Friday, February 17, 2017

How's it working for you?

When I arrived at my current church appointment as pastor, I "inherited" a wonderful staff.  Our Operations Director was a certified management and pastoral coach, not to mention a certified spiritual director.  In the process of coaching and listening to people, she is fond of asking, "And how's that working for you?"  In other words, is the result of what you are doing what you want?

The honest answer, for many . . . is NO.

I approach my 60th birthday in a few months, and I find myself asking questions in various ways, and in various situations:

-Is the way I lead a church working?

-Is how I preach working?

-Is the vision/mission/purpose I've cast working?

-Is my current personal devotional practices and prayer life working for me?

The answers to these questions has led me to understand that my prefered way to
 pastor a church is to click on the "cruise control." Nice and steady, with no bumps along the way.  That's not what ministry or being the church is about.

So I've made some changes.  I have completly changed how I preach (not an easy thing to do at 59 years of age.)  I have embraced a new way of doing devotions that is centered in contemplative prayer and meditation (something else that is not an easy thing to begin to do at 59).  I've earnestly begun to broaden my understanding, and importance, of personal spiritual formation.

It's been a challenge . . . but the process is starting to bear a little fruit along the way.  Younger people seem to respond to my preaching.  I'm being more honest.  I've also quit assuming that the people listening to me on Sunday mornings have any kind of basic understanding of the Bible and Christian faith.  My daily devotions have challenged me to my soul.  I'm not using safe devotional resources anymore. The idea that I am personally responsible for my personal spiritual formation was a foreign idea to me.  Not any more. I feel like a rank amateur.  I feel like I'm starting over.  And, I'm wondering why no one taught me any of this in years past.

I've also been asking question in regards to the church I pastor . . .

-How's the way we do worship been working for us?

-How's the way we are organized working for us?

-How's the way we see and accept others working for us?

-How is our understanding of what a church is all about working for us?

The honest, and at times difficult answers to these questions has led me to believe that the way many of us "do" church is no longer working.

Consider . . .

-Our stance that we are the one's who have to be right, and everybody else has to be wrong, has aliented the Gen X and Millennial generations.

-Our focus on "being" the church ("proper/acceptable" ideology, structure, and polity) instead of helping people experience the church as the body of loving, compassionate and caring Christ.

-Our neglect in failing to reach out to "love our neighbor" by hiding in our fancy church buildings that many congregations can no longer afford, and where we spend more time entertaining the people than we do training up disciples of Jesus Christ.

-Our refusal to  truly get to know, let alone acknowledge the existence of the "least of these" out of fears and assumptions that we will be tainted as a result.

-Our refusal to listen to the Gen X and Millennial generations, who were brought up completely different that we were, and as a result have become "Dones" who refuse to participate in organized churches.  They don't see the church as the body of Christ, they see the church as an institution that hurts people.

-Our being seen by so many as "mad" at everyone, instead of truly loving and caring of all people.  Too many "Christians" believe that being Christian gives them permission to look down their noses at other people, instead of getting dirty trying to help them.

We are at a true crossroads!

The way we do church is no longer working.

It's past time for us to realize that church is ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS and not about correct or accepted ideology.

Its time for us to confess that we were wrong, and that we will make amends.

It's time for people who claim to be Christian, but refuse to follow Jesus, to change the path they are walking on, or get out of the way.

How do we do this?  

Perhaps we need to learn again, or for the first time, how to fall in love with Jesus.  The Gen X'ers and Millennals are not abandoning Jesus at all.  They are embracing Jesus.  What they are abandoning is the church, because the church has not taught them about the Jesus that they read about in the New Testament.  They are falling in love with Jesus.

Are we truly in love with Jesus, so much so that we will follow him wherever he leads the church?  It's time for a good hard, honest, open look in the mirror.

Perhaps . . . learning how to fall in love with Jesus, and being open to confessing that we have been wrong . . . is the place to start.   It's where I am right now as an almost 60 year old pastor with over 25 years of experience.

