ECO, PC(USA)

As Though We Are Being Saved

A summary of last night’s presbytery meeting:

The money’s nearly gone.

The Executive is gone.

Two churches are gone and three more are trying to get gone.

Two pastors are gone, one to a disciplinary action and the other to resignation forced by illness.

Gone, baby, gone.

The gathering diminished throughout the evening, an apparent microcosm of our life as a presbytery. Indeed, of Presbyterianism itself.

Sigh.

Those churches leaving for greener pastures may be kidding themselves, but it’s really easy on nights like this to understand the impulse.

Jump ship.

Quit.

Screw this.

The best thing that’s ever happened at a NEXT Church gathering was Stacy Johnson’s address in Dallas (embedded below–and made into a clever NEXT promo video here). “There are two ways of living that we know of as Christians,” Johnson said, drawing on 1 Corinthians 1:18. “We can live as those who are perishing or as those who are being saved.”

As those who are perishing . . .

Signs of our perishing are everywhere, perhaps no more evident than at a presbytery meeting like last night’s. Those signs are intrusive and disruptive. They provoke an anxious response, perhaps even a hopeless one.

Yet the message of the gospel is that what looks like perishing can be God’s salvation in disguise. The challenge we face, Johnson said in Dallas, is not first and foremost a cultural or demographic or organizational challenge. As versed as church leaders have become in the language of “adaptive challenges,” the real challenge is the gospel. The real adaptive change we face comes from the good news of life and salvation emerging from death.

So we live as though we are being saved. We invest heavily in a partnership with Presbyterians in Peru. We build networks for collaborative youth ministry. We validate a church’s work with refugees and share it’s costs. All while every outward sign condemns those efforts as futile.

And we gather. Our being saved is evident in our gathering, though these days not as evident as our perishing. Clearly not.

This is how it’s supposed to be, though. Following Jesus is not a strategy for vitality and success. Look at the cross. The hope we have is that our salvation will never be as present as when all signs are pointing to perishing.

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Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a weekly post reviewing Sunday, the busiest, most stressful, most gratifying day in the week of a pastor/parent/spouse/citizen.

 Song of the day:

http://rd.io/x/QEq_KzMpOg/

7:00. Alarm goes off. Yes, 7:00. After daughter’s Halloween party on Saturday and staying up past midnight to finish editing the long overdue movie about our summer vacation, I slept in an hour on Sunday. So defrock me.

7:41. Dressing in black and grey today. I need my colorful socks for a conference I’m attending during the week, for which I’ve been boasting to friends that my socks will “mean business.”

7:44. Breakfast is the bottom half of a leftover Panera bagel from yesterday morning’s gathering of youth ministry volunteers. Chewy.

8:07. Stopping at the grocery store on the way to church. After nearly two months of fall Sundays, I’m finally leading the high school Sunday school class. Yesterday I solicited breakfast requests from several of them by text message, so I’m confidently picking up some muffins and orange juice, impressed with my ability to engage young people in substantive decision making.

8:30. Breakfast spread is ready: mini muffins, mini danish, bananas, and OJ. Snap a photo of it and text to students. This is what they pay me for.

8:38. Setting up the laptop in the sanctuary to show this week’s “Blessings” slide show featuring Erin Dunigan’s pictures when the first student response shakes my phone: “I’ll be there. Nom.”

8:40. Follow up response from same student. “On second thought, I have too much homework.” Another log on the homework bonfire.

8:42. Second student replies to breakfast text. “I’m getting kidnapped this morning so I can’t be there. My mom told you about it.” Rule mom out as kidnapping suspect. I’m gonna miss that kid.

9:02. Standing outside Sunday school classroom with other teachers, waiting for students to arrive. Crickets. (The step son of one of the teachers had recommended the muffins. He’s home sleeping.)

9:03. Text from wife: “we just got up, so we’re not coming to church today.” Reply 😦 I can’t even get my wife to show up.

9:05. Swapping stories with other teachers of high school pranks our “friends” pulled off in high school. The town is abuzz after students from the rival high school painted up our school’s parking lot and littered it with nails.

9:11. First high school student arrives. Cue the victory music.

9:16. Begin Bible study with three adults and one high school student. Trying not to direct every question to the student.

