Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Standing In The Middle Of Life With My Past Behind Me

I'd heard that after year seven of marriage, the guy becomes disgruntled. You know, the marriage settles in. The mortgage is being bitten off in monthly portions. The kids are toddling and younger. The first promotion or two took place and now it'll be a longer time before the next one comes around. There was a Marilyn Monroe movie about it called The Seven Year Itch.

Well, I never really experienced that. First of all, Tracy's not really the kind of girl who causes a guy to get disgruntled. We'd just sold a house and were moving to Dallas, far from family. The kids were toddling and younger, but everything was an adventure there that I enjoyed. The promotion was irrelevant I'd just left my first ministry to come to seminary. Nobody made a movie about it. Suffice to say they don't make movies about a normal guy who loves his wife and kids and goes about getting an education to become better at what he does.

I'd heard similar things about a mid-life crisis. They make fun of it in sitcoms where guys try to look and act younger than they are...they buy sports cars they look silly in. They wear gold chains and leave their shirts unbuttoned to the navel. They're usually comfortable with jobs/finances. Then they try to get a trophy wife. Apparently, it's supposed to happen when the kids learn to drive and/or the nest empties. I don't know of any movies about it, but I remember one time Cliff Huxtable's neighbor went through one on The Cosby Show.

Well, I'm not experiencing that, either. First of all, my job allows for a scorching case of Peter Pan youthful behavior is actually encouraged (side note: This is distinctly different than immaturity, but that's another blog). I've never been a sports car kind of guy and view cars as a necessary evil (here in Texas, anyway) that'd I'd shuttle in a heartbeat if I lived in a place where public transportation actually worked. I've never been much for gold and with my tanning ability I'm doing the world a favor by keeping all the buttons buttoned. I'll never be set in the financial arena even if my job is stable (been month-to-month since 1988, but then again, we're all really month-to-month, aren't we?) I've noticed that my wife's much more of a trophy now than she was when she was 22...and trust me, she was a trophy then. Again, I'm not sure somebody wants to make a sitcom about a guy who is generally happy with his life and family.

But I have noticed a few nagging little things...

Like the reality that I'm 43 and feel like there's still so much MORE that I want to do, usually involving picking up the guitar that's gathering dust or writing something of significance (even if I can't begin to think of even what that might be) or taking a summer with a notebook, traveling to every major league park and writing about the experiences as well as whatever Kerouac thing might hit my brain along the way.
Like the nagging feeling that I haven't done what I could've and should've done with my professional life.
Like the recurring reminders that there have been blind spots in my parenting that I'd really like to correct ASAP.
Like the glance at the report card that says I haven't been a good enough student of my wife. It ain't an "F" but you know you didn't study for the test as much as you should've.
Like the way my brain thinks I can do things that my knees and lower back simply won't respond as quickly as the synapses tell them to. In polite terms, I've, ahem, "lost a step."
Like the alienation I feel when friends of mine seem so set in their ways and I wonder when we became our parents in some arenas.
Like when my kids remind me that, while my musical tastes seem very hip and with-it to my peers, they're, ahem, a bit less than very hip and with-it.
Like those moments when I feel like the "Grumpy Old Man" skit that Dana Carvey used to do on SNL, and I want to bang my fist on the table and start sentences with some version of, "Back in my day, we didn't have..." and then actually finish the sentence.

So, don't worry about me, patrons.

I don't buy into a mid-life crisis anymore than I buy into a Seven Year Itch. It's all about choices we make to walk in the flesh or in the Spirit. It was always thus and always thus will be.

I'm just letting you in on where my brain is this morning...

...because this might be something worth living out loud about here at The Diner about, don't you think?

I mean, I can't be the only one who thinks and experiences these things...

...can I?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Proud Dad Alert

Kid1 got into metal sculpting during her 3-D art class. It involves metal-cutting tools and welding and all that jazz, which means occasionally, will involve a sentence (upon her arrival at home) that goes something like, "Dad, where's the aloe vera? I gotta put it on this burn."

Small price to pay when the end-result is this:

Oh, yeah.

This piece won the Gold Seal award at the state visual arts competition.

There's not a higher award.

Like I said: Proud Dad alert.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Welcome To The World...

...George Michael Sentz.

Born to Shane and Jill Sentz Friday at 11:31AM Pacific Daylight Time, weighing in at 8 lbs. 12 oz.

Can't wait to meet you in person, and see what you bring to higher-order barnstorming.

*Passes out congratulatory and celebratory cigars to the patrons.*
Big Day

Okay..., frequent patrons here at The Diner know that I relish my role as an uncle. I've got a teenage nephew and kindergarten-age niece on one side and a barnstorming toddler niece on the other side.

Well, today, the scales balance.

That's right: I'm going to get a barnstorming higher-order nephew sometime today...and I'm terribly excited about all this. I've got a TON to do today, too, but I think I'll have a difficult time focusing on that stuff as I'm waiting on word from the Bay Area. I feel pretty sure that text messages and photos and the whole deal will get to me as soon as possible. In this instance, technology really does help out, man. Especially when there's 1,702.3 driving miles between you and the people you love.

I'll keep the patronage informed as to name, vital stats and any and all pertinent information regarding my higher-order life-living sister Jilly and the Barnstorming Brother-in-Law Sugar Shane as it becomes available.

I LOVE days like this!
Pure Life Moment

I heard the phrase somewhere. I don't remember when.

It was used to describe that moment when everything seemed perfect in your world. It could be anything. The moment before you stepped into the batters box with the bases loaded and two outs. The moment when you laughed with your best friends until your sides hurt. Hearing the first chords of your favorite song being played live by your favorite artist and the crowd roaring. Taking in your first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains after getting out of the lift. When your favorite hockey team skated with the Stanley Cup.

A "pure life moment." Sometimes they're grand in scale, like when you waited 38 years for your college football team to run the table and win all their games in one season. Sometimes, they're smaller but equally meaningful, like hearing your two daughters excitedly yell "Daddy's home!" when hearing the keys jiggle in the door lock.

I've tried to make note of them when they happen, too. Usually I write them down on my hand or a napkin or whatever is handy.

And last night...

...doing nothing, really...

...but watching Thursday night TV shows and sitting on the couch...

...I glanced over at my wife.

Sitting in her red chair.

Laptop in her lap, working on some photography stuff (it's the time of year when high school seniors get their photos taken) and halfway paying attention to the shows.

And I glanced at her.

And she was strikingly beautiful to me in that moment in time.

And I thought that I was really the luckiest person on the planet. That I'm floored that a woman so talented and beautiful and funny would choose to spend her life with me.

Then Meredith Grey interrupted and we were back to business as usual.

But that moment was beautiful, man.

And I'm glad that after nearly 21 years, in the middle of the ordinary warp and woof of a day, that I can have a pure life moment that reminds me that I'm blessed beyond measure.

