Tag Archives: presbyterian

Presbyterians: Be At This Thing.

The 2014 NEXT Church National Gathering will be in Minneapolis.

Yes, Minneapolis.

But come on. Polar Vortex will be a distant memory by then! The weather will be just fine in early April…

NEXT Church is a conversation within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that seeks to inspire and nurture creative and vibrant ministry for a changing cultural context.

That’s a mouthful. Here’s the gist: The way we do church is changing. It must change, it will change. What better way to live toward that change than to gather with other pastors, church professionals, ruling elders and other leaders to celebrate, think, grow, and challenge one another?

Check out NEXT Church’s website and explore our articles and initiatives. I am proud to serve as co-chair of this growing organization.

What does NEXT mean to me? I cherish the support, inspiration, accountability and ideas that the NEXT conversation offers me as a small-church pastor.  But there’s one phrase from the mission statement that tugs at me above all:

...the church that is becoming.

The national gathering March 31-April 2 will be focused on the church that is becoming. There’s a spirit of adventure in NEXT Church, an excitement and trust that our best days are still ahead of us.

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We’ve got a great keynote team, several workshops around the themes “lead, create, discern,” testimonies of how the church is stepping out in bold faithfulness right now, and lots more. What’s probably most vital about the NEXT gathering is the community that gets built “in the margins” of the schedule. The conference team has built even more time for breaks, informal conversations, and Open Space than in past years.

I invite you to come to Minneapolis this spring. You will dream big and come home energized.

Read more about the leadership and workshops. Check out the schedule.

And register here. Hotel info here.

P.S. There are also regional gatherings coming up in Richmond (February 1) and in the Baltimore/DC area (February 22). I will be at both and if you’re nearby, I hope you will be too.

 

I’m Not Married to My Church, Are You?

I was with a group of folk from another congregation recently, introducing them to NEXT Church and talking about my involvement as co-chair. We got to talking about generational differences when it comes to membership in an institution, particularly a church. Millenials are way less wired toward joining a group in the sense of signing on the dotted line. In many cases they are committed to the organization and will support it through time and money, but they do not see the point of being a member.

I made an offhand comment about churches that have people re-commit to church membership every year. Rather than having someone join and be a member of a church “forever,” there is an annual discernment process. The church leadership re-introduces folks to what it means to be a member (and presumably, the expectations are high), and asks people to consider whether they are willing to devote the time and energy toward that endeavor. As always, non-members are welcome to worship and serve in the community, to receive pastoral care, etc.

There was some predictable backlash to this idea, some of which I can understand. There are times in a church’s life when things just aren’t that much fun. A beloved pastor leaves and the energy declines. There are conflicts and crises. Are we saying it’s OK for people to bail just because things get hard, or because the church is not suiting their needs?

And yes, our culture is one in which ties to institutions and communities are more tenuous than ever. So people are right to ask whether a yearly church membership drive feeds that lack of commitment. OR, does it simply acknowledge the world as it is, not as we want it to be? People can carp all they want about “kids today,” but how does that work as an evangelism strategy?

One comment really grabbed me: What, are people going to get married year by year now? I didn’t have the presence of mind at the time to question that analogy. But now, a few days later… No. Just no.

Church membership is not like a marriage. It’s just not. Don’t believe me? Consider this: when a person relocates because of a job, there is often grief over leaving one’s church. But rarely does someone pass up that job because they have made a commitment to their worshiping community. But I know plenty of people who have done that because a move would be bad for their spouse or family.

We use the marriage analogy all the time in the church. Pastors seeking another call feel like they’re “cheating on their church,” like they’re “running around behind people’s backs.” I can relate to the sentiment—there is a zone of secrecy that must be present in these situations, and it can feel inauthentic and sneaky. Still, I find these kinds of metaphors very unhelpful. Pastors are not called to a church until death do they part. They are called for a season of the church’s life. And in the Presbyterian Church (USA), there is at least a minimal sense of re-upping each year, in the sense of negotiating and re-approving terms of call.