9:32. Bible study is joined by a fourth adult, the leader of the Family Focus Sunday school class. They got one less participant than the high school class.

9:41. Discussion of humility features anecdotes about kidnapped Mexican politicians. High school student looking bewildered.

10:06. Congratulating the congregation on it’s robust support of last week’s Walk for The Hungry. “You guys are great. Uh . . . good job?”

10:18. Children’s Time. CE Director is line-by-line teaching the children a benediction song. Halfway through the second line, with the whole congregation listening intently, CE Director’s infant son lets out an epic rasberry from the first row. It’s at least 15 seconds in length. CE Director losing it.

10:23. Reading today’s Scripture lesson, which is only two verses long. Using a Scottish accent, just to keep it interesting.

11:09. Greeting a young couple on the patio after worship, working hard on that balance between sincere interest and desperation. “Please like us!”

11:32. Congregational meeting to present a preliminary budget, share stewardship goals, and elect officers. And to eat crunchy Asian salad. Seconding the motion for more of the salad (see what I did there?).

11:37. Church member with whom I had a phone conversation earlier in the week follows up with a typed letter, handing it to me between bites of salad before leaving for another engagement. Fold the letter and put it in my pocket, wondering if it will end up in the laundry.

12:02. Talking with a church member who read my ECO blog post earlier in the week and who worshiped last weekend at one of the angry Presbyterian churches. “They say ‘savior’ a lot,” he observes. “That’s a word we hardly use here ever.” Respond by narrating a brief history of American evangelicalism, then stop, deciding once again that I care less about explaining the differences between evangelicalism and our church than I do about doing church really, really well. Then wonder if that decision is worth anything.

12:15. Return home to help put the house back together after yesterday’s party (our condo is small enough that having company requires stuffing the living room into the garage, like kids cleaning their room by hiding clothes and toys under their bed.)

12:17. Changing my clothes and remembering to take the church member’s letter out of my slacks pocket and place it in the pocket of my shorts. Again wondering if it will find the laundry.

12:18. Texting youth group students, trolling for snack volunteers for this afternoon’s youth groups. “First one to reply wins.”

12:19. We have a winner. This is what they pay me for.

12:20. Wife offers untouched pie from yesterday’s party to the youth groups. Seriously? Where were you three minutes ago?

12:52. Having regained access to the garage, cleaning cat’s litter box and assessing my experiment at using an old Diaper Champ as a dirty kitty litter bin. It works great, until you lift a week’s worth of litter out of the bin and rip the bag open, spilling Hell’s belly all over the floor.

2:30. Wife napping. Trying to convince Daughter to do a grocery store run with me. Nope.

2:36. Finalizing vacation movie instead and uploading to Vimeo.

2:41. Daughter notices bag by the door, a bag filled with items for the Goodwill, items including some of Daughter’s things she hasn’t played with in forever. Uh oh. “These are my faaaavorite!” Daughter wails. Trying to argue that if they really were her favorite she would have noticed them missing before she spied them in the bag is a loser’s errand.

2:44. Wife intercedes in GoodwillGate from upstairs, ruling that Daughter can keep the items. Daughter wins, but is playing the hurt to the hilt, burying her face in the carpet and moaning.

2:46. Turning on a movie. Not only has Daughter saved her excess toys from making other children happy, now she’s enjoying a victory lap of The Smurfs.

3:43. Getting ready to leave for youth groups, making wife some post-nap coffee. She reminds me, “Don’t forget the pie.” Don’t forget the pie? C’mon, man. I got this.

3:57. On my way out the door to youth groups, grab the bag with Daughter’s ransomed toys, looking back over my shoulder to see if she noticed. She didn’t. I’m a monster, I know.

4:01. Halfway to the church before I realize I forgot the pie.

4:42. Snap a junior high student’s three game Connect Four winning streak. Debut my victory dance to blank stares.

4:57. Leading junior high students in writing acrostic poems with the word E-V-I-L. Winner: Every Venomous Intention Loses. Student next to me can’t get over the fact that he can use both “elephant” and “virgin” in the same composition.

5:38. Playing Grog. A student has brought his costume for this: black robe and silver skeleton mask. Notice that the boys scream like frightened toddlers when chased. The girls seem bored. Constructing an anthropological theory in my head about adolescent boys’ delight in danger.

