Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pastoring in the Next Methodism

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a new trend in the UMC blogosphere, a fun thought exercise dubbed “The Next Methodism.”  Pastors, professors, and laity have been offering their hopes and dreams for the United Methodist Church, which usually entails getting back to our roots, both in the early church as well as the early Methodist Movement.  Most of the writers long for the time when our movement was still a movement … Vibrant and growing, attending to the means of grace, creating close community, and reaching new people in the name of Jesus with our specific brand of holiness.

Here is my offering: the Next Methodism is already here.

And I had the great privilege to pastor within it for the last year.

From July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017 I served as a Path1 High Impact Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, a new UMC church start in north Dallas.  A coffee shop, a non-profit, and a super-Methodist faith community.

But it doesn’t look like it.  At least, not until you dig in.  After all, how many UMCs are open from 7am to 10pm just about every day, inviting the whole neighborhood in to live, work, and drink amazing coffee?  Of course, there’s worship too … Just not on Sunday mornings.  Worship is Sunday night and Tuesday night, and entirely contextual to the communities they reach.

The Next Methodism is already here.  Here are a few things that I’ve found, that my peers across the connection think aren’t already here in abundance:

The Next Methodism is incarnational.  Union looks like its neighborhood and desires to incarnate Christ for all people who walk through the doors. It invites people in from all walks of life to get their work done, meet new people in a safe place, and grow new community.  Nonprofits startup within Union on a regular basis.  Study groups from local universities and high schools are always meeting.  Bible studies connected to Union and other faith communities are consistently happening.

The Next Methodism is collaborative.  At Union, things are collaborative from the bottom up.  Sermons are participatory and include the whole room.  Offering time always includes a testimony.  Worship is planned every Sunday afternoon by a planning teams cultivated from each service.  And planning meetings always include healthy critique of the previous week – did the message hit all the points?  Did the music strike the right notes?  Did anybody feel marginalized?  And any initiatives at Union, from small groups to clubs are lay-led with the support of the pastor.  Which brings us to the next thing:

The Next Methodism is younger.  Union is 95% 21-27 year olds, almost entirely millennials.  How is that possible?  They get to lead, they aren’t talked down to, they aren’t treated like children, or token young adults on some committee.  They are the church.  Entrepreneurial spirits are allowed to thrive at Union, where our young people are given the latitude to lead at every step, from worship, to the governing board; in all things.  Which leads to the next thing:

The Next Methodism focuses on apostleship.  Disciples are cultivated at Union, yes, but the average 20-something doesn’t stay in any one place for more than 2-3 years.  So, you have to pour into them as much as you can while you have them.  Leaders at Union are raised up for the good of the WHOLE church, not just for Union – because they’re going to leave.  And not only that, in Union’s almost five years of existence, it’s baptized many, and sent a half dozen young adults into seminary and the UMC ordination process.  There’s also an entire small group at Union of just local youth ministers – young adults that don’t find a whole lot of community in their local churches.  Leaders at Union are raised to be sent into the churches and communities wherever they may land in life to do good in the name of Jesus.

The Next Methodism is boundary-breaking.  When your church is open to the community all day, without locks on the doors, when it doesn’t look like the usual church, your neighborhood might be more likely to stroll in.  Still, it’s hard work to build a diverse community across every boundary society and history has put in place.  Honest evaluation, giving the mic to marginalized people, and vulnerable storytelling have led to a more diverse community at Union than in many other places.  The Next Methodism is also open to listening to an answering questions of belief, the Bible, anything, without cookie-cutter answers. Every-other month or so at Union, the message is given entirely over to the questions of the people – Stump the Pastor.  And anything is on the table to be asked.  If we want to break barriers between the sacred and the profane, the generations, whatever, we have to take questions seriously.

