A Call to Ministry

I'm not normally one to rant, but I've been hearing something over and over again lately that's starting to bother me a great deal.

My call to ordained ministry is constantly referred to as my 'call to ministry'.  This language has been directed at me consistently from many directions, from clergy to the very forms I've filled out to apply for this next step in my call.

Why does this bother me?

Because I was called to ministry a full decade ago, it just wasn't to ordination.  But nonetheless, I was called to ministry as a worship leader.  It wasn't until just recently that I felt called to a new type of ministry: that of the ordained.  So, I take a little offense at the call to ordination as my 'call to ministry', as if I've finally arrived in the most exclusive and best group.  I have an Assistant Worship Minister that works for me.  Minister is part of his title and ministry is what he does.  Same goes for our Childrens Minister and our Youth Minister, none of whom are ordained but all are called to ministry.

As a current lay person, I feel the language being used denigrates the ministerial work I've already done - and the great work of all laity.

It's also contrary to the United Methodist understanding of the Christian call to ministry.

From the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Part III, Section II - The Ministry of All Christians:
¶ 125: The Heart of Christian Ministry - The heart of Christian ministry is Christ's ministry of outreaching love.  Christian ministry is the expression of the mind and mission of Christ by a community of Christians that demonstrates a common life of gratitude and devotion, witness and service, celebration and discipleship.  All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment.  The forms of this ministry are diverse in locale, in interest, and in denominational accent, yet always catholic in spirit and in outreach.
When we take on the name "Christian", we also take on the title of Minister in the UMC.  I remember in the bulletin of my home church growing up, seeing the first line of the staff listing on the back: Ministers - Every member of the congregation!

Clergy are called to walk hand in hand with the laity.  To only refer to the call to clergy as the call to ministry further divides up the kingdom and fosters a very consistent problem we have in the local church - that the clergy are the only ones there to work.

End of rant.  For now!

A Liturgy for Peace

On December 8, 2012, our worship ministry presented our annual Christmas Gala.  It was  time to sing big, beautiful choral music, and it was also a time of worship and prayer.  This year the gala, We Pray for Peace, was focused on praying for the peaceful kingdom to finally come into fruition around us - and to ask God what it is we should be doing to help bring that kingdom about.

The 'meat' of the program was Gloria, by Antonio Vivaldi.  One of the more accessible master works in the canon, this neopolitan setting of the Gloria text of the Catholic Mass is just a lot of fun to sing.  Our primary instrumentation for the evening was a string quartet (the Gloria just isn't right without them), as well as piano, organ, and a little acoustic guitar for fun.  As is tradition in our faith family the event is intergenerational with our Chancel and Youth choirs combining voices for the service.  The Chancel Choir carried the brunt of the Gloria, and the Youth Choir offered anthems with a little more 'contemporary' feel.  Our bell choir also participated in a mighty way.

The program is presented in three acts.  The first act, "The Prophets Knew ...",  focuses on that peaceful vision of Isaiah.  The second act, "We Call on the Lord ..." begins with a plea from the psalmist as we pray for a change to come into us and to the world.  Here we pray for the world we live in today.  In the third act, " ... And the Lord is With Us!", we tell the Christmas story.  I've been told that every sermon should end on a hopeful note, so we closed with the Hope of the Nations, born unto us.  In our telling of the Christmas story, we focused on the readings that included the angels.

I'll be including commentary and links to resources throughout the liturgy of the program.  Feel free to use any or all of this program, and may the Peace of Christ be with you as you jump into 2013!


We Pray For Peace


Processional     Wonderful PeaceGustaf Nordquist
We began the service with both choirs processing to this beautiful, hymn-like anthem while holding candles.

Do you hear the angels sing?
They’re singing Glory to God!
But that’s not all!
They’re shouting down that Peace has come!
Listen to the angels sing!

*Carol 238     Angels We Have Heard on High, stanzas 1, 3, 4      GLORIA

Anthem      Da Pacem Domine      Melchior Frank, arr. by John Leavitt
                   Give us peace, O Lord.
The Prophets Knew …
Our youth pastor shared this short introduction to the journey of the service.  It was not printed in the program.
Long before the holy family, the angels, and the shepherds welcomed Christ into the world, the people were waiting and watching for the appearance of the Messiah.  The prophets preached to the ancient Israelites to be ready, for the light was coming and the peaceful kingdom would come to fruition.  But they often forgot to keep watch, just as we now often forget that the peace of Christ is within us, and that it is our great joy to spread that good news.  Tonight we’ll sing.  Tonight we’ll pray – pray with the Saints who have gone before us for these many centuries.  Tonight we call Christ down, to renew us, to revive us, to show us the meaning of this season again – to give God the glory, for God’s great redeeming love was revealed to us at Christmas.  May we hear the angels singing tonight – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Gloria      movements 1 through 7      Antonio Vivaldi
Glory be to God in the highest!  And on earth peace to men of good will.  We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee, we glorify Thee.  We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty and to our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Old Testament Reading      Isaiah 11:1-9

Anthem      Creation Will Be At Peace      Anna Laura Page
This anthem setting of Isaiah 11:1-9 is stunningly beautiful.  It also comes with a bell choir addition to the accompaniment.