5:57. Winning snack volunteer has brought chips and a dip she claims is her grandmother’s secret recipe. Swallow the claim with gusto, along with most of the dip.

6:01. Music Director debuting a new youth program tonight, which I’ve dubbed “The Youth Music Thing.” Good initial turnout. I’ve got a pie at home, though, so . . .

6:23. Return to Youth Music Thing with pie to discover that, in my absence, students have convinced the Music Director–sound unheard,–that their first project should be a music video of The Aquabats’ “Hey Homies!” They’re over the moon when I walk in because they know I have this on my iPod.

6:25. Student demonstrates the “360 Hug” by lifting me up and spinning me around. After, he collapses on a couch in pain and yells, “Why are you so fat?!” Use the last piece of pizza to stifle my tears.

7:01. Youth Intern arrives with a Grande Coffee for me. Cry on his shoulder a little bit.

7:24. German foreign exchange student stymies the high school youth group when he shares that the thing that made him happy this week was the realization that he’s smarter than everybody else in his math class. Awkward laughter. American youth really don’t know what to do with this kind of hubris.

8:12. Youth Intern leading a very thoughtful conversation on the problem of evil in which all of the students are eagerly and respectfully contributing. I’m tracing the coffee stain on the side of my cup with a pen.

8:39. Playing Grog. Again. There should be a seminary class on the proper technique for jumping out from behind a sanctuary door to scare the bejeesus out of a student. Also, I should teach that class.

8:53. Somebody keeps crop dusting the front of the sanctuary during the game. Invent a joke: “Eww, somebody Grogged.” Nothin’.

9:02. There are two slices of pie left and they’re coming home with me. They will compliment my fat pizza nicely.

9:30. First order of business upon returning home is to grab the torrent of tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead. Second order of business is to pull up the archive of this afternoon’s Broncos’ game. Business getting done.

10:11. Daughter comes downstairs. “Daddy, Mommy said to come down and have you get me a snack.” Pick her up and hold her for a bit before getting her some chips and warm milk, which I tell her my dad used to make for me when I couldn’t sleep (at least once he did). She’s delirious to be part of a family tradition.

10:14. Daughter explaining that she watched a video with Mommy that scared her. It was a Bible video, she says, about David, who got sent to the scary forest where there was lots of lava. Probably Apocryphal.

10:17. Suggest that I take Daughter to her bed. “No Daddy, I can go by myself.” Great. Follow her to the stairs. “No, Daddy, you don’t need to come with me.” Watch her take two steps up the stairs. “Daddy, don’t follow me. Really. Don’t.” She reaches the top of the stairs and sprints to Mommy and Daddy’s bed, where she announces to her sleeping mother, “Daddy made me warm milk like Grandpa used to make for him!” So much for a sleep aid.

11:09. Broncos’ game finished. Putting off Monday Morning Quarterback til the morning. Head to bed with the church member’s letter still in my pocket.

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Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback

Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a weekly post reviewing Sunday, the busiest, most stressful, most gratifying day in the week of a pastor/parent/spouse/citizen

Song of The Day:

http://rd.io/x/QEq_K9BrFQ

 

3:04. Awake. Why?

3:30. Still awake. Why not? Spouse is awake too, and coughing. She’s watching American Idol. Conclude to take 4 year-old to church with me in the morning.

6:00. Alarm sounds. Snooze.

6:20. Alarm sounds again. Snooze again.

6:40. Alarm sounds a third time. Up, cursing the notion that the snooze alarm set at 20 minute increments instead of 10 makes for more a more rested awakening.

7:12. Spouse shuffles downstairs and asks if I can take 4 year-old to church with me. I’m way ahead of ya.

7:56. 4 year-old, eager to get to church and “help” me get ready, opts for a granola bar in the car for her breakfast. Happy for her churchy zeal, I acquiesce.

8:26. 4 year-old gives her stamp of approval to my plan for Children’s Time.

9:17. Play the “I Have A Dream Speech” for the high school Sunday School class, using my new portable bluetooth speaker.

9:43. Impressed with high school students’ recognition that, with respect to race in America, there’s still much work to do. For the Tickler File: a youth-led interracial worship service.

