Friday, June 29, 2012

This liturgy nerd has been hired ...

... As a devotional writer for the Young People's Ministries division of the General Board of Discipleship!

Starting this Monday, I'll have four weekly devotionals posted on the YPM website as well as on their Facebook page and Twitter feeds.

I'm super stoked for the opportunity and I hope you'll join me and other young adult writers as we discuss life, ministry, and the future of the church.

Let's #dreamumc together!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

7 Days of Ministry Memories

As a self-professed "Liturgy Nerd", I don't deal a lot in the theory of the work of the people.  I deal with the work in action.  Last week, I took 17 youth and 5 other adults to a lot of 'liturgical' locations.  Everywhere we went we were doing the work of the kingdom, be it singing to (and with) the least, the last, and the lost, to learning of our nation's civil rights struggle, to eating rocking awesome food, we worked and played together in community.  And did I mention that this is the first ever trip I've ever planned and run?  Yep.  Welcome to youth ministry for me.  That's not to say I didn't have a ton of good help before, during, and after the trip.

I'm going to try and pull out my favorite memory from each day.  This might be difficult!

This will be the third entry in my musings on choir tour, and probably my last one for now.  You can read the first two entries here and here!

Day 1:  Lift off!  Duncanville, TX to Hot Springs, AR
I've written a whole post about the ladderball episode.  It was a riot of a time.  Probably the best part of the proceedings was the random nickname calling.  It was just fun to watch the fellowship, and the heckling that passed between the residents and our students.  I'm still laughing about it.

Day 2:  Hot Springs to Memphis, TN for some fun
I'm not gonna lie, the whole reason for this trip destination was so I could partake of the God-blessed pork ribs at Rendezvous in Memphis.  And partake I did.  I ordered a full slab, and a few of the youth doubted I could finish it.  I probably could have taken on another slab.  But then I wouldn't have had room for the desert at TG Friday's later that night with the crew that were watching the NBA finals.

Day 3:  Gig in Bartlett, TN
We had prepared the students ahead of time for the type of gig we were doing this year.  While our first gig was for elderly folks, it was in a retirement community with people who were still on the move.  We enjoyed a wonderful time with those folks talking and laughing about life.  Our second gig was different though; it was in a true assisted living center (or nursing home).  We sang for them in their dining hall and the room was full of people, the vast majority in wheelchairs or the like.  Probably the most emotional moment of the trip for me was during our Beatles "Legends" medley.  While we were singing out Let It Be, I turned around to see a man singing so hard with his arms up that he was just about falling out of his chair.  It was a beautiful moment.

That morning we had also visited the National Civil Rights Museum on the site of the Lorraine Motel, the place where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  I wasn't prepared as I walked the museum to find myself staring out of the very balcony on which the great man was shot.

Day 4:  Memphis to Nashville, with a gig in Franklin
The evening on this trip was an important one.  It was Junior/Senior night, the night when the juniors and seniors are rewarded for being great leaders throughout the year and on the trip.  After conferring with the YC President beforehand, we decided on BB Kings Restaurant and Blues Club.  There was live music from and All Star Blues Band that night ... The highlight for me was when the guy started singing "The Thrill is Gone" ... If you closed your eyes you would have thought that BB King himself was there.

Day 5:  Nashville for some more fun
The one true request made by the youth when we chose to go to Nashville for the tour was to go line dancing.  You probably wouldn't be surprised by this, but it's not easy to find a place to line dance that's both fun and family friendly.  After doing our homework, we landed on the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville.  And it couldn't have been a better choice.  We asked for a cater meal and they set us up in a 'private room', which was actually a section partitioned off right next to the dance floor ... Could not have been better seats!  And the BBQ ... So stinking good.   But Footloose takes the cake as the highlight of the night. 

We were staying at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is is full of all kinds of fun, so I'd planned to get out of Wildhorse earlier rather than later so we could all have fun running around the hotel.  But then the dance instructors announced (right after we got there) that they'd be teaching the epic-level line dance scene from the latest Footloose movie, later in the evening.  And like that my plans for an early return to the hotel were shot down.  But I tell you what ... watching nearly all of the youth out on the dance floor learning the moves was priceless.

