Filled Up and Ready for What’s NEXT

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This summer I will have spent:

6 years serving one PC(USA) church as associate pastor for youth and mission.
9 years being an ordained minister of the word and sacrament in the PC(USA).
16 years working with youth in PC(USA) churches.

Many hours, days and months and yet at the age of 38, I still have my looks albeit with several
extra pounds. (Har, har, har). However as Indiana Jones tells Marian in Raiders of The Lost Ark, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.” When it comes to ministry these days…

I’m hitting the wall.

I’m burning out.

I’m drying up.

I’m stagnating.

(Perfect time to have a second child, born in November, right?)

Knowing that a significant part of my life–God’s call of me to serve–is broken, I flew out to Minneapolis, MN at the beginning of the week to get some repairs done.

But what I got from The PC(USA)s  2014 NEXT Church Annual Conference (held at Westminster Presbyterian Church) wasn’t a quick fix or an easy answer that would allow me to apply a technical change in my life, i.e. get 12 hours of sleep and you’ll be good as new or attend these workshops and worship services and your frustrations/apathy/pain will instantly disappear.

While technical solutions are applicable when the heat goes out or a pipe burst in the church building, they are useless when it comes to nurturing the holistic being of a church or inspiring a gifted church leader who is feeling spiritually empty.

 
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What I received from the NEXT Church Conference was…

an invitation to consider an adaptive approach,

an invitation to be still and listen for God (Psalm 46:10) who is actively speaking and moving in the world in God’s own way and time

an invitation to be moved by the Spirit to reflect, ask questions and imagine new ways to be whom God calls me to be and do what God calls me to do.

an invitation to discover the welfare God has for me by seeking the welfare of the city and its people (Jeremiah 29:7) who have been exiled into a concrete jungle of poverty, homelessness, addiction, abuse, and violence.

an invitation to be part of a present and future that God infuses with hope (Jeremiah 29:11)

an invitation, per the theme of NEXT, to Lead. Create. Discern.

Accepting that invitation to be and let God move me wherever I needed to go was invigorating and liberating. A beautiful gift…

Sermons by Alika Galloway, Daniel Vigilante, J. Herbert Nelson and Maryann McKibben Dana reminded me that I have to let go of my fears, worries and self-doubts (something I struggle with daily as I take medicine and go to counseling for depression and anxiety) and not allow myself to get stuck in the muck.  I have to let it go. (Or as my wife says, not let my frustrations make me the victim.)

Leader Testimonies, Ignite presentations and workshops like Not ChurchTheocademy and  90 Second Sermon and fellowship with friends (old and new) sparked my imagination and tapped into a yearning I’ve been having to smash clay pots and create something different from the shards.

Worship (which I don’t get to do much strictly as a participant) stirred up my passion for serving God and doing ministry. Listening to varieties of music styles and songs (African-American and Native-American and Taize) and hearing scripture retold in unique ways refreshed my weary soul. An afternoon of prayer, in particular, moved me greatly as our individual petitions to God regarding the heaviness of pain we carry inside were read out loud.

NEXT Bulletin

 

NEXT river

 

The centerpiece of worship as well as the conference and our lives and ministry was a communion table that NEXT artist in residence Shawna Bowman created during morning worship on the first day and which we decorated in the days following. As Shawna proclaimed: “Isn’t it amazing that when we build something new, it gets filled up.”

 

NEXT Communion table 2

 

I also have been filled beyond measure and beyond what I deserve from this conference.

The challenge, though–as I find myself re-entering the routines of everyday life, family and church–is not getting stuck in a particular way of being and doing that depletes my energy, intelligence and imagination.

I wish I knew exactly what I needed to do (a series of steps or a one-size-fits all solution) to ensure that I don’t lose this newfound sense of creativity, leadership and discernment that I want to share with others. The last thing I want is to dry up to the point where I have nothing life sustaining to give to God, my family & friends, and the church.

I wish I knew for sure that the ideas I’d like to try–in an effort to enrich ministry and life–are going to stick and flourish beyond my wildest dreams.