10:17. Trying not to appear desperate, race to the back of the sanctuary during the Passing of The Peace to greet a new family with a teenager. High five the Parish Associate on the way back to the chancel.

10:20. Children’s Time=Martin Luther King, Jr. + Moses + Ordination of Elders and Deacons=blank stares. Forgive me,  Nancy Lammers Gross. 

11:18. Community Life Team meeting in my office. 4 year-old and her playmate are pressing their faces against office sliding glass door.  Grateful for her playmate’s dad, who is tracking their movements across the church while I’m in here.

11:41. Playmate’s dad interrupts meeting with an offer to take 4 year-old home for an afternoon play date. Yes please. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

12:53. Stop at the grocery store to get spouse some ice cream and lemons.

1:06. Hit Panera to get spouse French Onion Soup.

1:43. Lay down for rare Sunday afternoon nap.

1:47. Up. Who sleeps on Sunday afternoons anyway? Off to grocery store.

2:39. Grocery Store encounter with long-absent church member. Pause in the conversation, and I decline to ask the question we both know I want to ask. In a second, she’s gone. Alternately curse and congratulate myself for that bit of . . . restraint.

4:47. Digital media conversation with junior high students. Stunned by their accounts of teachers using cell phones and playing video games during class. Can this be true?

5:44. Playing Wii Just Dance to Nicki Minaj with junior high students. Impressed with their moves. Decide that this is not the time to teach them Safety Dance.

8:36. Cross the line in my impression of another youth leader.

8:38. High school student crosses the line in his impression of . . . me. I don’t whine like that!

8:48. Youth group game over. Have to be convinced by the other adult leader to skip the second game in favor of Bible study.

8:50. Commence 10 minute Bible study. Worst youth leader ever.

9:17. Stop at pharmacy to get Therflu for spouse. The flu medicine shelf resembles the Wal Mart electronics aisle on Black Friday. Only store brand flu remedy available. Yep, it’s flu season.

9:58. Go to bed.

10:12. Out of bed, warming leftovers and watching archive of AFC Championship game.

 

 

 

 

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Books

Making Paper Cranes: Feminism

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Note: Making Paper Cranes is a weekly engagement with Mihee Kim Kort’s New book . . . uh, . . . Making Paper Cranes: Towards An Asian American Feminist Theology. Mihee handles complicated things gently. Also, she’s deadly in the low post.

I went to seminary with Mihee, and I was surprised to read this in her book: “I remember avoiding these [liberal] courses and viewing the [theology] department with a sort of desperate fascination.”

Huh. 

Mihee recalls the warnings she received from the well-meaning elders of her home church, alerting her to the pagan dangers of “flaming leftist notions about women’s liberation.” I, too, received warnings like this, and nobody embodied leftism, feminism, and liberation more to me than Mihee. 

Huh.

Now, I was a neophyte of the purest order, the product of Hellfire pentecostalism become hand-wringing evangelicalism become shoegazing emergence. The conventions of mainline protestantism were as foreign to me as haggis. So I had no reason not to assume that the Asian woman knocking people over in flag football games and striding confidently into theology lectures was a lefty feminist in Christian clothing. 

It tickles me to read the chronicle of Mihee’s flirtation with feminism. Men from church stock such as produced me have a suspicion of feminism drilled into us early and thoroughly. Who knew women do too? And who knew that many Asian women are nurtured on a unique distaste for it? Mihee quotes Pandora Leong:

my experience suggests that within the subculture of Asian women, I am also fighting a cultural consciousness that favors a duty to society over the spirit of independence. Individualism may have been a Western male value, but at least it was a Western value. White feminists only had to democratize it; as an Asian feminist, I must introduce it. Asian society places a premium on social order and the advancement of the community.

For Mihee, Asian American feminism “must counter two levels of patriarch by giving voice to individual experience.”

Here’s what strikes me about this. So much of the discourse that pulses through “educated” cultural circles (including mainline denominational gatherings) takes aim at “individualism” as an insidious force that has eroded a communitarian sense of responsibility to one’s neighbor. Yet, Mihee is holding up an experience, shared by many Asian American women, in which that communitarian sense often muzzles the individual voice, to the detriment of one’s neighbor. 

