Thursday, February 15, 2007

Our Mission Statement -- a Reflection

What I liked about the Lyle Schaller text, The Very Large Church, was some clear ideas about growing the church. It was his analysis of “here are some churches that grew and here is why I think they grew” that I liked.

Maybe because it came at a time that I was also dabbling with Thomas Oden’s Turning Around the Mainlines that those two texts in conversation seemed to force me to review the idea of "what is it I believe".

With the clear understanding that Schaller has more than clarity of beliefs on his inventory of things that cause a church to grown, both Oden and Schaller seem to have some measure of orthodoxy in mind. At least in clarifying what it is we believe – within limits is how I would see it.

I do think part of Methodist Orthodoxy is in the questions. I like living in the questions. I like the lack of clarity at times, but I do think we need to have a clear set of principles we are operating from in order to be able to cast our vision for the congregation. My lack of knowing precisely what is true at all times may drive my congregation a little to distraction … but it makes me saner at the end of the day.

I wonder if my military experience here isn't useful? I would say that our ability to digest large amounts of information and latch onto what was important was important, but it wasn't the key principle. I think it was more about how we understood the mission and our ability to communicate that mission objective to others. My Lincoln as Psalmist may reflect some on that, I need to look.

Clarity of guidance, delegation of authority, and the ability to expect and lead in a coordinated fashion towards the common goal are all things that relate to pastoral leadership that I think I draw from the military. My days at Fort Benning, the question always ways: What is the mission? You needed to be able to articulate a mission in a brief, understandable mission statement. I think that is one of the most important elements that came to me (my wife is retired military as well) through my years in the military. Define the mission – apply resources to that mission – measure the progress against that mission through the means at hand. The mission is accomplished by a team (“there is no me in Army, there is no I in team”). There is this tension between charismatic powerful leadership and subordinating your self to the greater good (glory?) of the team (the Body of Christ?).

Verbs matter when you listen to the commander. I see the overall church's mission statement very much in the verbs of Matthew 28:19-20. Go – make – baptize – teach. I certainly wouldn’t want to be pedantic about the order of the verbs – but our mission statement is found in those verbs and I wonder if it isn’t in that order – go (leave where you are) – make (use our skills in order to help the master potter with the clay that are others) – baptize (symbolically ask them to die to this world and come to live in a world that has a new focus) – and we provide that focus – by teaching.

I also noticed that the last verb in Matthew 28:19-20 was left out – teach what, to obey! I wonder if there was a reason I left that out? Obey what? In "red letters": Obey all that I have taught you!.

And I see those as supported by a frame work of God’s love. My own story of coming to Methodism was through Rick Needham – working through the Wesleyan tradition (Nazarene). Theological Principle 101: God loves us, just as we are (John 3:16-17) – and there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it ….

A lady came into Stratmoor about four to five months ago. Many things going on in her life, and I wondered if we could be of assistance. I told her I thought the primary thing we could offer her was a better understanding of God’s love and that she was special in God’s eyes. I asked her a few weeks ago how she felt about herself given where we had traveled these past few months – she said far better than I would ever be able to understand. Her smile told me it was spoken in love.

Hope. Somewhere in our mission statement – the discipling/teaching we do has to have a component of hope generation in it – or we are not projecting God’s message.

While all I was doing was reflecting God’s love, it was a nice testimonial. That was my compensation for that week.

I do see much grey between the black and white on the biblical page. But the words in the Word are important, in fact, they are almost everything we have in order to carry out our mission … as framed for us by our experiences (personal traditions), our traditions (corporate experience), and our own reason (notice it is last in this).

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lincoln -- American Psalmist

This week's National Review refers to the Gettysburg Address as an American Psalm. Apparently Lincoln was under the creative influence of Emerson and Whitman when he began to compose his poetry. At least scholars suggest this is so. What an influence to be under.

Mr. Lincoln, do you know why I pulled you over?

Why officer, I have no idea, truly.

I pulled you over because you appeared to be
driving under the influence.

Officer, I am most assuredly guilty -- I am profoundly under the influence of scripture, and Emerson, and Whitman.

