Monday, July 29, 2013

"Why millennials are leaving the church"

I'll admit, I'm a fan of Rachel Held Evans.  She brings a lot of balance to the term 'Evangelical Christian' and I think her writing is to the point.  Her latest article from the CNN Belief Blog, "Why millennials are leaving the church' really isn't new information.  It's the same information that David Kinnaman breaks down in You Lost Me, and the same stuff Adam Hamilton preaches in When Christians Get it Wrong, although more conversational than Kinnaman and less preachy than Hamilton.

She also speaks from somebody who bridges a divide between Buster and Millennial, and so she can speak from a place of real-life experience.

Some quotes from the article worth noting:
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.
But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

The word I think she's going for, but doesn't use is authenticity.  Young people want to be part of a church that isn't out to divide the world (I realize you can throw Jesus at me here, but don't), but bring it together.  Pastors that keep it real and worship leaders that aren't there just to be cool.  Liturgy that blends together the ancient and the future that's just comforting enough to get you ready to have your world rocked by the gospel of truth, justice, and peace.

I wear skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses when I preach, guilty, but that's because that's what I wear all the time.  And I have a prescription for the glasses, so there.

When it comes to this topic, why millennials are leaving the church, I feel like our lectionary Gospel lesson from yesterday has something to say:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus, in chapter 11 of Luke, is calling on us to pray through our troubles with God constantly.  If you're struggling with reaching Millennials, knock on God's door, but also, knock on the doors of the Millennials and ask, "What can we do for you?"  There's just a little too much deciding without enough conversation.  This topic is going to be an ongoing issue until leaders start talking to the people they're trying to reach.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Worship and Liturgy Resources - The Essentials

Yesterday, I completed the whirl-wind educational experience known as "Licensing School", a big step in the UMC on the road to ordination; upon completion and appointment by the Bishop you are bestowed the title "Licensed Local Pastor".  It is now a required step for all that are moving onto Elder or Deacon, but for many becoming a LLP is actually the goal and they continue their education through Course of Study.

There were thirty or so folks in class, most from Central Texas, but others from Southwest Texas and one from the North Texas Conference.  All of us are serving in a variety of circumstance, many as Lay Supply in smaller churches already, some in larger churches serving in youth, young adult, children, and music departments waiting for appointment or just taking the class as part of the ordination track while in seminary, others serve as volunteers and unpaid staff.

Most discussions were panel-led with some great pastors and laity serving in the CTCUMC.  After attending, one thing I felt was needed was a list of essential resources for worship ministry.  Nothing frilly or overly theological (you seminarians and fellow liturgy nerds know what I mean).  Just good resources for the folks who don't have time right now to dig into the heavier things while they barely have time to prepare a sermon, much less worship plan.

It'll blow your mind how many quarter and half-time supply pastors we have serving while holding down one or two other jobs to support a call to ministry.  I met several, and they are my new heroes.  I also understand, more than ever, how fortunate I am to have landed in a great full-time job, surrounded by stellar mentors who pour into me every day.

So, here's my list of essentials.  What would you add?


United Methodist Book of Worship (1989)
Goes without saying, but still needs to be said.

Worship and Song (Liturgies and Prayers) (2011)
This is the latest hymnal supplement adopted by the United Methodist Church.  A great resource for seasonal and topical calls to worship, offertory prayers, corporate prayers, confessions, and new creeds.  If you're going to buy this one, it's probably good just to go ahead and purchase the leader's version as well, but this volume of just liturgy resources is cheap.

Christian Year, Christ’s Time for the Church
A seminary level book that’s completely accessible.  Stookey breaks down each season of the church year. Great to read as a whole or just as prep for upcoming worship planning.  Before planning worship for any season, I choose the chapter from this book to wrap my head around the task.

The New Handbook of the Christian Year
A comprehensive UMC resource breaking down the Christian year, complete with liturgy and worship suggestions.

Upper Room Worship Book
A great resource for different types of liturgies (daily prayer, evening prayer, healing services).  Tons of music and sung psalter with a wealth of world, traditional, and ‘contemporary’ music.


GBOD Worship
Predominantly oriented towards lectionary preaching churches, there are resources for each week including sermon helps (with great ideas towards building lectionary-based sermon series), and hymn suggestions with semi-contemporary resources.

Ministry Matters
A UMC website with fantastic worship resources (among other practical things), click the worship tab for worship resources.  For each week of the lectionary, there are calls to worship, offertory prayers, etc.  Yearly subscription is $99 for access to the online library (worth it)

Worship Together
One of the best contemporary music resource sites out there, it brings together artists of the Passion Movement, Hillsong and many others.  It offers a whole lot of free stuff, including mp3 downloads of the most recent songs by their artists, including song stories.

