January 24, 2013

Insights from Daniel 4-6

I started a 4-week study through the book of Daniel at Sunrise and thought I might share a couple thoughts from the study each week. Feel free to join us by reading 3 chapters a week and share your thoughts and questions. Next week we'll be reading chapters 7-9.

Reading through Daniel, it's important to keep these theological principles in mind: God's sovereignty; the power of persistent prayer; long-range view of God's plan; God's grace remains despite our disobedience

Chapter 4
-Daniel was not particularly excited to share the meaning of the dream with the king and yet he is willing to share the difficult truth. Makes me wonder how we communicate difficult truths with others. We often say, "Speaking the truth in love." but we are seldom good at doing it.

-We continue to see how pride is a very slippery slope.

-It was only by God's divine grace that not only was the king's sanity restored but his kingdom as well.

Chapter 5
-God doesn't always show up how we might expect. A floating hand or otherwise...

-So often we forget, ignore, or miss the lessons of the past. Often times we think we are the exception and that the same fate that befell others will not be our own, even when we witness their hurt firsthand.

Chapter 6
-Daniel's integrity forced others to make stuff up. May we live in such a way that people have to make up bad stuff about us.

-Note how king Darius points out: 1) Daniel's God is alive and acts in history, responding to the needs of his people, 2) God's rule is eternal, and 3) God miraculously delivers his people, with wonders in heaven and on earth.

Any thoughts that you had?

Fruitful Congregations Journey: Part 2

I was recently asked by a friend and colleague of mine, Pastor Brian Durand (@revbriandurand), who also happens to be the Associate Director of Leadership Development for our conference, which of the Phase 1 books I found most meaningful and/or challenging for our context.

Great question!

Of the 7 different books we read through as a team in Phase 1, I found 2 to be particularly meaningful and challenging for our context. "Direct Hit" by Paul Borden and "The Externally Focused Church" by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson.

Paul Borden's book focuses on leaders and leadership development. He encourages pastors in churches that have lost their outward focus to be leaders that bring about systemic change. "Direct Hit" talks about communicating vision and motivating people to embrace a new vision, one that focuses on those "outside" and brings about change. I found this to be meaningful for our context because we struggle as a church (Castleton & Sunrise) to embrace change, which can make it especially easy to pursue the wrong vision.

A few highlights from "Direct Hit"
"Leaders cannot afford to have throw away conversations." (pg 24)

"Attempting and failing is much better than existing as a victim of the system." (pg 122)

"Authority, responsibility, and accountability should be married." (pg 113)

"Many will talk of the need for change while doing everything in their power to inhibit it." (pg 71)

The main reason I found Rusaw & Swanson's book, "The Externally Focused Church," meaningful for our context was because it discusses the need to partner with our surrounding community, which automatically implies we must know our community. We must get to know our community on their terms and turf and stop expecting them to come to us and introduce themselves.

Have you read any of these books? Which did you find most meaningful/challenging and why? 

January 22, 2013

Fruitful Congregations Journey: Part 1

I have been on staff at Castleton UMC for over 10yrs now and the lead pastor of the Sunrise campus for over 2yrs. Our church embarked on the Fruitful Congregations Journey in late 2011 with a team of 12 laity and 3 clergy members, including myself, beginning monthly meetings in January of 2012.

This is a program facilitated by the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church and led by our Church Development team. Over the course of several months our team spent time reading and discussing a number of books dealing with church growth, vision, and purpose (see list below). This nearly year process was known as Phase 1.

Upon completion of Phase 1, as a team we voted to apply for and pursue Phase 2, which is where we find ourselves right now. I'll write more about Phase 2 in a future post. If you have questions or thoughts about the process or anything I share, don't hesitate to ask.

Phase 1 Book List
"The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations" by Robert Schnase
"Direct Hit" by Paul Borden
"Taking Your Church to the Next Level" by Gary McIntosh
"Simple Church" by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger
"The Externally Focused Church" by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson
"Communicating for a Change" by Andy Stanley & Lane Jones
"Unbinding the Gospel" by Martha Grace Reese

January 18, 2013

Insights from Daniel 1-3

I just started a 4-week study through the book of Daniel at Sunrise and thought I might share a couple thoughts from the study each week. Feel free to join us by reading 3 chapters a week and share your thoughts and questions. Next week we'll be reading chapters 4-6.

Reading through Daniel, it's important to keep these theological principles in mind: God's sovereignty; the power of persistent prayer; long-range view of God's plan; God's grace remains despite our disobedience

Chapter 1
-Even King Nebuchadnezzar's success was determined and allowed by God.

-Small steps of faith prepare us for larger steps of faith in the future. The courage of the 4 Hebrews to abstain from the king's food prepared them for a larger stand of faith to come.

-Even in exile, continue to practice your faith.