Day 6:  Heading home!  Nashville, TN to West Monroe, LA
This was the long day of travel ... An 8 hour ride from Nashville to Monroe.  Full disclosure here ... I'm directionally challenged.  So when traveling, anywhere, I'm completely dependent on my GPS.  With good reason, I'm very trusting of the GPS, but, while you know it's always going to get you there, how it gets you there can be very sketchy.  Because a GPS unit knows all of the roads.  Even the dirt ones.  While we didn't drive any dirt roads, it sure wanted us to.  Probably the best part of the drive was a 20 mile trek through backwoods Arkansas.  I drove as fast as I could to get through it ... But slowed down a bit when I saw a man mowing his ginormous lawn on his riding mower, with his son, and both of them were shirtless.  I felt like we invaded some special and bizarre ritual.

Thankfully we did end up in Monroe on time, and partook of some awesome crawfish cooked up by some dear friends in ministry.

Day 7:  Homecoming!
The best moment of coming home was seen my wife and son for the first time in seven days.  Our boy is almost 6 months old and is learning new stuff every day, so it was crazy hard to be away for that long.  But they were there in the parking lot waiting for us, and when I took the little man, he couldn't stop laughing.  Best thing ever.

There were a whole lot of other fun memories from the tour, but this is the big stuff that sticks out to me.  I've been home for a week now, and things just pop up at random in conversation, and I think that that's what's fun about a trip like this that was so full of ministry.

I will say in conclusion that this felt like a Youth Ministry Graduation for me.  It was a blessed trip and I'm already working on next year!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let's Talk About Water

This would be post #2 regarding our most recent Youth Choir Tour to the great state of Tennessee.  You can read the intro here.

An important teaching moment came up the day before we got home on choir tour.  I want to preface this entry by saying that I love the youth in my choir.  They are outstanding young people, every single one of them.  But a decision was made by a few created a situation that we had to stop and talk about for a moment.

It started earlier in the week.  It was a shorter trip than usual and we would be making frequent stops, but there was still a need for snacks and water on the trip.  My assistant went out and bought the usual things, chips, fruit snacks, crackers, bottled water and Gatorade.  No sodas.  It seemed all good, just stuff to get us through when we would be sleeping in churches.  But on night one, a problem was brought to my attention.

All the bottled water was flavored.  And apparently this was a huge problem.

It started small, with sad glances and sighs.  But it soon became clear that I was going to have a rebellion on my hands.

I'd thrown out various suggestions during the week to deal with our unfortunate situation.  I suggested drinking down one bottle of the stuff (which really wasn't bad) and filling it at the water fountain.  When things got particularly frustrating, I simply said, "When we run out, I'll buy you regular bottled water."  I think that this was the suggestion that got the proverbial ball rolling.

On Friday of the tour I went over to grab one of the bottles of watter, still in the cardboard box with the others, and I opened it.  I immediately noticed that it had already been opened.  Then I looked and saw that many others had been opened as well.  I took a sip and found that the bottle in my hand had been filled with tap water, as had the other open bottles.  I'm not going to lie here ... I was fuming a bit.  Because I knew that the flavored water inside that bottles had not been drunk, it had been poured out.

I was fuming, but it was just about time to get on the road.  I was going to let it slide.  We were heading towards fun day in Nashville, and there were bigger fish to fry.  It was just a prank.

Then came Saturday.  One of my chaperones had filled up the cooler in the back of his van, unbeknowst to him it was with the already opened bottles.  I was thirsty, so I grabbed a bottle to find out what it was.  You see, I always carry my water bottle with me.  I'm not scared of water out of a tap, but I had already drunk it and we were making a rest stop and I needed the water.  Needless to say, I'm the only one that touches my personal water bottle.   I know that these bottles of tampered-with water are full of clean water from a fountain, but yet again, I'm fuming.

I walk back to my van to tell the adults riding my van the tale, and they inform me that not only had the bottled water been tampered with, but a full package (60 bottles) of the offensive flavored water had been left behind two days ago with a note to the church thanking us for letting us stay there.  And I officially boil over.  Awesome sauce.