Why would we not at least consider giving church members the same freedom to reaffirm their commitment to a congregation that pastors themselves have? Why do we get to leave whenever we feel the winds of the Spirit blowing, but church members are on the hook for the rest of their lives?

The real crux of this membership stuff is not people’s lack of commitment. It’s that the church has done a poor job of teaching discernment and discipleship.

Discernment: sensing the presence and leading of God, which goes beyond what makes me happy in the moment.

And discipleship: commitment to following the Way of Jesus, even when it’s hard, even when it means being in a community with people who are sometimes a pain to deal with.

A church that does a good job of this doesn’t need to worry about a mass exodus of people if the interim’s a boring preacher.

And a church that does a poor job of this wants to keep warm bodies (or not-so-warm ones) on the rolls any way they can.

Friday Link Love: Tech Overload, Life of Pi, and the Death of Homework?

Away we go!

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dove-hands12NEXT Church 

I am on the strategy team for the NEXT Church, an initiative that is trying to encourage dynamic and vibrant ministry, particularly in the Presbyterian Church (USA). If that’s something you care about too, you want to be reading our blog, perusing (and contributing to) our archive of ministry resources, and registering for our 2013 gathering, March 4-5 in Charlotte.

Bookmark it! Share it! Love it!

Update: The latest post on the NEXT blog is by yours truly. Yes, I’m getting cranky about not singing Christmas carols during Advent again.

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Time to Tune Out — Roger Cohen, New York Times

Posted this on FB/Twitter yesterday with the question, “Is disconnecting from technology going to be the new trend?” Here’s the article again:

[The author quotes a reader who unplugged from Facebook] “Now, I am back to reading books when I would have been Facebooking. I talk to folks at the café I frequent. People have started calling me on the phone again to catch up because they don’t know what is going on with me otherwise. I have a hunch that being DISconnected is on its way to being the new trend.”

So here’s to doses of disconnection in 2013. Get out of the cross hairs of your devices from time to time. Drink experience unfiltered by hyperconnection. Gaze with patience. Listen through silences. Let your longings breathe.

Take a tech sabbath!

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Can Faith in the Better Story Sustain Us? Survival and Significance in “Life of Pi” — Nick Olson, Patheos

Life-of-Pi

Life of Pi is a story about Story, which means I love it:

Taken together, Life of Pi‘s various themes seem to suggest a longing for human significance couched in vaguely religious language. It’s a contemplative tale rooted in questions with room for open-ended interpretation. More specifically, Lee’s film — as an extension of Martel’s novel — suggests that our difficult, often tragic lives matter in a way that cold “facts” can’t totally explain. You might characterize the story as a “desperate” (survivalist) attempt to re-enchant a supposedly disenchanted modern world. Interestingly, in an interview with PBS, Martel says that he wrote his novel during a time when he felt lost: “I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small ‘s’ but sort of with a capital ‘S’ — something that would direct my life.” Martel’s existential plight seems to have been Pi’s shipwrecked plight: lonely and directionless. Having “faith” in this particular context has a less specific range; its content is the simple belief that our lives — suffering included — are filled with meaning, purpose, and wonder. Which is to say, in Life of Pi, the religious and literary imaginations merely function as signals of the truth of significance itself, a “better Story” compared to a disenchanted, cold rationalism because there is more to humanity and existence than meets the eye.

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Isaac Newton v. Rube Goldberg — 2D House (Video, 1:07)

Who will win the battle? Why, you will, because you’ll be wonderfully entertained. Here it is. (Can’t embed for some reason)

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Today’s Assignment — Louis Menand, The New Yorker

Is homework useful? The article looks at attitudes about homework in two very different countries, Finland and South Korea.

Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead. When President Hollande promises to end homework, make the school day shorter, and devote more teachers to disadvantaged areas, he is saying that he wants France to be more like Finland. His reforms will work only if that is, in fact, what the French want.

What do Americans want? Not to be like Finland is a safe guess. Americans have an egalitarian approach to inequality: they want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else.