A music licensing company, with avenues for video and streaming licenses as well.  You have to have a license to perform anything not in one of our hymnals (or anthems that have been purchased by the church) - or you could get sued.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Liturgist, from Chuck Knows Church

If you're a United Methodist, or a church nerd of any kind like myself, hopefully you've heard of a wonderful ministry going out now by the GBOD, Chuck Knows Church.  It features a cool dude by the name of Josh Childs as "Chuck", a guy who breaks down ancient and common church words for all of us.  It's more fun that Wikipedia!

This week's episode, "The Liturgist" caught my eye.  Why, you ask?  Because the root word of liturgist is one of my favorite words to nerd out on - liturgy.

Watch and enjoy!  And be sure to track back to the Church Knows Church website to check out the rest of the fun!

Sermon from 7.7.2013 - "Do Something Difficult?"

My sermon from the July 7 Celebration Service at FUMC Arlington.

The Word of the day is 2 Kings 5:1-14, the conclusion to our five week study on prophets from the Hebrew Bible.

July 7, Celebration from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ask, Seek, Knock

Right now, I'm preparing for the last half of Licensing School, a five day stint-in-residency at Texas Wesleyan.  A time of intense and practical study with some new and old friends.  Part of the deal is to prepare a sermon of 10 minutes or less to preach in front of my fellow students, with this charge from our LS leader - consider your congregation in this place.

So, I'm not supposed to preach something simply generic.  I can't recycle and cut down a previous message.  Not that I could really do that anyway.

But, I am preparing a message for next Sunday, a particularly relevant reading to Christians for the last 2,000 years, and preserved for teaching through the lectionary:

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come.
   Give us each day our daily bread.
   And forgive us our sins,
     for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ 
 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 
 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

To say this reading from the 11th chapter of Luke is familiar would be an understatement.  The Lord's Prayer and following parable are both iconic passages in the Christian faith.

As I break this down for my congregation, I feel convicted that it's an important passage to dwell on together with my peers heading into Licensed Local Pastor territory.  But what do we need to learn from Christ here?

Discipline and persistence in prayer?
Directness and simplicity in prayer?
The familial relationship that Christ is us to in giving us permission to call God "Father" as he does?

Yes, all of these things are important.

But also there's the contrast that the Lord is drawing between the hospitality of humans and God.  A human being, even in Jewish society with it's strict code of hospitality, might tend to not open the door.  The Lord is not saying here that God won't open the door and listen to our needs - but that God will open that door so much quicker than a person would.

Even so, we're called to be persistent in our prayers.  Are all pastors persistent in their prayers?  I would say no.  It's time to change that.

But on the flip side, while the Lord seems to be more clear in this parable than many others, what if Jesus is trying to say something different to us with the neighbor knocking at the door?  What if the person at the door is, in fact, God, and we're the ones that are too busy with the stuff of life to let God in?

To take things bigger - are our churches to busy with stuff that we call ministry to let the Lord in?

Discipline.  Simplicity.  Persistence.

Ask.  Seek.  Knock.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Funny Friday: #Taizé To Do's and To Don'ts

It's funny Friday again!  But not only that, it's another post about the greatest place on earth - Taizé!

It's been a week or so since I've cranked out a blog on the experience and it's been a whole lot of fun telling the story.  This is one that's been in the works since the first day.  As you can expect, a monastery in the south of France that intentionally hosts 500 to 5,000 young adults from across the planet is going to have some quirks.

Here's a dish on some of the finer experiences of travelling to Taizé.  Here are some Taizé To Do's, and some Taizé To Don'ts.

1.  Don't grab the microphones in the floor of the Church of Reconciliation.

Before worship one night we sat in our usual spot in the church to find one of the teacher's microphones left in the floor.  All the mics that the brothers used to teach and lead worship are wired directly into jacks in the floor.  When one was left out, one of my fellow Texans decided to goof around and grab it and sing in to it.  We were quite surprised to find that the mic was live!  We heard our friend quite loudly through the speakers around us ... Before he could even drop the mic on the floor one of the permanent volunteers on patrol swooped in like a silent ninja and grabbed it, chastised all of us, unhooked the mic and ran away.

It was embarrassing ... But oh, so funny.

