Monday, May 28, 2012

The Hospitality Problem

The church where I currently serve is full of wonderful people, but there's no true hospitality system in place.  I'm a firm believer in systems ... With people involved that know how to fix things that are broken and aren't afraid to move toward new and necessary directions.

But like I said, I serve with a church full of wonderful people, we just need a system to help grow things.  About two months ago I wrote a plan to start from, knowing that we're starting from scratch.  I kind of went out on a limb here, as this is involvement of a different level from me.  What I wrote is nowhere near rocket science ... A church's hospitality should go without saying.  This is a working document for our church, but I'm throwing out to the universe to see what other churches are doing right now!

A Map to Hospitality
Hospitality is defined as ‘kindness in welcoming strangers or guests.’
At the Louisiana Conference’s ordination service in 2009, I heard LAUMC Bishop William Hutchinson say, “The true measure of any Christian should always be their hospitality.”  He said this in the context of a sermon on Paul’s imprisonment and offering of salvation to his jailers.  With that spirit in mind, and also being conscious of an idea of worship starting as soon as we set foot on campus, I offer a rough map of a Welcoming Ministry at FUMCD.  It involves three distinct groups, working hand in hand, to welcome both our guests and our members.  These three groups would include a PARKING LOT MINISTRY (under Outreach/Evangleism), a HOSPITALITY TEAM (a new ministry) and USHERS (under Worship Ministries).  I think it should go without saying, that there would need to be staff support of these ministries at both administrative and program levels.
Step 1 – Parking Lot Ministry
This, as it’s ‘outside’, would fall under our Outreach/Evangelism Team. 
I think we all know that we have a large, sprawling campus.  It’s difficult to navigate, and this is where a Parking Lot team would come into play.  We would have a group of people who are very visible outside on Sunday morning, ready to greet people as they pull up to our campus.  We would probably need some kind of reflective vest for these people (as many large churches are doing these days).  They would assist our guests in finding their way around our campus.  Obviously, they would need to know our campus layout like the back of their own hands, especially when it comes to areas of education and the nursery.  As an added benefit, it will also make our campus more secure on Sunday morning.
They would also encourage new guests to stop by the Narthex to meet the Hospitality Team.
Step 2 – The Hospitality Team
This group would constitute a new, stand alone ministry, or at least a rebooting of the ministry we currently have.  Somehow or another the team would need to be built of people who really embody and show the spirit of Christian hospitality in the best possible ways.
The Hospitality Team would cover the doors into the Narthex and greet new guests and members.  This Team would be ready with clear and correct information on the church’s ministries.  Of primary importance is greeting first time and continuing guests.  We rely too much on people signing in on the information sheets; this team will do their very best to get guest information before guests head into the sanctuary for worship.  While the team will be extremely active before and after worship, the team would also help guide guests to the appropriate Sunday school classes during the Sunday school hour.  They would not just tell people how to get there; they would take guests to the different places.  This is crucial.  They would also be ready with a packet of information and a little gift for first time guests.  They would also help disseminate information on first time guests to the various ministries they would be interested in (i.e. Children, Youth, Music …).
The Hospitality Team would hand off the guests to the Ushers.
Step 3 – The Ushers
This ministry team would fall under our Worship Ministries.
According to the first definition of the word usher on, and usher is a person who ‘escorts people to seats in a theatre or church’.  This isn’t really happening, but it could.  Our ushers have many responsibilities that would not change.  They hand out bulletins and take up the offering, as well as guiding congregants during special rituals like Holy Communion.  The only thing that really needs to change here is the spirit of the service.  Our ushers need to also be serving as greeters, and while they need to greet every congregant, special attention needs to be given to those who are new among us.  If we have a new guest the Usher Team will also be responsible for guiding that person or family into the pews, or ‘usher’ them in.  Thankfully, we already have wonderful people who have been called to our ushering ministry; they just need guidance in their role in our hospitality vision.

If we set a vision, and put these three teams to work together, it can dramatically change how we minister to guests and also those already in full membership to our church family.  A good smile can start off anyone’s day on the right note.

The most important part of the system for me is that it requires a lot of people to work together.  It's staff supported and resourced, but not specifically staff-run.