Thankfully, the two adults in my van talk me off the ledge that would have been snapping at the students in that moment.  I take a deep breath, but this has touched a real nerve with me.  We need to do some quick teaching on water scarcity.  We load up, and I call my wife to look up some statistics regarding water needs worldwide.  Here are some of the shocking things she sent me, via the World Health Organization, the UN and various places around the internet:
  • 3.575 million people die each year from a water related disease - that's equal to the number of people who live in Los Angeles
  • 884 million people lack access to clean water - that's almost 3 times the united states population
  • 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people.
  • 3.41 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes each year.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.
  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness
When we got off the vans for lunch, I gathered everybody up and laid on them a few of those stats, and a few things I know from my time in Louisiana.

Post-Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, bottled water saved lives in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.  Bottled water also saved lives after floods in Iowa, Nashville, and Atlanta.  Bottle water saved lives after natural disasters in Haiti and Japan, and continues to in countless other places in the world where people don't have access to clean water.

I tried to impress on them that the world's water problems are huge ... A lot bigger than we realize in our Dallas suburb.  So I wasn't mad at them ... These problems seem like a world away from where we live, so how could they really know?  But I did leave them with a point ... The least we can do is not pour our a resource that's so precious to the rest of the world.  A water-starved kid in Africa wouldn't care if the water tasted like raspberries.  It's just water.

So, next year we won't be bringing flavored bottled water on the trip.  I learned my lesson there!  Instead, we'll bring water bottles.  I'll probably have some made or encourage students to bring their own.  I mean, clearly tap water doesn't bother them either!

I also learned that keeping counsel with an adult team is essential to any trip (and ministry, period).  They helped me do as the Apostle Paul directed in his letter to Ephesus and "speak the truth in love".  At the heart of Christian ministry is truth, love, and teamwork.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaching New Tunes

As Worship Pastor in a local church who gets to direct both "traditional" and "contemporary" worship, I have to tackle a great and necessary problem: how do we teach new tunes?

Both styles of worship have their own tools built in to teach new songs, with one style taking a little more prep and time (contemporary) than the other.  I've done a lot of research in reading and in practice and I've come up with a roadmap along the way for application in each style of worship.

Teaching in the Contemporary Style
Honestly, teaching a tune properly in this context take a few weeks and discernment along the way.
It starts with getting the congregation to listen to the tune.  Just listen.  The first time we hear a congregational song is almost always as an offertory.  People are accustomed to listening to music during this time anyway as the plate is being passed.  It's crucial here though to make sure, if the song is to be taught, that the words have been given to your A/V Team to get on the screens!

The next week, the new song is in the opening set.  Opening sets of songs in contemporary worship usually include 3 to 4 songs, so it's pretty safe to include a newer song here.  Just make sure it's preceded and followed by a familiar tune!  People want to sing, so give them something to sing that they know.  We often deal, in established churches, with a melting pot of people.  Youth and children grab on to newer tunes quicker than adults (usually), so we need to be sensitive.

I'll then usually skip a week or two and bring the song back.  Generally having been heard and experienced three times, I consider a song learned.  But where discernment come into play is knowing a song well enough that you, the worship leader, can get off the page and observe the congregation singing.  Ask yourself ... Are they singing?  Are they engaged?  We can't be afraid to say that a song isn't congregational.

I also use online resources to get new tunes out to the congregation ... I'll often include a youtube link to a new song in my weekly staff newsletter and we've just started tweeting the worship setlist the a couple of days before Sunday, with the hope that people will look up the songs.

Teaching in the Traditional Style
I've actually found it easier to teach tunes in this style, but a method is still necessary!
If a new song is to be sung in worship, I always go over it with the choir at the choir practice previous.  The choir is a worship leading ensemble, not just there to sing pretty anthems!  If they've gotten it down, it'll be that much easier to teach the people.