*Carol 211      O Come, O Come Emmanuel, stanzas 1, 2, 6, 7      VENI EMMANUEL
We Call on the Lord …

A Lesson from the Psalms      Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Carol      Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus      arranged by Travis Cottrell
Our youth choir presented this praise and worship setting of the advent carol by Charles Wesley.

Gloria      movements 8 through 10      Antonio Vivaldi
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.  Who taketh away the sis of the world, receive our prayer.  Who sitteth at the right hand of the father, have mercy upon us!

Hymn      For the Troubles and the Sufferings of theWorld      Rodolfo Neto
This plea comes to us from Brazil and can be found in Global Praise 3.  Our youth choir lifted it up.

Solo     “The Call” from Five Mystical Songs     Ralph Vaughan Williams
This baritone solo is the original setting of UMH 164.  It works very well with organ accompaniment.

Christmas Prayers of Intercession      When the World Was Dark      Iona Community
      Sung Response      Jesus, Remember Me      Taizé Community
We used this intercessory prayer time as an opportunity to bring two monastic communities together, Iona and Taizé.  We took our time here and didn't rush through.

Anthem      We Wait for Thee      Victor C. Johnson

Offertory Prayer 

Offertory      In the Bleak Midwinter     Gustav Holst, arr. by Karen Buckwalter
A touching setting of the hymn for bell choir.  It's not overdone in the least bit.

… And the Lord is With Us!

Gloria      movements 11 and 12      Antonio Vivaldi
For thou alone art holy.  Thou alone art Lord.  Thou alone, O Jesus Christ, art most high!  Together with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.  Amen!
Up to this point the Chancel Choir had sung all of the Vivaldi.  We had the Youth Choir join us here.  I couldn't let them out of learning at least a little bit of one of the great choral works ... And they loved it.

From the Gospel of Luke 1:26-33      The Angel Appears to Mary 
Carol 200      Tell Out, My Soul      WOODLANDS

From the Gospel of Matthew 1:19-23      Joseph Dreams of the Angel      
Carol      Sing We Now of Christmas      Arr. Lloyd Larson
For bell choir.

From the Gospel of Luke 2:1-7      Jesus is Born!
*Carol 246      Joy to the World, stanzas 1, 2, 4      ANTIOCH
From the Gospel of Luke 2:8-20      And the Angels Said …
Carol      Glory in the Highest      Chris Tomlin
The youth choir offered a version of Chris Tomlin's Christmas hymn with the string quartet.  The arrangement was found at

*Carol 240                                           Hark The Herald Angels Sing       MENDELSSOHN

Pastoral Benediction

Choral Benediction      Carol of the Bells      arr. Peter J. Wilhousky


And that's a wrap!  Total time of the program came in at an hour and a half, and we wouldn't have changed a thing.  But is there anything that you would have added in or taken away?

Meditation: Sabbath Interrupted

I'm not a preacher, but lately I've found myself wanting to test those boundaries in myself.  When my wife asked me to plan and lead the worship services for a youth worker sabbath, I jumped at the opportunity to write the liturgies.  But then I thought: who's going to speak?

I'm not one who believes that a sermon is always necessary.  We've all been in many worshipful services that didn't require a sermon, and this retreat didn't require one at any specific moment.  With our evening worship service, our opening worship, we needed an opportunity to set the stage for the weekend, and justify to these workers spending their time relaxing with one another.

They needed to know, not only isn't ok, but it's also necessary as Christians to take some time and retreat.  Here's the meditation I wrote to get us started on our way.

First, read Luke 5:12-16, then ask yourself as you read: how do I make room in my own life to rest in the Lord?  How do I rest by myself?  How do I rest with my family?

