Thursday, August 30, 2007

Maintenance and Mortgages

When our friends in Denver took the plunge into homeownership, their biggest concern wasn't maintenance and mortgages. Their longing was that their house become a place of rest--for themselves and others.

They didn't envision home as the typical single-family American fortification where the drawbridge shuts as soon as the car is in the garage, your sweatpants are on before your work clothes off, and the neighbors can't see you watching your forty-two inches of high definition, on-demand programming until you fall asleep in the La Z Boy with potato chip crumbs raining grease over your Hanes tee.

These friends ate healthier. And, in fact, lived healthier.

They set a precedent moving into the new house, bringing several of us through, room-by-room, to anoint the place in prayer. In the dining room we prayed for Upper Room fellowship; in the bedroom we prayed for purity and intimacy; in the television room we prayed for laughter, stress-relief, and discipline with time; in the office we prayed for success and vocational excellence; in the bathroom we prayed for regular bowel movements.

My wife and I close on our house this afternoon. A new chapter begins for us, which includes paying utility bills, learning repairs, and watching closely the amount of water we wash down the drains. Like our friends, we don't want the focus to be maintenance and mortgages. We seek a place of rest, and we will pray for it room by room.

Father, we pray thee to fill this house with they Spirit. Here may the strong renew their strength and seek for their working lives a noble consecration. Here may the poor find succor and the friendless friendship. Here may the tempted find power, the sorrowing comfort and the bereaved find the truth that death hath no dominion over their beloved. Here let the fearing find a new courage and the doubting have their faith and hope confirmed. Here may the careless be awakened and all that are oppressed be friend. Hither may many be drawn by thy love and go hence, their doubts resolved and faith renewed, their sins forgiven and their hearts aflame with thy love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Oxford Book of Prayers; from chapel porch of Pleshey Retreat Home)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Marketing and Communion

Grace College students have returned this week for the 07 Fall semester, and the greater Warsaw (IN) area is in a stir to recruit. Personally, I feel funny putting up posters that advertise our church. We're not a product or production. We're a called out people. Regardless, we're vying for ten new students.

Some churches are handing out pens; others loaves of bread; several have promised laundry, meals, and a home-away-from-home where no chores are required. One promised to put students to work.

I want to offer Jesus to the students, but he's hard to package. Actually, he did that once, and the result was rather deadly. I'd assume we leave him in enthroned in heaven and stick to handing out wafers and grape juice.

That is, indeed, his body. That is, in fact, his blood.

Community and communion--quite the slogan. Now if I can find some fonts and graphics to accompany it...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pastor as Narrator

The title Narrator rests handsomely be beneath the name on my business card. I was in search for a fresh metaphor since pastor has mixed connotations. Literally shepherd, the term pastor is biblical (John 21; Eph 4:11; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25) but contextual.

Leader as shepherd implies people are without conflict. Sheep travel through vast hillsides with no thought toward their worries; my people walk through grocery stores with coupons and cell phones, concerned about minutes and discounts. They commute to church and work and after-school activities in over-sized cars on over-priced gas. They wonder if they are okay: accepted and loved. It is part of their story.

Leader as shepherd implies people are without voice. Sheep baa and bleat and chomp their teeth, but they cannot cry 'Wolf.' Contrarily, people will tell you if you preach too long, talk too loud, don't make sense, or challenge their hearts. More importantly, they have vision and values, if vocalized, that enrich the drama of the local church's story.

Leader as shepherd implies people are without effect. Sheep may affect grief, if trapped in the jaws of a wolf, or frustration, if wandering from the fold, but the beast will not direct the choir. Shepherding is functionally akin to corporate America, directives flowing from top down. The local church works better as a serial novel, part of a progressive story (i.e. the Kingdom of God), each character--minor or major--playing an essential role. Everyone shapes, influences, and effects God's narrative.

Anyone who has ever spun a story or told a tale knows that the characters burst from the page. Both heroes and villains become intimate table mates; they have histories, flaws, and mixed motives. They are complex. They are vocal. They are knowable.

I have the easy part: I narrate. The author is Jesus (Heb 12:2).

Monday, August 6, 2007

Post-Conference Distress Disorder

"If the church in America would only get this ONE thing..."

Those who came to Equip07 know how I feel right now: piles of mail on my desk; emails crowding my in-box; ill-prepared sermon notes crammed in my Bible; and, most unfortunately, a fresh stream of ministry ideas rushing my head.

The diagnosis is grim. Post-Conference Distress Disorder (DSM-IV, p. 870) can be treated with a prescription of caffeine, extended office hours, and increased cardiovascular attention (to counteract the overconsumption of starch at Alpha Dining Commons). Left untreated, the disease could lead to impulsive 'changes of direction' and irregular bouts of crying.

Simon, a pastor from Ohio, admitted, "This is my first conference in four years. I loved all the sessions, but hated the aftermath: Each time I returned home, I felt like I had to rebuild the church."

"This conference gets me every year," wept Marilyn, a missionary in Singalaria. "Since 1999, every time I've returned to the village, we've taken a new route, a new banner. I believe the indigenous people are finally catching on."

Change is good. It is gospel. And according to the keynote speaker, "It is the most important thing for the church to grasp." Then again, so is the understanding of our identity in Christ, touted Neil Anderson. Or, said Jim Brown, "Going Fishing" is the only begotten essential for the Fellowship.

These were the three people I conferred with during Equip07, who told me the three ONE things I needed to know/practice/teach. These were the three people who have me wondering what other ONE things I missed--from post-modernism to church-planting to worship-leading--which, if known/practiced/taught, would result in local church vitality.

As a sale, three-for-one is a bargain. As a doctrine, three-for-one is a mystery. As a brethren, three-for-one is an ordinance. But as the pastor of a local church, three ONE things is a dizzying disorder.

Don't misread me: Fresh ministry perspectives are essential for pastors. Dialogue and ongoing personal maturity will only better suit our churches. Moreover, speakers and workshop leaders have to be convicted about their material--even to the point of bursting neck veins.

Nonetheless, we should recognize if not treated as a compliment to the mission of our local churches, each ONE idea becomes competition. Conferences may tell us to juggle, but experience reveals that simplicity is more effective.

Acknowledging this has cured me.