Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crucifying the Warrior God

That's a great name for the new book from Greg Boyd that works to reconcile the violence we see in the Old Testament with the non-violence taught and modeled by Jesus.

The book isn't out yet but an hour long seminar on this reconcilliation as well as the Q and A time can be heard at this link. Notice there are two downloads, the acutal seminar and the Q and A time.

At the beginning of the seminar, Greg Boyd recommends a book I can't wait to read, The Old Testament Roots of Nonviolence.

Some explanation of the MIssional Church

Eagle's Wings

One of my wife's favorite songs from her days in the Catholic church was Eagle's Wings. It was one of the songs she remembers from her mom's funeral mass.

It was the funeral of Erin's mom that sent her into a dark depression lasting most of our junior high and part of her high school years. God reached into Erin's depression, leading her toward his love and out of the darkness. During our first year of marriage, some really hard personal stuff hit Erin's family, sending her into another (though much less intense) time of depression. I didn't understand depression at the time and thought Erin should just pray more or get healthier. But the doctor knew better, prescribing some medicine that quickly re-established a chemical and emotional balance.

That was almost ten years ago, I've learned a lot over the years about what causes depression. Just a couple weeks ago, I attended a seminar with Dr. Todd Fry of MidAmerica Nazarene in which Todd explained, among other things, how chemical inbalances caused by genetics or times of extreme pressure alter the receptors in the brain, keeping us from having normal feelings of happiness. As I said, I've learned a lot about what causes depression but until last year, I'd never personally experienced it. But that changed last summer.

Before I go on with the rest of this story, check out what I read a few weeks ago in Reggie McNeal's book Practicing Greatness. "The kinds of issues and situations that ministers deal with, combined with the overwhelming desire to help people (a psychological component of many people drawn into the helping professions, including the ministry), brew the conditions conductive to depression. This is why Archibald Hart, former dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Seminary, often says that surviving the ministry is a matter of surviving depression.

"People suffer from two types of depression. The first is endogenous depression, which is biological in nature and requires medication (usually antidepressants) for treatment.... A second type of depression - exogenous depression - is a psychological and emotional condition that is usually a response to some loss. The loss can be anything, from the death of a loved one to a crushed expectation.... Exogenous depression will pass if active steps are taken to allow for appropriate grieving and restorative practices. This is a normal emotional reaction to life's downers."

Last spring, two major factors came together to lead me into a period of exogenous depression. 1) The birth of my son. Or to be more accurate, the responsibility of taking care of my 2 month old son while also doing the duties of pastor and some extra-curricular community activities. When Erin went back to work for the final 6 weeks of the 09 school year, I took on the responsibility of getting up with Dawson during the nights. I tried to get work done while he napped or have him lay in his bouncy seat on my desk. I also took Dawson with me on all the "sales" calls with Gardner Community Theatre. I remember how the final hellish week of that school year, when Erin left home at 7:45 and came home after 10 almost wiped me out. I had nothing left. Once Erin was home full-time, I was involved in GCT's summer performance and those late nights prevented me from catching up on rest. I was in a haze most of the rehearsal / performance season.
2) The beginning of TFC's numerical downward slide. I remember when one of our strongest families came to my house to say they needed to be involved in a church in Olathe, since their teenage daughter lived in Olathe. The dad had tears in his eyes telling me how much he would miss his church family but needed to make the best decision for his daughter. I don't think I slept at all that night, as worse-case scenarios kept running through my head. A year later, most of those worse-case scenarios have been realized, with me working a 2nd job and our church's attendance and offering numbers being cut almost in half. But my perspective has changed as I've been sharing, because God is birthing something totally new in TFC. But through last spring and summer, I was being overwhelmed with feelings of fear and loss.