That’s one of the truer sentences about the American Dream I’ve ever read. He goes on:

The dirty little secret of education reform is that one of the greatest predictors of academic success is household income. Even the standardized tests used for college admissions, like the S.A.T.s, are essentially proxies for income: students from better-off backgrounds get higher scores. The educational system is supposed to be an engine of opportunity and social readjustment, but in some ways it operates as a perpetuator of the status quo.

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An Age-Old Question: Readers Debate Science and Theology — New York Times

The author, Nicholas Wade, wrote a reflection on Marco Rubio’s recent comments about the age of the earth. These are some of the responses to that article, which I found interesting. Here’s one:

In calling Senator Marco Rubio’s answer to a question about the age of the earth “15 back flips and a hissy fit,” Nicholas Wade grossly misdescribed the answer quoted earlier in his article. Mr. Rubio’s answer was a simple and ordinary evasion. It left room for Mr. Rubio’s religious right supporters to hope that he will support teaching the Bible in science class, while leaving himself room not to appear to be an outright science denier, to appease his more scientific supporters.

Possibly, the article should have been put in the political news section rather than the science section; the scientific truth of the theory of evolution has not been news since about 1859.

I’m not sure whether it was a simple evasion or not, but it seems plausible.

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“Couponing” for Authors — J.L. Greger, Mystery Writing is Murder

This link is going to be most of interest for writers; if that’s you, check it out. The author describes a process by which she collects stories, data and tidbits that might be inspiration for a bit of writing.

Good principles here. But the main reason I’m linking to the article: it gives me yet another chance to profess my love for Evernote. I have several notebooks set up at the moment, in which I’m couponing ideas for new book projects.

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A 120-Year-Old Mechanical Device that Perfectly Mimics the Sound of a Bird — Colossal

Get out the headphones or turn up your speakers and prepare to be impressed by archaic 19th century engineering.

Delightful:

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Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday Link Love

It has been a crazy week. Just nuts. On the upside, I am now finally, completely, 100% done with the book, revisions and all. Huzzah!

And anon!

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Logo for “The Truth”

First, some link love family-style:

The Truth — APM

My brother-in-law Jonathan is the producer of this radio program, dubbed “movies for your ears.” They were recently featured on This American Life. If you like the cleverness of the radio plays on Prairie Home Companion, but long for something WAY less stodgy, check this out. Clever, quality work.

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Where the Hell Is Matt…One Last Dance — YouTube

I adored the 2008 video and always vowed to use it as an intro to World Communion Sunday. (Now I have the technology to do it at Tiny! Woo!) Maybe I’ll use this version instead:

Absolute joy.

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What Post-Baby Bellies REALLY Look Like — Daily Mail Online

Honesty and beauty:

A group of working mothers and bloggers have decided to tackle the growing pressure women feel to snap straight back into shape after giving birth.

Baring their own post-baby bodies, seven bloggers from CT Working Moms have embraced their stomachs, in an effort to liberate other women from the unattainable cultural beauty ideals plaguing today’s ‘bounce-back’ obsessed society.

In a photo shoot they have named the Goddess Gallery, the women hope to encourage new mothers to accept, and cherish, their changing bodies despite the ever-growing ‘body after baby’ celebrity worship, and the suffocating negativity that can come with it.

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The Impossible Juggling Act: Motherhood and Work — NPR

Anne-Marie Slaughter is EVERYWHERE right now. Her Atlantic article is a tour de force. This capsule of her Fresh Air review gives you the gist of her argument, but honestly, you should read the whole thing.

“I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can, too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured,” she writes. “My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged — and quickly changed.”

Those changes include recognizing the needs of both parents — and giving them both time off — when they first become caregivers. But the deeper problems, Slaughter says, are more cultural — and extend beyond the first months of parenting.

“[We assume] that the worker who works longest is most committed as opposed to valuing time management and efficiency at getting things done over the length of time,” she says. “And second, [we assume] that that time has to be spent at the office.”