2.   Do check the weather.

Yeah, so it was freezing while we were there.  Literally.  We checked the weather, but didn't believe it. I brought three sweaters and a hoodie with me.  I wore all of them the whole time we were there, just rotating layers to try and keep things fresh.  I even wore them to bed, people.  Yes.  So, check the weather before you go - and believe it.

3.  Do bring American medicine with you.

I got bad sick while we were there with a sinus infection.  And medicine at the community, well, it was a bit primitive.  The nurse on staff there had some of the best hospitality I've ever experienced.  But, if I'd had some Dayquil it would have nipped the whole thing in the bud.  The nurse ended up taking me and my wife into town to the pharmacy to get some medicine.  I ended up getting some kind of homeopathic antibiotic over the counter - yeah, I'm not really sure that's a thing.  But I took it and a day later I was 100% better.  Most medicine over there was of the homeopathic variety (apparently), just FYI.

4.  Don't leave Germans in charge of the windows.

So, I got sick.  It wasn't bad until our super great German roommates decided it would be a great idea to  open our windows in the middle of the coldest night of the pilgrimage.  It was below freezing, but it was "too stuffy" for them in the room with our half-time working radiator going.

We had a great chat about that the next day.  Thank God Europeans love languages and everybody knows English.  It saves lives.

5.  Don't wear nice shoes.

Just don't.  It may be France, but the place is not a fashion show.  There's mud.  And if you walk out side the community, there's a lot of livestock around.

And the best for last ...

6.  Do clean up after yourself.

See the picture above?  There was one of those delightful notes inside the door of every single stall at the community complete with a toilet brush.  The toilets in Taizé were some of the cleanest toilets in Europe.  And I say this with all sincerity.  It might actually be one of the more important aspects of hospitality in the community.  The bathrooms weren't spa quality, but they were clean.

For more on the Central Texas Conference epic pilgrimage to Taizé, check out what I've written here, and Bishop Mike Lowry's blog here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's all about #millennials. No, really.

Yesterday, a super awesome editorial cartoon was put out by CNN Opinion entitled, "The generation we love to dump on."  I'll pause here so you can follow the link and go check it out.

Really.  You should.

Do it now.

Done?  Good.  I'm my humble opinion, and this is from an earlier Millennial (verging on Buster territory), this thing is legit.  And there are mountains of data to support it, just go check out anything that the Barna group has put out for the church lately.

My favorite part of this cartoon though isn't the cartoon itself, it's reading the comments below.  Comments that are disturbingly ignorant from older generations.

And the best part?  These comments from older generations are undoubtedly similar to the comments that those generations received from their parental generations.  Generational commentary passed down through the generations.

There's very little commentary on what the millennial generation could be doing for the world if given the chance.  I see myself in my personal context in the church as a bridge builder.  As a hyper-creative (a defining characteristic of this generation) that understands traditional church systems, but still gets frustrated by them, I see it as my job to bridge those of my generation and younger into life in the church.  Even though that itself can be quite frustrating, there's nothing more worth the frustration.

I read articles like this and I actually get excited about the possibilities - what can the church do with this generation?  What changes can the church make to give room to a highly creative generation who isn't motivated because there isn't room for creativity?  What can the church do for a generation that's encouraged to take on debt after debt after debt to pay for schooling that we're told is necessary and then is extremely condescended to when there aren't jobs available?

Where is the church in the career discernment process?  Where's the church when we're graduating high schoolers and college students without the basic life skills to keep it together, much less a faith that will last through the craziness of young adulthood?

What are the most common descriptors for the millennial generation from the generations before us?  Entitled and lazy.  Which begs the question - who taught us that?  You can't blame the millennial generation for taking on these characteristics when they're given no influence on the systems that they're raised in.

We have a tendency to focus on the negative.  So I'll say this -
Millennials are more passionate than they look.
Millennials want to change the world, but aren't given the resources.
Millennials would rather use their creativity for the good, rather than write blogs like this or create fun cartoons about being a millennial.
And before you say that they don't want to work hard for their money, try being a barista at Starbucks, or working at Taco Bell.

I won't lie.  This is kind of an emotional field for me.  So much so, that I made it my job in the church.

Discuss.  Let me have it if you need too!  But think: what could the church be doing differently to help the younger generations change the world?

Do you have an idea?  Make it happen.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Advent in July

Last week my senior pastor bestowed a big task on me - putting together our sermon series for the Advent and Christmas seasons.


In his words, "I feel like I haven't kept you busy enough."

Busy or not, I'm stoked for the opportunity.  If you've read this blog at all, you know that I'm a total nerd for the church year.  Following the liturgical seasons of the church is important in most of our United Methodist Churches and many of our mainline sister denominations.  I find it keeps my own personal soul centered on a direction throughout the year, and it's another great thing that connects us from church to church.