I lead a charmed life, man. A charmed life.
Really...I Think This'll Be Fun

One of my fraternity brothers is on the faculty at The University of North Carolina. We weren't great friends or anything as he was a couple of years older than me but I always thought he was really funny, we had LOTS in common (especially music and movies) and there's no question he was destined for big things...we could see that even back then. We keep up via the miracle that is Facebook.

At any rate, on his Facebook page he posted something that his graduating seniors contributed to, entitled, "You Know You Were A Student Of Chris Roush When..." Let's just say that bright university kids can be quite clever.

So, I thought I'd steal that for The Diner today.

You know...just open it up to the patrons. I think this'll be pretty good if everybody contributes.

Here we go...

"You Know You've Been In Brent McKinney's Ministry When..."
I Don't Know Why I Thought This Was So Funny, But I Did

From this month's Rolling Stone magazine, in an interview with the band Kings of Leon, on the reason one of the members stopped taking drugs:

"Marijuana is a gateway drug. It leads to sweatpants and Cheetos."

Monday, April 20, 2009


I don't like the way Disney makes death kind of tidy.

You know, Mufasa falls to his death in front of his son (who should NEVER have been in that gorge) who then gets false advice from his uncle and the next thing we know we get showtunes about problem-free...





...and happy tidings about the circle of life.

Then an existential monkey tells us that that past can hurt, but it doesn't matter. It's in the past. Apparently, we're told, there are two options: Running from it or learning from it.

I know.

Death is a heady topic for a Monday.

But it's what's on my mind today. And I'm thinking it isn't as neat and clean as Disney wants us to believe. See, after my dad died when I was younger, my Mom was a firm believer in keeping busy. We ran from death mostly. I mean, after my dad's funeral my cousins and I played Putt-Putt golf. I was back at school the next day and I remember Mr. Crittenden showing us the Zapruder film in civics class. I remember Mrs. McCord crying because her husband left her. I became a latchkey kid, but most of the time I only used the key to drop off the backpack and I'd grab the 10-speed and head off to the batting cage about half a mile from my house. If I stayed home there was a steady diet of AC/DC or Zeppelin or whatever metal bands the late-'70's/early '80's were thoughtful enough to provide. Metal was my gateway drug to hardcore punk that eventually drifted to Alabama before MTV mainlined music to all of America.

But at the end of the day all of that was just running from the effects of death.

I didn't think about it much. And when I did I simply turned up the volume.

As far as "learning from it," well, what I learned is that you don't get a lot of answers.

"Why?" doesn't get answered. It doesn't get answered when your grandfather dies. It doesn't get answered when your father dies. It doesn't get answers when your really serious high school relationship dies. Or when big-time ambitions die.

I also learned that it's best to hold back emotionally. Kind of like Lloyd Dobler said in "Say Anything," "You start out depressed, everything else turns out to be a pleasant surprise."

Which leads to my biggest fear: Abandonment.


I said it. Well, I wrote it.

I fear being abandoned.

And the residual fall-out of that, which is this idea that eventually the other shoe will drop. Writer John Irving in his book "The World According to Garp" called "The Undertoad." See, a young T.S. Garp misunderstood his parents warning him about not going into the ocean because of the "undertow" and he envisioned this terrible toad underneath the water and even though things looked okay, trouble was just around the corner.

And I'm on a frequent vigil for The Undertoad.

The things that matter to me most simply...



...through no real fault of anybody or anything. Things happen sometimes. Profound things. Things that hurt deeply. What I learned is that death isn't as neat and tidy as Disney makes it out to be. It's ugly and reaches farther into the corners of our closets than we'd like for it to.

Ultimately what I learned is that God is faithful in those situations. Not in some magical mystical way I was lead to believe ("God has a plan, sweetie." "May you have peace which passes all understanding." "He's in a better place." "She's not the girl God has for you.") by well meaning believers.

Rather, in the muck and the mire, He is there. That nothing escapes His notice or His concern.

He never leaves.

He never abandons.

He cares.

And when you read Psalm 23 in all the poetic beauty, there's an ugliness to it.

We have wants.
We're not in green pastures sometimes.
We're not by still waters sometimes.
We'll be in the shadows.
We'll be in the Valley of Death.
We'll need to rod of discipline sometimes.
We'll need the staff of instruction sometimes.

And even though things aren't tidy and neat and clean and I still look over my shoulder for The Undertoad some 30 years later, maybe that's the best thing to learn:

That Psalm 23 is ultimately beautifully true.

And that's not running from anything or happy talk or looking on the bright side or seeing the glass as half-full or anything like that.

And that's not merely learning to pick yourself up by your bootstraps or building character or toughing it out or anything like that.

It's understanding that The Shepherd cares for His sheep in every sense of that word...

...whether we're in the green fields or the valley of death or trying to ignore The Undertoad.

And that's neither neat or tidy. And it's certainly not simple, mystical or magical.

But it's real.

And true.

And on a deep-thinking Monday morning, I'll take it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Quick Trip

So, I had a quick trip to Birmingham to do a favor for Kid2. Her grandparents decided to give her their older vehicle as they just got a newer one, so I flew one-way and drove it back yesterday. Of course, she won't be able to drive it for a while, but this'll give us a chance to get the title transferred and all the paperwork in order at a leisurely pace.

Anyway, I planned the trip in-part so I could see the Outlaw/Partner-In-Crime niece Katelyn play in a t-ball game. I spent the earlier part of the day with my nephew at a movie where cars drove really fast, attracted pretty girls, and stuff blew up. Of course, there aren't really any pictures of that, although I wish I'd had my camera ready for the disclaimer at the end that "all the stunts performed in this movie are dangerous and were executed by professional drivers in controlled situations. Please do not attempt to recreate these stunts." I guess it's fair enough to put the disclaimer on the film just in case you might be tempted to drive 90 M.P.H. through underground tunnels constructed for drug trafficking or try to infiltrate a drug cartel's driving team by competing in a 6 mile race through the streets of Los Angeles simply following the directions of a GPS that has a hard time keeping up with you.

Then, after three highly-competitive games of Chutes and Ladders (Dora the Explorer edition--which I came in last place each game. Stupid blue chute took me from the lead to out of contention a couple of times) we were off to the game. I can't believe how much fun watching 5-year-olds learning to play baseball can be:

Before the game, I put on her pink batting helmet, which I think both annoyed an amused her...

Then we took one for real, which, hopefully will grace the family refrigerator. See, they have tons of photos of family and friends on their fridge and let's just say Uncle Brent is conspicuously missing from it. Hmmm. This should clear that up the alleged "oversight":

I love it that parks have fields designed with dimension expressly for this age group!

On deck. She hit lead-off.

Gripping it and ripping it!

Now, keep in mind that outs are somewhat rare and every kid gets to hit and those that don't get out (if they get one or two batters out in an inning, well, that's stellar defense. And sometimes those outs involve a kid running with the ball from the outfield and chasing the runner around two bases before the tag) are highly likely to score, but Katelyn scored every time up...and eventually would score the game-winning run as the Yankees prevailed over the Mariners...

