Thursday, June 30, 2011

Radical Hospitality...

"Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (Romans 15:7)

That's the opening scripture reference in Bishop Robert Schnase's book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations." I don't really think it's a coincidence that he began the list of five with "Radical Hospitality."

I'm going to go ahead and own something up front today. This is mostly rant. I own that. Not necessarily a rant against the Church universal, or any particular congregation. In fact, this really doesn't have anything to do with the church at all. Hmm, I didn't realize that.

The other day, my wife was on a mission. We are moving into a new parsonage, well, new to us, and the church told us to go ahead and pick out bedroom furniture and give them the bill. So, Steph was shopping. She spent all day one day last week going from one furniture store to another looking at furniture, texting me pictures and prices, and trying to find furniture that would be durable, and comfortable, without blowing the budget.

Monday she asked me to go back and look at one set in particular at a store here in Paducah that shall remain unnamed...for now. It had been a long day. I was tired. I was hot. I was dressed in shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and flip flops, which is pretty much summer attire for me, but was evidently sub-standard for this particular store.

The plan was to just go in, look at this set of furniture from a construction standpoint, and then talk to the church about it, but the sentry at the door was quick to her best snooty accent..."Is there anything I can help you with?" When we told her that we were looking at a set we had found the other day, the chase was on. "Well, was there someone helping you? If so, I need to know who it was." The faster we walked, the harder she chased.

Now, I understand a little about business, not a lot, but a little. And in her defense she may have actually been trying to extend customer service, but the way she came across was more like, "I have to keep an eye on these folks. Flip flops? Indeed."

The conversation may have lasted 30 seconds, but I had all I wanted, so I tapped Steph on the shoulder, told her I was done, and walked out.

See, welcome, or hospitality, or whatever you want to call it is not determined by intention, but rather by perception. Does the person walking through the door FEEL welcome? It's not enough to INTEND to make them feel welcome.

Ok, so maybe this can be a tiny, little bit about the church. We intend to make folks feel welcome, but do they? I'm not sure that I've ever stopped and asked a first time visitor to any church I have served, "Did you FEEL welcome the minute you walked through the door?" Maybe we should.

So, thank you unnamed furniture store for reminding me once again how important it is to make sure everyone who walks through our doors knows without a doubt that they are welcome.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saved by the Irish...

Methinks I may have poked a hornet's nest with a stick last night. I didn't mean to, honestly, but a friend of mine sent me a message about something he and I both posted on our Facebook pages letting me know that I was going to start something by putting that out there...he was right.

I love putting things out that make folks think. Yeah, sure, sometimes when folks start thinking they get upset, and the reasons are innumerable. (I can use big words every now and then). But, if our way of thinking is never challenged, if we're never stretched beyond where we are now, can we ever really grow?

...and...I have grown a little since last night.

I'm reading a book now called "The Celtic Way of Evangelism," and evidently, the Irish actually helped preserve the church as we know it today. Who'd have thunk it? Long story short, evidently Celtic Christianity is responsible for re-evangelizing Europe, helping kick off the Renaissance, and helping usher in the Holy Roman Empire...all great things. One would think that everyone would be tickled that folks were doing those things, and most everyone was...except the Roman Church. Evidently, they were quick to criticize the Celtic evangelical movement.

Here's what hit me this morning.

The arcticle I posted last night that might have been the stick in the hornets' nest was about why there are no young people/kids/youth in most of our churches. The reason the author of this article gave was because we, as parents, have allowed everything else to become more important than corporate worship, which I still agree with. We have. Baseball games, swim meets, soccer, name it. Our kids are always "on the go" on Sunday morning, or at least it seems that way.

My daughter plays volleyball on her high school team, but we are blessed to have a volleyball coach, who is also a Christian. I told him that my daughter would not be there for practice or games on Sunday morning and he didn't kick her off of the team. That, I realize, is the exception and not the norm.'s the "Aha!"

Which is more important...gathering in a corporate body to worship the Triune God as a group? Or...gathering in a corporate body to worship the Triune God as a group on Sunday morning?

The Celts were successful because they were willing to do things a little differently than the way Rome had been doing things. Sooooo, and this is just me thinking out loud...if we are concerned about folks taking their kids to soccer or volleyball or baseball or basketball on Sunday morning...and not being in worship on Sunday we have to be married to the idea of Sunday morning worship as the only/primary worship experience we offer?

If Sunday is when they practice, or have tournaments, or whatever, would we be selling out to the culture around us if we offered worship on Saturday night for those folks who couldn't/wouldn't be there on Sunday morning? And which is more important, butting heads with the culture around us over something like this, or presenting an opportunity to bring a little Jesus into folks' lives?

Since entering the ministry, I have begun to see which swords I'm willing to fall on, which hills I'm willing to die on, and this morning I realized that this just isn't one of them. It is a real's a great article, and I still agree with what the guy said, but if this is the biggest problem the church is facing, this one's an easy fix. We can solve this one, no problem, which will allow us to spend the time we would have spent arguing over why sports are more important that worship doing things that really make a difference.