Sabbath Interrupted
There’s no rest for the weary – and yes those of us in ministry are often among the weary.  Kingdom building is no easy task and those of us here have chosen to give much of our time – either professionally or as a dedicated volunteers – to building that kingdom through building relationships with the youth of our faith families.
The Sabbath has traditionally been a day of rest for God’s people … A day to relax, a day to worship; a day, for Christians, set aside to reflect on the Resurrection.
Recently, however it’s grown.  Pastors, worship leaders, children’s and youth ministers, a crazy lot of volunteers WORK to make a restful Sabbath happen for God’s people.  And we work really hard, don’t we, to help others rest, relax, sing, pray, dance, study, play games, swim, go to ball games, eat … Prayerful worship, bonding activities for youth and their families take a lot of time and effort – on the day of Sabbath rest.
We do try and rest.  Maybe on Saturday, maybe during the week.  But how many of you have cell numbers that are public knowledge?  How many of you have facebook and twitter accounts with group pages for your youth that light up at all hours with prayer concerns and joys?  We also better be careful not to miss every youth concert or ball game.  And we truly don’t want to miss a thing … We who are called to be “Little Christs” are trying to make other “Little Christs” that will go out into the world and make more.  Making disciples can easily be a 24/7/365 business.
Christ wasn’t always the best Jew … It was a common complaint amongst the scribes and Pharisees.  I mean, his job was healing and teaching right?  Heaven forbid he put those gifts on display on the Sabbath!  I’m sure he wanted very much to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy … But hurt and disease don’t own calendars.  We can’t type in to our Google Calendars – “I’d like a day off from hurt people every Saturday.” 
It was Christ’s calling to heal us, and he didn’t turn anyone away.  But we do find him often trying to sneak off and pray.  Spend time alone with his Father.
At the end of our scripture passage, that’s exactly what he’s doing.  After he healed the leper, after the crowds of hurt people dispersed, he would “withdraw to deserted places and pray.”
We know that that approach – a personal Sabbath Time, if not a day, didn’t always work for Christ.  Just before our lesson for this evening, in Luke 4:42, we see Christ trying to get away to regroup, and the people searched for him, found him, and demanded of him.
I suppose a lesson here for us would be is that if our phones are lighting up right now with the good news and bad news of our children and youth, we’ve probably done something right along the way.  We’ve modeled Christ in some form, and the people call on us out of need.  That’s not a bad thing – it means we’re doing good work as Ministers for Christ.
But every once in a while, like Christ did, and like the ancient Jews wisely knew, we need to put a fence up around a block of time and give it over to rest that we so need.
Didn’t God take a day to rest after six days of creating the heavens and the earth?  When we don’t take a little time to rest, we’re saying we know better than God.
But better yet – when we take time to intentionally rest – we’re actually Glorifying God.  I mean, it is a commandment after all.
So let us together, this evening, and tomorrow morning, as we are able, take this time together and rejoice.  We have time to rest.  We can glorify God through rest. 

Retreat! A Sabbath Worship Starter

Raise your hand if you're in ministry (staff or volunteer) and you're good at remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy?

While most of us do remember the Sabbath, those of us in ministry work pretty hard to create God experiences for other (which are God experiences more often than not for us as well).  My wife, Leanne Johnston, Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Central Texas Conference Center for Evangelism and Church Growth (Methodists are wordy ...) this weekend is offering a sabbath retreat for conference youth workers.  She asked me to plan worship for the occasion, which I, of course, jumped at.

The idea of the 24-hour or so period is to gather youth workers from across the conference to spend time together, in prayer, worship, and fellowship with one another.  It's an opportunity to share concerns and joys, and to bond over what's great and what's hard in youth ministry.

Here's the liturgy for the opening worship.  I'll cite sources and provide commentary as I go!  I invite you to use whatever part(s) you need.  Instrumentation for the retreat is acoustic guitar and percussion - and whatever anybody else brings to the table.

Liturgies for morning prayer and closing worship are coming!

Youth Worker’s Sabbath Retreat 2012
Friday Evening Worship:
We Lay Our Burdens Down

We Gather
Opening Song – Meet With Me  A great gathering song, by Ten Shekel Shirt
I'm here to meet with you
Come and meet with me
I'm here to find you
Reveal yourself to me

As I wait, you make me strong
As I love, draw me to your arms
As I stand and sing your praise, You Come
You come and fill this place
Won’t you come, and fill this place

Invocation: written for the occasion
Almighty and merciful God,
we come together tonight because we desire rest.
We need rest, and it’s hard to make the time.
But you set the example for us,
 after You created all of this beauty around us:
You rested, for a day.
Divine creator and healer, we need your help tonight, this weekend.
Come down and dwell in the midst of us during this time of rest,
Send us your Spirit, the Holy Comforter,
that we might find a measure of rest and peace, together. 
Passing the Peace
As you take your seat on the floor, we invite you to show one another signs of God’s healing, restful love and pass the Peace of Christ