In addition to the game-winning run, she actually threw a batter out at first from her third-base position! Fielded it cleanly, made a strong throw to third and the first baseman caught it and stepped on the bag! I was pretty impressed, as was the opposing team's coach who came out of his dugout for a high-five. There was much rejoicing from the parents and the coaches awarded her with one of the game balls for the 23-22 4-inning game:

And, as it should've, the day ended with a trip for ice-cream. Sure, my nephew had some explaining to do to his friends who joined us for the post-game celebration about his tattooed & ponytailed Uncle Brent...but Katelyn ordered some deal with sprinkles and a dinosaur cookie in it and, well, all was right with the world. This has to be one of the best possible ways to spend an entire Friday.
When In Birmingham And You're Hungry, You Must...

Take in Lloyd's Restaurant on Highway 280. It used to be the reason people went that far south on 280, but now it's right in the thick of things. The hamburger steak with onions and mushroom with a side of onion rings may not be on the P90X diet plan but sometimes you gotta break training for stuff like this:

The next day, I broke training again for Milo's Hamburgers. Great sweet tea. Excellent fries with special dipping sauce, which is on the hamburgers, too. People who live in Birmingham take this place for granted and kind of ho-hum it, but if they moved away, I can assure you that they'd stop by whenever they were back in town to visit.

Monday, April 13, 2009

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that The Masters golf tournament might just be the most overblown sporting championship ever. All the whispering and talk of hallowed grounds and such. Even at its most dramatic (like yesterday), I'm bored stupid by it.
...Wii Fit told me that my health equivalent was for someone who was 52 years of age. That machine caused me to lose a decade. That's right. I'm blaming the machine, not years of poor health/diet choices.
...just completed day 70 of the 90-day P90X. I've lost 16 pounds at 3 inches of waist. I shudder to think what Wii fit would've told me if I hadn't completed day 70.
...rumor has it that this year's Outside Lands Festival (I went to the inaugural three-day concert last August) will feature Pearl Jam. They'll announce the headliners today, and if Kings of Leon, Raconteurs/White Stripes, B-52's and/or the Grateful Dead show up on the announcement, well Bay Area friends and relatives, I'm pretty sure I'll need a crash pad in late summer., I did not forget April 4's remembrance of the shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King. I simply didn't post about it. I never forget that day.
...yes, I did have an "all-Nirvana" playlist on April 5. Has it really been 15 years since Kurt killed himself?
...we had our church's sunrise service under the awning of our church's traffic circle yesterday because of the pouring rain. I thought being dry but hearing the hard rain fall (not to mention the nifty acoustics when a cappella singing occurred) made for a terrific church experience.
...I'm a reluctant misanthrope. I mean, given my druthers, I'd much rather be in my hammock reading a book or in my chair watching a baseball game, but I truly enjoy things like my church's picnic they held on Saturday. Just hangin' out, mixing it up with nice people and watching their kids hunt eggs or the teenagers congregate together around the pond or seeing people's dogs and such. Very cool, and our children's minister does a great job of making that happen yearly.
...I've been too ambitious in my reading choices thus far this year. I've got a scholarly work (heavily footnoted) on grace I've been meaning to dive into, a Pulitzer-prize winner on America from 1929 to 1945, and a collection of essays by C.S. Lewis sitting on the nightstand. Each is between 10% and 50% complete but it's slow going. I might not be reading MORE books this year, but I'm reading BETTER ones, that's for sure.
...that some of the most fun you can have is moving the furniture out of the way so everybody in your family can play doubles tennis on the Wii (which the Easter Bunny brought us this year in lieu of candy). It's even better after eating grilled steaks with the same people.
...that I have three ideas for writing projects (re: books) but none seem to be powerful enough to drive me to the keyboard with any consistency. I'll entertain subjects the patronage might be interested in me writing book-length works on beginning immediately. Maybe that'll do the trick.
...that I fired the initial e-mail salvo asking a few questions about admission into a program to begin working on my doctorate. I'm kinda feeling ready for that kind of challenge, so I'd at least like to explore that option and see what happens.
...that I'm looking forward to my trip to Birmingham this week. It'll be nice to have a few days in a row off. I've been "on" for longer than I should've. It seems like I always do that and should be more proactive with my vacation days.
...I've really gotten into cooking with a crock pot. I've found lots of web sites with great, easy recipes and my family seems to be enjoying watching dad putter around the kitchen. I think they like the food, too, but the novelty of the process and end results seem to have worn off after 6 weeks of it.
...I miscalculated the bulk-trash pick-up day for my neighborhood and a big pile of spring cleaning brush has been outside my house for almost 10 days. That annoys me, and I'm pretty sure my neighbors aren't too fond of it, either.
...Kid1's car has been broken into twice in 3 weeks in the parking lot at her downtown high school. The first time the thieves were polite in that they unlocked the car with a coat hangar but ruthless in taking the car stereo. The second time they were rude in smashing out the driver's side rear window but pitiful in that they took a $9 CD player that was in a bag they rifled through. After it happens, the kids start comparing break in stories and it's a "normal" occurrence. Yes, the principal is aware, but what do you do? You'd think the Arts District would be safer during the day.
...getting replacement parts on a 16 year-old car takes a few days longer than replacement parts on newer vehicles.
...that I got my new 18 month calendar book (still not in the computer age with my scheduling process. Old habits die hard with me) and the first thing that goes into it every time I get a new one is the Auburn football schedule. Check. Even got the new move of the Iron Bowl to the Friday after Thanksgiving.
...that here's a photo of me & Lloyd at the church picnic (taken by my friend Sherri Sund):

...that I need to get on with day 71 of P90X to work off the grilled steaks that Wii tennis, bowling or golf failed to do.

Friday, April 10, 2009

You Won't Regret It

I've been reading a blog series called "The Counter-Intuitive Church" at Ernest Goodman's page. Yes, it's a pseudonym. He's a former missionary who spent some time in Europe and has moved back to the U.S. and has some observations about our churches.

A few quotes to whet the appetite from the series:

From installment #7:
"What if a church deliberately decides not to rent a bigger space? What if they refuse to go into debt? What if they wait to raise up leadership from within? What if they intentionally do the counterintuitive, impractical thing every step of the way?
The Impractical Church doesn’t build a building. Ever. Instead, it meets wherever its people live- in their homes, hangouts, restaurants, parks, pubs, libraries, break rooms, basements, parking garages, and empty church buildings of dying congregations."

From installment #5:
"If your church’s myopic focus on Biblical knowledge makes it more lecture hall than place of worship, you’re likely going to get a bunch of armchair Reformation theologians and wanna-be ancient Greek scholars who are more concerned with being right than anything else.
If your church sits in grandstands with the lights dimmed, staring at a jumbo-tron, don’t be surprised if they act like spectators."

From installment #2:
"Churches are obsessed with the gaps. We want to know what we’re not doing, and then do that. No program for recovering cross-dressers? We feel like we need one. No church for the tattooed-and-pierced crowd? Light some candles and call it good. It just makes sense to start with need and then come up with a solution to meet that need.
But that’s not how God did things in the scriptures. I’m not convinced it’s the way He does things today, either."