Then comes Sunday morning.  At my current church, we only have the UMH in the pews, so if we're teaching a new tune out of it, I usually have my organist play through the whole tune first.  If it's entirely new (new tune and text), I'll instruct the congregation to listen to the choir sing the first stanza, and then jump in on the second.  If we're doing a new hymn from TFWS, or Worship and Song, we take this same approach and either have lyrics in the bulletin or on the screens.

I think regardless of what style you're teaching in, prayerful enthusiasm is key to getting the people on board with something new.  Don't be afraid!  Just as we pray for clean and new hearts on Ash Wednesday, it's important to pray and teach new songs on Sunday morning.  Old churches can be new creations!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Post #CTAC2012 Musings: Rocking Awesome Youth Edition

You might be asking yourself why this North Texas Conference boy is writing a post on the Central Texas 2012 Annual Conference ... That's because my wife serves as Youth and Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for the CTCUMC.  The CTC Annual Conference was this week and it was my pleasure to accompany Leanne and my boy Wesley to Waco for the festivities.

It's been an eye-opener experiencing the conference office as Leanne's husband.  She works with a great staff in the Center Evangelism and Church Growth, so it was fun to hang out with them for a couple of days.  As a minister's wife Leanne is often referred to as "Jarrod's Wife", like it or not.  I actually had great fun this week being the Minister's Spouse as "Leanne's Husband", but also "Wesley's Dad".  Poor Wesley also has to serve dual roles as mascot for the local church we serve as well as the CTC staff.  He does a great job!  I mean, with a name like Wesley, he's made for it.

I wasn't able to stay for the whole conference.  But I did get to hear some exciting reports, and worship with some awesome youth delegates.  Here's what I took away from CTAC2012:

Rocking Awesome Youth
Youth are rocking awesome in general, but when you're at an Annual Conference, the youth you meet aren't your typical Methodist Youth.  They refer to themselves as the "Methodorks".  At least some of them do.  These are the highly motivated, total nerds for the UMC.  Every district sent at least two youth, plus CCYM delegates.  Leanne helped to coordinate meals for them and their hotel stay with the help of some particularly awesome chaperones.  The fun thing about this group:  you didn't have to give them wake-up calls to get them to the early meetings.  Much like youth on mission, they were there because they wanted to be.  They wanted to participate.  They wanted to be heard.  It's certainly motivated me to pay attention.  These youth have things to say.

The Youth Address
As part of the report of the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, it was Leanne's duty to introduce the CCYM President, Kevin, who delivered the Youth Address to the Annual Conference.  Firstly, I sat very proud as Leanne introduced herself to the conference, having completed her first year in ministry with the CTC Youth and Young Adults.  Then I sat as Kevin delivered a highly motivating message to the conference to the youth and adults present.  The best moment, was towards the end.

First, he asked all of the youth to stand.  The small number (in comparison to the whole conference) stood.

Then he asked all youth pastors, ministers, and workers to stand.  A few more people stood.

Then he asked any and all people who work with youth in any way in the local church and communities to stand.  A few more people did.

When they all stood, I would say it was 5-10% of the total people in the room.

Then he issued his challenge - "I would like to see all of you standing next year."

There was silence in the room.  It was epic.

Leading Youth Worship
I lead a few songs later that evening as all of the youth representatives gathered (with some young adult reps) for a short service after dinner.  Leanne volunteered me a little bit, and some youth approached me with a song or two.  The CCYM President delivered a short, but coherent, message he'd written in about 30 minutes on his ipad in between dinner and the service.  It was a great privilege to lead a few songs for these awesome young people, who know that Methodists are supposed to sing.  Some of us forget that along the way.

Speaking of singing ... One of the bigger reasons for my attendance at the conference was to aid in leading a short presentation on Taize as opening worship for one of the sessions.  The music leader chose the deep chorus, "Bless the Lord My Soul".  One of the powerful things about Taize chant, is that when you truly participate in the singing it is a very effective style for centering yourself on prayer and worship.  Unfortunately, there were a whole lot of important conversations going on that just couldn't be interrupted ...

