Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My New Blog

I've started a new blog called Life According to St. Mark. It's a fun play off my namesake's Gospel letter.

I hope you have enjoyed The Lotus, but after a few months, I will shut it down. Please, please, join me over on Life According to St. Mark!

Monday, June 09, 2008

One Party, Three Churches

After Ordination service May 31st, my home church, Rossville UMC, hosted a big party. It was a great reception. Steph and I really appreciated it.

What was really neat was that they invited the church I'm serving, Columbia City UMC, and the church I will be serving, Winchester First UMC.

It was a somewhat surreal moment to have the church that shaped my faith journey hosting the first church I was appointed to and which helped shape future ministry. Then the church to which we'll be moving soon where I will get to "try out" all this stuff I've been learning and growing into as pastor.

It was a cool moment, and it was yet another reminder that we are not islands of ourselves. We are interconnected in ways that we don't often see or even know. It was humbling to know that I am and will be a connectional bridge in the history of these churches. I wonder who else was that bridge? How many bridges are there!?!

That party was a symbol to me of the Church: We are all in this together. We celebrate together. We cry together. One church shapes the other and vice-versa.

We often talk about being a connectional church as United Methodists. Rather, I say that we just admit to it. In reality it's the connectional Church, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thoughts on Ordination

Sometimes we look forward to moments, and we expect a moment that is transcendent. Often, those moments fail to live up to our expectations.

Not so, Saturday. I will always treasure and remember May 31st, 2008. On the last day of our Annual Conference session 10 of us were ordained Elders in Christ's Holy Church. After years of mentoring and examination, it was an incredible moment to have the Bishop lay his hands on my head and set me aside for the Church. Having Jack Hart place the stole around my neck was surreal. It truly was a transcendent moment.

A few weeks leading up to ordination, Bishop Mike Coyner led all of the ordinands in a 2 day retreat. There we read and discussed the meaning of being ordained. I appreciated the reflection. Though little was "new" to me, it was a great (meaning both good and big) reminder of the weight of yoke of ordination. It is not something done lightly. The tradition of ordination came from the concept of Apostolic Succession.

In the Early Church, growth was rapid, leaders were few, and the only Scripture was the Old Testament. As disagreements in theology arose, it became evident that there needed to be a process of preserving and transmitting the historic faith. This became ordination. The Disciples of Jesus had disciples who had disciples who had disciples who...you get the picture. The concept of Apostolic Succession is that there is a trained, mentored, and educated group of people set aside to preserve and transmit (sometimes the word "guard" is used) the historic faith. This line of ordination, in theory, goes all the way back to Jesus himself. This is why we ordain clergy and set them aside.

On Sunday morning, June 1st, I kissed my ordination stole, offered up prayers that in humility I might be a servant of God to CCUMC, and I put on a stole that carried an impossible weight. It was the weight of being a servant of the Church, a faith and a people that extend millenia in the past and innumberable years ahead. It didn't feel good or bad, but there was a real sense that I was now different.

I am honored. I am humbled. I feel good. I am carrying a burden. In all these feelings, still there is something that is true. That always was true and always will be: The love of God. I pray that always my stole is a reminder that ordination is a calling by God to the Church and entrusted to me that I might serve and in so doing offer God's Love to a hurting and broken world.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Appointment Process

I've had a few people ask me about the appointment process in the United Methodist Church. It's a fairly involved process, so I invite you to read about it here.

Thanks to everyone at CCUMC who have wished us well. It's been an adventure, and we are humbled by your love and support.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Going with God

This week was a very busy week. Two funerals, a wedding, and seeing our new home !! :o

Yes, our new home!

Thursday night, Stephanie and I met with the PPRC of FUMC Winchester and District Superintendent Dale Mendenhall. Stephanie, myself, and the church agreed that we are a good fit, and the appointment became official.

This morning, we met with CCUMC's SPRC sharing that we will be moving. It will be announced tomorrow morning in both churches, but it is now official...and we can talk about it!

Stephanie and I are very excited, and we look forward to the ministry we join in Winchester. We are also sad to leave Columbia City, the church, and our friends.

This is the bittersweet experience of any move, and to be honest, I don't know what all I'm exactly feeling other than excited to go to a church and community with a lot of potential, nervous about being new, and missing friends already. This is the journey of missional life: Moving where God calls us...even when where we are is fun, good, and comfortable.

