Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Big Announcement

I haven't been able to write a whole lot lately, mostly because I've been waiting to write this post.  I stress authenticity in ministry, and it's hard to be authentic when you're keeping something be to yourself.

This one has been a long time coming, but with joy I finally get to announce that I've begun the candidacy process to become an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church.  God has really been working on me over the last several years.  For a while, I genuinely thought that my call was towards being a Deacon and pursuing excellence in worship ministry.  But for a while now my focus has been moving away from a worship focus to a truer liturgy focus - really working with people and meeting them where they are in life.

To that end, I've chosen (requested, really) to focus on new church ministries.  I realize with all of my heart that the UMC's focus can't be solely on new church starts, that vital ministry needs to be cultivated and maintained in our established churches.  I do, however, feel a call towards the new frontiers in ministries, in communities that are brand new themselves and in communities that have been left behind by the church over time.

I feel blessed to have had the experience in so many ministry situations, and having a wife who has been active in many different ministry scenarios over her time in ministry.  All this has helped to form the call in me towards a new venture and opened my heart to seek the Lord's purpose for my life in ministry for myself and my family.

It was my wife who first pointed out something different in me.  I've been writing an awful lot about hospitality, how we welcome our guests, how worship is supposed to create encounters with the divine, my struggles with broken systems.  We were on a walk when she called me out - "Are you sure you're not supposed to be a pastor?"  It wasn't two weeks later that my father asked me the very same question.  I can't avoid the question, or now, the call.

I'm thankful that my ministry and seminary experience gets me pretty far down the candidacy road, but I do know at some point I'm going back to school!  For now, I'm in holy conversation and prayer with pastors, mentors, and wonderful cabinet members to help discern the way forward for my family.  There's no true time table yet, but I couldn't be more excited!

To God be the glory!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Prayer for Guidance

As we seek this day to be more of Jesus and less of ourselves, I find this Korean prayer, #366 in the UMH, to be something I need to pray:

O God,
   just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face,
      so let us look to you
         in order to understand the things that we have done amiss.
   We are like a reed shaken in the wind;
      we are inexpressibly weak.
   Leave us not to ourselves,
      but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.  Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Prayer of Saint Patrick

Every once in a while, in true liturgy nerd fashion, I like to thumb through my United Methodist Book of Worship and search for prayers.  Sometimes it's part of my work, sometimes it's just because I need a few words for myself.

As we get ready to worship the Lord this weekend, I invite you to pray this prayer I found in this week's studies:
Christ be with us, Christ before us, Christ beside us,
Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ on our right, Christ on our left,
Christ where we lie, Christ where we sit, Christ where we arise,
Christ in every heart of every one who thinks of us,
Christ in every eye that sees us,
Christ in every ear that hears us.
    Salvation is of the Lord,
    Salvation is of the Christ,
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.*
As we learn how to put on Christ in worship, may we put on Christ for the whole world around us.  Amen.

*Attributed to Saint Patrick, Ireland, 5th Century, UMBOW #529

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Prayer for the Church

Let us pray for Christ's Worshipping Body - the Church:
Most merciful Father,
  send your heavenly blessing upon this your Church,
  that all its members may dwell together in unity and love.
Keep far from us all self-will and discord.
Endue your pastors with righteousness,
  and enable them faithful to fulfill their ministry,
  to bring again the outcasts, and to seek the lost.
And grant to us so to receive their ministrations,
  and to use your means of grace,
  that in all our words and deeds
    we may seek your glory and the advancement of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.*
*From the Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Are You Ready?

As we prepare for Sabbath worship, may we tonight pray with John the Baptist, the one for whom Isaiah prophesied, and who came to be the Prophet of the Most High God.  He who was the voice in the wilderness, crying out:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
    and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
    and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.”*
As it was in John's time, it still is in ours: it is up to us to make the way ready for the Lord.  John called to the people of the time, and to us to repent, and make ourselves ready to meet the Lord.

Almighty and Merciful Lord,

On this day, we pray for readiness.  Readiness to hear the Your word preached and ready to sing Your songs. 

That we may then be ready to go out into the world and make the paths straight and the way plain for You, the Lord of Lords, to move into the lives of our loved ones and neighbors.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Heaven in the Home

In about two weeks our faith family will launch a new vision statement for the community, hoping to usher in a new era in it's call to minister to it's surrounding community.  This faith community has done it's share of the visioning process over the last several years, hiring consultants, doing retreats ... Only to have things setback over and over by various things that happen in ministry (pastoral and staff changes, changing dynamics in the community, facility renovations, etc.).

As a staff, we decided it's time to fish or cut bait.  So we've taken the work that had been done over the last several years and the conversations we've had with our congregational family and decided on:
"... on earth as it is in heaven ..."

