Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective

I wish I could take credit for this equation. The best I can remember it this equation comes from Mark Batterson at National Community Church in Washington, DC. He may have stole it from someone else.

The beauty of this equation is that it is so true. Coming off vacation last week I can personally attest that getting out of your regular environment, going to a new place helps you change your perspective when you return. So many times we get caught up in the day to day monotony of whatever we do- work, schedules, etc. Changing our place and our pace helps jolt us out of this monotony and can move us from being tired, cynical, and overburdened to a new place and a new perspective.

This is true as well for teams and organizations. Some of the best thinking can occur outside the normal environment and pace of organizational life. This is why leadership retreats are such a good idea. They foster creativity, clear and different thinking, and team building that would probably not occur in the same environment at the same pace.

This equation can also be applied to individuals on a mini-scale. I mean it is great to take a week's vacation but how about a day away somewhere different than the office or work place. Maybe its a trip to the lake or the mountains or some other place where you won't be distracted by cell phones, emails and texts.

Change of place + change of pace can make all the difference.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Here is the first message of the series "I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" based on the book by the same name by Vince Antonucci. The first message is called "Hunger."

In this series we are looking at what it means to move from souvenir Christianity to authentic spirituality.

This coming Sunday the message will be "Imitate."

Check out Vince's blog. Vince is starting a church out on the Vegas strip.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Transactional versus Relational Ministry/ Service

I have been thinking some recently about the difference between transactional versus relational ministry. Here is what I mean.

In relational ministry and service toward others service is rendered to persons multiple times over a period of time. Because ministry happens over time and happens repeatedly relationships occur. Trust is gained that opens up further opportunities for service. An example of transactional ministry would be the weekly foot washing and Friday feeding program one church I know of conducts every Friday throughout the year. Persons who wash feet, feed and serve develop relationships with persons who come time and time again to receive services.

In transactional ministry service is also rendered. However, this ministry is more one and done. Here a church goes out and serves for a day with a person or family they may only see that one time. There are many examples of this: the group that goes to feed at the homeless shelter once or twice a year, giving away a water bottle as part of servant evangelism, going on a mission trip to a place you will not return.

It seems to me that the Bible is clear that Christ values service no matter what kind, whether it be relational or transactional. It is equally clear to me that in the church we do a better job with transactional ministry than relational ministry. I am doing some further thinking about why that is. I am also thinking about the example of Jesus' earthly ministry. As I read scripture it seems Jesus' ministry was both relational and transactional. On the one hand he invested in the lives of twelve other men (and no doubt women too that we do not hear about) over a period of time on a regular basis. Yet, there were others, the woman at the well, various people he healed, and others who he seems to serve only once (at least that is the impression the Bible leaves us with). I guess I come back to the blessing of the both/and instead of the tyranny of the either/or when it comes to the choice between transactional and relational ministry.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where Have all the Baseball Fields Gone?

Where have all the baseball fields gone? Maybe it is just me but I am finding there are less and less baseball fields to play on in communities. And, when there are baseball fields you can't just go and play on them but you need someone's permission whether it is the School System or an Athletic Association. In the league that I coached in this year (7-8 y/o coach pitch baseball) we had to share a field for practice. It is hard enough to teach 7-8 y/0 baseball but it is especially harder with throw down bases in the outfield which hasn't been cut in three weeks.

I do notice though that in most communities now there are acres of soccer fields. My purpose is not to start a soccer versus baseball war but it does seem to me that soccer has taken over as number one in most communities in terms of number of fields, quality of equipment, and number of players. In that same baseball league I coached in we did not even have our own equipment but shared equipment with the team we practiced with.

Perhaps what I am observing is the death of baseball. Hardly in this age of computers, game systems, and over protective parents do I see kids playing pick up game on a ball field or even in their yard. I don't hear about kids collecting baseball cards or stickers. As I grew up their were kids who could tell you the top ten players with the best average in the American and National League as well as the save leaders from each league. Granted, I do not hang out with ten year olds on a regular basis but I do not even hear much baseball chatter from kids of any age.