It's painful . . . but the process is leading to a new future.  To get there, I've got to get a new map, and learn how to honestly and truthfully read it.

And in the process . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A change in course that came out of a regret . . .

A past regret:  Choosing sides for the WRONG reason.

Earlier in my life, my personal self-esteem wasn't in a good place.  My personality style was one that needed lot's of affirmation.  The more I thought people liked or needed me . . . the greater my own sense of self-worth.  I craved acceptance so I could feel good about myself.  So, I started looking for a groupt that would accept me.

Perhaps that's why I was drawn to team sports and work activities.  If I could succeed at carrying my load, then affirmation would surely follow.

What ended up happening was this . . . I wasn't willing, or was too afraid, to stand up on my own two feet, or have an original thought that I was prepared to defend.  I wasn't willing, nor did I want, to deal with possible rejection.

One day I decided I couldn't live like this anymore. So, I became a police officer in a large Texas community. I quickly grew up, real quick.  Despite my attempts at self-sabotage in the process (out of fear of failure), I surprised myself and finished a 4-month police academy.  I even graduated 3rd in my class.  I was elected as one of the class leaders.  It was a time to "put-up and shut-up."  I then worked as a police officer for almost 7 years.  It was my boot camp.  I guess I needed a boot camp.

My "call" to return to the ministry was there the entire time.  I'm not sure it was God's  call as much as it was my hearing my maternal grandfather's voice in my head . . . he hoped someone in the family would follow his footsteps into ministry.   We thought, talked and prayed about it for several years.  My wife gave her support. I called the District Superintendent.  I began the District ministry candidate certification process . . . and suddenly I had a two-point charge way out in the country.

I grew up at the beach near South Padre Island in the Rio Grande Valley.  I was a surfer kid.  I didnt know a heifer from a yearling from a cow or a bull or a steer.

Suddenly . . . I felt like I was on a deserted island.  I felt alone, ill-prepared for the task, and frozen in place.  Even though my theological training was just starting, I was expected to know what to do.  I was expected to know how to deal with ranchers and cowboys and country folk. I was expected to know how to "straighten out a church."  I think I was sent to that church because I had been a cop.

In the ministry . . . we call feelings of lonliness and isolation "normal."   I didn't know that then, but I know it now.

I didn't know many of the pastors in our District. They were tight-knit, and I was the new guy from the city who had been a cop.  "Let him prove himself," they said.

The old feelings of self-doubt started to creep back into my life.  I was scared, and that feeling can help you feel lonely.  I began to yearn for contact with other people.  I began to want acceptance.  Some say that feeling this way is a sign of immaturity.  I don't believe that to be the case.   My personality style craves companionship.  I'm an extrovert.  But being an extrovert is not a good thing to be when you are the only pastor on staff.  Actually,  I was the only paid staff at my first church.  So, off I went looking for a group who would like me, accept me, and help me.

In my search for acceptance, I was approached by pastors that supported the Good News Movement.  I liked them just fine, but I didn't believe like they did.  I didn't feel their issues were anything close to the passions I had.  But I chose to be part of that group.  Why?  It felt good to belong, good to have people to talk to, good to have people who would email you.  It was good to be able to call another pastor and ask, "How would you deal with this situation?" Looking back on it now, I didn't think through the process very well.  Over time, I came to regret that.  When I became "one of them," I got labelled.  That's a risk when you associate with any group.

I would claim and defend before anyone that I am "orthodox" in my faith. People who know me and have worked with me understand that I am not conservative in my personal practice of religion or politics.  But I became labelled as a religious conservative.  Now to be fair, part of that was due to my later serving as a senior-associate pastor of a large church in central Texas, whose pastor was a known conservative leader in the Annual Conference.  I was good at helping run a church, and really good at pastoral care.  That pastor and I didn't agree on much theologically, but we could do ministry together.