And now begins my pre-game ritual for worship planning of any season - reading the seasonal chapters of Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey.  I've been doing this since this book was assigned reading in my church music classes in seminary, and I find that it's the best way to keep things grounded in God's point and in the minds of those who crafted the Revised Common Lectionary in the first place.

Yes, call me a liturgy nerd.

In chapter 6, "Advent: The End and the Beginning", I find this gem on page 121, referring to the seemingly backwards nature of the Advent season:
... The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.  For "end" means not only the "end of time," but the central purpose or goal of creation.  We are not aimlessly wandering in a wilderness, even though we may be temped to think so.  Rather, history is headed somewhere by direction (though not dictation) from God.  It is necessary that the liturgical year begin with this focus on a central, holy intention; for otherwise the story of Jesus, which is about to be rehearsed from conception and birth to death and resurrection, may seem less that what it is: the deliberate fulfilling of divine purpose, worked out through historical process.  Only this focus on the central purpose of God in history can keep the story of Jesus from falling into the superstitious or almost magical understandings that often afflict the Christian community, on the one hand, or into the trivialization and irrelevance that characterize secular interpretations, on the other hand.
This dual focus of the Advent season, a look ahead to the future coming of Christ through the voices of the prophets, but then the touching account of Christ's birth can be very confusing.  But then we remember the great mystery of faith:  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Confusingly good.  Time to plan.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

#CTCGetLicensed #NoRegrets

So, here I am in the midst of the Central Texas Conference's month long take on licensing school.

You heard me right.  A.  Month.  Long.

In the middle of the summer, I'm spending three Saturdays and then five days in residency learning how to become a licensed local pastor for the UMC.  This family man was less than excited at the proposition of this long run through class.  I'm all about getting things done, and the old model of an eight to nine day, all day stretch sounded really appealing to me.  Would that have been tough?  Yes.  But ... Yeah.  Missing many Saturdays in the middle of the summer ... Not exciting.

I started this thing in quite the funk - even in the midst of knowing I'm called to do it.  Ever been there?

But then a few days before this venture was supposed to start, with a 4:30am wake-up call so I could make it to Waco by 8am, our conference BOM Coordinator sent out the list of my fellow attendees.  And that's when I started to get excited.  Because a lot of my friends were going.

While most of us weren't excited about having to make a trek bright and early on a Saturday morning, as we arrived together for our first day of class together, we realized that while we were here to be schooled, we were also here to build relationships.  Which is my favorite part of any ministry venture.

Our table quickly grew together as the first day went on, and realizing that the Twitter conversation was lagging, we decided to hash tag the proceedings - #ctcgetlicensed.  Because that's how we roll.  While things got silly, we had some really powerful speakers come our way and needed a way to preserve what we felt was important.

I get jazzed off community building.  Our licensing school has been set up in such a way that we're working together as candidates to lift each other up.  There are many other young candidates for ministry, like myself that I've come to know over the last year. But on the flip side, there are many Lay Supply Pastors serving small, part-time charges in the conference.  You don't see a lot of them around - they don't have a huge standing in the conference, because they work part-time hours for what a lot of people would consider tiny churches.

I myself find these Pastors (as they are, indeed) an inspiration.  Most of them have a full time job else where to really pay the bills.  On the weekends and during the week they serve sometimes two charges across towns and regions.  These Pastors are likely the only staff for their churches of a few to 40 or 50 people.  And you know what?  These folks may just be the life-blood of the conference.  Just think about the work they do.  And a lot of them have already been doing this work for months.  I come to find that the new schedule for licensing school, this spreading out of things, is actually for folks like them.  I can take nine days and call call it work - I'm not that important yet at my job, I will be one of four clergy on staff when I finish up school.  For these ladies and gentlemen, they are their church's person.  Amazing.

So I'm loving licensing school.  It's not a crazy lot of new information.  But it's a lot of old friends and new ones.

In a goofy daze on the first day due to a lack of sleep and not enough coffee, my hash-tag-creating table jumped on the #noregrets train with regard to just about anything we could think of at the time.

What I've learned over the last couple of weeks of licensing school is that it's not just a step on the path.  For many, being licensed is the final step in their call as pastors, for the rest of us it's part of the process in heading towards Elder.  But for all of us it's an important stop on the way to take stock of the gifts that God has given us - namely the communities in which we serve and the community we're building with one another as we journey together over the next several weeks.

So, #ctcgetlicensed.  #NOREGRETS.