There are, of course, no guarantees.

All I can do is take a risk and trust in God who only knows what’s next.

NEXT Communion table

Photo Credits:  “Dry Land” courtesy of Google Images,  other photos from The NEXT Church Conference by Andy Acton, 2014.

Be What We Were Made to Be

A Sermon for Sunday October 27 (Reformation Day & All Saints’ Day ) Romans 12 (Eugene Peterson’s The Message)

Shades Valley Presbyterian Church Youth Retreat, Camp Lee, Anniston, AL, 1991. Bonkey is wearing the green hat. Andy is pictured in center of photograph.

Shades Valley Presbyterian Church Youth Retreat, Camp Lee, Anniston, AL, 1991. Bonkey is wearing the green hat. Andy is pictured in center of photograph.

For more than 20 years, during the days that lead up to Halloween, the memory of a significant event in my life resurfaces like The Creature From The Black Lagoonthe death of my friend Bonkey Nezariah McCain, who at the age of 17 was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in the late evening of Friday, October 30, 1992 in Birmingham, Alabama, and pronounced dead at 12:01 am on Saturday October 31.

My tearful mom shook me from my blissful sleep later that Halloween morning to tell me the horrifying news. I staggered out of bed in utter disbelief. It was hard enough to comprehend that a beloved member of our church’s youth group at Shades Valley Presbyterian and a fellow classmate at Shades Valley High School had died, but more difficult to fathom that he was killed.

A member of SVHS’ football team, Bonkey and his teammates had been innocently celebrating their win over another school by eating at a local Pizza Hut. As the players walked out into the parking lot to head home, two guys in a car drove by and opened fire into the crowd. Although Bonkey wasn’t the intended target, he took three bullets to the chest. No one else was injured.

Bonkey’s death shook the community. Bonkey was a remarkable young man who had a deep love for God and people. He had that unique ability of making friends and connecting folks to one another regardless of their differences. And he had big dreams of getting a higher education, playing in the NFL and doing good for others with the gifts God gave him.

The day Bonkey died, I was awoken to the harsh reality of fear, pain and sadness. And yet, in the midst of the shock and grief, my instinct (like many of my church friends) was to not crawl back in bed and isolate myself from the world. My immediate desire was to shower, get dressed and be with my friends.

Within a few hours, our youth group had gathered in one of our friend’s homes. We sat there and held one another as we cried and lamented and expressed our anger over a senseless death. We made phone calls to share the news with friends who lived and attended Presbyterian churches in other parts of central Alabama. They immediately got in their cars and drove to Birmingham. By dinner that evening, there were close to 50-60 people, youth and adult advisers from eight separate high school youth groups, squeezed inside a friend’s living room. Holding onto one another, we cried some more and we told stories about Bonkey’s life and we prayed.

And our advisers reminded us that God grieves with us and yearns for us to live together in love and hope and peace.  They cautioned us to not become jaded by the brokenness and pain of the world. They encouraged us to push against the culture of selfishness, hate and violence by showing God’s goodness in all that we say and do…together.  They proclaimed to us that we—despite our momentary anger and loathing over Bonkey’s death—were called to continue to be the mercy-filled body of Christ in our daily lives.

Our advisers, our God-bearers of the faith, echoed the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the early Christian church in Rome:


Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without ever thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God…God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you….

The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. …

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other…

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply ….Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone…Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do…Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

I realize that Paul’s letter may sound too idealistic and naïve to 21st century ears. Paul’s instructions don’t seem feasible during a time in which there is great upheaval divisiveness, and bitter contention in our nation and world.

To some, they are nice-feel-good words that you say to cheer people up. It’s not practical advice.

Except that Paul’s teaching about how Christians should live is actually possible to practice and not some pie-in-the sky idea. Paul’s message is firmly grounded in real-life experience. Paul, like many Jews and Gentile followers of Jesus in those days, lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire and its cruel emperor who decreed himself a god among mortals.