The Next Methodism is sacramental.  Life-giving Holy Communion is shared in every worship gathering at Union, and in United Methodist fashion is offered to all who would want to know the love of Jesus more.  Communion at Union is truly celebrated as a gift from our savior to bring people together in safety, to send them out in the world in his name.  Our liturgies are done in an improv style each week, done off the cuff in a way that brings the threads of worship together and offer God’s healing grace.  And baptisms … let’s just say that when our young adults are baptized at Union, they don’t get sprinkled.

These are just a few of my thoughts, long as this post is.  Those that might be struggling to see a future for Methodism need to remember that we only see through the mirror dimly, that more is being revealed to us everyday, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is leading the UMC through innovation at this very moment – and she’s not creating something out of nothing.  The Spirit is creating in the UMC – now.  The Next Methodism is already here, and it sure is good.

If you don’t believe me, check out Flipping Church, edited by Union’s Community Curator and pastor, Rev. Mike Baughman.  It shares a few things that are fun about Union and also gathers stories of innovative pastors and churches from across the UMC connection.

Because the Next Methodism is also connectional.  We aren’t just connected by doctrine and polity, either.  We’re connected by stories, God’s saving story in which we all get to take part.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My Talking Couches

These are my talking couches.  They don’t talk … But they are where people talk to me.  Without fail.  If I sit down on these couches, I have to be prepared to get nothing I planned to do done … Except for talking to people.  I’ve written about these couches before, some nine months ago, and it still holds true.  These are my talking couches.

I’ve tried to read numerous books on these couches.  They’re comfy.  Perfect for laying back with a good book, which is how most people use them.  I’ve sat down on them when tables and chairs aren’t available, ready to write, post, or email.  I’ve chilled out on them looking for a brief break, with Netflix ready.

The thing is, though, I can’t sit on both of them.  I can’t take up that much room on my own.  Inevitably, somebody will sit down on the opposite couch, ready to get some work done for themselves.

And, inevitably, a conversation will happen.  Either the book I’m reading starts things off.  A book which might, indeed, be a Bible.  Or maybe the other persons mutters something.  Literally anything can start a conversation at Union.  For whatever reason it might be, a conversation always happens when I sit at these couches.

Every.  Time.  With.  Out.  Fail.

And whenever that conversation starts, I usually share as quickly as possible that I’m a pastor, and that I get to pastor at Union.  It’s a bit of a BS filter for me that I like to put out there for authenticity’s sake.  A lot of pastors have opinions on when to break the news that they’re a pastor when out in public, but I find it creates a quicker opportunity to get to deeper conversation.  Plus, if the conversation doesn’t continue at that point once somebody knows I’m a pastor … It’ll happen later.

To me, anything else feels like a bait and switch.  Sharing what I get to do opens up the conversation about the true nature of Union and how it builds community in it’s neighborhood and in Dallas at large.  What many of us might consider an interruption, and truth be told – initially I did, creates an opportunity to be a bit more like Jesus in the world.

Deeper conversations are what the church, at it’s best, facilitates.

The other week, sitting on my couches, a young black man from South Dallas, shared with me his story of returning home from college in the fall.  He’s looking at masters programs in public health for the next school year, but in the meantime he’s tutoring the young kids of his neighborhood for work.  He shared with me a detail that straight shook me.

He’s one of the few young men of his neighborhood that graduated from high school.

He’s also one of even fewer young men from his graduating class that’s still alive.

Violence and addiction have taken many lives in his Dallas community.  He got out, broke the cycle in his own life, but now looks around and wonders what he can do.  So, he’s answering a call to study public health.

All I could do in the moment, other than sit dumbfounded at this story that systemic racism in our community has caused, is affirm that he can demonstrate to the young boys and girls of his neighborhood that he’s mentoring and tutoring that it’s possible to transcend the history that surrounds them.  Life doesn’t have to be that way.

Yet, as I ponder that chance encounter, I wonder, is that true?  Have I participated in a system that keeps my black and brown brothers and sisters down and out of the abundant life that Christ and his representatives in the church call us to share?

We’ll often say that folks can ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and get out of their circumstances.  A trite saying.  What if society has denied whole groups of people those very boots?  What could they possibly pull themselves up by, then?