So ... What is your church doing to catch guests?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Frittatas and Faith

The other night I was in kind of a goofy mood.  I do most of the cooking during the week because my wife's job gets out later during the week than mine and she has a bit of a commute on top of that.  But it had a been a long day and we didn't really have a plan for dinner like we usually do.  So I looked in the fridge, saw the leftovers and decided it was frittata night.  I then proceeded to to tell my wife that making a frittata kind of reminded me of how the church is made up. 

She laughed.

So I've taken it as a challenge to flesh out my idea, for better or worse.

First, it requires a recipe!

I love a frittata.  If you've never had one, it's essentially and open-faced omelet that you finish in the oven.  You can plan it out and make it fancy, or you can just look in the fridge at what you have and put it all together.  When I looked in the fridge I saw the following ingredients:
  • A package of sliced, thick-cut bacon.  Always buy thick-cut bacon.  Nothing else is worth it. (Any meat will do)
  • Some left over grilled veggies (potatoes, broccoli, squash, mushrooms, and onions) (you can use whatever left over or fresh veggies you want here!)
  • Eggs (I used 5)
  • 2 cups or so grated cheddar cheese (yes, I used all of it)
  • Salt, Pepper, and Chipotle Tabasco
Now for the steps!  Before you even get started, preheat the oven to 350, and get yourself an oven-safe skillet.  And make it non-stick, don't be a hero.

1)  Cut the bacon up into little pieces and put them in a cold skillet and bring it up to a little over medium heat.  The cold skillet is crucial ... It helps the fat render out without the bacon burning first.

2)  After the bacon has crisped up, you can drain some of the fat.  Or leave it in.  It's up to you!  At this point add in your veggies to saute up with the bacon.  My veggies this night were from grill packets we made earlier in the week, so they already had a lot of flavor from the grill.  While these are getting some color on them, whisk up your eggs.  Add to the eggs some salt and pepper, and I always add in Chipotle Tobasco.  It's not as spicy as the original Tobasco, and the smokiness from the chipotles is so, so good.  Go ahead and stir in some cheese too.

3)  When your veggies and bacon have come together nicely, stir in your eggs!  Make sure the bacon and veggies are distributed evenly throughout the eggs.  You better move fast, because the bottom will set up quickly.  When the eggs in the bottom of the pan have set up, top it all with more cheese and get it in the oven for about 10 minutes.

4)  When it looks all good and a little crispy on top, take it out of the oven and serve!  It should slide right out of the pan onto a platter.

It's like breakfast.  It's like an egg pizza.  It's also totally delicious.  This one was also made of left-overs, much like the church.

Ready for some God-talk, aka theology?

Here goes nothing.

Before Christ, the Kingdom was rather small.  God had chosen the descendants of Abraham to receive his favor and the people who became the Israelites were recipients of God's faithful covenant.  They would mess up a lot, but if we know anything about God, God keeps God's promises forever, so to those people was born the King, Christ Jesus.  But Christ didn't come into the world just to save the Jewish people, he came to save all peoples, the Gentiles, who through belief in Christ are no longer 'left-overs'.  How's that for the Gospel in a nutshell?

I looked in the fridge and saw a lot of ingredients that didn't mean a lot separately.  But cook them together, and something awesome could happen ... Similar to the church ... What is the church if it's not a whole lot of people put together to form a wonderful whole? 

I've thought about going on about who's what in my frittata, like, who's the bacon?  Jesus?  The Jews?  I'll let you fill that part in.  All I know is that both frittatas and the church are awesome.

The end.  See you next dinner!

Friday, May 25, 2012

How is it with your liturgy?

One of the foundational questions (I'm told) of the Wesleyan holy club meetings was this:

How is it with your soul?
It was a question that was meant to promote a deeper understanding between people, in a small group setting to bring about trust and accountability. 

Today, I'm asking:
How is it with your liturgy?
My specific arena in ministry is worship.  Sunday morning worship, that is.  The sanctuary is the place on Sunday mornings where we the church gather, work together in prayer in various ways (pastoral prayer, song, sermon ...).  As we dive deeper together into this worship, we find that the service in which we call ourselves together is just the tip of the iceberg in what it means to call ourselves disciples of Christ.

As a crafter of worship services, my job is to get the people involved.  We do that in a lot of ways, through corporate prayer, through singing, through hearing the word proclaimed.  It's all supposed to come together in the liturgy - the work of the people.  The point is for us as worship leadership and congregation to work together, to model the church relationship with Christ, working together to praise God.  We all work together.