I don't feel like rehashing all of the emotional events over the past year but there were some times in which things were looking up and some times in which I didn't think I could sink much lower. I'll never forget the two days spent in my parents barn, sitting in a lawn chair with my bible and journal begging God to reveal something to me (or let me just walk away from ministry) while reading the story of Isaiah going through the exact same thing. 1 Kings 19
I took our church through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality for 6 whole months, while also working through that book with a personal mentor, Dr. Roy Rotz. There were a lot of times during this past year in which I thought I was totally recovered, only to feel the pain pull me back downward. I kept doing the best I could while accepting that I wasn't 100%

Last week, I was spending time with God following the new format I've been using, outlined by Gordon McDonald in A Resilient Life and reading a passage from Isaiah, when the realization hit me, "I'm not depressed anymore." If you've been reading this blog, you can tell I've come out of the vision-less fog I've been in as a pastor. Even more than that, however I've come out of the lowness of depression all together. I had tears in my eyes as I read these words from Isaiah, who was my inspiration during that difficult time last July:
But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

Not only have I experienced depression for the first time in my life but I've also experienced the peace and strength of coming out the other side of depression. Right now, the depression is like a bruise - the main pain is gone but the area is still tender and hurt more easily than normal. But I'm hoping it turns into a scar - a reminder of the pain but no longer tender to the touch. And I'm sure I'll go through more loss that might lead to a worse depression or maybe a more slight one. But whatever happens, I'm glad to know that the Spirit is allowing me to rise up on eagle's wings and continue to run the race.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What if?

I'll be really honest here. I ended last year's annual meeting with "well, I'm out of ideas, if you've got some, feel free to share." To be fair, that was at the end of some brainstorming but I had nothing at all to offer in the way of vision.

FINALLY, FINALLY after almost a year of 'hanging-on' and continuing to give even though my well was dry, God has broken through that dryness and given a new vision.

Now, will I perfectly execute it? Probably not. Will I even be able to effectively manage the personal and church changes that need to happen in the next 3 years to make that vision a reality? I hope so but it's going to be difficult.

But as I promised my congregation this morning, I promise to do all I can to be faithful to God, faithful as a leader and faithful to the wonderful congregation of which I have the privilege to serve.

Changes are coming, both in my life personally and in our church. Changes that I believe, move us closer to God's misisonal heart and closer to the model of church seen in the New Testament / Pre-Constantine days.

You can listen to my vision casting here.

Below are all the notes, hopefully some of them make sense. Pay special attention to the "what-ifs."

Goals / Actions / What If’s – Dreaming about our future

1) Increased Generosity
Action – continue to simplify our budget to free us to give
What if – we gave away over 50% of our offerings?
What if - We voted or somehow decided who we were going to donate the money to?
What if – we all got to experience the joy of giving?

2) Parents Discipling their Children
Action 1 – Pastor Andy is currently emailing weekly bible activities for families
Action 2 – “How to class” – taught by Noel and Dawn – begins in late July
Action 3 – Emphasize camps Justin and Lisa Delong’s passion video later
What if – parents took primary responsibility for their children’s discipleship
What if – pastors equipped parents to do exactly that

3) Increased Community
Action 1 – Small Group Wednesdays LTG format classroom, kids small group
Action 2 – Increased congregational participation during Sunday AM worship
mixing of teaching, preaching, conversation
What if – we took Galatians 3:16 seriously

4) Decentralize our Leadership
Action 1 – Raise up new Sunday AM teachers
Action 2 – Spread out administrative part of pastoral role
Action 3 - Action 3 – I have to give up pastoral care – don’t have time Small Groups
What if – TFC was lead by 3 or 4 individuals who also had jobs in the community?
What if – we took care of each other, rather than expecting a “professional” to do it?
What if - we pastored each other?

5) Continue to Focus Beyond Ourselves
Action 1 – increased community – where we get our strength to do this
Action 2 – Pastor Andy going full time ½ time with TFC Kidz and ½ time with Love Wins
No pay increase, just increased ministry involvement Ordination Salary – outside source
Action 3 – Pastor Donnie – bi-vocational
Fed Ex now, future job later back to school

6) Everyone Participating
Action 1 – Everyone serving somewhere
Action 2 – Everyone giving something
What if – everyone was a giver?
What if – all the ministry responsibilities were spread out among everyone?