From the initial installment:
"We consider efficiency and volume to be stewardship issues. From video-venue churches to mass marketing campaigns to building programs, churches are constantly searching for ways to make the biggest impact, to reach the greatest number of people, and to get the most bang for the buck. I believe that these are human values, not Kingdom ones. What if doing what seems to “work” in the short run is hurting us in the long run?"

At first, it was hard for me to navigate the site since clicking on the link above will take you to the current installment (#8) and the archives page only displays five articles at a time. The easiest way to get to #1 for me was to click on the "previously" link before each one and then start at #1 and move forward.

Each one will only take you 3 or 4 minutes to read...and it's certainly a thought-provoker.

Enjoy, patrons.

*sips on coffee and hopes folks join in the conversation*

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Like You're Surprised? Opening Day Images, 2009

The view from our seats. We were under an overhang, which would've been perfect in July. But on a 50 degree day with a 20 m.p.h. wind blowing...well, let's just say it was chilly (I've been warmer when skiing). Also, you lost fly balls and had to watch the fielders once that happened. But, hey, we were in, man!

Me and Kid1 stole batting practice from seats in the sun. It was really a nice day there...

Batting practice trying to be in position to catch home runs and still be in the sun. No such luck on the home runs...plenty of luck with the sun.

Here's the Cowboys new stadium (they'll share a parking lot with the Rangers). A Cleveland fan (after extolling the intrinsic beauty and downtown setting of the Browns recently completed football venue) said that our new stadium was "ugly and had no character." A Cowboys fan said, "If by 'ugly' and 'no character' you mean 'coolest thing ever made' then I get what you're saying." Followed by the line, "Our replay screens are bigger than Cleveland's entire stadium." How Texan is that? Jerry World is an impressive sight, though. Not even kidding:

Sure, it was a little chillier than I would've liked.

But it was Opening Day.

And the home team won 9-1.

And hit three home runs (of course, two of them we couldn't see until they dropped into the stands).

And I got to spend all day with Kid1.

I wish all my days were as close to perfect as that one was.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Proud Uncle Alert

My Outlaw/Partner-In-Crime Niece Katelyn, who I'll get to see play in-person in a couple of weeks:

The Higher Order Life Living/Barnstorming Niece Margaux, who I'll get to see in the next couple of months:

Monday, April 06, 2009

The View From The Top: One Last Entry Of Thoughts On "Essential Church."

I'm glad I usually don't have to shop for a church home.

Tracy and I did that when we first moved to Dallas, and we learned early on that we'd have to decipher the buzzwords we'd hear when we'd ask a few questions of whoever was in charge of showing the visitors around. As much as we'd try to just show up and root around icognito, some assigned greeter from the welcome team would pounce and give us the scoop on all the great things going on there.

That's where the buzzwords came in. Some new ones have arisen since that time, too.

"We're definitely seeker-driven."
"Here at Church X, we don't buy into the seeker-driven model. We're seeker-sensitive."
"We're more along the lines of a 'traditional' Bible church."
"We subscribe to the purpose-driven way of doing church."
"We're a small-group focused church."
"We're emergent."
"We're not emergent, but you'll see us use a lot of emergent practices."
"We follow the Willow Creek model."

It goes on. We've heard variations and mutations and subclasses and all that. Frankly, when we were searching for a church, we didn't care much for that stuff. One major thing we looked for (yes, there are others in that recipe, but we only have a couple of biggies) was that were looking for a church that taught the Word faithfully, from a grace-based perspective (not only in salvation terms, but also in the daily walk terms--there's a bigger gap between the two than you might think)...and you could usually deduce that from the main teacher in the Sunday morning worship service. We found that set the tone. I mean, if that person was doing things a certain way, you could count on the reality that the youth workers and adult C.E. teachers and small group leaders were all going to be heavily influenced by that.

Maybe that's painting with too broad a brush, but, experientially, I've found it to be true.

And, the Rainer's studies found that young people really put a lot of stock in that way of thinking:

"The leadership of the church, particularly the lead or senior pastor, is the linch-pin for this catalyst of cross-generational discipleship to occur...the teenage population is one that knows well the principle of unity in diversity--a principle that should be exercised heavily in our churches...

Teens are naturally skeptical. They are overmarketed, oversold, underestimated, and misunderstood generation. They know when you're trying to sell something to them. They have noses that can smell insincerity a mile away. They are attracted to genuineness even if they don't agree with whatever it is. For them the journey is more fun than the destination. They're tired of the same old Baby Boomer drabble. They aren't attracted to cookie-cutter formulas, and they value things that are different. 'Frothy eloquence' doesn't satisfy them. And that's just how they feel about the pastor of their church...

...To clarify, we are not advocating a neglect of more mature generations, whether it is the greatest generation, the baby-boomers, or GenXers. Older and grayer is not bad if those with a little more life experience in the church are using it to benefit those with a little less sagacity. Much can be gained if pastors use and train adults in the church to reach our to those younger generations."

Oh, man. Where to start?

Basically with the idea that what made for desirable churches has changed over the years. I mean, I've used this example several times before, but I grew up in the church during the "Golden Age" of youth ministry: The 80's.

See, that was the time that professional youth ministers were hitting their stride. They were being innovative and creative and drawing unprecedented numbers of students to their churches using all sorts of things like pizza feeds and viewing parties and lock-ins and scavenger hunts and all that jazz. It was grand and glorious and, well, it "worked." So much of that stuff hadn't been done before and it was new and fresh and cool and the whole bit.

Then, those of us who came through those student ministries began to graduate college/seminary and start leading our own ministries. So, we did those things WE thought were new and fresh and cool and the whole bit. And we got to add Christian music that actually sounded like the normal music we heard on the radio (unlike when my youth minister tried to convince me that Rez Band was a good replacement for AC/DC. I really don't think even he believed that) that we could recommend to our kids and take them to concerts.

Two examples showed me that kids got wise to the years of methods: First, a local church held a youth group Super Bowl party. Free pizza and the game on the big screen and prizes and such. TONS of kids went. Then, at halftime, instead of whoever the big act was, they showed a specially filmed DVD of coaches/players giving their "testimony." It was exactly the length of halftime. The next year, the kids devoured the pizza and then headed out with about 1 minute left in the 2nd quarter. The place was empty since kids went to area parties to see the big musical act. The next year the youth minister had sign ins and kids couldn't leave without parent permission...etc. They don't do a Super Bowl party anymore. In other words, the teens wanted honesty: If you're going to show the Super Bowl, let us watch the Super Bowl. Everything doesn't have to be a presentation of the Gospel or a Bible study.

One from my own ministry: One year, we did a high energy big event. All weekend. Sleepovers. Laser Tag and Gameworks and Whirly Ball and speakers and bands and small group stuff. 72 hours. Well attended. Good time had by all. The next year we were going bigger and better and...only 5 kids signed up. So, I started asking the teens who raved about it why they weren't coming. Sure, some had jobs and some had new extracurricular stuff, but one teen summed it up for most when they said, "Brent, that was cool and all, but I can play Laser Tag or go to Gameworks on my own with friends. I don't need you for that stuff. I need you for mission trips and service projects and stuff that will teach me about Christ." The next year, we did the exact opposite: Planned nothing. Just rented a retreat center and a bus or two or three, and had a true retreat. No agenda. It still goes on today into it's 6th year.