I still remember the comments back then. "Oh you work with (insert name here). We don't need someone with your theological views to help us."  I can understand that, but I had never shared my theological views with them in the first place. They never asked.  They assumed.

Several times I contacted people with an offer to help with projects or ministries only to be told, "We understood that you were conservative. We thought you probably wouldn't want to help or serve."  

Several years later, thanks to life experience, maturity, and identifying good counselors where ever I was, I became much more secure in myself, in my personal identity as a child of God.  I began a plan on howto step away from what I had been labeled.  I started being who I was.  The process was hard, but it was deliberate and focused.  My message was this,  "I believe in God's love for the WHOLE world.  I do not believe in using the Bible to to label, criticize or subject people into sub-standard or sub-human classifications."  To tell you the truth, people were surprised.  "Why the change?  What happened? What caused you to change your view of things?"

Nothing changed. I honestly never changed my mind.  I just finally made a decision to openly live what I have believed all along.  I grew up.  I matured.  I became OK with being me.  Acdeptance by others was something I no longer needed.  I alone am responsible for my happiness.

I guess I haven't choosen sides in almost 20 years.  I will not choose one group over another.  My vote is for "everybody."  I know it is not often possible, but I first look for the win-win in every situation.  I look for the what I call the "Jesus Way."  

That all being said, I've been approached by groups these past years who have asked for my support for their theological causes.  "We have to defeat this threat against Christianity!  We have to defeat this attack on the church" is what they often say, in one form or another, hoping that doing so will get them my vote or support.  If the process includes attacking people without the benefit of constructive discourse between all parties involved . . . count me OUT!

The truth is . . . "causes" are often nothing more than a desire/need that everyone has to believe and think the same.  Their personal / group happiness actually depends on the actions of someone else.  My God is a lot, lot, lot bigger than that.

My feelings about this are clear . . . people who can't be happy unless other people act a certain way . . . are nothing more than cowards at heart.  That;s my humble opinion.  I would maintain that people who do this have very narrowly read the Bible looking for support of their feelings.  I would also suggest that they do not own their feelings at all, but have accepted the opinions of others as a way of gaining acceptance.

Been there.  Done that.

I think that is called . . . manipulation.  Not sure Jesus used that as a leadership technique.

My decision . . . I will not choose sides if it means I have to say someone else is wrong, or affirm that someone else is right in order to be accepted by someone.  I will not choose sides if it means that people are demeaned as human beings and as children of God as a result so that someone else can "feel" better.  Their happiness IS NOT my responsibility.

Nope, I won't do it.  I won't choose sides.  My effort instead will be focused on purposefully choosing to see everyone as a fellow child of God.  Everyone.   For God so loved the world.

I have lived with a tinge of regret about choosing sides in the past, and about why I did so.  Over time I have revisted those decisions, and I have learned from them as a result.  I've come to understand that I have grown as a person of faith and as a pastor.  Yes, I've changed, but in ways that have brought spiritual health.  I think I'm on the road now that does the most good for everyone.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Prayer Is Practicing Heaven Now . . .

If I have faced one constant challenge in my ministry, and in my own pesonal spiritual formation, it relates to prayer.

Somewhere back in my childhood and teen years, I came to understand that prayer was mostly about getting what I wanted, or a way to please God, in effect, keeping God off my back. 

For the past 10 years, I've been trying to slowly understand prayer as something much more than that, something far more rich and valuable than to be treated as a tool to use to manipulate God into doing what I wanted.

If some of this clicks with you . . . then I recommend Fr. Richard Rohr's daily devotion today (2/7/17).  I had to read it several times.  I was struck deeply when he writes . . . "Prayer is much more practicing heaven now."  

The Center for Action and Contemplation website is www.cac.org.  You can also click on this link to get to the daily devotional page.   If read this after today, just search for his devotional on 2/7/17.

And . . . 

