Methodists Didn't Carry Bibles Back Then ...

Yesterday I was given an amazing opportunity ... I was told I was teaching one of our most senior adult Sunday school classes.

It was a just a tiny bit outside the scope of my ministry, but I'm on the staff at a large church now and a lot of people still don't know who I am.  And I guess being a pastor on staff means I get to go to Sunday School, really for the first time since I was called into ministry as my vocation.

Directing worship for the last eight years didn't really leave a lot of room for Sunday morning Bible study.

So, generally, if it's possible in the Sunday morning schedule, I accept invitations to teach class.

Except, I don't really like to teach, per se - I really like to chat.  I like to get people to tell me their stories.  I was given the lesson I was to teach this class, and it was pretty good and all, but I figured it was a great opportunity for a few senior members of the church to tell me what was what on their faith journeys.

As we started our conversation, one of the members of the class, a widow of a former preacher of our church shared this interesting tidbit from her time growing up Methodist (and I'm talking before there was such a thing as United Methodist):
"Methodists didn't carry around Bibles growing up, the Baptists did that.  I walked into class one day with my Bible and people asked me if I was teaching the lesson."
Now, here was a lady that was convicted that walking, literally, daily with the Word was the right thing to do.  It's an interesting story.  Do you carry around a Bible with you on a daily basis?  If you're like me, you know you have an internet of translations at your fingertips within your phone.

But that's not necessarily something people are going to catch you reading.

Growing up Baptist, I can attest to her analysis ... A phone, which is a symbol of connectedness, is also a symbol of detachment from the world around you.  Carrying around a Bible and actually pulling it out to read might invite controversy into your life, it might invite conversation with those around you, but that might be worth it.

The Unity of the Church

I'm in the thick of my first week's reading for my first semester of Christian Heritage.  I'm really digging these readings going back to just after the Book of Acts.  Getting a glimpse at our early church fathers and mothers, many of them on the road to martyrdom, is fascinating.  Just reading the scripture quotations alone in the writings of Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, and Cyprian is enough to bless me to be where I am today.

I'm currently reading Cyprian's The Unity of the Church, a treatise on what binds us together as the church.  Cyprian (c. 200 - 258) was the elected Bishop of Carthage for the last ten years or so of his life until his death as a martyr, during a time of much persecution of Christians.  While there's a lot to be said of his life, a driving force in his writing and ministry was keeping the unity in the church and encouraging followers to hold on during a time of trial to the love of God.  So much so, that he was apparently against granting mercy to those who would leave the church for fear of persecution and then ask to return when things got easier ... His ministry wasn't without controversy and he had a knack for strong words.

Here's a bit from Unity, regarding the Holy Spirit, the beauty of doves, and what to do with wolves in the church:
 Therefore also the Holy Spirit came as a dove, a simple and joyous creature, not bitter with gall, not cruel in its bite, not violent with the rending of its claws, loving human dwellings, knowing the association of one home; when they have young, bringing forth their young together; when they fly abroad, remaining in their flights by the side of one another, spending their life in mutual intercourse, acknowledging the concord of peace with the kiss of the beak, in all things fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the simplicity that ought to be known in the Church, this is the charity that ought to be attained, that so the love of the brotherhood may imitate the doves, that their gentleness and meekness may be like the lambs and sheep. What does the fierceness of wolves do in the Christian breast? What the savageness of dogs, and the deadly venom of serpents, and the sanguinary cruelty of wild beasts? We are to be congratulated when such as these are separated from the Church, lest they should lay waste the doves and sheep of Christ with their cruel and envenomed contagion. Bitterness cannot consist and be associated with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clearness, battle with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with springs, storm with tranquility. Let none think that the good can depart from the Church. The wind does not carry away the wheat, nor does the hurricane uproot the tree that is based on a solid root. The light straws are tossed about by the tempest, the feeble trees are overthrown by the onset of the whirlwind. The Apostle John execrates and severely assails these, when he says, “They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us."
It's just kind of interesting, our God is a God that will go after the lost sheep, but what to do with those that just leave?  What do with those that are just angry?  How would we be called to stand by one another if we lived in a country that persecuted Christians?   Hmmm ... 