The apostle knew that the only way followers of God could survive the ruthless, conquering military machine of the Roman Empire, the great body politic, was by becoming a part of a body that is greater than any corporate entity, nation, kingdom or ruler—

The body of Christ.

 Made up of chosen people who each find their meaning and function from the body that has shaped them with exquisite design and awe-inspiring purpose.

Paul believed fervently that human beings were created by God to be together and live as one body in love and gratitude to the Creator. To detach one’s self from the whole body of Christ served no purpose.

A person could be alive and functioning but essentially that person was dead in their soul because of their detachment, as useless as a cut-off toe. The individual was like a re-animated corpse that aimlessly wanders the countryside looking for opportunities to rip off the parts of living bodies.

AMC's Walking Dead, Season 1 commercial poster, courtesy of Google Images

AMC’s Walking Dead, Season 1 commercial poster, courtesy of Google Images

Many of us can identity with that metaphor of zombies (which is all the rage these days)—an individual or an individualized culture that seeks to devour our uniqueness, turning us into mindless creatures that fit into societal norms regardless of the harm it does to fellow human beings.

That allegory is so relatable to our lives and world that 3-16 million people tune in every week in the Fall to watch a show about an apocalyptic world overrun with zombies called The Walking Dead, which is set in metro Atlanta and currently being filmed an hour away from here in the Peachtree City area.

The reason for the show’s popularity may surprise those who have never watched an episode and suspect its all for the sake of guts and gore or just get twitchy watching gruesome stuff. But The Walking Dead actually offers a much deeper over-arching message about humanity that is loaded with spiritual and societal themes—particularly individualism v. community.

At one point in the story, Rick Grimes, a sheriff’s deputy of the fictional King County, Georgia, gives a group of survivor’s the “from now on it’s my way or the highway speech” if they are planning to outlast the widespread zombie epidemic. The group is reluctant at first but quickly decide that Rick’s leadership is exemplary and his intentions are in the right place.

However, over the course of several episodes, Rick and his friends, who have sought refuge in an abandoned Georgia prison, encounter the residents of a nearby town called Woodbury and its leader, The Governor. A crazy narcissistic dictator, The Governor views himself as the savior of civilization and is willing to resort to the most deplorable measures to achieve that goal.

Courtesy of Google Images,  Photo Collage of still images from AMC's The Walking Dead, Episode 15 "This Sorrowful Life" March, 2013

Photo Collage of still images from AMC’s The Walking Dead, Episode 15 “This Sorrowful Life” March, 2013, Courtesy of Google Images

Because other survivors are always a threat to his quest for supremacy, the Governor threatens to attack Rick’s group at the prison unless they hand over a particular group member to be tortured and killed. Realizing that he has been losing his sanity and was wrong to ever assume sole leadership, Rick gathers his fellow survivors for a meeting. With sorrow in his eyes, a lump in his throat and guilt in his heart, he tells them: [1]

When I met with the Governor, he offered me a deal. He said he would leave us alone if I gave him Michonne. And I was gonna do that to keep us safe. I changed my mind. But now Merle took Michonne to fulfill the deal and Daryl went to stop him and I don’t know if it’s too late. I was wrong not to tell you. And I’m sorry.

What I said last year, that first night, after the farm, it can’t be like that. It can’t. What we do, what we’re willing to do, who we are, it’s not my call. It can’t be. I couldn’t sacrifice one of us for the greater good because we are the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me.

This is life and death. How you live…how you die, it isn’t up to me. I’m not your Governor. We choose to go. We choose to stay. We stick together.

There have been numerous moments in my life and ministry where I thought I was solely in charge, the only person making the tough calls and decisions, which were always absolutely right.

I have become, at times, too well adjusted to a culture that thrives off personal success, self-importance and fierce individualism. I have gone from being self-reliant and independent to arrogant, pretentious, judgmental and hateful in seconds. I have been, as my 5-year-old daughter Katie says, a “butt-butt.”

I have been like the demented Governor who is hungry for power and his own needs to be met at the expense of others or I have been like a crazed zombie who rips into others without thinking about the pain and suffering it causes them.