But, eventually, that will run its course. There will likely be some other method we need to use. But, if I, as a youth pastor, hang on to the No Agenda retreat after it has run its course, well, our ministry will become irrelevant.

There was a time when people had a certain expectation of the pastor of a church. He was to be "perfect" and be a "passionate" teacher (side note: Much of what people mistake for passion in teaching is actually a style that is taught at their seminary. Try not to be fooled, kids). He was the one person that set the tone for the church and how it ran. The elders either went along with it or, in congregational churches, the members more or less were a rubber stamp.

And, the days of the Super Pastor who is brilliant with words and unknowable by the masses is done. The days of "just add water" to the lessons are done. The wave of megachurch "paint by numbers" is done...along with the ability to grow a church by following the way Saddleback or Willow Creek did it. The methods work, but you can do that and not be able to tell if the Holy Spirit is at work or if basic marketing & strategy are catalysts (thankfully, those churches have recently written about how ineffective they are at discipleship given the reality of their size & demographics--and have renewed vision for discipleship and a commitment to doing that, so kudos to them). Just letting you in on that little secret, kids.

Oh, and yes. I caught that my generation, Generation X, was listed in the category of "mature generations." The Slackers have hit middle-age, folks. Of course, I didn't need a book to tell me that. My knees and lower back do that just fine for me.

And, it's high time we started focusing on the younger generations. At the pastoral level.

We can't rely on methods and styles that worked for us. Or the generation before us. I'm just as guilty--ask my last staff members. I had to remove myself from meetings and let them work without my input. I was KILLING their enthusiasm and good ideas by offering what I thought was wisdom from my experience. It was really just a wet blanket. So, I got out of the planning meetings and let them meet and tell me what the plans were. We were all better for it, too.

And, you know what? When I say that we need to focus on the young to people, they like it. They agree in principle. They say things like, "We really do need to get the young folks in leadership and let them use their gifts and talents to help the body mature. Young folks are the future of this place. We need the young ones involved and we really want them here." I think they mean those words, too.

So, what we have to do, for the future of The Church, is find that harmonious blend of allowing youthful energy and passion and vision listen to the history and wisdom and experience and savvy of the older generations. You've heard me talk about this stuff before...

I feel like the older generations are genuine in that they want young people in their churches to have the best chance to grow in Christ. I know it's true at my church. We don't want for meeting space or elder support or budget needs or parental encouragement. The older generations really do like the idea of our young people serving and growing.

And, I feel like the younger generations want to grow and learn from the lives of the previous generation. They want to know what makes them tick.

We just gotta find ways to get them to mix (and, there's a GREAT ministry at our church called GirlTalk that our women's ministry started in which they get together and spend time with each other--they made cookies yesterday for an outreach ministry of our church--and is getting emptynest moms together with our high school girls. Beautiful, man. Just beautiful).

And that's gotta start with leadership. Being open and honest with our congregations in our teaching and what we're learning and all that. We gotta mix among all generations ourselves.

We're not marketing anything.
Or selling anything.
We don't want to underestimate this generation by any stretch.
We should want to understand them.

We should serve them. And if that means our preferences in music/lighting/chair arrangement/service times/communion style/etc. has to fall by the wayside to serve...well, it ain't about us anymore, folks.

We should love them. And if that means that we feel we should show them how our music/lighting/chair arrangement/service times/communion style/etc. has the ability to draw us closer to Him, well, that's the most loving thing we can do for them.

And, frankly, this book is a call to all pastors/elders and everyone in church leadership to drop the cookie-cutter formulas and methods... worry less about our sizzle and more about our steak. value the unity found in our diversity. Either we're all God's masterpieces or we're all just living a lie.

Failure to do this, I believe, and well, it won't be long before our church buildings are tourist attractions...

...well, scratch that...most church buildings in America built in the last 30 years are hardly inspirational architecture...

Or it won't be long before our church buildings are pubs or hosting art showings or having rock concerts like they are in Europe.

Or they could be academies of life as it was meant to be lived. (Dallas Willard's words, not mine...I'm not that gifted)

It's our choice.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hypocrites: More Thoughts From The Book "Essential Church"

In a lot of ways, the church is an easy target for outsiders to point fingers. We've all run across our share of Christians who are closet (or living room) racists. We've seen our share of Christians who put a behavioral/moral/churchgoing parenthetical get-out-of-jail-free card around their four years at university because they're only young once. We've seen seminary students exegete God's word beautifully but don't see their own gluttony/gossip/materialistic ways. We've all had run-ins with the self-focused militant closed-minded dolts who spout rhetoric they read on a bumper sticker that hurt and alienate others. We've seen culture wars vociferously fought that reduce a walk with Christ to mere political involvement. We've seen pastors, famous and not-so-much, fall in sexual sin, financial "irregularities," and addictions far and wide. And don't get me started on the Bunco Mom Gossip Girls or Submission Focused Abusive Husbands/Fathers we've all heard about. I could go on.

We've all seen it.

Inside and outside our Tribe. It's been duly noted and well-documented. Hypocrisy among believers is newsworthy.

And, granted, I've seen (and in some cases, experienced) the living Christ transform the hearts of closet racists. I've seen college students repent from unwise choices their freshman year. I've seen seminary students hearts move from fire-and-brimstone judgmental attitudes to compassion for the sheep & humility/meekness for themselves. I've seen the closed-minded open up soup kitchens. I've seen people love our nation enough to humbly involve themselves in the political process in meaningful and compassionate ways. I've seen pastors recover from addiction, repair things with their families/wives, and repay debt and continue in Kingdom work in ways they never imagined and more effectively than behind a pulpit. I've seen Bunco Moms ask forgiveness from their children and Submission-focused husbands weep at the damage they've done and tenderly kiss their wives/hold hand with their toddlers.

Sometimes the finger-pointing hypocrisy of outsiders is merely 10-seconds of an hour-and-a-half movie of the journey from lost to found. Those stories aren't necessarily noteworthy or documented at all. A live well-lived isn't really news.

What I want to talk about today is much more subtle than the obvious. Again, the Rainer's (authors of the book that got my thoughts going) highlighted something we'd all likely agree with: The role of parents as young people drop out of church. here's a few of their words that capture the spirit of that chapter:

The problem begins a little closer to home. Perhaps one of the most dichotomous results in the research study involved the attitudes that children perceive of their parents. On the one hand, parents have the potential to help keep students in the church. They, as much as any other factor, can help guide an shape their children to become spiritually mature and active in a local body...

...Children are told positive things about the church, but then these same children do not see the church as essential in the lives of their parents. What they hear from parents concerning spirituality and what they see in their lives are two different pictures...