Kindling the Fire?

“I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze! I have a baptism I must experience. How I am distressed until it’s completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division."  Luke 12:49-51
It was kind of a dark and stormy Jesus today in our lectionary passage ... Quite contrary to the stern but reassuring Jesus we've been traveling with during our summer series on the Gospel of Luke.

Today's Jesus was frustrated.
He was fiery.
He was miffed that the people who were supposed to be prepared to meet the Messiah were neither prepared nor listening.

This was table turning Jesus.
Jesus on a mission to turn the world around.

This Jesus wasn't afraid to tell it like it is - following him was going to necessitate making some hard choices, doing a lot of self inventory.

Makes me wonder if this is what our beloved UMC is going through right now ... Have we been avoiding making the tough choices for too long?  Have we been worrying about the wrong things all together?  Have we been so worried about maintaining the status quo in our churches we've been missing our chance to have a real impact on planet Earth for the Kingdom?

What would Jesus think of our  UMC churches today?

I'm just wondering.

I think a lot of our churches behave as if they've arrived.
Would Jesus say that we have?
Are we so afraid to fix our problems?

I feel we might be so afraid of the potential divisions that Christ prophesied in the 12th Chapter of Luke that we're in danger of fading.  This isn't new news.  But it is a lack of faith.

It's easy to be cynical.

But ...

I just had a blast this weekend leading worship for 25 youth workers at the Central Texas Conference Youth Worker Sabbath.  For three days I sat back as colleagues commiserated with each other, prayed for one another, and played games with one another.  Like youth.

There's the hope in the Connection.

The UMC isn't done yet, because it hasn't yet arrived.

Baptized by the Red Sea

When I asked my pastor for a couple of simple books to help me break down (or introduce me to) sacramental theology, the first thing she told me to purchase was the study guide to By Water and the Spirit, as written by Gayle Carlton Fenton.  It fleshes out the official UMC document on baptism, also called By Water and the Spirit, as adopted by the 1996 General Conference as a way to firmly establish, and reclaim, the Wesleyan way of baptism.

As I've pondered through this resource, I've found my mind blown over and over again.  In a blessed way.

First is to realize that there's no true way to completely understand the mysteries of the sacraments   We journey with the sacraments of baptism and communion, as they are points where the Spirit (whether we're open or not) will enter and begin a change.  Whereas there's an awful lot we can do to offer our thanks and praise up to God, Wesley viewed the sacrament as reflected in his Anglican roots "that a sacrament is 'an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."  So, God is at work in the sacraments.  And we join with God in them.

As the document and the book dive further into baptism's rich history in the Christian church, we find that it's truer roots are in our Jewish heritage, well before Christ was baptized in the Jordan by John.

Of the pictures of baptism (water as a change agent in the Word) in the Old Testament, the one that rocked my world the most has to be this:
Other biblical accounts associate water with other salvation themes present in baptism.  The Hebrew people were freed from their slavery in Egypt by God's action, which enabled them to escape through the sea (Exodus 14:19-31).  So, baptism is liberation from sin.  (page 19, By Water and the Spirit Study Guide)

On one side of the Red Sea the Hebrews are a nation of slaves.  On the other side the Hebrew nation is on their way to God's Promised Land.

On one side is their old way of life.  On the other side freedom in the Lord.

But, they have to get across first.  So what does God do?  He parts the sea, and the Hebrews run to the other side, chased by Pharoah's army - chased by their old life.

Grace was offered to the Israelites as they stepped out in faith to cross that body of water.  Can you imagine that?  The sea wasn't dried up - it surrounded them on either side as they ran.  No doubt they were afraid, but also no doubt that they pushed through with faith in the Lord.

The people of Israel needed a new start, God made that new start happen.  Crazy awesome.

OT Reflections: Kicking the Can Down the Road

Progress.  It's a tough concept; but it's always the goal ... maybe.  What does progress look like?  Or to answer my question with another question, what does the word 'traditional' mean?  Or how about the word 'contemporary?'