And all that conceited desire to be absolutely right and satisfied all the time (which were my choices) has always separated me from God and the body of Christ.

That’s why I need others to keep me from being detached from the body of Christ. I need that community of faith—made up of people from every time and place—to keep me connected, to keep me in check, and to remind me of the Creator’s unconditional love and my worth as a member of Christ’s body, God’s kingdom.

Intuitively we know that we are the greater good, not because we are perfect and do everything right but because we are the people of God. We know that each of us is so much better when we are together and not alone. We are so much better when we are “marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body.” We are so much better when we “just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other.”

The most well known saints of our time, the ones who seemingly look as if they did things all on their own, understood the importance of togetherness and community all too well.

Martin Luther King Jr. needed Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Bayard Rustin and John Lewis and thousands of other civil rights activists during the days of segregation. Never could he have fought the battle alone.

Mother Theresa needed the Missionaries of Charity to help her care for the poor, the sick and the dying in Calcutta, India and other impoverished countries for more than 50 years.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu needed the Rainbow Coalition and the support of Christians in the West to lead non-violent protests against apartheid in South Africa.

Even now, we need one another to do ministry in our country and across the ocean. Because Lord knows, not a single one of us can do it alone. Try to teach all the church school classes by yourself or single-handled lead both Middle and High School youth groups or do every part of Family Promise or the Red Cross Blood Drive or Rainbow Village ministries alone and you’ll witness disastrous results.

Foremost, an individual who chooses to go solo or walk away from the body of Christ will likely forget their meaning and their purpose in the first place. Without the body of Christ to remind that person who they are and whom they belong to, the individual could end up leading an unfulfilled life.

The gospel truth is that we need one another to live. We were wired to be nothing less than a community that does God’s work together—loving deeply, blessing our enemies, discovering beauty in others, avoiding revenge and overcoming evil with good.

This we know.

This we trust.

This we believe.

So “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Amen.


[1] AMC’s The Walking Dead, Season 3, Episode 15: “This Sorrowful Life” March 2013

Dust

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Return to the Lord, your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

(Words used during the Imposition of Ashes during  Ash Wednesday prayer services at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church)

Aimee and the Middle School Youth of Pleasant Hill Pres in Asheville City Park, June 2012

Aimee and the Middle School Youth of Pleasant Hill Pres in Asheville City Park, June 2012

On this Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, I can’t help but think about the sudden and shocking death of a beloved servant leader in the Presbyterian Church (USA), respected colleague, and friend, the The Rev. Aimee Wallis Buchanan.

Last summer, the middle school youth at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian in Duluth spent a week with the mission organization that Aimee and her husband Bill founded a few years ago, Asheville Youth Mission in Asheville, NC. On the last day, Aimee took our group on a morning spirituality walk through Asheville. Along the way, we stopped at various spots to read and discuss the story of the paralytic in Luke 5:17-26.  It was one of the most profound and sacred experiences that we’ve ever had, due greatly in part to the love of God that exuded from Aimee’s entire being.

I remember we were walking down one street when Aimee saw a friend, a homeless woman named Raven whom she had helped out on several previous occassions. “Raven!” Aimee shouted enthusiastically and with that trademark smile on her face. “How are you doing?”  Aimee stopped and gave Raven a hug and then listened for a few minutes as Raven told her about the troubles she was having.  Aimee hugged her, told her that she loved her and that she would be praying for her.  A few steps later, we came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk with his head in his hands.  Aimee explained that Ray, who was also homeless, often had severe migraines and health problems that made him despondent at times.  Again, she stopped and spoke to him, leaned down so Ray could hear her and to make sure he wasn’t in need of any emergency medical care and then led us onward. It was clear that Aimee had become immersed in the city of Asheville and the lives of the poor and downtrodden. She was, I thought at the time (and still believe) the Mother Theresa of Asheville.

