift from week to week. They are used to planning their activities on the fly. The urge to donate to a mission project may strike them late at night or while they are out of town. They’ll go to Saturday night worship this week and the 11 o’clock traditional the next. The savvy church leader uses doodle poll or some other flexible scheduling process to gather their committee members. In planning programs, churches need to provide multiple small group experiences, rather than expect one large event to fit everyone’s lifestyle.


As we have shifted from paper to digital, each of us has chosen their own set of preferred communication tools. Some depend heavily on email, while others send texts. Facebook has become universal, but only some of your members will visit the church’s page. Blogs and twitter may work best for those who always have a mobile device at hand. For most of us, web sites are fall-back resources, that is, we go to them only when we urgently need information. Committee chairs should be given the website password and made responsible for keeping the calendar items and other information current for their work area. No one should have to call the church office to discover when a meeting is going to take place. Don’t forget to post church events to Facebook, so that church friends get an invite and have a chance to indicate if they plan to attend. 

1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

One of the embarrassing things about our faith is that our entire theology can be expressed in three words of less than four letters. This fact, combined with the difficulty many of us have with practicing what we say we know, leads us to want to fancy up Jesus. Maybe my intellect would be happier with Scientology or some contemporary form of Gnosticism. Yet, God is love — and those who know this must also love.


I have been helped lately by hearing W. Craig Gilliam from Perkins and, speak about Martin Buber’s I-Thou. It too, is a simple concept. Every social interaction involves either my treating the other as an IT, or my being aware of them as human, endowed with the full range of feelings that I have, and loved by God by the same grace that I depend upon. Take what should be an easy place to practice this, the daily interaction between two people in a long term committed relationship. Dr. Gillian points out that his wife knows when he has treated her as an IT. This is the hitch in our conversations, especially with people who know us well, we expect them to respond to what we have said, instead they respond to the actual I-IT attitude that was behind our speech. 


God is love. He always treats us as human beings. His grace is thou…thou…thou. I do religion when I treat God as an IT, and offer him an hour in church and a twenty dollar bill in the plate, but don’t seek to know his will. His will is knowable. He wants us to love those around us. He wants us to treat them, I-Thou.


One of my odd jobs in college was teaching a group of mentally challenged adults how to swim. For some of them, the fear of the water was so strong, that I could smell it. Instead of teaching them how to do the Australian crawl, I led them to go one rung further down the ladder of the pool, then said, “Good job!” Others, had been coming to this swimming class for years, and still depended upon the floatation devises we gave to them. Yet, what struct me, as someone preparing to go to theology school, was that each of them were capable of knowing that God is love. Some mastered what I have not in thirty five years. Further, this group of adults were fortunate to be in a facility where the people treated them with I-Thou love, day after day. 


I-Thou, this is evangelism. God is love, this is the sermon. Go do likewise.

W.Craig Gilliam applies I-Thou to church conflict & social justice
Easter 6
Mother's Day
Vectors have magnitude and direction

In long range planing with churches, I have begun to use the word vector instead of goal or objective. The Goals/Objective language is borrowed from the business world which thinks in terms of profit being the underlying greatest good that all things serve. I cringe every time I hear a guru tell church people to adopt SMART goals. We have Christ to serve, and our driving long-range vision is the great commission, that we make disciples in all contexts and among all peoples for the transformation of the world. All of this is done with an attitude of authentic love for those outside the church, never treating them as objects to be manipulated for our own ends. Authenticity often gets lost when we set goals and adopt metrics to keep us tracking towards our business objectives.


The word “Vector” is borrowed from the sciences. Math and physics people use vectors to describe forces that interact with objects or people. Every vector has both magnitude and direction. We have within the church, a movement by the holy spirit to witness abroad about the love of God. This vector leads us to develop strategies to bring new people to Christ and the church. In each local church, this vector has a certain magnitude or intensity, often related to the degree of spiritual passion in the church. 


We also have another vector that leads us towards organizing and providing structures where our people can be nurtured towards effective discipleship. This force propels us to schedule worship services, develop small groups, engage our people in mission work, teach ethics and stewardship, etc. This fulfills the “make disciples for the transformation of the world” component of our call. I like the Methodist credo, organizing to beat the devil. In every local church this, too, has a certain magnitude. Where it is weak, the church declines.


Instead of setting goals or objectives, we should develop way points that build first one and then the other of these essential vectors. The Holy Spirit always adds these two vectors (not balances), leading the church outward and upward.


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