Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fasten Your Seatbelts, We're In For A Bumpy Ride Today

In my spare time (which would be considerably longer if the Rangers would stop going 14 innings to win games) I've been reading Kenda Creasy Dean's book Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Basically, they've done studies and come up with the idea that American Christian teenagers are nice kids with a positive view of religion. And then points the finger at the American church by saying we're producing what we're teaching.

So, while I'm only about a quarter way through the book, I thought I'd give you a bit of provocation from Professor Dean (who, by the way, if you're reading, consider this my formal invitation for a lifetime supply of whatever drink you want from Starbucks for the rest of your life if you'll chat youth ministry with me):

It'll help you to know that the words Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is how she describes the teachings of the American Church these days. She also calls it "theological malpractice." (isn't that a great phrase?)

"Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of a divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm's length. It is a self-emolliating spirituality; its thrust is personal happiness and helping treat each other nicely...they practice it because this is what we have taught them in the church."

"If we fail to bear God's life-altering, world-changing, fear-shattering good news (which, after all, is the reason the church exists in the first place)--if desire for God and devotion to our fellow human beings is replaced by a loveless shell of religiosity--then young people unabe to find consequential Christianity in the church absolutely should defalut to something safer. In fact, that is exactly what they are doing."

And the big one...
"The fruit of a consequential Christian faith is holiness, not niceness, which is not a course for the faint of heart. If the Bible is any indication, holy people make us uncomfortable. they take sacrificial risks on behalf of others; they are disarmingly wise and often, disconcertingly weird. They expose us with their honesty. Teenagers on this trajectory find 95 things wrong with the church, nail the list to the door, and call the press. Yet their faith is the passion of God, who empowers them for mission and calls them out of their comfort zones so they can call us out of ours."


...I'm really glad I'm a pastor who deals exclusively with students, man.

Pour your coffee.

Think about the quotes.

Chip in to the discussion.

Oh, man.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mind Vitamins for a Tuesday Morning

I'm reading a book called Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership and Staff on the Same Page by Larry Osborne. It's for work and we're going to discuss it as a staff. It has a lot of food for thought about leadership in churches and such...and a lot so strong opinions.

In a chapter about making sure you have younger people (meaning mid-20's to mid-30's, in this case) in influential leadership roles, giving them visible platforms and influence. In it he talks about one possible downside of leadership that has been at it for years, occupying the majority of leadership positions throughout the church, and they stay there. He calls this "shotgun" leadership, basically saying who calls the seat first gets to ride along in the best seat.

But then he gives some checkpoints and examples of figuring out if your church is there or not. Here's what the author says, from page 121:
"Shotgun churches are easy to recognize. Just look for a church where all the influential seats are filled by old-timers. And the telltale sign is a once thriving church that has grown old, nostalgic and culturally irrelevant. Still another indicator is a strong youth ministry but few young singles or young families in the worship service. (I call these 'feeder churches' because they feed the fastest-growing churches in town with a steady stream of young eagles, singles, and families.)"

*"young eagles" is the author's term for young, gifted potential leaders"

Now, here's the rub:

See, I'm a big fan of cross-generational ministry. I value the wisdom and experience of the older generation. Conversely, I value the passion and energy and creativity of the younger one. So, I guess this morning I'm thinking through the balance of it all.

I mean, I don't think everybody on leadership committees and boards and key volunteers should all be 25. They shouldn't all be 55, either. Both extremes could have all sorts of negatives attached.

So, my question is how do you have leadership committees and boards that have a healthy balance of enthusiasm and creativity with wisdom and experience?

Now that author suggests one way to get started is to have a retreat of mixed-age leaders, say about 40 or so people, mixed gender and 50-50 young/old and ask questions such as:

*What would we do differently if we're starting all over again?
*What are we doing now that we wouldn't do?
*What are we not doing now that we would do?
*On a scale of 1-10, how effective is each ministry and program?
*On a scale of 1-10, how effective is each staff member?

Again, this sounds great, but if you implemented that, then you're going to have to make some hard choices on the back end of that meeting. Like maybe losing staff or valued programs. So, this sounds great in theory and it's always fun to brainstorm...but if you acted on your findings it could get difficult in a number of ways.

So, I'd like to hear your thoughts on one of things I've been preaching on and thinking about for years: The idea of a converging congregation. One that recognizes that all ages have a valued place at the table, and one that strives to be a true family...with grandparents and toddlers and everybody else in-between sharpening each other and doing life together.

Have at it, patrons!
Answering the few Questions

A few days ago I put out the call for questions you'd like for me to answer...and the list was short, but I'll answer the ones I got.

The first was regarding Facebook and if I think it'll fade or morph. I don't think there's any question that it will do both. As it fades, it'll morph into something else. I like it, though, because the connections I've been able to keep are valuable to me. I'm able to keep in touch with family and former students and high school friends I never would've been able to in the past since FB helps over distance.

Another was if I think the Rangers will fade or hang on and win the division. History says they'll fade in August, but it looks like they're making a sincere attempt to win now with the recent addition of Cliff Lee. They were hoping Benji Molina would help shore up the catching weaknesses, too. They have a shot to win it, but their schedule gets tougher in the 74 games they have left...and the A's are known for playing especially well in the 2nd half of the season. With 14 games left with the Angels and a steady diet of Red Sox and Yankees in the 2nd half, smart money and history say they'll fade. But I really hope they don't as, with the purchase of my 3-game plans, I have 2 playoff seat priorities.