Water fountain in Asheville, NC

Water fountain in Asheville, NC

Later, toward the end of the walk, we stopped at a beautiful fountain overflowing with water that then drips down and forms a pool around the base.  It was here that Aimee reminded us of who we are (children of God) and to whom we belong (God). She spoke about how baptism is a sign of God’s love for us and how baptismal waters cleans, refreshes and sustains us on our journeys. As a way of joyfully remembering our baptisms and the life we have been given , Aimee then encouraged us to splash one another with the water from the fountain. And with a spark of mischief in her eye, she hinted that the youth might want to make sure they did a good job reminding me of how the waters feel. Needless to say, I was soaked. But also renewed at the same time.

You see, there had been some tension in the group that week, especially between me and some of the 6th grade girls (typical you’re not listening and acting immature v. you’re being over-bearing jerk with the rules). Aimee knew instinctively that frustrations and anger and tiredness and stress had dried us up and that we needed to play in the refreshing waters of life.

I find it more than ironic (quite providential actually) that Aimee’s legacy of AYM is having to begin without her during this Lenten season and beyond.  Although Asheville is named after an 18th century North Carolina governor, the homophone is significant.  Aimee lived and breathed the meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent in a town of Ash (which is actually representative of all towns and places) where the broken are waiting to be mended and healed, to be treated with dignity and respect, to be marked with the unconditional mercy of Christ forever.

Thanks be to God for the mark of Christ and the saints like Aimee who came from dust and return to dust, having sprinkled love and grace on God’s people forever.

Like those who have gone before walking the road of Christ, on this day you also wear the mark of the cross. As you wear the mark this day, may you be mindful of ways in which the cross has already marked your life. At the end of the day, when you wash this mark of grit and ash from your body, may you remember the one whose love washes over us.

(Blessing used at end of Ash Wednesday prayer services at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church)

PLGRM’s Promise

PLGRM, Volume 1-Issue 1, Summer 2012, PLGRM Media LLC. Cover art “Reversal” by Ryan Kemp-Pappan

If you’re in full time paid ministry (or even if you are a volunteer, regular church goer, seeker”, member of another religious tradition or non-believer in spiritual matters) and you haven’t heard of PLGRM: Wake Up/Discern/Imagine/Do, then stop what you are doing and order the first issue today! This is a terrific seasonal magazine and resource for those working in the Church who desire fresh ideas and approaches to being a Jesus follower in the 21st century. Landon Whitsitt, the Publisher & Editor-In-Chief, explains it all here

If you’re not sure about plopping down $15 for the first issue, you can download a digital copy for free. I did that just to get a preview and was so taken aback, I had to throw some money in to support. Plus, I’m a sucker for holding something tangible like a new magazine in my hands…no matter how cool it is to read articles on an iPad/iPhone/Kindle, etc. 

I don’t want to give any spoilers except to say that the first issue fulfills the magazine’s mission statement and then some. It’s a bold, honest, and imaginative publication that stirs up a lot of conversation, discernment and ideas for blending old traditions with the new and in many cases, starting completely over or going back to the roots of scripture to grow something never before seen.  I’m only halfway through the inaugural issue, entitled “The Great Reversal,” and the questions are starting to swirl loudly in my heart and brain, like the excerpt from Diana Butler Bass’s recent book (which sparked the idea for this magazine) Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening ; the conversation the PLGRM editors have about DBB’s book and idea; “Say In Your Heart” an article about belief and doubt by Two Friars and a Fool, and “Trauma and Sovereignty” an essay written by Jenny Sue about the trauma caused by a loved one’s addiction. I look forward to reading the rest of the issue, especially an interview with friend and seminary classmate Rachel Parsons-Wells and an essay on urban ministry by a new acquaintance and preacher extraordinaire Theresa Cho. 

In addition to excellent content by a variety of voices and views, PLGRM is simply a beautiful magazine, both in its binding and design as well as it’s art and photos.  This is a mustard seed that has the potential to grow far and wide in the New Spiritual Awakening that is occurring in the 21st Century. And the cover is adorned with a colorful and mesmerizing picture of a Luche Libre wrestler in front of a church! How awesome is that?!?! 