Song – Blessed Be Your Name a worship standard by Matt Redman
Blessed be Your name in the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow, blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name when I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness, blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me
When the world's  all as it should be blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering blessed be Your name

You give and take away, You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name

Psalm 62:5-8
Evening Song – Can I Lie Here this song, by David Crowder is the theme for the weekend. It has a soothing quality that's wonderful for prayer.  It almost sings like a chant.
Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My only calm is You save me

Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My only thought is You save me

Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My happiness is You save me

Oh how lovely this place, to be with You, to be with You
Oh the brightness of Your face, here with You, here with You

Oh my only calm is You, Oh my only thought is You
Oh my happiness is You, Oh my happiness is You
To be with You, to be with You
Gospel of Luke 5:12-16
Meditation – Sabbath Time Interrupted I'll provide the text later
We Lay Our Burdens Down A basin with water is at the center of the room, and all participants are given a piece of dissolving paper to participate in the focal point of this evenings service
What is keeping you from relaxing in the Lord this evening?  Are there barriers in your ministry that need to be laid down?  Write them on the paper provided and then dissolve them in the water as your pray for the Lord to intercede.  Take your time.
Closing Hymn:
Can I lie here in Your arms; can I lie here in Your arms
My only calm is You save me

Oh how lovely this place, to be with You, to be with You
Oh the brightness of Your face, here with You, here with You

Oh my only calm is You, Oh my only thought is You
Oh my happiness is You, Oh my happiness is You
To be with You, to be with You

Like a Lion

This Sunday in worship we debuted "Like a Lion", a song by Daniel Bashta, a worship pastor at a church outside of Atlanta.

It's a heavy song.  The first time I heard was two years ago, when the David Crowder Band covered it for Passion 2010.  And, to tell the truth, initially I was really put off by it.  It's a very raw-natured song at it's heart.  The lyrics of the chorus go like this:
My God's not dead: he's surely alive,
And he's living on the inside, roaring like a lion!
It's the "My God's not dead" part that bothered me.  I mean, whoever said God was dead?  In seminary, we did cover for a second in my intro to theology class the "God is Dead" theologians, but I didn't really pay attention there.  I didn't see the relevance.  I did, and do, realize that there are people in this world that do not believe in the Almighty.  Or, should I say, an almighty.  But for people to devote time to theorizing on the death of God, and how we killed God, just kind of struck me as silly at a time.

Recently, however, I've been awakened to the plight of my generation.  A generation who's primary witness to God's love is given through politicians looking for sound bites (on both sides of the many aisles) or TV pastors who do the same before getting caught up in the many ways to do things that are illegal or immoral.

It's to this generation, this feeling throughout the world, that Daniel Bashta is singing for.  Not only is God not dead, God is alive, God is relevant, God is hope, and God wants to roar into the world through us.

At the raw-centered heart of this song is a call for God to come down into this world run amok like a Pentecostal fire:
Let heaven roar!
And fire fall!
Come shake the ground,
With the sound of revival!
How do our faith families speak to the people who don't find relevance in knowing God's salvation?  Specifically to our struggling millennials? 

It might start as it does throughout the Word ... We ask for help.

To robe? Or not to robe?

When I first started in professional ministry a few years ago, I was given the task in my home church of directing the children's choir program.  We had three choirs at the time, and they most often sang in the traditional services because that was a simpler fit for them.  Just before I was hired on staff, post-college, the choirs had fundraised and purchased brand-new robes for the entire worship ministry; matching robes for the adult choirs, bell choirs, and children's ensembles.

One Sunday morning the 1st - 3rd grade children's choir was gathering to sing, with the parents helping me to get them robed-up and ready to praise.  In the midst of this action, I had this conversation, with a snarky (and hilarious) 2nd grade boy:
"Mr. Jarrod, why do you got us wearing these dresses?"

"Jake, it's not a dress.  These are robes."

Jake raises his hand and looks at the other kids, "Who here thinks that these are dresses?"
I had no answer to that!  But it did raise some interesting questions in my mind that I still have years later.  We just entered into a more casual summer-time dress code, with no clergy, worship leadership, or choir robes.  It's Dallas, and super hot right now.  We'd have people passing out in the loft if we kept the robes on.  But what's interesting from my perspective is that when we ditch the robes, I have to dress up more than I normally would ... When leading the contemporary service, I usually wear jeans and a t-shirt.  I then throw on the robe to direct the choir at the traditional service.  No dice during the summer.  It's slacks, a button-up shirt with my guitar, add in a tie and blazer for the traditional service.

So, I'm not critical of wearing robes; I even like them.