I’m thankful for the interruption that young man brought into my worldview that evening on my talking couches.  There are so many more stories that could be shared.  Stories that lead to so many more questions...

How do we allow our community to interrupt our lives?

Where is the place that you meet people and invite their stories to be shared?

As my time at Union begins to close and I prepare for a new pastoral appointment in a new community, the first thing I plan to search for is that place where my work will be interrupted and ministry can actually happen.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tell Me Your (Mid)Wife Story

One of the things that I get to do at Union Coffee is help to coordinate the Naked Stage – Union’s almost-every-Friday storytelling experience where people are invited to tell their real story – without notes, props, or screens.  In other words, naked.  I’ve heard many stories over the last nine months.  Some that brought me great laughter, others that brought me great sadness, stories that made me think, stories that challenged assumptions, stories that called me to deeper faith in God and in humanity’s innate call to goodness.  The other week the topic, curated by Union’s pastor Mike Baughman, was “Tell Me Your Wife Story”.

I took the stage to tell a wife story.  I have a few wives in my life … My wife.  And our midwives.  The term ‘midwife’ might seem a little foreign to our 21st century ears, but what my family has found in our group of midwives is something sacred, something beautiful.  Here’s an abbreviated, not word-for-word writing of the story I shared a few weeks ago.


Way back in 2011, my wife and I made the decision to begin the process to move back to Texas, while also deciding that we were ready to expand our family.  Great things to do at the same time, right?  Serendipitously, we both found work the fulfilled our callings in ministry in the DFW area AND when it came time to make the move back home, we made the move while being around eight weeks pregnant.  So, when we landed my wife had to hurry up and find an OB practice to get that whole prenatal care thing started.

And we did find that practice.  And it was grand.  Literally the most efficient doctor’s practice I’ve ever been too.  We NEVER waited (I went to all of the appointments, because it’s the 21st century), and were usually in and out in about 30 minutes.  Even if there was a lot to do … It was always fast.

Which sounds great, unless you like having your questions answered.  Which my wife super does.

Gradually my wife became uneasy about the whole thing … I didn’t, because what do I know?  It came to a head when the doc said she couldn’t walk in the Susan G Komen 3Day at 30 weeks.  You don’t tell my wife she can’t walk 60 miles.  Not ever.  We also began to realize that they weren’t going to be natural birth friendly … Birth without interventions from the outset.  A nonstarter for my wife.  It’s her body.  She gets to have the baby as she feels called (made) to do.

A search for a new practitioner began and she broaches a strange idea … How about midwives?

I was all like … Nope.  We don’t need to be having our baby out in some hut in a forest with a lady in a frontier dress and her hair in giant Princess Leia buns bring our first child into the world.

Because that’s who midwives are and what they do, right?

Wrong.  My wife began throwing data at me and childbirth statistics.  On who midwives are.  On birth centers.  On hospitals.  We watched documentaries.  She made me read things.  Until I caved.

Which I usually do, by the way.

She eventually, I say eventually – but the clock was ticking, brought me to a nurse midwife practice at Texas Health Hospital in Fort Worth.  From the first appointment, we were in love with the practice.  It’s a practice of certified nurse midwives.  Not just midwives.  Nurse midwives.  Nurses that have gone on to get another masters degree … In midwifery.

Or, really, bad-assery.

It checked all of my boxes.  Felt safe.  They listened.  They set us up with a class with other expectant parents due about the same time as us.  A place where we could ask all of the questions we needed to ask in the weeks leading up to the birth of our baby.

But, actually, the biggest thing of all, aside from all of my concerns, was that my wife could bring our son into the world the way she felt called to do.  Under her own power.  Under her own control, as much as possible.  Safe, yes, but as she was made by God to do it.

It’s weird to say that it’s a ‘different’ way to bring a child in the world.  Midwives have been introducing babies to the world since … ever.  And … this isn’t a slight on modern medicine, or OBGYNs.  Doctors ARE wonderful.  Doctors ARE available to us any time we need them.  And if we need them, we LOVE them.