Ragging on individualism, then, is not enough. It seems those of us in the “dominant” culture need to be more clear about the kind of individualism we oppose, even while we look for ways to accompany our brothers and sisters who are working to cultivate a more holy individualism for their communities and, I daresay, for the church. 

How do we do that?

 

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Books

Books for 2013

I’ve pre-ordered Douglas Rushkoff’s forthcoming book, Present ShockWhen it’s released on March 21st, I’ll be reading and blogging my way through it, like I did with Christianity After Religion.

What forthcoming book, dear reader, are you eager to read? Name it in the comments and I’ll put it on the blog calendar.

 

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Church

Complacent or Content?

Confession: I hold something of a dismissive attitude toward the whole “leadership” publishing industry, particularly as that literature gets adopted by pastors. I’m uncomfortable with the equation of  strategies for profit-seeking businesses with strategies for growing churches.

That attitude, I realize, has been to my detriment. So when my PhD student friend recommended Leading Change during a recent visit, I took it as an opportunity for a fresh start with the whole “leadership” industrial complex and started reading it on the flight home.

Right away I’ve got questions.

The book lays out an eight step process for creating change in a business or organization, the first of which is to create a sense of urgency. Complacency, the book argues, will kill any push for transformation. As long as people are comfortable with the status quo, as long as people are riding on past success, as long as symbols of comfort abound, as long as the people are the top are telling a positive story, attempts to change things will be met with deadly resistance. Leaders must ramp up the urgency. They need to get rid of those symbols of comfort and stop those happy pep talks. They may even need to initiate a crisis. Anything to combat complacency.

The church application couldn’t be more clear to me here, whether you’re talking about a particular congregation, a presbytery (sorry non-Presbyterians), or a denomination. In the case of mainline protestant Christianity in North America, there’s no sense of urgency. Signs of past success are everywhere, mostly in the form of beautiful buildings. Membership is declining, but leaders are skilled at explaining that decline in terms of larger cultural forces affecting everyone, not only the church. We still have General Assemblies, and national media still cover them as matters of journalistic importance. And on the whole, we pastors are not trained to transform our churches but rather to manage them, to see them grow and endure by doing more of the same preaching and teaching and outreach, only doing it better.

That this represents a lack of the urgency required to fuel change is undeniable. Mainline protestantism has distinguished itself from evangelical Christianity over the last 60 years most notably in that lack of urgency. Like it or not, evangelical churches have thrived by making church participation a matter of urgent importance for one’s salvation: if you’re not saved you’re bound for Hell. Lutherans and Presbyterians have, on the whole, said the opposite, and that’s left us with little urgent business to coerce participation.

But here’s my question: what’s the difference between complacency and contentment? Where is the line between a church or a collective of churches contentedly trusting God with its future and complacently resisting transformation God may be calling for? I asked this question on Twitter, and here were some helpful thought prompts:

 What do you think? Where’s the line between Christian contentment and complacency?

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Church

Made As Makers Is Weird. And Important. And Cool. And . . . Huh?

The giggle-inducing poet and theologian Callid Keefe-Perry has made a 45 minute “documentary poem” exploring the connection between God, faith, and creativity. “Made As Makers” releases June 1 on Vimeo, and after screening it earlier this week I’m certain church leaders and thinkers should watch it and use it, but I’m not entirely sure how.

First the certainty: Callid is an interesting cat and one of the more nimble thinkers plying a trade in the church today. He does improv theater, he writes music, he crafts poetry, he gives talks. He blogs here and here. If you have a chance to interact with him you should. You may come away scratching your head, but you’ll be smiling.

Now the confusion. “Made As Makers” is 45 minutes of people talking, and I’m not sure what to do with that. Unlike a standard documentary, there’s no overarching narrative, say about the financial crisis or the emerging church. It’s snatches of trailer-side conversations with thoughtful people being thoughtful–about God, about their faith, their creative aspirations (one guy shows off a prayer wheel he made out of some driftwood, a large dagger, and an old fire insurance token), and their hopes for the church. These are conversations you’ve had before, so “Made As Makers” isn’t breaking new theoretical ground.