...But our research uncovered a strong link between teens assimilating in the church and the actions of parents. In other words, it isn't enough for your children to hear from you that church and spirituality are important. Parents must show their children that church is essential to the entire family.

And I started thinking about my own parenting when the girls were younger.

There was a concerted effort to grab The Storybook Bible every night after the mandatory Dr. Suess story or 5. Moses and Paul were my girls favorites.

There was a concerted effort to pray by the bedside every night. Who doesn't love listening to little kids pray, man?

There was a concerted effort to get them to church every Sunday. Early on, our church moved to evening services and our leadership hammered away at our members to come to the night services to make room for all the visitors in the morning. So, while we weren't necessarily geared toward the morning rush (the McKinney women enjoy sleeping in) they were pretty much at church every weekend at one service or another.

There was a concerted effort to have them at the Wednesday night children's deal. At one time we had the added stress of ironing on patches to a vest as they earned them by memorizing Bible verses. It got easier on us when they got to the group that added plastic jewels to a pin-on plastic crown.

There was a concerted effort for us to get to mini-church every other week. Our group payed Meredith in advance to babysit, so since we'd already spent the money, we might as well rally and go and use it, right? Plus, we really enjoyed the folks in our mini-church so it wasn't all that hard to get motivated to go.

Then came softball season...and dance recitals. And school requirements and extracurriculars of all sorts. And friends.

The all-day-at-the ballpark tournament or 30-hours of rehearsal took the wind out of our sails for mini-church. We were too tired to go and the girls were exhausted. Payed up or not, we weren't going to rally and Meredith could just keep the cash.

Games or an added class knocked out a few Wednesday nights here and there, keeping them from getting their perfect attendance patches ironed on.

Every now and then a long weekend would require a recovery day and a day-long Gilmore Girls pajama fest would keep the ladies home (occupational hazard: Pastors pretty much work on Sundays, so I never got to be part of the lounging around--not that I would've anyway...just saying is all).

Let's be honest, sitting next to a 15-year-old reading any kind of story before bed seems awkward--for both of us. And those times of prayer? Let's just say that the things a 17-year-old girl with a serious boyfriend might need/want to pray for might not be the kind of thing that's cute to a father's ears and leave it at that, okay?

Not a free-fall into seances and witchcraft and heroin use, mind you. I simply wonder if my fathering of teenagers is sending a mixed message of sorts. Because I've seen the subtleties first-hand for over two decades now. Stuff like:

"Little Jimmy has to sell his spot to the spiritual emphasis retreat this weekend. Their coach signed them up for a tournament at the last minute and, well, they made a commitment to the team."

"Could you delay the bus leaving for the service project from 6:00 to 7:00PM? They have band practice and they don't get out until 6:30PM." (To which, I told her I'd be happy to, provided she went to the band director and asked him to end practice early so her child could make the bus. If the director said "no," I'd agree to wait. She said, "I'm not going to ask him that. His practices are IMPORTANT if they want to win the state championship!" Hmmm.)

"We're making Little Johnny get a job, and they're making him work Wednesdays and he can't be at Bible study or Sunday School. And, he's too tired to come to morning services. Can you disciple him every week before breakfast?"

"Can you move Sunday School back an hour and a half? Sundays are our family's only day to sleep in, and he needs his sleep."

"You can go to Wednesday night small group AFTER you've done your homework, Missy." (Why is the choice between homework and Bible study? Why not homework and sleep? You'd be amazed at the efficiency they get when they know they're going to lose precious sleep instead of leisurely getting to the homework while chatting on Facebook with their friends for 3 hours.)

"Listen, Brent. Little Jilly has a chance for a big-time scholarship, so we've hired a personal trainer and private coach to get her the best chance possible. She might even make the U.S. developmental team. So, she won't be coming to CBC for Tuesday night discipleship anymore. Or most Sundays we're out of town, too. What can we do to help her grow spiritually?"

"Our jobs keep us hopping. I know we haven't been to CBC services in six months and we haven't ever been in a Sunday School class, much less a mini-church. And, I can't make any of the women's studies and 6AM men's studies are just too early for my husband. How come Little Timmy doesn't want to come to youth group?"

"No, we really don't discuss the sermons. Who has the time and my kids don't really like talking about Jesus and religion anyway? And, well, I don't enjoy reading the Bible. I just don't have time to pray with them. I've never been much for that, either."

"We go to Church X for the worship, Church Y for the cool fellowship nights, Church Z for their amazing small groups, and Church Q for Bible classes. We're really getting fed, man. A lot." (please tell me you can see the hypocrisy of this, patrons).

"Our family really doesn't have time to serve. It's all we can do to get to church for one hour a week. We'd love to serve. We just don't have time in our busy lives." (yet, when their kid needs NHS service hours, they manage to find the time)

It isn't easy, parents. Our kids are watching us to make sure our message and actions line up, even in the most subtle of ways. Sure, we might be good moral families and such. We're not getting drunk or having affairs or embezzling money or abusing our spouses. They see that. We're just people who are trying to make a living and do the best we can.

But we need to be aware of the messages our kids are getting from us inadvertently.

And, yes. I'm aware that I'm a professional Christian...which has it's advantages in parenting. I mean, they see me pray in public a great deal. They see me studying the Word. They even see my devotional Bible move from place to place in my den (or not move, depending on how well things are going for me spiritually). The know I lead an e-team of guys. They have had the luxury of a dad who works in a job where they know my ministry to my family is primary, so if I need to knock off early to get to the game or spend time with my family, it's actually encouraged. I wonder if my kids would be so open to their service roles in our middle school ministry or their Wednesday night small groups or church service attendance (at our church) or mission trips or having the luxury of "church family benefits" (like older couples being "surrogate grandparents" or being willing to help out in all sorts of ways because they care about me) because they've been at CBC for nearly a decade and a half. So, I'm not so sure I'm a representative sample.

Disclaimer #1: Please don't mistake the above paragraph as meaning that it's all roses for the McKinney family and McKinney daughters. We've got plenty of warts, skeletons in closets and recesses I'd rather not share in this arena. My family already has enough of a fishbowl to live in. This is just another part of the aquarium decor.

Disclaimer #2: Please don't mistake current status of parenting as anything more than 10 seconds of a hour and a half movie. Plot twists and turns can come any second now. This reality is well-understood by Management.

But, what I'm saying in a gazillion unnecessary words is that if want our children to value church as a family...and an essential part of our essential part of living life as it was meant to be lived...

...we have to live that reality out in...

...our jobs...
...our families...
...our attitudes toward academics...
...our attitudes/action regarding extracurriculars and jobs...
...our use of gifts in helping the Body mature...
...our taking advantage of the gazillion opportunties to grow in the Lord...
...our personal spiritual lives and interconnectedness...

...because they are watching us.

And it's much bigger than being good, moral, law-abiding Americans.

Because the devil really is in the details.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Worship Wars: More Thoughts From "Essential Church"

I really enjoy a particular septuagenarian couple (well, I'm pretty sure he is, I'm not so sure she is) in our church. They're actively involved in both classes and ministry opportunities. One or both of them will chat with me whenever our paths cross, showing their intelligence and quick wit without fail. They've been known to hold hands on occasion, right there in front of God and everybody.