But … my wife found a freedom from our midwives that she didn’t feel before.

Through them we also found community.  Other people making different choices for their children, people that don’t look like crunchy-granola-hippies.  Although, there were some of those.  A class of people that weren’t afraid to ask the questions that we were afraid to ask.

When it came time to have our baby, a midwife named Candis shepherded us through the process.

“Dad, put your hands here.”
“Mom, push, now.”
“Take your breaths … Move here … Sit there … There’s his head … Every pain gets you closer to meeting your baby.”

My wife was able to bring our son into the world under her own power.  I can’t minimize the strain, the pain, the work my wife did to bring him into the world.  There were no interventions – but our midwife would have called on them if they’d been necessary.  It’s was unreal as a husband.  As a born fixer, I couldn’t fix this.  I could only support her as she needed.  I didn’t take my eyes off of the whole process.

I saw some things I’ll never unsee … But beautiful for the result.

And, now, we’re back with them.  Not five years later, pregnant, we found ourselves back with our midwife family.  These ladies that enable women to be superheroes.  We’re 31-weeks pregnant as I publish this and I find myself marveling at this different, ancient, kind of care that we’re receiving.

It’s relational.  It’s personal.  It’s life-giving.

We’re with an extended family of people that love our questions, hear our stories, and encourage us on our path to expand our family.

As a pastor in a church of young people, who’ve often felt that the church doesn’t love their questions, hear their stories, or encourage them to expand their faith, I couldn’t be more encouraged by the care our midwives have shown to us.

My wife also managed to walk 54 of 60 miles in three days, 30 weeks pregnant.

We can learn so much from how midwives help mothers bring new lives into the world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Boundary Breaking Stories from Union, #1

I've had Reality, Grief, Hope by Walter Brueggemann on my reading list for several months now.  I've had the copy out numerous time, even highlighting a few things in the first chapter.  It's been in my work bag for the last three weeks, in hopes that during some down time I'd be able to give it a shot.

It's ironic that the subtitle for the book is "Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks", because when I get the book out to read, reading it becomes anything but urgent.

There's this thing about working at Union Coffee that's unique compared to most United Methodist churches, outside of perhaps Wesley Foundations.  It's open to the public, 7am to 9pm (or 10) every day.  And my office is the shop itself.  There are quiet corners, sure, yet, every time I pick one of those corners, a couch or comfy chair, and get Bruggemann out, a neighbor asks me something.

And it's awesome.

Two of the major core values of Union Coffee are story telling and boundary breaking (the others are sanctuary, sustainability, quality, and generosity).  The picture above is of our most recent worship series ... Two short weeks to unpack the topic of privilege ... What we can do about it and what we can do with it.  This picture was out in the form of display cards on the tables of the shop.  Let me tell you, if you advertise a conversation on privilege, people are going to have things to say and stories to tell.

So, a story from last week that called me to check my privilege and marvel at the work God is doing in bringing this remarkable community together.

Last Sunday I got my book out an hour before it was time to flip the shop for worship.  I approached one of the corners near our stage with a couple of big couches.  I asked the man who would be sitting across from me if the seat was taken, and we proceeded to chat for an hour.  As I sat down, he asked me what the place was about, noticing our privilege cards on the table.  Things went on from there.

It was the first time he had ventured into Union.  His wife's nonprofit was meeting in one of our conference rooms and he was just hanging out.  Let's call him C, and his wife S.

I learned a lot about C during our conversation.  He's in the National Guard and just finished his history degree at UNT and is planning on shifting to a career in the army.  He'll be attending officers training school shortly.

He's also African American.  As is his wife.  He has a three-year-old daughter and another on the way this September.  He'll likely miss the birth of his second child due to a training deployment that he's being called to lead.

We talked a bit about the series on privilege that we were in.  We talked about the two weeks prior that Union spent sharing in a conversation on race and faith in the wake of the shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, and the shootings of the DPD officers.