I get goosebumps when I read Lincoln. He is clearly a master orator, but more than that, he is profoundly theological. If he has written The American Psalm in The Gettysburg Address, I have to think that just maybe he is The American Psalmist. How much like David he was. A man of distinctly humble origins. A man who was not expected to be great. A man who presided over a family dispute of classical proportions. A man not necessarily understood by the women he loved -- at least Saul's' daughter anyway.

I wonder if sometimes the reason that David and Lincoln resonate with us is because of their everyman origins. All of us can see ourselves in their beginnings, and dream of how they conducted themselves, most of the time anyway, in our own futures. I confess -- at times, I freely compose under the influence of Lincoln. And what an influence it is.

This week I offer a reflection drawn from Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest effort about Lincoln's Cabinet. These rivals are brought together at a time of great need in our country, and Lincoln was generally able to get them to serve him and the country rather than their own egos. I will contrast Lincoln with Solomon -- a man we think of as having particularly profound wisdom, but a man who defines a dysfunctional family. Lincoln wanted the best to lead the country. A man we think of in the Gold Standard for Wisdom -- failed miserably in this area.

Sometimes, the Bible provides us a good bad example.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Risk isn't a bad four letter word

We are about to embark on an adventure at the church.

We have over the past several years rented out space in the church for other congregations to use. There has been at times some commenting on this, and a number of people have "wanted their church back".

Well, we can see the future now without the other congregations. One has been gone for several months, and we are going to have a church vote in a few days on how we feel about the other.

This is going to be a challenge for me.

I genuinely like many of the other congregation's people.

At the same time, I can see where our relationship with them has led us into an excessive dependence on their resources, both money and people, that stifles our own stewardship.

I spoke with a number of our members yesterday and commented that I was both gratified but at the same time surprised by their bold and risky venture. A few of them commented: You have been preaching about setting our own course and plotting our own future since you got here (three years ago). Why does it surprise you that we heard?


A preacher who gets listened to?

What's next?



Monday, January 29, 2007

Time of Talents, Treasures and Time

Our stewardship focuses on three things: Talents, Treasures and Time.
For me personally, of those three, I lose focus on my time the easiest.
I let my time get away by reading too much stuff on the internet. Political magazines also help get in my way with my time management. I confess: I am a political junkie.
But besides being a political reading junkie, I also have this enormous problem with the word no: I don't like to say it. Pastors aren't supposed to ever utter no, no?
The reality is that I need to learn how to say it a lot more frequently.
Look at where I am now: two days away from needing a sermon and the day of a long scheduled class, and nothing on the printed page for either. Why? A near total inability to say no.
The issue is of course about knowing how to erect appropriate boundaries. We don't want inappropriate boundaries which cause people to see you as unapproachable. On the other hand, we don't want inappropriate -- and here is the real rub -- ineffective -- boundaries that simply don't work.
I do respect others who seem capable of setting boundaries and keeping them up when needed and allowing them down when that is needed as well.
My guess is a goal for life.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Today's piece in the NY Times by Thomas Friedman struck a chord with me (Today is January 3, 2007).

He contrasted the Saddam execution with it's near total lack of civility with the funeral offered to Gerald Ford.

One seemed like a blood feud revisited. The other seemed to be an opportunity for people to celebrate a life well lived. Friedman writes:

“Because of our basic unity, we can afford to be divided on specific issues,” said Michael Mandelbaum, author of “The Case for Goliath.” “Democracy is about differences and contesting them in the public sphere, and it only works when there is basic agreement about the fundamentals. We should feel fortunate that we have a democratic history and set of beliefs. Those beliefs can be imported by those who want them and don’t have them, but they can’t be exported. We can only create a context where others would want to import them.”
Basic agreement on the fundamentals.

What a phrase. It does seem to provide the essence of what it is that goes on here. We seem to have reached a basic agreement on what is truly important. George Will wrote once on the positive aspects of how we bring people into citizenship in this country and all we ask them to do is assent. Assent to what? The Fundamentals.

Lyle Schaller in a book on large churches actually provides us insight into all churches -- he notes that churches that grow are quite clear in what they believe. To borrow from the Will and Friedman pieces, growing churches have reached -- basic agreement on the fundamentals, they have assented as to what is critical to them.

Mendelbaum goes further to say that this is an import product, but not an export.

Food for thought on two events that are in stark contrast to their solemnity and manner of administration.

Peace be with you ....