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, February 6, 2017

Everyday Office EDC . . .


One thing I have learned about effective and efficient ministry (give that phrase some thought, Ok?) is that I am more mobile now than ever before. I have an nice office at church and a small study at my house.  I actually spend a lot of time reading and writing in restaurants, especialy Sonic Drive-Ins, where I go every morning to get my two ice teas . . . needed ingredients for starting my day correctly.  Hey, you probably have your prefered personal choice of caffiene delievery vehicle.  Mine is ice tea since I can't stand coffee, and I stopped drinking all soft drinks last year.

Recently, I added a pen and pencil roll to my shoulder bag as part of my pastoral EDC.   It will be in my bag, or rolled out on my desk at work or home.  This has been an effort in down-sizing, but these are the few things I use on a regular daily basis:

-Post-It Note file tabs
-6" Empire Stainless Steel Ruler (I Bullet Journal . . . always need a ruler.)
-4 Staedtler #2 HB pencils (soon to be replaced with Blackwing 602 Firm pencils in the coming week if I can justify the trip into downtown Fort Worth. 
-2 Pentel 0.7 Mechanical Pencils (0.7 lead will not easily tear Bible paper.)
-3 Sharpie Smear Guard Highlighters.
-3 Zebra F-701 Ball Point Pens (I keep on in my shirt pocket).
-1 Bic 4-color Ball Point Pen (for use when reading books)
-1 Blue Waterman Pen (with a G-2 .38 super fine ink gel cartridge).
-1 Black Sharpie
-1 Black inkd Stainless Steel Sharpie
-1 Antique 24" folding wood ruler (don't really use it . . . but it's so neat!)

Yes . . . I have DOWNSIZED!  I recently donated a box of pens and pencils to the church supply room.  Why do I have so much stuff in boxes in drawers or on shelves or in closets?  I may be an office supply addict. I'm trying to come clean. 

By the way . . . I am learning that if I spend most of the day in my office at the church, I usually visit or talk with fewer people.  If I go work at a table in a local restaurant, especially in between meal rush times, I will always end up seeing and talking to more people . . . especially if I Facebook my location.

My pesonal opinion . . . churches should hold more meetings in public places.  It is a good thing to let people see how we work, do business and make decisions. 

And . . .

God's graces still amazes me . . . ><>

It's about time . . . new blog content and format.

Today finally begins my new attempt in changing the format of my blog, in part moving away from it being mostly music based, to becoming something that helps me share the difficulty in being a Baby-Boomer pastor serving in a Post-Modern world.   It's a balancing act.

I will turn 60 this coming May, and there are only about 3 of my pastoral licensing classmates left.  Several have died.  Many have moved on to other professional endeavors.  I'm still doing what I've come to love doing, serving a local United Methodist congregration as their pastor; loving them, caring for them, teaching them, and in turn being loved, cared for and taught by them.  I've been blessed along the way . . . and the way has often taken its toll on my health and my belief in the institutional church.

Some things about me that I should probably include here are:

-I do not now, nor have ever believed that religion of any sorts should be focused on maintaining, supporting, or believing any one theological ideology over another.

-I choose to believe that religion has everything to do with our helping people learn how to come into their own personal relationship with God\Christ/Spirit.

-I choose to believe in the power of God's love, and love in general.  After all, I'm and old folk-singer.

-I choose to believe that life is ALL ABOUT relationships with those around you!   That goes without saying that I choose to believe that being a good neighbor to everyone is very important. 

-I choose to live a life free of anger.  I I choose to believe that people don't want to listen to the follower/disciple of an angry god or savior.  I sure don't.

-I choose to believe that there is ALWAYS . . . ALWAYS . . . ALWAYS Hope!

-My choice of Christian and life beliefs are based on what Fr. Richard Rohr calls the "theological tripod" . . . Scripture, Tradition and Experience/Reason (Experience is the heavier of the two by far.) 

And . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>