As we got deeper into things he shared with me a new truth in his life: he's afraid for his family, as a black American.

He said that he'd never, ever, felt this way.  This is an articulate, educated, soldier, mind you.  But, he's afraid for his family, when he looks at the current cultural divide in our country.

A couple of weeks prior to our meeting at Union, he and his wife had gone shopping at a nice little shop in Dallas.  He tried on a many things, putting back what he didn’t want (which is a gift to any sales associate).  He ended up purchasing over $200 in clothes by the end of things.  He was polite and respectful to the staff and had a great experience.  But, as he was leaving, he noticed a police officer pulling around the store.  C took note of it, but he and his wife got into their car and began to head home.  A few minutes later not one, but three, police cars pull him over.

Three police cars to pull over he and his wife.

The officer tells him that his turn signal is out and asks for his license and registration.  After running everything, the officer returns and C politely asks, “Why was I really pulled over?”

It turns out that the store accused C and S of shoplifting.  After a minute more, C and S were let off with a warning, the officer(s) knowing that it was a racially motivated report.  C didn't complain about the officers.  He said that they were respectful because he was respectful.  But ...

This would never happen to me, a white man.  It just wouldn’t.  If I had behaved and purchased as he had at any given store, there is no way the police would be called on me.

I thanked him for sharing his story.  I met his sweet wife just a few minutes later.  I’ve never heard a story like theirs told within the walls of another church.

I'm in a place, though, where I don't just hear those stories.  I am told them.  I'm checking my privilege. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Grace Like Fireworks

Sunday night we took our kids to see fireworks for the very first time.  In fact, it was the first time that my wife and I had been to see fireworks since before the birth of our son ... Some four-and-a-half years ago.

We set out, three hours before the show, ready to see the awe and wonder on our children's faces as they observed exploding showers of sparks and light.  After the wait, with tense moments, but also dancing, snow cones, and pretending our stroller was a rocket ship, the lights in the field went out and the show began.

I put my arm around my boy whose jaw dropped open at the first flare, while my wife held our girl who insisted over and over again that it was scary.

Neither kid took their eyes off  of the explosions in the night sky.

Fireworks like supernovas.  Fireworks like dandelions.
Vivid colors of magenta, blue, violet, red, green, white, and yellow.

We had no idea when we picked our spot in the ballpark complex that we would be mere yards from the launching pad.  I can't understate the nearness of the fireworks - they were literally just over our heads.

Yet, even then, even though we felt we might be able to stretch out our hands and feel the heat of the flames in the sky, there was something noticeable in the proceedings:

No matter the closeness, as each firework went off there was a clear delay from the explosion to the sound.

Whether it was the sound of dynamite.
Or the sound of a drizzle on pavement.
Or popcorn in a microwave.
There was a delay between the light and the noise.

Sometimes for nearly a second ... Astonishing.  The spreed of light and the speed of sound in stark, colorful, contrast.

And as I spent that hour huddled down with my family enjoying the festivities, I felt that I was learning something about grace.  There's something to be said about how God is moving to us, all around us, before we hear God's voice in our lives.  That God is within us, drawing us near to God, before we acknowledge God's presents.

That THE God, before we were knitted together in our mother's wombs, knew us - and still knows us.

What if it's the mission of us who follow the Son of God to call others to listen to the lightshow booming all around them?  And sit with them as they listen to the sound?

Grace like fireworks.
Every second.
Of every day.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Worship Series: The Hospitality of Jesus

This worship series is one of a set written from mid-Summer to the end of RCL Year C in November. Notes are sparse, but I'm hopeful that it's helpful to pastors during a season of the year that can be ... Dry.  Ordinary time, which we are in the midst of, can be a time of rich teaching and following specific narratives in the Bible.

This series follows the Gospel of Luke stream in the Revised Common Lectionary for six weeks, beginning on July10.  In each of the readings given, Jesus is answering questions, telling stories, demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is like and offering the welcome to that Kingdom that only Jesus can give.