So join the PLGRM journey. You’ll be glad you did. Promise.

 

 

Open Source Church

In August, I had the privilege of leading a couple of workshops for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley’s  Christian Education conference called the Main Event, seeing old friends and making a new one in keynote speaker/preacher Landon Whitsitt. Landon is the Vice Moderator for the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA), and co-host of God Complex Radio with Carol Howard Merritt who shared thoughts about the Peace of Christ on this blog in 2008.

Landon is a great guy and another important voice in the denomination and the Church Universal and after hearing him speak at the Main Event and talking to him afterwards, I grabbed a copy of his book Open Source Church: Making Room For The Wisdom of All (Alban Institute Publishers, April 2011), which I finally finished yesterday (The latter is not indicative of the quality of the book. I just take a long time to read…usually because I spend my spare time on the computer or watching TV).

Open Source Church is a remarkable book that offers a model for being/doing Church–one that addresses problems of membership decline and leadership burnout and can help congregations grow and flourish as the body of Christ in the 21st century.

The model itself isn’t new per se but the lens in which Landon looks at the Church’s call in the world or the metaphor he uses to show how the Church can have a meaningful impact  is brilliant and exciting!

To put it simply, Landon draws from open source technology practices to dream of ways in which the Church can be more faithful to God, its mission and its members who are called to embody Christ’s teachings in their daily lives. Here is a snippet of the book’s concept, which Landon shared with folks at the Main Event:

Great stuff, huh? Here are some other powerful insights from Landon’s book that also grabbed the attention of my mind and heart as a pastor:

Being an open source church is about making sure people can do the things they think they need to do to make church work for them. Too often churches and their organizational structures are so firmly established that it is virtually impossible for someone to come to church and begin contributing to its life in a meaningful way. These new people feel like they are stuck at every turn…

What would you do if every time you suggested a new idea, you were told that the church had either already tried that or that it wouldn’t work here or that we are not the kind of church that would do something like that? I can tell you what I would do. I would go find another church. Most people want to have a church experience that is more open that it is closed. They want to be a part of a group that will accept their contributions, not force them to merely be a cog in another machine. By and large, being treated like a cog is what people deal with everyday at their jobs. People don’t get to be creative…

Why can’t the church be the one place in someone’s life where it is not only acceptable but also expected that they act creatively and contribute significantly to the life of the church community and the community at large? If we Christians understand God to be the ‘creator of heaven and earth,’ and if we believe we are all made in God’s image, then why can’t the church be the place where we each find permission to operate out of that understanding of belief. I believe this is precisely the kind of place the church should be…

Some even are or fairly close to being the type of church Landon imagines. And many more churches can be a place where room is truly made for the wisdom of all if we as Christians can allow ourselves to be guided by one basic principle which Landon expresses in the video above and in the book: To proclaim Jesus Chris is to proclaim freedom and to proclaim freedom is to proclaim Jesus Christ.

The unfortunate reality, however, says Landon, is that much of life (especially the church) is guided not by freedom but by a need to control–a need for power…

A lot of churches see congregational leaders as the gatekeepers of the church’s mission rather than the unleashers of it. Members of congregations have a lot of ideas about how to be the people of God, and many times it seems that congregational leaders see their job as making sure no one “goes off the deep end.” A culture of micromanagement will stifle any mission or ministry that a member might try to start.

Not only do churches see congregational leaders as gatekeepers, pastors do too…especially me! Granted, I don’t believe that my sole purpose is the gatekeeper in the current church where I serve (which incidentally follows much of the open source model albeit unintentionally) but there are days where I feel that I’ve spent most of my time making sure some folks don’t go off the deep end.

Sometimes its necessary but other times  I wonder if I’ve over-functioned in the role or remained in “gatekeeper” mode too long at moments, stifling the creativity of those who truly aren’t going off the deep end. Or maybe because the one or two going-off-the-deep-enders zaps so much energy, I choose to do more things myself, thus leading me quicker to burn-out. Worse, it excludes others from sharing in the work of ministry.

