Tag Archives: church

Resigning from Resurrection

Monday I resigned as Lead Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  My last Sunday will be October 25, 2015.  You can see my letter of resignation here.

The path to the decision was a long and winding one.  (The twisting path was also a partial reason I have not posted on this blog for six months.)  It was not made suddenly or without prayer and conversation.    Though there have been many contributing factors,  three key events shaped my decision.

Retreat CenterThe first was an eight-day silent centering prayer retreat in June.   Though it was held at a non-descript  wooded camp, the experience was life transforming.  The silence time of prayer and reflection helped solidify my longing for contemplation and deep prayer.   I had a couple of profound experiences that I need to write about in future posts.  I want to go back.

18395_10153362640945266_2272565119671433986_nThe second was the five-day ELCA youth gathering in Detroit in July.   Thirty thousand youth packed into Ford Field, praising, dancing, singing in the joyous, raucous Spirit of Christ.  There were times when I felt like I was 17 years old again, swept up in the celebration.   It was a powerful trip for me, the three adults, and ten youth from Resurrection.

Taken together, the silent prayer retreat and the youth gathering, could be seen as two ends of a spiritual spectrum.  One end  is the quiet, contemplative Spirit of God, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) The other is the joyous noisy  Spirit of God, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4)

Both are good and healthy, but they rarely live together in the same tent.

Still Dance SpectrumThe two are significant in that I see my own spirituality moving towards the quiet, contemplative end of the spectrum, while I see the needs of Resurrection’s spirituality is for the joyful dance.  Neither is better than the other, but they were not working together within me, especially since I am called to be the leader.   Thus for months my own spirit has been restless.

The third event was a private conversation with two trusted leaders of the congregation.  They initiated the conversation in a caring environment.  During the conversation they asked me was a simple, yet profound question, “Do you feel like you still fit at Resurrection?”

praatgroepenLike a skillful politician I hemmed and hawed and dodged the question that evening.  But as I drove home from the conversation, I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I no longer fit.   It was a blow to my ego.  I wanted to be in control, yet I was not.  I wrestled with the question all through that night and several afterwards.  Yet I woke up each morning realizing that the answer was the same.  It is time for me to leave Resurrection.

In the next couple of days, I will post on what my plans are for the future.   For now it is sufficient to say that I am both sad to leave a fantastic congregation like Resurrection and at peace with listening to the call of God’s Spirit.

I have been reflecting on these words from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (page 3)

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Family, Business or Army?

This past Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church had its annual meeting. The meeting is stipulated in our constitution so that we can conduct the business of the church: review and pass a budget, elect officers and hear staff reports. On the surface this can seem fairly dry. Yet beneath the surface, vital vibrant ministry is going on.

For example, the discussion of the budget is really a question of stewardship and priorities. Where do we as a congregation want to invest ourselves? How does the stewardship of our physical church building compare with our stewardship of our outreach and mission in the world?

The Family of God gathers at the Table

The Family of God gathers at the Table

Many people compare the church to a FAMILY, which can be helpful metaphor. We are brother and sisters in Christ (Mark 4:34). As a family we care for each other and support each other in time of need. In a family, the focus is often on the most vulnerable, the “weakest” such as a our children or infirmed. Love is central to a good family.

Stewardship involves opening our wallets

Stewardship involves opening our wallets

But the church is not simply a family. Another valid metaphor is the church is a BUSINESS.  It has finances to raise, property to maintain, staff to hire, and budgets to negotiate. We have constitutions and bylaws to uphold. One thing to remember is that this is a “business” ultimately owned by God; we are stewards or overseers who manage God’s resources for God’s purposes. “It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (I Cor. 4:2). As stewards, we are called to examine the finances as God’s money. Trust is key to good business. 

Feed My Starving Children has unique "helmets" for service

Feed My Starving Children has unique “helmets” for service

But there is a third priority: mission. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Here the metaphor is that the church is like an ARMY, charging forward into a broken, dangerous world to bring the light of God. The church is not simply a country club that enjoys each other company, nor a business that has a balance budget. The church has a mission to carry God’s message of love, grace and justice out into a world that is broken and hurt.  Preparing meals for overseas shipment at Feed My Starving Children is one place our Army serves.  Courage is vital to mission.

At Resurrection we describe that mission as calling all people to a vibrant life of faith in Christ.

In a healthy congregation, all three -family, business, army- compete for attention. Some members are clamoring for more dollars spent on caring and educating our members (especially our children and youth). Others are sharpening their pencil to make sure we are not spending beyond our means and that we are being good stewards of our resources. And others will be pointing out the door, wondering how we will become God’s hands and feet in God’s mission for the world. We need all three to converse to function well.

Our annual meeting is the opportunity to have that conversation: how we are fulfilling our mission, managing our finances and caring for one another?