The problem we often face though in our consumer-driven society is that we often come to worship wondering what we're going to get ... How good is the choir going to be this week?  Is the organist going to mess up again?  I sure hope that the sermon pops this morning.  But chew on this ... don't we call them worship services?  We come together to serve, not be served, just as Christ did.  We face the problem that a former pastor of mine often phrase this way, "How do we get people to change from consumers to producers?"  But it's so easy to slip into give-me-something-now slump.

As seekers we come to Christ needing something.  Nothing wrong with that.  But how do we, the church, convert those people from just consuming in worship and study to those that are out in the community bringing other seekers to know Christ?

This leads me to my frequent quandary in worship planning and leading ... How well are the laity involved in what we do in worship on Sunday morning?  There are a number of ways that we do this, but we can always do better!  Creating room for lay-witness is essential.  We do it through musical leadership (choirs, bands), through lay speakers preaching, through ministry leaders witnessing.

But,  as said earlier, Sunday morning worship is the tip of the iceberg.  How involved are the laity in the ministry of the church?   Do the laity in your church think that the staff is just there to do what they say?  Or do staff and laity actively work together to resource one-another and glorify God through team work?

I work at an established church that's been through several different types of management, most recently through a turn where most ministries of the church were staff-driven.  That can be great, as long as the staff is doing the job of making disciples.  And it did seem to work great on the surface at the time, but our disciple-making muscles atrophied when things seemed to be going ridiculously awesome.  Now we're in a strange place, with not enough staff to fulfill the needs that were created 15 years ago, but laity that by and large aren't as motivated to dig in and do the work.

There are pockets of people that are completely ready to dive in, and that's what we're going to do.  My prayer is for there to be liturgy flowing 24/7/365 in God's Kingdom, not just on Sunday morning.

So, how is it with your liturgy?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Too many I's in ministry?

Once upon a time, on Facebook and Twitter I threw out this sacramental theology question to pastors:
Who does the baptizing (in your opinion)?  You?  Or the Spirit?
I received a few responses from my little poll:
  • "out ward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. we do the sign, the Spirit does the grace. right?"
  • "The answer is yes! A pastor, as a steward of the mysteries participates and brings the sign-act together, but God does the work."
  • "God is the actor (see Jesus' baptism 'by' John - any gospel version)
  • "Yes to above"
  • "The language is the BOW is 'I baptize you in the name ...' I would say it's both ... a participation in the mystery."

These answers from pastors are all from people that I know and respect, who have all pondered this very question as they've rolled along in ministry.  There were several other enlightened responses from some fun laypeople, but I'll leave those out of this post.

All this leads me to a subject I've been chewing on for a little while: we tend to use a lot of "I" language in ministry.

Have you ever heard somebody (lay or clergy) who works or volunteers at the church refer to a ministry as theirs?  It happens often.  We tend to get very possessive of our ministries.  I personally try to check the I's out of my language when dealing with church matters.  Using an "I" counts out the collaboration that comes as a part of being in ministry ... Collaboration with God, as well as collaboration with the church family (which is also God's).

The big I can creep out in any number of ways.  Just a few examples that I'm sure you've heard:
  • "I'm going off to work with my youth ..."
  • "Well, I gave my money, so I should get ..."
  • "This Sunday, I will be baptizing ..."
It's a fine line in ministry when taking ownership of things.  As a worship leader, I feel that my job is to be a shepherd to the Lord's Day worship.  It's not mine.  The choir is not mine.  The band is not mine.  They belong to Christ.  Although, 'self' often creeps into my heart and mind, I hope that over my lifetime I can say so long to 'self' and be more like Christ.

Does the big I in ministry drive you crazy?  Ever?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Post #GC2012 Musings

There's a lot to take away from GC2012, despite what people are saying.  For myself, this was the first UMC General Conference that I've ever paid any attention too.  And why is that?  Because I'm paying more attention to what's going on in the local church ... What happened at the GC is indicative of what happens in the local church.  Macro view to micro view.  How often has any of us had a bright idea to make changes only to have them shot down ... Not even with the opportunity to compromise.