I will continue to ponder the meaning Open Source Church has for me as a pastor, the church where I’m serving and the Church in the weeks and months ahead.

At any rate, Landon’s book is a convicting, astute and heartfelt must-read for church leaders and congregations. Once you do read it (or if you have already), let me know how you might share this book in your church, i.e. with a Sunday School class or Session/church board; as a mid-week small group study series or Christian Education workshop; with a selection of folks who are more technological minded and active users of Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, YouTube, etc.

Or just share your thoughts about Landon’s premise. I’m open to more conversation.

Back To The Start: The Gospel According to Chipotle and Moneyball

A couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth and I saw the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt as the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a winning baseball club, under serious financial straits, by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.

The film is terrific and deservedly joins other greats in the Baseball Movie Hall of Fame, like The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Sandlot, Major League, A League of Their Own and *61.  Moneyball also focuses on themes that can easily be applied to the Church, i.e. how to let go of the old ways of ministry that no longer work and embrace new perspectives on doing ministry; how to value the person and their gifts instead of treating members like giving units; how to be innovative, creative, risky and bold instead of being stuck, resistant, unwilling to compromise or move forward, etc.

Essentially, Moneyball is a great lesson on how to go “back to the start,” how to get off the busy wheel and return to the simple love and joy of being, living and playing..in God’s creation. Even more striking than the film itself is that it is preceded (at least at the showing we attended) aptly enough by this new commercial from Chipotle called “Back to The Start.”

The incredible animation and Willie Nelson’s beautiful cover of the Coldplay song “The Scientist” (which features the line “I’m going back to the start”) pulls you into the story of this farmer who realizes that his efforts to streamline his farm to keep up with a super fast and demanding consumer society is causing more problems instead of making life easier. The commercial is a reminder of how we as individuals and as the Church need to step back and revaluate our fast paced streamlined lives so that we can slow down and focus more on being in loving and nurturing relationships with God, creation and one another.

As the late Henri Nouwen so eloquently put it:

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”  

Caring for the Poor

Children at The Good Shepherd School in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Note: My column for the September 22 issue of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church’s newsletter “The Chosen Word”

“An individual has not started living until he or she can rise above the narrow confines of his or her individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“The guarantee of one’s prayer is not saying a lot of words. The guarantee of one’s petition is very easy to know: how do I treat the poor? Because that is where God is.”

—Archbishop Oscar Romero

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

–Proverbs 29:7

 

In a few days, a 16-member mission team from PHPC, including myself, will be preparing to leave (if not already en route) for Port-Au-Prince, Haiti for a week from September 24 to October 1. During that time, we will be

  • assisting the folks at The Apparent Project who empower women and families to create a sustainable living through jewelry-making, book-binding and sewing, and…
  • visiting the Sisters of Charity orphanage to feed infants, play with toddlers and deliver more than 200 “lovie” blankets.

Playing with the children at Sisters of Charity Orphanage in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

One of the mission team members, Meg, has created a blog for the congregation to keep up with our daily activities and experiences in Haiti as well as witness how God is presently at work among people who continue to recover from the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and decades of injustice and oppression.

Even though most of the congregation is not physically going to Haiti, all of you are part of the journey and the mission work that God is calling us to do in the country.  Some of you have made “lovie” blankets while others have donated funds, school and craft supplies, soccer balls and cereal boxes. Several volunteered to be prayer partners for individual team members and many more of you will pray for the team during the week.  The mission team and I are grateful for your loving support and the ways in which you help us prepare for the trip and also welcome us back with comforting embraces and listening hearts.

Often, colleagues and people in the community ask me to tell them about PHPC, I always and without hesitation, joyfully share the church’s passion for serving those in need. I am proud to be an associate pastor of a faith community that takes seriously God’s call to care for the hungry, poor and oppressed in the Atlanta area, in the U.S. and abroad.  It is truly a blessing to work alongside you to care for others whom society has mistreated and forgotten.  I look forward to the ministry we will continue to do together to help make God’s loving and mercy-filled kingdom a reality in this world.