Ask the question: what is the hospitality of Jesus like?
It should lead to another: do I (pastor and church) offer hospitality like Jesus in my life?

The Hospitality of Jesus

July 10  (Eighth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  What must we do?
Scripture Lessons
    Primary: Luke 10:25-37
    Secondary: Col 1:1-14
    The Good Samaritan ... Jesus expects us to welcome the 'other.'

July 17  (Ninth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  Listen and Learn
Scripture Lessons
    Primary: Luke 10:38-42
    Secondary:  Col 1:15-20
   Mary and Martha - are we just preparing to meet Jesus?  Or do we expect a visit to actually happen?

July 24  (Tenth Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  What are you asking for?
Scripture Lessons
    Primary:  Luke 11:1-13
    Secondary:  Col 2:6-9
    Jesus, himself teaches us to pray!  And reminds us that God is always available.

July 31  (Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost) 

Sermon Title:  True Abundance
Scripture Lessons
    Primary:  Luke 12:13-21
    Secondary: Psalm 107:1-9
   On building bigger barns ... Now, where do I store my treasure?

August 7  (Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Title:  Always Ready
Scripture Lessons
   Primary:  Luke 12:32-40
   Secondary: Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
   Are you ready to greet the Messiah?  Or do you cower in fear?
   Who does your heart belong to?

August 14  (Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Title:  What Christ Offers
Scripture Lessons
   Primary:  Luke 12:49-56
   Secondary:  Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
What does it actually mean for us to follow Christ?  It may not be pretty, but it’s worth it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Next Adventure

For the last three years, I have served as an associate pastor at an unbelievably gracious church - FUMC of Arlington, TX.  The church took a risk on me.  While I had a great resume in worship ministry and leadership, I hadn't preached a whole lot yet.  I was a young adult, passionate about young adult ministry, but I hadn't built a lot of small groups.  I loved Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but had no proven expertise in using them to reach new people for the kingdom.

So, why not make me a Pastor of Young Adults, Communications, and Modern Worship?

And, let's help me get my Master of Divinity at Perkins while we're at it.

This church has helped me to learn.  It's pushed me to grow.  It's critiqued me in life-giving ways.  It's helped me to fulfill God's calling on my life to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Yet, and this is the definition of bittersweet, it's time for the next adventure in my ministry journey.  Two months or so ago, an opportunity to apply for a church planting residency fell into my lap.  Or, appeared in my Facebook feed, as things are wont to do these days.  I filed it away as something that would be awesome to do, but sounded hard to pull off.

But, then I get a text from my wife ... "Did you see that?"

And, as a person who often hears the Holy Spirit nudge me through my spouse, I messaged the pastor of the church sponsoring the residency, wondering if they'd take an application from somebody outside of their conference.  The response was that as long as I got the OK from my District Superintendent, absolutely.

I'm paraphrasing all of this, of course.

Well, one thing lead to another, and I'm now free to share some rather large news in the world of my family:

Beginning July 1, I will be a Path 1 Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, an amazing UMC church plant across I-75 from SMU.  Union is indeed a coffee shop, called to reach the young people in the area, the unchurched, the dechurched, a generation that the church earnestly wants to reach, but often doesn't know how.  The coffee is delicious, the worship is quirky, the community is amazing.

I'll be pastoring at Union with the hope of aiding in their efforts to go multi-site and bring a branch to the Central Texas Conference the following year.  There aren't any promises in this; it's yet another risky ministry move.  But, in the Kingdom of God, as in many things, where there's no risk, there's no reward.

I'm beyond excited to accept a new role in ministry.  FUMCA has been family to me, but it's time to strain forward to the next step.  Thankfully, my wife, Leanne, will be able to keep going in her own ministry at another church in our current area.  My kids go to preschool there and we often worship there as a family.  In a way, we'll be building ourselves a new/old home church and keeping our home in Central Texas, where we're so looking forward to continuing our ministry.

Trusting in the providence of God has taken my family and I in so many amazing directions and we know that God will be with us, and our faith communities, through this next step and beyond.