These are all words that have different definitions according to different people.

When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, progress was finally made for the nation of Israel.  Finally, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were on their way to the Promised Land after a long stay in Egypt complete with a harrowing escape.

But through it all, they grumbled.  A lot.  To Moses.  To Aaron.  To one another.  To God.  God carried them through many great obstacles as a way to build up their faith, but when ever things got difficult, the Israelites doubted.  And they disobeyed.

Because of their doubts, the generation of Israelites who led the charge out of Egypt would not be allowed to see the Promised Land.  The nation of Israel would wander, though they would be led by the Lord, for 40 years - until the generation of disbelievers passed away.

There's much to glean from the story today, but I find it particularly relevant as we look at a UMC, particularly in the US,  that appears to be in a wandering period.

What makes me say we're wandering?

The denomination isn't growing in the US, its home base.

The wandering of the Israelites began with unfaithfulness, so where is that we haven't been faithful that got us to this place?  Maybe right here:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I've received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I've commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Gospel of Matthew, 28:16-20
As the church doesn't grow, and in some places refuses to, the church wanders.  The thing for us, however, is that it doesn't appear that we have a 40-year sentence over our heads.  In fact, we don't have 40 years to waste.  The UMC today can't afford to kick that can down the road for the next generation to clean up.  And it's happening from General Conference all the way down to the local church.

In worship at another faith community a couple of weeks ago, I heard the pastor pray, "Lord, we pray for our children to have faith, but we also pray for our faith to have children."

Look around at your faith family ...Are you wandering?  What will you do about it?

OT Reflections: The Kenosis of Moses

My wife and I have been on a journey the last several months together as we've taken on a "Bible-in-a-year" challenge.  While we've had to take a break for a day or two here and there, it's been fun and insightful to be on this journey together.

There's a lot to be said for dwelling and praying upon specific passages of prayer, but there's also a lot to be said about reading it quickly as well.  Reading the Word in three to five chapters per night can really give one a sense of the narrative of the Bible.  Sure, there's the occasional monotonous evening (Deuteronomic case laws, anyone?), but on the whole I've found it exciting to read the Word this way.

As we've gone through this, there are certain passages that hit an emotional note with me as we read and struggle through the story of our ancient Israelite brothers and sisters.  But for me, as for many, the story of Moses stands above the rest.  This passage comes from the end of Moses' journey:

Then Moses hiked up from the Moabite plains to Mount Nebo, the peak of the Pisgah slope, which faces Jericho.  The LORD showed him the whole land:  the Gilead region as far as Dan's territory; all the parts belonging to Naphtali along with the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as the entirety of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea; also the arid southern plain, and the plain - including the Jericho Valley, Palm City - as far as Zoar.
Then the Lord said to Moses:  "This is the Land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised 'I will give it to your descendants.'  I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it."  Then Moses, the LORD's servant, died - right there in the land of Moab, according to the LORD's command.  The LORD buried him in a valley in Moabite country across from Beth-peor.  Even now, no one knows where Moses' grave is.  Moses was 120 years old when he died.  His eyesight wasn't impaired, and his vigor hadn't diminished a bit.
Back down in the Moabite plains, the Israelites mourned Moses' death for thirty days.  At that point, the time for weeping and for mourning Moses was over.  Joshua, Nun's son, was filled with wisdom because Moses had placed his hands on him.  So the Israelites listened to Joshua, and they did exactly what the LORD commanded Moses.
Deuteronomy 34:1-9 [CEB]

Can you imagine this?  120 years old, and Moses was still going strong, still pouring out his all in the name of the Lord as for his nation of Israel.  For the Lord, he became leader of his people - its priest (along with Aaron, to be sure), its judge, its jury,  its advocate, its general.  He never rested.

The heart-wrenching part, is that through one moment of weakness in drawing forth the water from the stone his way (and not the Lord's), he wasn't to set foot in the Promised Land.  And yet, even though he knew that, he lead his people.