The question I have is this, though: Do robes create a barrier between worship leadership and the people?

Maybe it's a necessary one at times.  What we wear in worship can set a tone ... Two years ago, at the church I served in Slidell, LA, we offered a U2charist Worship Service.  It was a service of Word and Table.  My senior pastor wore jeans and a nice shirt for most of the service, but when it came time to preside over the sacrament, he put his stole on in front of us.  It was a powerful image that gave me goosebumps.  But it didn't make a show of the pastor being special; it brought real weight to the work he was about to do, for us, in communion with the Trinity.

As a younger minister in a more traditional context, I've found that what I wear with whom I'm working with really matters.  With youth, it's shorts and flip-flops, with adults slacks and a polo.  Both achieve a different kind of respect depending on the context.  It's silly to me ... but apparently, what we wear in ministry really matters ... to people.

What do we think about church dress codes?  What do they say about our faith communities?  Do they help or hinder the work of the people?

We Are the Church

I am the church!
You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world!
Yes, we're the church together!

So goes the chorus hymn 558 in the United Methodist Hymnal, We Are the Church.

I first learned this one when I was leading the children's choirs at my home church, my first ministry gig out of college while I was in seminary.  I hadn't heard it before, but I was looking in the index of the hymnal for children's choir suggestions, and there it was.

Written in 1972 by clergy and musician team Richard K. Avery and Donald S. March, We Are the Church is a hymn written to be led by children, a lesson to be passed on by children.

The first stanza goes like this:
The church is not a building.
The church is not a steeple.
The church is not a resting place.
The church is a people!
I find these words especially poignant in today's church when we seem to get so hung-up on building these wonderful facilities.  Don't get me wrong, I love the beautiful sancturary I have the privilege to lead worship in.  Hearing the choirs and bands and singing with the congregation is amazing.  The house was built to the glory of God, there's no doubt about it.

But then we call it "The Church".  When in fact, it's we, the Body of Christ, who are the church.

It seems like a semantic argument, but it's an important one.  Our buildings and sanctuaries are important, but that's just where the church gathers.  How many churches have you seen meet in school auditoriums?  Or storefronts?  Or people's homes?  There's even a UMC community that meets in, of all places, local bars.  You don't need a steeple to gather as the church.

How do we make sure that the ministry of Christ is defining the church, and not the buildings we build?

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!

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.

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?

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?

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?

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?

Called to Discomfort

Two summers ago, my wife had the privilege to run a summer mission center in South Louisiana, to assist in Katrina relief (work that is still going on).  It was nearly a 24/7 job for three months, so in order to spend any time with her at all I served as her worship leader for that summer.  It was a fun way to volunteer and be in ministry with my wife.

She had a crew of four college interns that helped guide the youth groups that were coming from all over the country to serve and help rebuild peoples homes, people who, five years after Katrina, weren't really remembered on a national-news-scale anymore.  But not only did these college kids work all day, they helped lead worship in the evenings, through leading prayers and offering devotional testimony.  There's one story in particular that I heard every week from a young man who felt a Christ-like call to be 'uncomfortable'.

This kid spent as much time as possible as he could on mission.  As a matter of fact, when he received is one week off during the summer to do whatever he wanted, he went to Mexico for a week to build houses.  If he wasn't on the move serving others with his hands, he felt it was time wasted.  He was particularly affected by what he had seen in the country of Mexico, with how people were able to get by on literally nothing, and still be full of so much faith and hope.  He never knew what kind of conditions he would be invited to stay in either, but he felt that was part of the missional journey ... Being a follower of Christ has nothing to do with comfort, if anything it's about discomfort ... When Christ's earthly ministry started, he never stopped moving, except to heal, teach, and pray.  As my pastor says often, Christ was a true itinerant preacher.

I don't think that I'm off-base in saying that we like our churches to be comfortable.

We like comfy seats.  Beautifully appointed sanctuaries.  Classrooms with full-on sound systems.

We're also comfortable with specific kinds of music ... Music may be one of the things we obsess about the most in our corporate worship experiences.  And it can get pretty contentious.  It's energizing to see, even in a more traditional worship experience (maybe especially) when somebody throws up their hands in praise.  But then we learn a new hymn, and, well, the feedback isn't always great.  Regardless of how the message was menat to be heard that day.

I'm not saying that the Temples we make aren't beautiful, they are dedicated to the Glory of God and we the church need places to gather.  But what would the church, the Body of Christ, be like if we didn't seek comfort?  If we constantly sought new and beautiful ways to make the Word incarnate in the world today?  What if we lived as if the local church was called to discomfort?  What would we build together then?