Chapter 2
-The stage is being set for the power, reality, and wisdom of God to be displayed for the entire kingdom to witness.

-Daniel enlists others to pray with him. It is a powerful to pray for and with others, inviting them to also pray with us. 

-When Daniel calls out the king's "wise men," he also points out how dangerous poor theology is.

-Isn't it interesting that by the end of the chapter, King Nebuchadnezzar is bowing down before Daniel?

Chapter 3
-We must be especially careful not to make decisions in the "heat of a moment" or in an emotional vacuum without input from those we trust.

Anything else jump out to you?

January 10, 2013

Church & Family: Part 2

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a family member about church or faith and found it to be incredibly difficult or awkward? Yeah, me neither....

Why is it so difficult to talk with family members and loved ones about something so important as faith? Part of me thinks it should be easy to talk about things like this with the people closest to us and yet that is rarely the case. Here are a couple guesses why...

Issues of church and faith have often been seen as a very personal, and even private thing. Regardless if it's a family member or not, we are slightly uncomfortable talking about such a personal thing and would hate to make a loved one feel that same level of uncomfortableness by asking him or her how church is going. Many of us have fallen into the misconception that church participation or matters of faith are personal in nature and therefore not up for discussion. This idea runs completely counter to the picture we see in scripture of what it means to be the Church and what it means to live a life of faith. These cannot be done in isolation. As John Wesley mentions, "The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness."

I'm reminded of the time when Jesus arrives in his hometown to teach and everyone eventually runs him out of town (Luke 4:14-29). Sometimes it is difficult to talk with family members about church because they know us so well. Often times they have seen us at our worst; when we are most selfish or stubborn, and so we feel as though we have been disqualified from being able to talk about things like church, faith, and God. I wonder if there is a way you and I might use the experiences our loved ones have of us to show them how much of a difference church can make in one's life. In order to do that though, you have to actually try to be less selfish, stubborn, judgmental, etc.

Another reason I think it can be so difficult to have these kind of conversations with family members is the fear of "What Ifs." What if my family member asks me a question about faith I don't know the answer to? What if my loved one feels awkward when I ask her about her thoughts on church? What if...? What if...? The fear of things that never happen can paralyze us. Like so many other "What Ifs," we simply won't know until we try, so we spend time in prayer and trust the Holy Spirit to guide our words. Are these conversations we can afford to not have with our family and loved ones?

Tell us, what other things make it difficult to talk church and faith with family? How do you have these sorts of conversations?

January 9, 2013

A Thought on the Lord's Supper

If the Church owes to baptism the fact that it is a Church, and does not have to become a Church through its own pious works, the Church owes to the Lord's Supper the fact that it remains a Church, despite any falling away and failure.
~from The Church by Hans Kung

January 1, 2013

Church & Family: Part 1

The holidays provide an opportunity for many of us to spend time with family we don't often see. This is certainly the case with my family as all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins descend on my Grandma's house. Our family Christmas party provided a chance to hang out, catch-up, and for the first time I can remember in my 34yrs (I turn 34 tomorrow), a great conversation about church.

I'm not sure what it's like at your family gatherings but for us, the kitchen is one of the best places for conversation. Maybe it's the close proximity to the food and drinks that makes the kitchen the perfect place for congregating but for as long as I can remember, it's been that way at my Grandma's.

It was there in the kitchen that our conversation turned to church. It was great to hear from a few of my relatives about their feelings concerning church. From a family that has very strong Roman Catholic roots, here are a couple things I learned about their thoughts and experiences with church, which I also assume might be common for many others...

1. How a church manages its money matters. The issue of money came up a couple of times and was accompanied by lots of passion. There was frustration at money misspent, the perception that pastors were getting rich off the congregation, and the constant talk of needing to give more to the church. It seems as though one of the best ways to help alleviate these concerns is through financial transparency. I was somewhat surprised at how big a deal the issue of money was and this proved to be a helpful reminder.

2. People are looking for authenticity. We're all hypocrites in one way or another but the challenge becomes how we navigate that with each other. I heard my family members talk about their desire to not only find an authentic pastor or priest but feel as though they were welcomed despite their short comings. The Church must constantly remind individuals it's not about getting the mess of life figured out before you show up but that the Church can be a place of support in the messiness of life, which leads me to my next point...

3. A sense of family is important. I heard family members talk about friends who attended churches that supported, provided, and cared for each other. This was EXTREMELY attractive to my family members, and I would guess most people as well. It was heartbreaking to hear of the experiences my family had with churches that failed to show support and seemed to be incredibly inward focused. We must do a better job as the Church of being the Body of Christ, a body that loves, challenges, and supports the other parts of the body.

Did you have any conversations about church with your family? If so, tell us what they were like. 

In part 2 of this post, I'm going to spend a little time talking about the difficulty of talking faith with family.