I'll say that again ... He knew he wasn't to set foot in the Promised Land, and still he lead is people to it.

When we speak of the kenosis of Christ, we most often look at this passage from Paul's letter to the Phillipians:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.  When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 [CEB]
So what is this kenosis?  In our Christian terms, we're speaking of Christ's self-emptying (kenotic) love.  Not only did he come to earth in human form, but on the way out of his earthly existence - at his death - he emptied his Spirit out onto us.

But where as the King of Kings was a young adult when he poured out his love on to all of us for the redemption of the world, Moses was at an age when most people take a seat.  Actually he was more than twice the age of someone who takes early retirement.

Which begs the question, when do we get to stop moving for the Lord?  When do we get to sit down and rest?  When do we get to stop pouring ourselves out for the good of the Kingdom?  When do we get to sit back and back-seat drive for the sake of tradition?

Reading the story of Moses makes me ever thankful for the ones who have gone ahead of me and have pulled me a long with them.  I give thanks to God for the ones full of the Lord's wisdom who lay their hands on me as if I'm Joshua, anointing me to get the people moving onward.  It makes me thankful for my grandparents and parents who've never taken a break from serving the Lord.  I give grateful thanks and praise for those members of my choirs and bands who won't quit after decades of faithful service.  I pray for the many pastors I've had that have blessed me with their mentoring spirits.

Our associate pastor, a grandma (though you'd never know it to look at her), came to lay the Word on us in worship wearing her running suit, proclaiming the Gospel - "I'm not too tired to run for Jesus!"  That's the word I want to pass on to our struggling UMC congregations.  And I want to ask, "Are you struggling because you've forgotten that we're called to pour ourselves out again and again for the Lord?  Have you forgotten that we were given the Spirit of the Lord to pass on, not to keep for ourselves?"

When we empty ourselves out into others for the Glory of the Lord, the Lord will fill us up again.  And again.  And again.

Re-post: Ladderball and the Case for Intergenerational Ministry

This blog is a re-post from a previous entry post-choir tour back in June.  As a new school semester starts, what steps are your church taking to bring the generations together?  As a young adult in ministry, who's often the youngest person in the room (or nearly) during choir practice, I know my generation is hungry to work with those kingdom members who've already been where I am.  There's a lot to be learned from the older generations, but assumptions are often made on both sides of the generational divide, the big ones being:
1)  The young people just want to take over.
2)  The old people have nothing to teach me.
Vital congregations mix things up across the societal divisions from race to economic to generational.  What is your church doing to build the bridges?  Our faith family, through our youth and seniors ministry is beginning to bring in some innovative ideas, for which I'll be telling stories later, but to start with - what is your church family doing?

I just got back from youth choir tour to Nashville!  The first choir tour that I've ever planned and run as a worship pastor.  There were lots of precious moments, and many Aldersgate experiences along the way.  This is the first post of several focused on one of the best ministry experiences I've ever had.

Let me start off by saying that this tour was very different from previous tours that this youth choir had been on.  This was the 19th youth choir tour for my church, and needless to say it's become a juggernaut of a tradition.  It's become foundational in the fabric of our youth and music ministries and much of the year is devoted to fundraising and planning the trip.

The first major difference in the trip was the number of youth on tour.  The tour had had upwards of 80 students in the recent past, 35 last year (my first tour, I attended and directed the music, but our youth pastor ran the trip as it was my third week on the job).  We took 17 students this year.  There were and are multiple reasons for the small size, but there you go.

The second big change was that due to the  size of the group, the huge tour bus was out of the question.  Our church has even had the same bus driver for nearly all of the choir tours.   But we couldn't really justify the expense, and had to go with vans.  Very different, but turned out to be totally awesome.

The third big change was that we weren't able to book churches to sing at.  Many church were able to, and did, lodge our group, but no one (out of more than a hundred churches) was able to host a concert.  There were also many totally justifiable reasons for this, but again, there you go.

So where did we sing?  Retirement villages and nursing homes.  The youth had done the occasional retirement home, but how would they take to a tour entirely devoted to ministry to the elderly and disabled?