Wait, this should probably be my concluding statement!  Anyway, here are a few things that I'm taking away.  I'm not full of knowledge just yet on the inner workings of our global denomination, but it will be my mission to get on that ball.  I'm more concerned than ever that the UMC turn the tide on our decline ... My boy needs to grow up in this church!

I said this in an earlier blog post, but the #UMC blew up twitter over the last 10 days.  It's been an epic-level event of building connections.  I've made genuine friends and found a lot of new voices to follow, both young and old.  I can't wait to keep reading and stay in touch with these folks.  It's been a real blessing, from the play-by-play to theological breakdowns of policy and worship, I feel like a journey together for many of us has just started.  Although, I will say, there were a great many folks who broke into the twitter conversation to spread hate.  Not cool.

"General Conference Young People".  Following this #tag was a real trip this week.  It wasn't just young people involved either, a great many people from across the spectrum used this tag to join in conversations.  I sure hope the UMC was listening.

Big Changes?
I refuse to be cynical about it, but pretty much nothing I cared about going into this GC passed through on the plenary floor, if it made it out of committee at all.  I'm not the only one that felt this way, either.  We were so caught up in Robert's Rules of Order, that ministry was hampered again and again.  The IOT/CTA plan?  Fail.  Plan B?  Fail.  Plan C, D, or E?  Fail.  And people keep saying that the word wasn't out enough ... Not true.  People just didn't do their homework, by and large.  At least that's how I felt, watching the proceedings.  We couldn't even agree that we disagree on matters of human sexuality.  Fail.

Term limits?  Yes, Please.
This was a topic of conversation throughout the GC.  There were many people at the GC for the 7th, 8th, and 9th times.  And people applauded it.  Many of the big items on the floor had been up for decades.  But nothing changes, time after time.  Is there any wonder why?  It's the same people every GC!  I realize I'm oversimplifying a bit ... But I would propose to limit terms on going to GC to three times.  That way, people get to go that know the process, but it encourages new voices to come in.  We do it on our church committees, why not for the GC?

Guaranteed appointments ...
Just as Plan UMC was shot down as unconstitutional, you watch this baby be shot down too.  I understand apprehension here, our Elders join in covenant with the ACs when they take their vows.  But ... what to do with ineffective clergy?  They get to keep their jobs!  Some feel it way stifle prophetic voices, keep pastors from making waves ... And it's a real concern.  The process for not giving an appointment to an elder needs to have many, many, checks and balances.  But as I'm in a conference with a ton of clergy, and not much room for new, younger voices, there needs to be a way to tell pastors that it's not working out.  Until you've been in a room with a pastor who says, "They can get me out, but that's ok with me, because I'll just get another church.", you may not understand how I feel about this.  But somebody probably does, because the legislation was put out there, and it passed to end guaranteed appointments.  My hope is that it encourages more pastors to go for it and get radical.

As debate went on on the floor, a real problem, and a blessing became apparent ... We're a global church!  Much of the business needed to be decided pertained to matters in the US.  It became very difficult to pass big policy due to the fact that there are many global perspectives that need to be accounted for.  All of the conferences not in the US are called "Central Conferences".  There's talk now of separation a bit from these Central Conferences, letting conferences in other countries legislate for themselves in order to compensate for cultural issues.  But how do we do that and remain a global denomination?  It's a little over my head at this point, but it's clear that something needs to give.

We're so dramatic
As things wore on, especially last night, there was much talk on twitter of the UMC being doomed.  Many comparisons to the Titanic abounded.  It was kind of offensive.  I wonder how many people (including clergy!) last night who said they had given up hope on the UMC actually left it today ... We are called to be people of hope.  I have a ton of it.

Also called #umcrising at this point, there's a movement to coordinate voices for change in the UMC leading to GC2016.  Some much hope is floating around out there, even after the frustration over the last 10 days.  Good things are coming for those who are faithful.  I can't wait to get started on the work, because you bet I want to be involved in what's coming.  How do I get myself on the worship team in 2016?  Because I'm so there.

Let's not forget, through, all of this ... The work of the church is mostly carried out in the church!  I'm fired up to lead, filled with the spirit of Pentecost, ready to get moving with the Holy Spirit.  It might have been a little dissapointing watching the proceedings the last few days, but I'm more ready than ever to answer my call to lead worship in my community.  With God's help, the global church will catch up with Christ's call to love one another.