One Sunday morning, "Jack" tells me that he and "Jill" had been on a date the previous night. Gone out to hear a vocal performance/competition of sorts. He said they had a grand time of it all. I liked the idea of the two of them taking a Saturday night together out on the town. I bet they held hands, right there in front of the singers and everybody, too.

The conversation went something like this:

"Jack": "Brent, you know, those singers were really talented. You wouldn't believe the harmonies they were singing."
Me: "Really? Sounds like you two had a good time."
"Jack": "Oh, yeah. We had a ball. And you know what was great? We were seated next to some young people and they were really enjoying the good music. You don't hear much good music these days, and these youngsters were having a great time."
Me: (now sensing an agenda, even if "Jack" didn't mean it to be--but I wouldn't put it past him. Like I said, he's a sharp guy) "Hmm. I bet that was nice to see."
"Jack": Yeah it was. It was nice to see, alright. It really is nice when young people get exposed to GOOD music. Music with harmony nice lyrics. Yep. It's really great to see our young people appreciate the good stuff instead of all that noise most of 'em listen to."
Me: (now with an agenda of my own, and I meant it to be, and I don't consider myself all that sharp of a guy) "Yeah, Jack. I bet that was nice for you and Jill. I'm sure it made a good night even better."
"Jack": "It sure did."
Me: "You know what I think is really cool, Jack?"
"Jack": "What's that?"
Me: "When I get the chance to see older folks in the same places as younger people appreciating that noise and trying to understand why they like it and why it means something to them. See, Jack, that street really does need to run both ways."

I wink at him and take a hit from my Ozarka bottle with the sport-top for effect. My only other option was a Dumb & Dumber exit line, "Big Gulps, huh? Alright! Well, see ya later!" Seemed better to let my words sink in.

He winked back. "Gotcha. Good point. Did you catch mine?"

Like I said. He's a sharp guy.

"Gotcha, Jack."

The core issue that was exposed (and, has been exposed for about 150 years or longer) is that people like different kinds of music. I mean, if all my music got burned in a fire, my replacement strategy would involve finding CD's by the Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Clash, The Violent Femmes, Social Distortion, The White Stripes/Raconteurs, Black Flag, Son Volt, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and R.E.M. That's the stuff I'd have add immediately. The other stuff could be put together over time.

My sister's list would be different.
My mom and dad's list would've been different.
My grandparent's list would've been different.
The guys 4 years ahead of me in college would've been different.
Your list would be different.

I've used the example when I teach, in any size room, if we were able to get everybody in attendance in one vehicle (train, plane or automobile) and we let one person in that room pick the music, likely 50% of that room wouldn't choose that. Maybe half of the remaining group would be mildly indifferent about it, and the rest might really get into it.

It doesn't matter what band. It doesn't matter how loud or soft you play it. It doesn't matter if the assembled group is the same age or spanning generations or even how big/small that group is, you won't get consensus. I know, I've driven tons of vans to tons of events full of tons of teenagers and when somebody has made a mix-CD and a song comes on, it's immediately met with "LOVE IT!" or "THIS SONG SUCKS!" Same age group. Small sampling. Mixed reviews.

And, for years, when young people leave a church, the response of the older generation involves the idea that "the young folks don't like our music." I mean, about 7 years ago, we had a significant chunk of my students attending another church in our area on Saturday nights together and I simply assumed it was because they preferred the music at that church. It's a pretty common excuse in my circles that young folks leave a church because of the music style.

That's what surprised me about the Rainer's hypothesis that young people don't drop out of church or leave a church because OF MUSIC STYLE ALONE. Here's a quote:

"The battle over worship style is tired. Shall we let it rest? Of all the reasons people told us they left the church, style was not in the top ten. In fact, it wasn't even in the top twenty-five. The issue of style is important for the conversation concerning contextualization of worship, but it is not a critical reason the students eighteen to twenty-two leave your church.

Students don't drop out of church because an organ toots instead of a guitar screeching. They drop out because their church is not essential to them. They may gripe at times over worship style, but most of them aren't prepared to leave the church over the issue...

Young adults leave because they lose a connection to the community of believers. Style of worship plays a small part in the creation of this community. In other words, it's not the music. Rather, the people of the church make meaningful relationships, a sense of connection, and a comfortable place to gather."

Did you catch that? It stuck out to me because it runs contrary to what I thought.

Music isn't really the issue. Sure, it may be a smaller part of a bigger whole...but that bigger whole is much more important. And, I do think that the style of music is part of that "conversation concerning contextualization of worship." What that means is that the overall context of the main worship service has a significant impact on whether or not young folks will stay at a local church, but the selection and style of the (maybe) 5 songs you might hear during any worship service at any church in America has little to do with their staying at a church or not.

See, the issue is really connection to a group of believers. That's why they stay. And it isn't only a connection to a same-generation's a connection to the overall body of believers who make up a church. If the young people see that the older people cares enough about them to put their style of music into the service every now and again, they'll feel that connection. They'll feel that those making decisions are aware that they're in the room, and that they are an important part of the bigger whole.

Conversely, because they begin to understand they are part of a bigger whole, they'll understand that sometimes the older generation's wants are equally as valuable as their own. And they'll understand that today might not be the day they get their wants met, but next week the Baby Boomers get theirs met, the Older Wiser Loving Saints get theirs met one week, and then they get theirs every so often.

See, friends, my friend "Jack" is absolutely right. It is good to see young people appreciating music that his generation enjoys.

See, friends, I'm right, too. It is good when older generations like the fact that young people are in their midst and choose to enjoy (or at least joyfully tolerate) their "noise."

The street has to run both ways.

But worship wars aren't why the young drop out.

I have more to say tomorrow on the role of parents as younger ones drop out.

*giggles even harder than he did yesterday, because he knows he just lobbed a Molotov Cocktail which should set off a riot among the patronage*

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Reinforcing and Refuting Presuppositions

I enjoy the sociological study of my Tribe. I mean, I like it when the Barna Research group releases a new study (and book) about the thoughts and attitudes of Christians. I like it when a Christian and non-Christian visit a bunch of churches in America and write from their different perspectives. I like when documentaries come out about the state of evangelicalism. I like when a college student at an Ivy League school secretly enrolls at a noted Christian college for a semester and writes a book about evangelical behavior from a non-Christian's point of view. For some reason, these kinds of things fascinate me.

Obviously, when you get a sociological study that combines Tribal behavior as it relates to teenagers AND it's on sale for 20% off AND I get to combine that with my handy-dandy "Pastor's Perks" discount, well...


This particular find is titled Essential Church?: reclaiming a generation of dropouts. It written by a father and son, Thom and Sam Rainer, who have done similar research and written similar books on the state of the church. I haven't read any of those.