Episcopal Effectiveness
I feel that I should touch on my home conference proceedings a little bit.  I wasn't in attendance, but I did follow as much as I could from Waco, and have observed the fallout from the closing worship.
UMC Clergy and Theologian John Meunier asks the question, here, how do we judge episcopal effectiveness?  My response is this, as somebody who works in ministry in the North Texas Annual Conference:

In the North Texas Conference, the episcopacy has no effect on my ministry, or, really, the faith community I serve.  I know of no clear conference vision, and the conference staff is very hard to get a hold of, in general.  There could be many reasons for both of these statements, I know.  I serve at a top-30, faithfully giving church, who hasn't seen a conference staff person on our campus other then the person who handles conference insurance in the past year. 

And I might be starting to be slightly biased towards the CTC, considering I know how great and hard working the staff is.  But when most headlines after the NTC read "Bishop is going to fight like the devil to keep his job" or something similar, there's a big problem.  "Fight like the devil"?  Really?  How can that be good?  Our words matter.  Numbers can tell part of a story, but words spoken can tell a whole lot too.

I'm praying for good people to the hard work to realize the Peaceful Kingdom in my home conference.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Silo Effect in Ministry

The strength of the UMC is the Connectional System (in my opinion).  From the General Conference, to the Episcopacy, to the various agencies and commissions, on down to the Annual Conferences, Districts, and local churches.  Every local church has a connection to the others through the connection and the available resources.

But it doesn't always work ... Our often overworked District Superintendents can rarely see every church under their authority in a year's time, even when special care is needed.  And as we all know, Bishops have an awful lot on their plates as well ...

Not to mention, some congregations just insist on going against the teachings of 1st Corinthians 13 and going their own way.

Even within the local church (which I would say is the most important part of the connection, the root) there are ministries that also insist on going their own way.  There's a term for this, coined in the business community:  The Silo Effect.  I've heard this term recently in terms of structures in churches, Annual Conference offices, and above in the UMC.  Also called "information silo", "silo thinking", "silo vision", "silo mentality", and simply "siloing", here's a definition:
An information silo is a management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. A bank's management system, for example, is considered a silo if it cannot exchange information with other related systems within its own organization, or with the management systems of its customers, vendors, or business partners. "Information silo" is a pejorative expression that is useful for describing the absence of operational reciprocity ... The expression is typically applied to management systems where the focus is inward and information communication is vertical. Critics of silos contend that managers serve as information gatekeepers, making timely coordination and communication among departments difficult to achieve, and seamless interoperability with external parties impractical. They hold that silos tend to limit productivity in practically all organizations, provide greater opportunity for security lapses and privacy breaches, and frustrate consumers who increasingly expect information to be immediately available and complete.  (Definition and other info found here)
Are there ministries in your church that seem to just stand alone without any connection to others?  They may be big, or they may be small.  Ministries within a church don't start out this way.  Most ministries start with support of the church staff (if not actually started by staff), who help to connect ministries to resources.  The Silo Effect can be especially troublesome if ministries are receiving budget support (often out of tradition and entitlement).

There are many ways to counteract the Silo Effect in ministry.  Number one would probably be the Council on Ministries, a meeting place for all big and small ministries of the church to facilitate communication and teamwork amongst ministry areas.  For instance, who are the usual go-to people for mission work in the church?  In my experience, the gateway to a missional church is through the youth.  Youth love to go on mission, but they're also a mission field in our communities.  It is so very important that youth ministries and mission ministries walk hand-in-hand.   But what if they're not?  A Council on Ministries (or Church Council) can help make connections.

A previous pastor of mine saw the Silo Effect all over the church I was serving.  We had a very active (and recently revamped) COM, but still there were ministries out on their own.  So we drew a 'Ministry Map' of the church and made sure that not only did all ministries and a seat at the COM, but they also were connected to the staff.  But let me be clear, the ministry areas were not always run by the staff (that's rarely a fix to anything), but for resourcing purposes, all ministry area leaders were given the assistance of a staff member to work with and bounce ideas off of.  I should also say that the moves didn't make staff members administrative assistants to ministry leaders ... More like teammates.

We know we're not called to run alone, but it happens. 

Do you see the Silo Effect happening in your local church?  Or better yet ... have you seen it happen in the global UMC?