I’m too close to this at the moment to comment. Maybe I will at some later date.

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Impromptu Puccini — Andrew Sullivan

I’m shamelessly reproducing Sully’s entire post because it defies abbreviation:

A male reader writes:

“My husband Jimmy and I recently celebrated our wedding here in Brooklyn, and my mom and her new husband came up for the festivities. This was a totally impromptu performance by my mom at the request of friends who just started asking her to sing something. Though I expected she would go with something from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog, Puccini is what she delivered. Absolutely brilliant. I’m still picking myself up off the floor. I’ve never heard her sing this and it’s one of my favorite pieces. The reactions of my friends Sarah (flower dress on the right) and Neal (lilac shirt next to her) are priceless …”

[Sullivan continues] A small reminder: Mitt Romney wants to ban these occasions by constitutional amendment across the entire country, and forcibly divorce those of us living happy married lives. What he hasn’t counted on are our moms. You think Puccini is surprising? What till Mitt messes with her son and son-in-law.

Do not miss the follow up post, either. The mother is a conservative Republican from North Carolina who is very suspicious of Obama and voted for McCain/Palin… and against Amendment One.

Love wins.

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Take My iPad, Please! — Forward

Leaders in the Conservative Jewish movement have offered some guidelines on technology as it relates to Sabbath. I haven’t read them in depth yet but obviously I’m glad this conversation is taking place.

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And in honor of my denomination’s General Assembly which meets next week…

Hey PCUSA, Stare Death in the Face! — Theresa Cho

Lately, I’ve been reading “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales. Using science and storytelling, he tackles the mysteries of survival – why do some have what it takes to survive while others don’t. It seems an odd choice of reading to correlate with the challenges of our denomination today, but you would be amazed how useful simple survival skills may give us the tools we need to survive. Gonzales says, “In a true survival situation, you are by definition looking death in the face, and if you can’t find something droll and even something wondrous and inspiring in it, you are already in a world of hurt.” As Christians and Presbyterians, we have a real opportunity here to recalibrate and look “death” in the face and see something wondrous and inspiring. I wonder if that is what Jesus saw when he entered the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. What Boy Scout survival skills did Jesus whip out in the depths of temptation. I imagine he didn’t only experience a sense of being physically lost, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

If you find my diagnosis of the church too optimistic–and some do–read Theresa’s article.

What To Expect… Grandparents’ Edition

My video on “What to Expect When Your Church is Expecting” has hit 4,000 views/pages and counting. I’m humbled and honored by the attention.

It also makes me cringe since I hate watching myself on video.

A few folks have countered that there are places in which the church is not pregnant, but really and truly dying. I agree. One person rightly pointed out that the symptoms for pregnancy that I named are not unlike the symptoms of a cancer patient. Also true. As I’ve said, this video/post offers a metaphor. To the extent that the metaphor helps, great. If it gets in the way of the hard work of dying that must take place in many specific places, disregard.

May my words be faithful or may they slip harmlessly away.

The inimitable Jan Edmiston riffed on the metaphor in a wonderful way today. The church is graying. So what is our responsibility as grandparents to this new church that is coming into being?

It occurs to me that those in my and older generations need to keep something in the forefront of our minds as the church we love is pregnant:

The Next Church Will Not Be Our Baby.

We will have great ideas for how to care for it and treasure it.  We might even be able to help pay for its nurture and its future.  But it’s not our baby.

 This is not to say we will not be ideal grandparents.  But it’s possible that we could overstep our bounds.  We could chuckle at the disciplines the younger generations have chosen to follow. We might want to talk incessantly about the way we did it.  But let’s not.

She ends by saying that the church of the future will be a lot browner than it is now. That’s also true. And yet the Presbyterian Church is very white. So what’s going on there? Adoption is another metaphor that might help us. I wonder if there’s someone out there that might riff on that in some creative ways. Susan? Alex?

Let’s all keep dreaming and spinning generative metaphors.