Anyway, like many similar books that dive into the state of the American church these days, they find plenty of things we need to work on. I don't think that's a big shock. What's a bit different here is that they focus on "evangelical" churches rather than mainline denominations (who have plenty of well-documented issues) that are aging rapidly and in a freefall decline. So, in this book, the authors chose to focus on why young people DROP OUT of church. You know, an attitude that's like, "Church is irrelevant. I don't hate church and had many positive experiences at my church and I still love Jesus and learn from podcasts/vodcasts, but I don't need a 'church' anymore." That's the kind he's writing about.

Side note: I would've liked it if the book had focused on those people who had a positive experience at one church location who have chosen to attend another church in the same area. I run into that quite a bit more than I do the group the author's talked about. Frankly, I don't see as much "drop-out" as I do what is called "church-hopping." But, their book isn't about that. So, Rainer's, there's your next book idea. Free of charge. The Diner is a full-service entity. We aim to please.

So, here are the 7 main findings the authors discovered as to why young people drop out of church:

1. Doctrinal Dilution "Watering down Scripture is not the answer to reaching a younger generation for Christ. They do not want to be mollycoddled with tough doctrinal truths." Diner input: I'd say this is true for any generation. But, it's why, at my church, the student ministry sets the bar high with regard to exegetical teaching...starting in middle school What's cool is our children's ministry does this, too.

2. Loss of Evangelistic Passion: "Dying churches stop speaking about Christ to the world."

3. Failure to be Relevant: "The unchanging truths of Scripture will always contain the answer for those searching to fill the void of their lives. The church, however, must find ways to relay the gospel message to the culture around them." Diner input: This is always a very delicate balance, but there's no question that ministries in rural areas or cosmopolitan settings or suburbs all have nuances that need to be adhered to, but I think the authors are correct.

4. Few outwardly focused ministries: "'It's all about me!' is the anthem chant of the dying church. As crucial as Bible studies and fellowship are, dying churches gorge themselves on closed study groups and churchwide fellowship events while neglecting outreach in the community. The country club church can remain so for a limited amount of time. In order for the American church to survive, it must reach into the community with outwardly focused ministries. Dying churches heavily skew their ministries internally." Diner input: The days of sitting in pews or classrooms listening to a (seminary term alert) 'master teacher' for years just taking class after class and calling that "depth" and/or "spiritual growth" are finished. This is where individuals within the churches need to re-focus on what growth truly is and leaders need to point them in that direction.

5. Conflict over personal preferences: "People within the church can squabble over the most insignificant things. And these internal conflicts smother a church. These quibbles overshadow the true purpose of the church." Diner input: Amen.

6. The priority of comfort: "People in dying churches choose their priority of comfort over reaching beyond the church bubble into the community full of specific and difficult needs." Diner input: And sometimes we place those "difficult needs" into safe little boxes with easy answers, which sound like happy talk but don't get much done. And don't get me started on what people would have to rearrange regarding priorities if we were to get serious about changing this.

7. Biblical illiteracy: "Biblical illiteracy runs rampant in floundering churches."

Well, there's the premise of the book. These are 7 areas that create kind of recipe (my term) for why young people drop out of churches. Again, they aren't antagonistic or even's just that a mix of these elements causes them to view church as "non-essential" to their lives.

Now, over the next few days I'll dive deeper into these areas. I mean, obviously, this is the outline of their book and they spend more time with all sorts of statistics and such...but they touch on areas like the role of the senior pastor in all of this, the area of worship service, and all that jazz. So, we will, too.

But, for today, now that we're up and running again, I thought I'd put the outline out there for you and let the patrons run with this wherever they'd like.

*pours coffee, and giggles because he enjoys provocation of the patronage*

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I Am Back, Baby Dolls!

*twists key, bell above the door rings upon opening, flips lights on, turns around sign that reads, "Yes, We're OPEN!"*

Let's be honest, shall we?

We all knew The Diner would re-open.

And there's a part of me that wants this to be GRAND. You know, I wanted to have a fresh layout...I envision a cleaner template, with some ransom-note letters on a brick wall to say "The McKinney Diner" and space on the left side to have movie posters of the movies I've screened and book covers of the books I've read. Add some links that inspire and provoke. Get rid of some links. Maybe even update the probation list as it was meant to be (one month of non-blogging gets you on probation, one year of non-blogging gets you erased). Really spruce the place up some, ya know?

And part of that would involve me telling you that the time off afforded me a whole bunch of fresh ideas and topics and creative endeavors to share with you all. Really get the conversation going today and every day for a while, ya know?

But, while we're being honest, I didn't miss being gone. I didn't get around to that stuff because I kinda enjoyed the break.

It was kind of nice not being a slave to this place. I didn't miss the rigors of daily writing for a public forum. Those energies did result in some creative endeavors--everything from the discipline of haikus to free-flowing slam poetry to a few good ideas for a novel (of all things, right? I don't write fiction, but I've got a GREAT first line/chapter and a pretty darn good ending in mind so maybe I'll start)--which was somewhat enjoyable.

But there are still some things rattling around in my brain that I want to write about here that I can't write about here (and, to whoever identified themselves as "Sam" in the last entry's comments, if you think avoiding slander and keeping myself from getting sued or avoiding deeply hurting others or unnecessarily causing strife is being "thin skinned," well, ummm, I'd invite you to start your own blog, put a photo on it, identify yourself and your family, and let 'er rip, man. Then I'll call you "thin skinned" when you complain after you get sued/fired/hurt others, eh?). That is a frustrating reality.

But today, coming here feels like coming back to the office from vacation. It ain't all bad being back, but it ain't as good as the vacation spot.

So, here's the deal, patrons:

I have zero intention of doing this every day. I won't let it become an obligation again. No way. That took all the fun out of it.

I only intend to write when I feel like it. So, don't worry if I hit 5 days a week or 3 days a week or 15 days in a row. Just roll with it, okay? As the owner, I can come in when I feel like it. So, I will.

And, for the next two or three days, I've got some things I think matter and will be good discussion starters. Hint: I read a book about why young people drop out of churches. It's provocative reading, and I'd enjoy chatting with you folks about it. Starting tomorrow, that's where we'll go.

But, in the meantime, let me say how nice you've all been. It's been peculiar standing in my normal place between services at church and having you come up and tell me that you never comment, but read every day. Or told me how much you really do miss The Diner. Or begging me to start back up. Or even said how this little unofficial place makes you feel more connected to our church. I even got stopped in the grocery store by a nice lady who doesn't go to my church who asked me if I was the pastor that "wrote for The McKinney Diner" and asked if I'd start back early. We may be a small little community and we might get on each other's nerves every now and again, but at the end of the day, it's our little community, isn't it? So, thanks for letting me be a small part of your routine.

And, since we don't want to dive into deep controversy on my first day back (that'd be like getting on the interstate without using the on-ramp), I'll leave you with a quote that made me laugh out loud from the latest edition of Rolling Stone for your review and consideration:

"The best way to understand the financial crisis is to understand the meltdown at AIG. AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror."--Matt Taibbi, in "The Big Takeover: How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution."

Have at it, patrons.

And welcome back.