If we are working for transformation in the church, then we leaders must subject ourselves to transformation. We must continually die to those things in ourselves and our leadership roles that we cherish as God raises up something new in their place, first in us and then in the church we seek to lead.
This is impossible for us, but with God all things are possible.
The alternative is to recline into titles and programs and maxims in the vain hope of gradual improvement or a lucky break.
I’m increasingly aware that my competencies and knowledge sets don’t merely need expanded but torn down and rebuilt. I need to be born again.
A person whose family worshiped at our church for a few years came by this morning to inform us that the family has been attending a different church for awhile and that we won’t be seeing them anymore. It didn’t come as a total surprise, since they have been absent most of the fall and since two members of the family actually peeled off for that other church a year ago. And I respect the heck out of the move to come and tell us face-to-face, as well as the move toward church participation as a shared family experience and not one that is divided.
Something this person said about the difference between our church and the new one really hit me, though. After describing worship as “Christian Rock” and the sermons as “a little more literal,” she added, “Here it’s more of an intellectual experience. There you’re all in.”
I know exactly what she’s saying. Without resorting to broad generalities, the cultures of mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism differ markedly in this respect: evangelicalism wants all your heart and some of your head; the mainline wants all your head and some of your heart.
The mainline wants you “all in” but in a different way. It wants you all in for the demands of living the gospel in the world today and engaging the cultural, political, and systemic injustices for which the gospel is the antibody. It wants you all in for critically engaging the Bible as a transformative resource for public and private life. It wants you all in for worship that is as mentally rigorous as it is emotionally appealing.
I’ve written here before that church needs to be the thing that backs down. But is backing down the opposite of being “all in?”
I was trying to buy a sandwich and soda on a recent flight, but the flight attendant wouldn’t let me. He gave me the food, but he refused to let me pay.
“Can I have a receipt?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “because there isn’t going to be a charge.”
“Because it’s too expensive. Have you seen these prices?”
My excitement about getting something for nothing evaporated into shame in an instant, as he clearly thought that no responsible person would pay $9 for a buffalo chicken wrap.
Then he added, “Besides, we used to give you this stuff for free.”
He did something generous, even dangerous to his livelyhood for me. And his generosity left me embarrassed and furtively typing a blog post about it on my phone.
The World Series starts tonight and I’ll be cheering on my Kansas City Royals. Their matchup with the San Francisco Giants has illuminated valuable personal connections and presented an opportunity to enrich relationships.
My pastor friend Jim is a Giants fan and goes to Spring Training in Arizona every year. Last year he sent me a souvenir cup, and this year he sent me a Royals Spring Training T-Shirt.
For Jim, I give thanks.
Barely minutes after the Giants won the National League pennant and guaranteed the Kansas City/San Francisco series, my friend Deborah called me and the three best Royals fans I know out and proposed a friendly wager: the fans of the losing side will make a contribution to the mission budget of the winning side’s presbytery.
For Deborah, I give thanks.
And then came the 2014 World Series Guidebook from my friend Theresa. It’s all tongue and all cheek and all good friendly fun. It features a picture of the Royals’ mascot, Slugger, saying, “I wish I can hit at least one pitch,” as well as a word search game that includes the word “glumrocky.”
For Theresa, I give thanks.
Sports are not as important as our culture makes them out to be. But they give opportunities like this to connect and to make someone’s day.
This is a special edition of MMQ dedicated to the annual community Walk for The Hungry, which took place yesterday afternoon. I had a group of three walkers, which is two more than I had last year but scores less than our church used to get. I want to pick this thing apart.
A brief history. Time was when our congregation recruited dozens of participants for this event. At least this is the story I’m told. A couple of decades ago, scores of people would raise money and walk, bringing along their kids in what was a vibrant expression of church mission in the community. After some time, the Walk turned into a youth group event, where dozens of teens who had done the walk with their parents as children now did it without them as teens. The church was behind them 100%.
The start of my work here coincided with the last gasps of the Walk as a youth group event. My first couple of years would see between two and five students respond to my pitch for walkers. Then I hit upon the idea of making it a youth leadership vehicle, so I recruited a particular go-getter student to recruit her friends to walk and to raise money in the congregation. That worked really well.
After that student graduated and went off to college, the student leadership model didn’t exactly thrive. So much of what worked was the particular student and her unbounded enthusiasm. Absent that, it was a job.
So here we are. The Walk is no longer a thriving church mission event, no longer a marquee youth event, and not even a clever student leadership mechanism. My three Walkers yesterday are champs, yet they’re frustrated as well. What do we do?
Pull the plug? Do we acknowledge that the energy is no longer there in the congregation for this and stop trying to compel participation?
Re-commit? Do we double down on our efforts? Start recruiting earlier, make more phone calls, really push hard to get either adults or teens to come out? It works for other groups; lots of church and school groups come out for the walk, many of them in matching T-shirts and all kinds of energy.
Give it away? Is there another group in either the church or, say, the church preschool that might have energy for helping the community through the event, and can we set them up for success?
A big part of me wants to pull the plug. But it feels wrong to give up on an important vehicle for our church to be out in the community in mission.
What do we do?
Your attention is a valuable contribution wherever you can spend it. Even in settings where our usefulness is in question, where we feel like the dummy in the room and doubt our right even to be present, we can still pay close attention-and that’s not nothing.
it’s called “paying” attention for a reason. Because it’s costs you one of the most valuable things you have to give. The attention you pay to people and projects infuses them with intention, and, what’s more, we all know the indignity of not being paid attention to. We can choose to dignify ourselves and our encounters with our focused attention.
Of course, that means making a determination about things that aren’t worth our attention. This post is being composed on an airplane with seat-back screens flashing all around. You’re more worth my attention than them.
One of the benefits of doing consistent work and sharing it with the world is that people will use it, even if you think they won’t.
This sermon is a dud. This blog post is empty. That newsletter article won’t be read. But who knows? If we put it out there, people can do with it what they want: tape it to their desk; send it to their brother. But only if we make it.
The same is true of churches. There is so much wrong with so much of what we have a thought to do. But our calling and God’s grace compel us to do the work anyway and let our communities put it to use.
It’s not ultimately our work.