This looks way different than most churches. It's certainly way different than the model that was in my head when we moved to Gardner. But I'm pumped about the Kingdom possibilities.

What we do see / what we don't see in the New Testament

I shared my annual report and vision for TFC in our next fiscal year. It was a powerful day though I'm going to explain that more in my next post.
But I wanted to post a bit of what I shared in the report. I've been gripped by Colossians 3:16-17 and I shared some out of that passage. I'm particularly gripped by the two words "each other."

And then I shared some general observations from the New Testament church.
Here's that list.

Don’t see (here or rest of NT)
- Entire congregations passively expecting a paid staff member to “feed them”
- Congregations expecting pastors to do all the caring and praying
- Parents abdicating the raising and Christian education of their kids to church staff or programs
- Individuals working to perpetuate the existence of an institution
- The majority of the church’s offerings staying in house
- Many full-time pastors (though pastors received some sort of financial compensation)
- Individualism of our western culture

Do see (here and throughout NT)
- Guidance of pastoral leadership – not in the institutional model as it exists now
- Church sharing meals whenever they get together
- Church members reading the scriptures and teaching each other (with pastors guiding)
- Church members taking care of each other when there was a need (not expecting pastor – all
- Offerings being given away to serve the poor
- People sharing with each other to meet needs
“If a beggar has a coat while a Christian has two, that Christian is a thief”
- The church functioning more like a family than a business

Just because we don’t see it (on list) doesn’t automatically make it wrong – though some of that is
We don’t have to do things exactly the way the NT church did them, churches adapt to their culture. But we've placed unbiblical expectations upon the church, especially in the area of programming and the discipleship of our kids. Thankfully, TFC is making some changes in that area, the first being a class taught by two parents in our church who are serious about discipling their kids, Noel and Dawn Forrester. Other parents, myself included have a lot to learn from Noel and Dawn's intentionality in teaching their kids scripture.

Church leaders, myself included have really messed up the church in teaching people it's a place to come to to receive "religious goods and services." The very fact that people ask, "what does your church offer shows that we've failed them as leaders.
But things are changing, thankfully. I've felt it in my gut and had thoughts in my head for years. I've just started reading Missional Renaissance and it's bringing into focus what I've been thinking. And the author, Reggie McNeal has been traveling the country and speaking and not surprised that unrelated people are saying the same things. McNeal observed, "we all have the same Source."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Bit Too Much

Erin and I have always been very involved people, being involved in a lot of activities and spreading ourselves out in the lives of many people. I think this summer, we've finally over-stretched ourselves.

I'm trying to get used to my early morning package-handling job at FedEx. I'm still pastoring TFC, obviously and I'm also taking a French 200 class and a Spanish 100 class. From the time I wake up till the time I go to bed, it's almost a non-stop effort to get it all done.

It should be easier in the summer because Erin is home, right? Well, Erin is tutoring some kids during the week and she has Annie rehearsals EVERY single day in June (except for three off days). The good thing about Erin being gone so often is that I'm forced to pay attention to my son. Not that I don't love being with Dawson but my wife can tell you that I easily put tasks before relationships. I need other tasks to force me to change my priorities sometimes.

I've gotta support my family with this second job but I'm also trying to open up new directions in life/ ministry in learning these languages. But somehow we've gotta strike a better balance. Annie ends in mid-July and it will be a much-needed reprieve.

Thank you to Kim Gordon, Dawson's Grandma for coming here twice a week so I can go to class and Erin can go to rehearsal. And to the other people who pitch in here and there to help us.

Don't be surprised if I'm not able to blog much these days...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stuff that doesn't get reported in the news

Although I have to be honest and admit I haven't listened or watched national news since this story was first reported on the BBC, this is the type of story that doesn't get reported on national news. It would make us think way too much about our nation's military practices and that would make us listen to that stupid Toby Keith song ("we'll put a boot in their eye, it's the American way) that always gets played during 4th of July fireworks differently.