But it’s not trying to either. It’s trying to facilitate a conversation about creativity in the church. That such a wide array of people, from Wild Goose-goers to study-bound academics, were willing to engage Keefe-Perry on the topic says something. It will need curating, but pieces of “Made As Makers” will serve as valuable conversation starters for spurring creative work.

The most interesting person to listen to, of course, is Callid Keefe-Perry. So if “Made As Makers” serves to expand opportunities for him to do what he does for a larger audience, then God be praised.

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Books, Christianity After Religion

Christianity After Religion: A New Vision–Belonging

“I would walk with my people if I could find ’em.”

Third Eye Blind

In my early 20’s I ditched a small Presbyterian church who’s pastor and leaders had been nothing but gracious and hospitable to me for a growing church startup full of young adults, including my best friend. After a time, I ditched that young church for seminary. Both moves filled me with excitement and guilt–excitement at the prospect of a new community to which I might belong, and guilt at leaving one that had embraced me.

In her new book Christianity After Religion: The End of The Church And The Beginning of A New Spiritual Awakening, Diana Butler-Bass lifts up Belonging (along with Believing and Behaving) as an element of an emerging spirituality in America that owes less and less to Religion. Given my lingering guilt over how I’ve sought belonging in church communities, I’m interested in where she comes out.

She writes, “The question ‘Who am I?’ and its emerging answer, ‘I am my journey,’ appear to be new contours shaping our sense of selfhood. In the twenty-first century, it may be better to ask ‘Where am I?’ as a path toward understanding who I am.”

Butler-Bass is very helpfully lifting up movement as a force that has animated spirituality from the ancient Hebrews to 21st century Emergents. The Bible, in fact, is mostly a story of people moving, of following or fleeing God in this move or that. Abram and Sarai, Moses, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus, Paul: all of them experienced transformative journeys that defined who they were.

My friend Danielle pastors a church in Dallas that has taken this insight about movement so far as to call itself “Journey.” The church describes itself like this: “We seek to follow the way of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, study the grand narrative of the Bible, and learn from the fullness of Christian tradition.”

Follow=movement.

Fleshing this insight out involves injecting lots of prepositions into our heavily propositional theological discourse. “Prepositions,” writes Butler-Bass, “invite us to consider identity by exploring how we move, to whom we are related, and where we are located.”

“Who am I in God? With God? Before God? Behind God? Beside God? Who is God in me? With me? Before me? Behind me? Beside me?”

So the flaky modern habit of eschewing membership in a church for a looser kind of affiliation might be less about people relating the church as a consumer commodity and more about a church being part of individuals’ winding journeys in God. “Church,” in Buter-Bass’s estimation, “is no longer membership in an institution, but a journey toward the possibility of a relationship with people, a community, a tradition, a sacred space, and, of course, God.”

The churches I ditched a decade ago were part of my journey. Yet I want to resist the tendency to make myself and my journey the center of how I understand what happened between us. Journeys can’t just be about the people who go; there are always people left behind. I’ve been that person too.

Who are you in God? With God? Before God?

How would you use prepositions to describe the American church’s relationship to, in, with, before, through, and beside God at this time an in this place?

Previous posts on Christianity After Religion:


A New Vision–Behaving

A New Vision–Believing

When Religion Fails

Questioning The Old Gods

The End of The Beginning

The Beginning

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Youth Ministry

The Ecstacy And The Agony of The Youth Retreat Revisited

About a year ago I wrote a post that openly fretted about the prospects for students in mainline, progressive congregations to have an experience of camp-based youth retreats that didn’t feel completely out of step with the theology and worship of their home church.

We’ve just returned from our annual experience with the retreat that gave rise to that post, and I want to diverge from my series on Diana Bulter-Bass’s new book to revisit the things that felt funny to me about church camp a year ago.

 

However positive our students’ experience of the last retreat, their experience of this one seemed even better. The stock and trade of the church youth retreat is so for a reason, because those mixers, songs, and games have a proven track record of helping students make connections and feel comfortable. The staff at this retreat did those things proficiently and with characteristic gusto. I watched with admiration.

The retreat was structured around the beatitudes, and the staff very creatively helped small groups of students choose one with which to spend the weekend. Our students talked at length and in depth, guided by their volunteer adult counselors, about the blessedness of meekness, purity of heart, and poverty of spirit. I’m good right there. Full stop.