About Yo'Ville: I have no comment. I don't play any games on Facebook at all, and I block all updates of others from my news feed. So, I really can't say.

My solution to immigration: Much of that involves the behavior of Americans. See, I'm of the opinion that supply and demand works, so if businesses stopped hiring illegal immigrants then illegal immigrants would stop coming. Of course, that would require that those of us in suburbia would have to pay a little more for certain jobs we have done that we don't want to do...seriously, do we really care if the company we hire is using illegal labor to provide the service at a more reasonable price? Hardly. And I know folks in my neighborhood hire day laborers who are very likely illegal. So, we contribute to the problem. It's the same for the drug trade. If Americans either legalized certain herbal drugs or stopped taking them, many of the problems would simply go away. Of course, there's also the other side of the coin, which is that we need to make it more streamlined for the "poor, tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free" to do that very thing. There are no easy answers to the problem. But it is a problem that I think starts with us.

Lastly, what do I think of the current president these days? I think he's an incredibly intelligent man who is learning that it's an awful lot easier to run for president than to actually be president. Since my GenX sensibilities cause me to keep expectations VERY low regarding politicians at any level, suffice to say that I didn't have very high expectations anyway. I don't think he'll win a 2nd term because his policies, both foreign and domestic, seem very scattered to me. I can't really tell what he's focusing on at any given moment nor what he hopes to accomplish. However, I will say that I wish more in my Tribe would spend more time praying for him that whining about him. I wish they'd be more respectful to the office. I mean, a good reading of 1st Peter 1 and 2 would be in order...and those were words penned to people who were being burned as torches and thrown to the lions for sport. We have it pretty good in the good ol' U.S. of A., and I believe checks and balances will always work in the end. My guess is that Bill Clinton was right: It's the economy, stupid. And there are long-term concerns regarding that.

Well, there you have it. Any more?

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Discussion Starter For My High School Student's Class Yesterday...

...was taken from a quote by Kenda Creasy Dean, a noted authority on Christian teenage culture. She was promoting her new book in this month's Youthworker Journal.

In response to the question, "What is teenage faith telling the church?" she responds:
"That adults are living a lukewarm Christianity that young people are emulating. It's human to want teenagers to have faith that helps them fit in, makes them successful and helps them do well while doing good. The problem is that's not what Jesus taught, and it's not the way the early church lived. The faith that teens have looks very much like the faith of their parents. It's not shaking up their lives in any discernable way. Lots of kids say they're Christians, but almost none of them think it really matters.

Adults living a lukewarm Christianity.
Not living what Jesus taught or the way the early church lived.
Not shaking up their parent's lives in any discernable way.
None of them think it really matters.

It's a shot at those of us who are parents.
It's a shot at the church.
It's a shot at the teens.

The question before us today is if she's correct.

And if she is, what do we do about it?

Have at it, patrons.

*pours coffee, opens door, and rubs hands together while he waits*

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Adventures In Missing The Point?

My Tribe can be a most peculiar people.

We've spent a lot of time arguing about music. I've heard worship leaders talk about the need for technical excellence and top-notch talent and I've heard worship leaders talk about stripping away all pretense and electricity and go for whatever it is they mean by authenticity. I've heard seminary professors get all haughty about "7-11 choruses" (7 words 11 times, ha ha ha) and I've heard students harp on the importance of repetition as a teaching tool. I've been a part of meetings where we spent an hour discussing song selections and the order they'll be sung. Don't get me started on whether the power point slide should be a solid color or if there should be a shadow of a person standing on a mountain facing the sunrise with their arms outstretched.

We've spent a lot of time using phrases like "seeker sensitive" and "seeker driven" and "purpose driven" and "emergent" and all sorts of subtle nuances all around and through similar verbage. Should we have a program that allows those that come to have fun so they'll feel at home and they'll come back a lot and then, hopefully, they'll get some good stuff and stay? Should we just be about our mission and just have the Lord's Supper and baptisms and church services? Should our room be light and airy with contemporary pop praise or should it be dark and candlelit with an air of acoustic mystery? If we go somewhere in-between will we alienate everybody?

We spent a lot of time trying to stay organized. Gotta communicate better. Gotta have a way for visitors to feel welcome. Gotta get the web site more accessible. Gotta hammer through the role of deacons. Gotta determine what each elder's ministry area will be. Gotta determine the strengths and weakness of the staff so we can get the right people in the right seats on the bus so we can stay afloat through the paradigm shift. Gotta get job descriptions nailed down. Gotta have team unity and bonding.

This morning I read 1 Peter for the final time before I teach it tomorrow to my high schoolers.

Here's what got me:
1:13ff: "Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, for it is written, 'You shall be holy, because I am holy.' And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed – not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. You have purified your souls by obeying the truth in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart. You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was proclaimed to you.

It hit me that sometimes my Tribe can overcomplicate things.
It hit me that sometimes my Tribe can focus on things that don't matter much.
It hit me that sometimes my Tribe is pretty intense and passionate about chasing the wind.

All in all it's pretty simple:

Set your mind on eternity because we're pilgrims and strangers here.
Live well, because an abundant life in Christ is the ultimate apologetic.
Love with the proper motivation of thanks for His grace.

And if we just teach the Word of God...


...seems the Holy Spirit will grow folks in His time in His way.

This ain't rocket science...even if we try to make it rocket science.

J. Vernon McGee said it best: "My friend, we need the preaching and teaching of the Word of God above everything else. I do not mean to minimize the place of music, the place of methods, and the place of organization, but there is absolutely no substitute for the Word of God today."

He is...