Bring back baseball!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ministry On-ramps

On-ramps on the highway provide a safe way to merge into traffic and get up to speed and get on your journey to where you want to go. When you get on the on-ramp you accelerate and gain speed as you get closer to the entrance to the highway. As you get near the highway and are about to merge you have a decision to make. You look in your side or rear view mirror and if someone is coming in the slow lane you either have to go even faster and get on ahead of them, slow down and tuck in behind them, or if there is gridlock on the highway you have to stop and just get on when some kind soul lets you on.

On-ramps are also useful when it comes to beginning new ministries. We might look at new ministries with an "on-ramp" perspective. What I mean is that when it comes to beginning a new ministry in the church it is not necessary and maybe even harmful to start really big and put all your eggs in one basket. Instead it makes more sense to take the on-ramp approach where you start slow and small and then you gain speed and then make an evaluation. Is the ministry worthy of further acceleration, do you just need to slow down a bit and pull back some, or do you just need to stop altogether? During this season of ministry on-ramps you can see what gets momentum without risking it all. During this season of ministry on-ramps you can see who emerges as leadership and whether you have adequate leadership.

Use the ministry on-ramp it may just prevent an accident and get further you on your journey.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

You Looked At Men More than God

I have recently been trudging through Wesley's 59 page pamphlet of 1743 "An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion." Yeah, I know I am a dork. Anyhow, in talking smack about his opponents in the Church of England Wesley wrote, "You looked at men more than God" and this little phrase reminded me about a prayer I often pray that I came across before. My prayer asks God to fill me with grace that I seek not the approbation (approval) of man but of God in what I say and do.

God has been working on me about this one for some time. I think most of us, if we are honest, do to one degree or another seek the approval of man over God. This is especially true for clergy who are people pleasers. However, it goes for all people. We seek to please, win the approval of, impress, show how much we know to supervisors, co-workers, friends, and others in the hope that this will somehow gain us favor, make us feel better about ourselves and make us a person of worth. We do not always do this consciously. It seems it part of how we are wired as fallen people in whom God's image has been shattered. Many of us do this even though we know our identity and worth comes not from other people or even what we "do" for God but because of what God has done for us in Christ.

Perhaps our best example of seeking to please God over man is in Jesus who never really gave a crap about what other people thought. He was not afraid to offend the religious elite, speak difficult words into the lives of his parioshioners (disciples) for fear they might leave, or even to the governmental authorities who could have set him free. Through it all, he was confident of who he was and what he was to do and sought to be obedient to God's call and please God.

Oddly enough, such reliance on God and not the approval of man brings the most freedom. I think part of what it means when Jesus promises to set us free is it is a promise to be free from seeking the approval of man. I think this is an ongoing process and part of our journey of faith (sanctification for you theology nerds). I for one will continue to pray "let me not so much seek the approbation of man, but to please you O God."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How Do you Get People to Unfold Their Arms?

You have probably seen them before. They come to worship and are sitting in their seats and they have their arms folded the whole time. They don't want to be there. They may have been dragged there (they have a drug problem- they've been drug to church). They might have come willingly but have put up this wall. They may have been burnt by the church before. How do we help people to unfold their arms, open themselves up to the transforming power of God's love, let their guard down, and enjoy the presence of God in worship? In short, how do we help people unfold their arms?

Do we even think about the arm folders when it comes to worshipers or are we solely concerned with those who already in and know what to say, when to stand, and what to do with their hands?

I think one way to get people to unfold their arms is to use humor in presenting the Gospel. Though we have a hard time admitting in Christian circles God is a funny God. I mean just look at creation. God has a great sense of humor. So, using a humorous skit, video, or poking fun at oneself can help unfold the arms.

I think another thing that can help people unfold their arms is authenticity. This means being real. This means not trying to be somebody we are not or trying to give the perception we are somebody we are not. We all struggle, we all need prayer, we all sin, we all need God's grace. It is OK to say and admit that.

Being relevant also helps to get a person's arms unfolded. Using message illustrations that are fresh and contemporary instead of out of a book or from a website, using worship music that uses modern instruments and not ones from three centuries ago, and redeeming the culture and exploiting the culture for the cause of Christ can all help unfold arms.

And yet, no matter what we do, in the end it is God through the power of the Holy Spirit who will unfold arms. I think our job is to create an environment that cooperates with how God works so that arms may be unfolded.