But on top of that the staff and counselors led students both in presenting their beatitude to their peers in a creative way and in “sharing” what significance the beatitude had gained for them. What struck me about this was how open-ended the process was and how unresolved many of the outcomes were. The students who presented on “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” for example, did a skit that followed two brothers who lose their mother, get disowned by their father, become criminals, and end by wondering if God cares about them at all.

The whole thing allowed for a posture of honest questioning and exploration without expected “Jesus-y” answers. In fact, with the ideas of Christianity After Religion ringing in my ears, the whole thing seemed to be after “how” students believe these beatitudes much less than “what” they believe about them. I was totally digging it.

As for the songs and the King-Jesus-God talks and the altar calls, I’m kind of over my dis-ease. Those things are the wheelhouse of church camp, and if you have a problem with those things then you kind of have a problem with camp. There are better and worse ways to do those things, for sure, but church camp is evangelicalism’s undisputed terrain, so if you’re going to get bent over an guitared avalanche of “Hims” and no hymns then you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

That battle might be worth fighting at the youth retreat, but immersion in the conventions of a different expression of Christianity than my students are used to is a benefit that I think outweighs the cost of screwy pronouns.

For my part, I was primarily a parent of a four year-old at the retreat and not a counselor, so please excuse this gratuitous exhibit of cuteness.

 

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NEXT Church

Prototypes and Process Modalities: NEXT 2012, part 2

My previous post lifted up the idea of a prototype advocated in Dallas by Jud Hendrix, an idea that has quickly set up camp at the forefront of my brain and is coloring everything I’m thinking about (see Jud’s presentation here)

The other major contribution that NEXT 2012 made for me was an exploration of process modalities, led by the likes of Theresa Cho and Yehiel Curry.

Theresa described an Urban Ministry Convocation that she and some of her colleagues orchestrated with 22 urban churches in a seven mile by seven mile stretch of downtown San Francisco. The gathering required getting commitments from leaders in all of the churches to come to something that wasn’t required to do they weren’t quite sure what with people they didn’t know and organized by an entity they didn’t trust. 19 of the 22 churches sent leaders. The process of recruiting participants was itself nuanced and creative.

Since it was a new thing they were doing, Theresa and her  colleagues decided early in the planning that they would need a new kind of process, a process that they would have to create themselves. What they ended up with was something that invited participants to listen to one another and share their own story, something that allowed them to sit quietly as well as move around and interact, something that gave voice to the past while also sharing the struggle of the present and prayerfully prodding people toward God’s future.

That process isn’t, I’m sure, in any book. Parts of it are, but surely not the same book. The people behind the Urban Ministry Convocation in San Francisco had to decide what they thought the gathering needed to accomplish, then they got creative about crafting a process–their own process, not somebody else’s–to make that happen. Read more of Theresa’s thoughts on it here.

The 600-or-so NEXT participants didn’t just hear people talk about process modalities, though. We were were led through one that most of us had never experienced before: Open Space. I won’t labor to explain it here, but kudos to NEXT’s organizers for allowing the time and potential confusion of such an experiment.

Finally, Yehiel Curry described an alternative process for ordination developed by the ELCA called Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM). Curry is the pastor of Shekinah Chapel in Riverdale, IL., but he didn’t start at that church as its pastor. Rather, he became involved as a church member and ministry volunteer and was invited by the ELCA to pursue ordination and become the church’s pastor. He was ordained as a result of the TEEM process and installed as the pastor in 2009, and he’s currently finishing his seminary degree (view Curry’s presentation about TEEM here).

What struck me about this was how much more responsive to a congregation’s needs it seems to be. Rather than forcing a congregation to select someone from completely outside of their system to lead them, the TEEM process allows the church to select from within the non-ordained leadership of the church candidates who may be equipped, ordained, and installed as pastor. It’s a contextual solution to a contextual problem.

For almost two years now I’ve been using Moving Beyond Icebreakers as a tool for structuring interactive gatherings. I’m using it with youth groups, presbytery teams, and retreats. Only after being in Dallas this week do I now realize what I’ve been doing with it: experimenting with process modalities.

I feel smarter already.

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