Joining with Christ in bringing heaven down:
  • in ourselves
  • in our families
  • in our church family
  • in our community
  • in our world
To semi-quote the words of Bob Farr in Renovate or Die, the UMC has already set our mission, that is to fulfill the Great Commission in "Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World".  The vision statement of a faith community is similar in that it takes the grand mission of the UMC and gives it context in the local church.  We've chosen to take on living out the Lord's Prayer, specifically joining in Christ's mission, the one he laid upon us, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven down here on earth.

So how do you properly launch a vision statement in a church with three different worship services with two preachers taking on preaching duties?  We've decided to launch it as a sermon series ... With one person preaching all three services, with five different people taking a Sunday over five weeks to cover each point of the mission statement.  Our service layout on Sunday morning goes like this: 8:30 Traditional (in our small chapel), 9:00 Contemporary, and 11:00 Traditional.  Typically our senior pastor preaches at 8:30 and 11, our associate at 9:00.  With some creative planning, a preacher/speaker can make it to all three services to preach, and for five weeks, that's what we'll do.

We'll have five different speakers, and I have the great privilege to preach the second Sunday on how we can bring heaven down into our homes.  We're really going to work hard between the five speakers to coordinate and weave different threads through the whole week, so with the blessing of everyone I'll be tackling Luke 10:38-42 - Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha.  I figure I'm pretty lucky to get this day - there are a ton of examples in the Gospel of Christ actually in people's homes.  Eating, teaching, healing, hanging out - he was never far away from the hospitality of a friend, student, or family member.

Having been married for only three years, and with an 8-month-old son, my wife and I hardly consider ourselves experts on marriage.  But I will say that work hard together, have covenanted with one another, to keep Christ the focus in all we do.

With intentionality we:
  • Pray together every night
  • We eat together, at the dinner table with our little man
  • We've just begun reading scripture together every night, with a Bible-in-a-Year Challenge
  • We worship together
  • We budget together, of which a tithe is a non-negotiable element
Here's where I throw it out to you ... What do you do in your life to keep Christ the center?  What do you wish you did more of?  Knowing that our church family runs the gamut of family systems, I can't just focus on our home ... What can different family models do with intent to bring heaven down a little more?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Signs of a Good Time

What you see here is every dish in our house - DIRTY.  Under normal circumstances, this would probably get my wife a tad worked up.  I'm often given a hard time when I 'use every dish in the house' to make dinner.  And though I can be guilty of that, at least dinner is usually awesome!  Well, most of the time it is.   But really, nobody in my house complains when being served a meal they didn't have to make.

The mess above, though, is due to a great Labor Day weekend party at our house.  Our house was full of family (it was my dad's birthday the day before) as well as a few ministry friends that needed some good food and fellowship.  We grilled out, ate well, and played with our baby; our boy, in all of his crawling-awesomeness was the real star of the day - not my grilled chicken fajitas.

Appetizers, main courses, and desserts all led to every plate in our house (literally) getting dirty, as well as a great deal of cups, silverware, and most of our cooking and serving vessels and utensils.  All comprising 2-and-a-half loads for our dishwasher, not including all of the things we scrubbed by hand.  We had to clean off every counter top, table, the bar, the sinks, the grill, and, and, and ...

As my wife and I took stock of the apparent devastation, we just hugged and gave thanks that we had such a rich life - full of wonderful people, and a place where we could gather them all up.  Then we did the dishes together.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a pastor say, "If it isn't messy afterwards, ministry probably didn't happen."  It's rung true for me lately.  What if we measured our ministry by the messiness it creates?  Messiness shows signs of life, and when we offer true hospitality to our family, friends, and neighbors, messes come along with the people.

What if we measured a successful service by the scrap pieces of paper on the floor, or the candle wax on the pews and seats after Christmas Eve worship?  What if we measured the success of a church supper by the dirty dishes it created?  What if a church mission was measured by the supplies needed to get God's work done?  We often lament during winter at the amount of cough drop wrappers my choir leaves behind in the loft on Sunday, and while I urge them to clean up after themselves, the loft is only dirty because people are there serving.

What if we even invited more of a mess?  What if we decided that it was ok for (gasp) coffee cups to come into our sanctuaries?  And what child keeps things clean?  I mean, even our infant can't help but make a mess every minute he's awake.

Where can you invite a little more messiness into your faith community?  Or, what do you consider to be the signs of successful ministry and fellowship?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Prayer for Tomorrow

Let us join together today in prayer for tomorrow - that the Lord will come down into our midst right now and prepare us for Sabbath worship. 

Let us appeal to the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us, and make us ready to hear the Word in worship this weekend:
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
O Great Spirit,
   whose breath gives life to the world,
   and whose voice is heard in the soft breeze:
We need your strength and wisdom.
Cause us to walk in beauty.
Give us eyes
   ever to behold the red and purple sunset.
Make us wise so that we may understand
   what you have taught us.
Help us learn the lessons you have hidden
   in every leaf and rock.
Make us always ready to come to you
   with clean hands and steady eyes,
so when life fades, like the fading sunset,
   our spirits may come to you without shame.  Amen.
A traditional Native American Prayer, UMH 329