The Spanish have a saying: Vaya con Dios. Go with God. And so we do. We go where God directs us, and we pray that we always do...and that is my prayer for all of you as well.

Vaya con Dios.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What is a Pastor?

In several of the comments about the "Perfect Church," I noticed comments about the pastor. From a cursory glance, it seems that the perfect church needs a certain kind of pastor. From clergy and laity responses alike, I heard a vocal outcry that the pastor live up to his/her end of the bargain.

Perhaps another question is in order: What is the pastor's role in the church?

I personally believe the pastor, which literally means shepherd, is to lovingly lead the church. They are resident theologians that must administrate, train, comfort, and help guide the church.

One of my concerns is the "cult of personality" that exists in so many churches. Often "being fed" means that someone was entertained by music or someone's oratory skills. Rarely, if at all, have I heard someone say, "That sermon was really good, and God spoke through it...even though it was poorly given." Why is that? Has the USChurch programmed ourselves out of the Word of God into an hour of vocal and oratory entertainment? My fear is that it has.

Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest preachers and theologians the United States has ever seen. His sermons are considered classics that gave birth to the Great Awakening. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is the most intellectually frightening piece of literature I've ever read. Contemporary texts said that his parishioners would be wailing and crying in response to his sermons. What few people now know is that Edwards would literally read from his text is a fairly monotone voice...He rarely raised his voice. He never used jokes. He didn't use movies to illustrate points. He also spent 8 hours EVERY day studying the text in Hebrew and Greek.

Is that the icon of the pastor? Or is the pastor who is always visiting, counseling, and holding hands the preferred? Maybe there shouldn't be a prefered!?! Perhaps, the pastor should be allowed to be who they are. Perhaps they should lead as God made them to lead.

One of my dreams for the Church is that it would be an egalitarian group of Jesus followers. No one would come to a church or leave a church because of the pastor. No one would ever leave on a Sunday morning saying "I'm not fed," instead they would be saying "I enjoyed bringing my praise to God today." I dream that one day people will be trimming an elderly persons hedges in an effort to say, "Jesus loves you, and so do I."

Then the Church will have shown up and worship was good.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Perfect Church

Ah, the perfect church...that elusive, yet widely sought after Holy Grail. Sunday after Sunday people leave churches, visit churches, even look at church advertisements in their quest for "the perfect church." Perhaps that can be the next Indiana Jones' movie title: Indiana Jones and the Sunday of the Perfect Church.

The scary thing is, though, none of us will admit that we are looking for it or even expect it...even though we do.

Here's my Perfect Church v1.0:

1. The perfect church understands that its primary purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

2. The perfect church loves her Groom, Jesus and runs with desperate passion to His arms.

3. The perfect church loves each other.

4. The perfect church submits herself to the Holy Scriptures as contained in the OT and NT.

5. The perfect church understands that the building serves the church...it isn't the church, nor does the church serve the building.

6. The perfect church understands that its pastor is not the minister: The people are all ministers. The pastor is merely a resident theologian and administrator.

7. The perfect church does not hate, gossip, slander, or back stab each other.

8. The perfect church knows that worship is not about "being fed." Worship is about declaring the worth of God.

9. The perfect church believes that worship is a verb.

10. The perfect church has structure and rules that are firm enough to maintain stability, but flexible enought to be creative, fresh, innovative, and faithful.

11. The perfect church understands that culture is a medium. The Message of the Gospel, the Logos, can be put into any culture relevantly and faithfully...and this is NOT something to fear.

12. The perfect church would not be interested in doctrinal arguments; rather, it would be interested in how our theology compels us to love God and Neighbor.

13. The perfect church would understand that the above statement doesn't mean anything goes.

14. The perfect church would have staff on board with the mission of the church and a clear vision of what God has done and is doing for them in their personal lives.

15. The perfect church would be a place of laughter, play, seriousness, joy, sadness, weeping, anger, and any other human emotion.

16. The perfect church would be a safe place to say anything.

17. The perfect church would be a refuge for the hurting.

18. The perfect church would be a place where we take off the plastic smiles and are real with each other.

19. The perfect church would be interactive.

20. The perfect church would understand and use technology appropriately.

21. The perfect church would not be too big, yet always planting sister churches as it grows.

That would be some church.