So, thank you George Hunter III for letting me see that we were actually saved by the Irish. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Saturday evening worship event to start praying over and planning out. Rome might not like it, but hey, I'm not really concerned about what Rome thinks.

Here's a link to the article if you'd like to read it...


Monday, June 13, 2011

Weigh Anchor...

Well, it's just about time. Most of the cargo has been moved and the crew is preparing to set sail; the hatches are battened just in case; the anchor's aweigh, the bow's pointed to the horizon, and we're just lying ahull.

Ok, I'm not really a pirate...or a sailor. In fact, I don't think I've ever been on a sailboat. I just like the way they talk, but we are getting ready to sail. Well, not really sail, but head to a new port. Well, not really a port, but a new locale.

A week from Tuesday I'll take my place at the ship's wheel of Grace Church in LaCenter. I'm excited about the future and look forward to the challenges ministry there will bring. At the same time, it was a very tough decision to leave Hickman Harbor. (Hickman really does have a harbor, so that wasn't just a cheap shot at interjecting another nautical term) It's been a great run. We've built relationships and have made great friends.

So, not being one to engage in long good-byes, I want to take a moment to let my crews at Hickman First and Beech Grove know that you will always hold a place in our hearts. Together, we have laughed and cried, agreed and disagreed, made mistakes and offered forgiveness...and I give God thanks for allowing our paths to cross. I have every confidence that your new captain will follow the headings given to her by God and lead you to where God would have you sail.

My prayers go with you all, and until we are moored in that safest of harbors, God bless you and keep you.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stand By Me...

Confession in advance, this is part rant, but mostly thanksgiving.

See, there's something that's been bothering me for over 9 months and I am ready to put it to bed. I was told by someone in the church I serve that my flock thought I was unapproachable, aloof, and uncaring. Now, I'm a pretty tough guy, but I'll admit that really bothered me. (Oh boo hoo, Jamie. Grow up.) Folks have been telling me for years that, as pastors go, I'm very approachable, and I guess that's why this got to me. I never let on that it bothered me, but it did, and I know that if you're going to be in the field that I have given my life to you have... have... have to have tough skin, so I just kept on trucking. (Cue the drill sergeant telling me, "Well why don't we just mosey on over to namby pamby land and get you some self confidence! You jack wagon!") Having heard that folks saw me that way left me struggling with the "Am I really making a difference?" question, and really made me question everything I had been doing for the past 11 years.

So the rant is... Before you say something critical to someone else, think about how it's going to affect that person. Is it something that really needs to be said? Is it going to make things better or worse? If you were the other, would you want someone to say that to you? Words are cheap, but not always helpful. Now I realize that I have a nasty tendency to put too much weight on others' opinions and I'm not going to do that anymore. The rant is now over...on to the thanksgiving.

Monday night saw the culmination of an eleven year journey for me. I have to say, I'm actually kind of surprised I stuck with it. Steph says I'm classic ADD, and there have been times in my life when Ron White's "That boy's gotta whole lot of quit in him" might have been spoken about me. It's not always been easy, but then, nothing worth giving yourself to is. There were long days and short nights while I was working on my bachelors's degree and Master's of Divinity degree... peer group meetings... theological statements to write and rewrite... interviews... questions to struggle with... psych evaluations... and the list goes on and on. Monday night, that part of my journey came to an end. I was ordained as an elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church...finally.

I would love to thank each person who has helped me on this journey individually, but I'm afraid I would leave someone out. There have been folks who have encouraged me along the way, who have sent me notes or emails telling me that they knew I had been called by God and had what it took to be a pastor in the UMC. There have been folks who stood by me when I became frustrated and questioned whether or not I should continue. ...and there have been folks who challenged me (cough..cough..Dave :D ), which only made me look deeper into who I was and what I believed, making me a much better pastor.

Monday night was the ordination service, and it really is a beautiful service. Bishop Wills pulled a chair down to the front of the stage in front of the ordinands, and though he was preaching in front of hundreds, seemed to have written his message just for us. Then, as we were brought on stage for our ordination, friends and family were asked to stand as a sign of support and love. Over the years I have stood up for several while they were ordained...this year it was my turn.

After the service, Steph came up to me and the first thing she said was, "Were you able to turn around and see all of the people standing up for you? It had to be nearly 3/4 of the people in the room." That was when I realized that I am loved...not unapproachable, aloof, and uncaring.

This is just me, but I think we are way too quick to criticize, and not nearly quick enough to stand up for, or with, someone. It takes guts, sometimes, to stand up for someone else.

So, to all of the people who stood for me Monday night, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. To the people who have stood by me during this process, thank you. To the people who have been critical along the way, thank you also, because you have caused me to look deeper within myself and I am a stronger person and better pastor for it.

Now, as a sign of that thanks, I'm going to vow to do everything I can to stand with you as we stand for the other. After all, that is what we are called to do.

Here's a link to a video that Bishop Wills shared during Conference this year:

(You may have to copy and paste the link into your browser)