Our first gig was at a very nice retirement community, more of a condo living set-up.  A good way to ease in to a tour with more of a missional vibe.  When we had called the place, recommended to us by the church that was hosting us that night, the activities director enthusiastically invited us to share a concert with them.  They would also feed us dinner and would love it if we would play ladderball with the residents.

What's ladderball, you ask?  Apparently it's quite the phenomenon.  You can check it out here.  Think about it as a game of horseshoes that you can play indoors.

The concert was amazing.  The theme music to our tour this year was devoted to the Beatles, although we do a substantial sacred set during our concerts as well.  But the Beatles music was very important to the tour ... Not only are the Beatles awesome and the choir sang the music extremely well, but the Beatles were the soundtrack of the residents' youth.   We encouraged the residents to sing along, and they sure did.  Often times during that first concert our choir swelled from 17 to 75.  I couldn't see it, but I could see the looks on the students faces as we sang, and they were totally digging the joy in the room.

After a dinner of shepherd's pie came the real fun, a youth vs. residents game of ladderball.  A game that's more difficult than it looks.  The scriptures tell young people not to let people look down on them because they're young; I would add that we shouldn't let young people look down on older folks just because they have grey hair.  These folks had skills.

After an hour and four full rounds of ladder ball, the set was tied at 2 and 2, we came to a sudden death round.  One of our adults, all of whom participated throughout for the students' team, came in to give the students a win by one point.  I'm not going to lie, the win felt good,  but I did feel a little bad for winning.  But only a little.  There was a lot of heckling going on, on both sides, and it was hilarious.  Our youth were handing out nicknames like crazy.  Intergenerational ministry happened.  Something I'm starting to think of as the Promised Land for Christian Ministry.

The name of our tour this year was the "All You Need is Love Tour", and a whole lot of love was passed around that night.  The activities director said she had never seen her seniors so active, and I had never been so proud to be a youth choir director and worship pastor.  I've learned an awful lot about the goals of our youth pastor at our church ... doing what ever we can to get the different generations of our church to mix up and do life together.  It happened on our choir tour, at every gig in one way or another, and we aren't turning back from keeping it up in the years to come.

How does your church intentionally get different generations to work together?

Let's Talk About Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Frittatas and Faith

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

She laughed.

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

First, it requires a recipe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for some God-talk, aka theology?

Here goes nothing.

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

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

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

The end.  See you next dinner!

Baptizing My Boy

Yesterday was an amazing day, an occasion my wife and I had been waiting for for what felt like an eternity. 

We baptized our son. 

I use the term 'we' loosely, though.  The Holy Spirit does the baptizing.  But, as parents we did answer this question from our pastor in the affirmative:
Will you nurture this child is Christ's holy church and that by your teaching and example he may be quided to accept God's grace for himself, to profess his faith openly and to lead a Christian life? 
We formed a pretty serious covenant yesterday with God, in front of our church as witness, raise our son in the church.  Which brings me to my favorite part of the UMC baptism liturgy, where the congregation covenants with us.  It goes something like this:

Pastor:  Do you as Christ's body, the church, reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?

People:  We do.

Pastor:  Will you nurture one another in Christian faith and life and include this child now before you in your care?

People:  With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according tot he example of Christ.  We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his trust of God, and be found faithful in his service to others.  We will pray for him, that he may be a true disciple who walks the way that leads to life.

So, not only have my wife, myself, and my family formed a covenant to raise my son to walk the Christian walk, but now the church body, our faith family, have joined in that covenant with us to look after our boy.

I don't know how often the people pay attention to the words we put in the bulletin, the nuance that my pastors and I weave in to get the message across on any given Sunday.  I know that some get it, and I think most people under the surface get it.  But my deepest prayer after the beautiful service we had yesterday was that the words of promise we spoke together at my son's baptism will be taken to heart by every one present. 

If the first gift that Jesus gave us is our salvation through belief, the second must be family.  Christ's body, the church, is a great big family.  And I'm glad to have my son welcomed to be part of it.