I also googled the story and none of the front page results were of national news outlets in the US.

I'm posting the link, so surely this isn't plagarism. link to BBC

Here's the link from Amnesty International.

US missile 'used in Yemen raid'
Page last updated at 03:01 GMT, Monday, 7 June 2010 04:01 UK
E-mail this to a friend Printable version Amnesty says the images show pieces of cruise missiles American missiles were used in a raid against al-Qaeda militants in Yemen in which women and children died in December, rights group Amnesty International says.

Amnesty has released images taken after the raid that it says show remnants of a US-made Tomahawk cruise missile.

Cluster bombs were also apparently used in the attack, which Amnesty described as "grossly irresponsible".

The US has said its troops gave support for the raid, in Abyan province.

But Yemeni officials have denied any US involvement.

Obama congratulates

At the end of 2009 Yemen suddenly stepped up its offensive against al-Qaeda militants.

The authorities launched a number of raids, saying intelligence showed that Western targets were in imminent danger.

On 17 December two attacks on militant targets were said to have killed more than 30 militants. The raids were hailed as a big success in Yemen.

US President Barack Obama telephoned his Yemeni counterpart, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to offer his congratulations.

But Amnesty now says the US in fact supported the raid with cruise missiles.

"A military strike of this kind against alleged militants without an attempt to detain them is at the very least unlawful," said Amnesty's Philip Luther.

"The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions."

Unnamed US officials have said that elite US troops provided essential support, contradicting Yemeni government claims that it was entirely their operation, says the BBC's Sebastian Usher.

But the US has refused to confirm reports that it had fired cruise missiles - the crux of Amnesty's new allegations.

Analysts say the US is deeply involved in the country's drive against al-Qaeda.

But Yemen's leaders are keen not to appear too closely bound to American interests - one reason why the US has been keeping the extent of its military role in the country under wraps, our correspondent adds.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Closed Culture

Here's a great article written by a member of Pastor Andy's Love Wins team:

Everyday, we hear news in corners of the world about places that are closed to proselytizing and sharing the Gospel. The penalties if caught unwarranted sharing this message can be intense as people face fines, jail time, torture or even death. Yet through the hard times, they persevere with an unwavering presence and share the Gospel not only through words, but through actions.

We often feel so far and separated from such places, but think about the United States for a moment. There are many areas in our own back yard that are considered closed cultures similar to the cultures overseas. These closed cultures in the United States consist of people simliar to us, however, they have been wounded and deeply hurt by the church in the past- so much that Christians often find themselves challenged to reach out and to show love.

What does it take? First of all, prayer! God hears and answers prayer and often times more than not, we find that He's already been working ahead of the efforts of this ministry team to break down walls and barriers so lives may be impacted. Second of all, it takes Faithfulness to the call. We have been called to show love and to be a presence in a community that has been wounded in order to reflect Hope-little by little, bit by bit it's working. Third, it takes Presence- Just Show UP and literally, God takes care of the rest. God is a God of opportunity and when we pray, are faithful and present- He works in magnificent ways.

Really, the United States, in some regard is similar to many closed areas of the world in the sense that we have to change the way we've operated as the Church as a whole and as Christians on a personal level in order to properly build bridges. We are no longer "Christian Soldiers Marching Gallantly unto War with our Bibles in the Air." Instead, we are intentionally present and patient as we build relationships with individuals who begin to see differences in our lives and ask questions. Through these opportunities we not only have a chance to share our faith and our relationship with God, we have the opportunity to live our faith out through our actions.

Let us not forget it is about relationships and genuinely knowing and caring for the people God places in our paths. Let us not forget that part of ministry in a "Creative Access Area" means that CREATIVITY is the KEY! We can reach people in ways we have never imagined because we can span beyond tradition.

I encourage you to look around you, to take note of your hobbies and interests and use them to build relationships. You never know how God will use them or who He will allow you to cross paths with in life. :-)