Which metaphor (family, business, army) is your passion?

Lord Jesus, empowers us to work together for your kingdom.

Next: How Worship links all three.

Baptism ABC: B is for Belonging

When my grandson was baptized on Sunday it was a family celebration. His parents, aunts, grandparents and friends were present to publicly welcome the tiny newborn into God’s kingdom. Though Jack slept the entire time, his baptism was filled with praise and promises.

Occasionally as a pastor I am asked to do a baptism outside of Sunday worship. I generally decline because one of the central themes of baptism is that the baptized person becomes part of the Christian community. Baptism is not an isolated event between God and the baptized.  Baptism is a community event in which the family of God, the church, welcomes and receives the newest member of the family.

In the book of Acts we see a clear expression of this. After Peter preached his first sermon about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Acts 2, the people who heard it were cut to the heart and said to Peter, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter responded,

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit (see last post). For the promise is for you, for your children and for all who are far away”. . . . Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added (Acts 2:38-40).

(Side note: I often wonder how they did 3000 baptisms that day. Did they use a fire hose, a supersoaker or the Jerusalem municipal swimming pool?)

The key verse comes next. The newly baptized did not wander back to their old communities and ways. Instead they formed a worshipping community. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). The apostle teaching became what we know as the New Testament of the Bible. The fellowship they shared involved more that drinking coffee, but actually sharing their possessions with one another. The breaking of bread is a reference to the bread of Holy Communion or Eucharist. And prayer is prayer.  All are elements of a worshipping community.

The expectation is that the newly baptized needs the community to grow in his or her understanding of God’s grace and love. We do not live our faith in isolation; the community brings us strength, support, correction and comfort.   Jesus modeled this by living in a community of at least twelve disciples.

A wonderful moment for me at Jack’s baptism was when the pastor asked the entire congregation if they promised to support and encourage Jack as he grew in faith. The congregation joyously responded, “Yes, we do!” Jack’s home and family has just grown by a factor of ten.

How does baptism help you stay connected to God’s people?

 

Lord Jesus, Thank you for providing me with your fantastic family.

Church: Cause, Corporation or Community?

The office staff and I are busy preparing for our annual meeting on Sunday, February 12.  Sometimes it feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  Last year  I wrote a post regarding the annual meeting.  In it I argued that every annual meeting needs the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and challenge us. It remains my prayer this year.

Congregational meeting have often gotten a bad rap because they deal with controversial topics like budgets, mission and staffing. They are the central moment when the corporate business of the church takes center stage. Many (including myself) have a discomfort with this focus because it is not our strength. I did not feel call by God to RUN a church, but rather to preach the Gospel and to shepherd God’s people. Yet the corporate business of the church is necessary.

Twenty years ago Jim Dethmer wrote an article for Leadership Journal that continues to help me. He described the church as having three primary identities: Cause, Corporation and Community. As a Cause the church is like an army with a central mission: to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to drive back the forces of evil. The model participant in the Cause is the engaged volunteer who works hard to spread God’s love and grace in word and deed.  As a corporation, the church is like a business, seeking to use its financial resources in the most “profitable” ways. As a corporation the church tries to be a wise steward of its assets.  Finally as a Community the church is like a family with the central attribute being love. The focus of that love is often on the weakest among us: the sick, the grieving, the unemployed.

All three identities (Cause, Corporation and Community) have value and purpose. Scripture bears witness to all three circles.  They also can conflict with one another from time-to-time. The Holy Spirit is needed in all three circles so that such conflicts can be creative and energizing, rather than destructive.

Dethmer rightly observed that pastors often have a strength in one of these and a weakness in another. I invested much of my pastoral ministry in the community circle, writing my Doctor of Ministry Thesis on Congregational Care. I also have a passion for the Gospel of Jesus and how it can impact people’s lives. My weakest area is the corporate or business side of the church. I am very thankful for those members of Resurrection who have that as their strength and passion.  With each person using their strengths and gifts, the church can function well in all three circles.

Which circle is your passion and strength?

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to empower us to your church.

Walkin’ on Water

Even Kids Like Peter's Walk

Jesus walking on the water is a familiar miracle (Matthew 14, Mark 6 and John 6).   In Matthew’s version not only Jesus walks on the waves, but Peter asks to join him.   Many Christian pastors and authors see Peter’s actions as a Christian model of what discipleship and trust means.  John Ortberg wrote a book called, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.  He writes,

Deep within you lies the same faith and longing that sent Peter walking across the wind-swept Sea of Galilee towards Jesus.  In what ways is the Lord telling you, as he did Peter, “Come”?  Out on the risky water of faith, Jesus is waiting to meet you in ways that will change you forever, deepening your character and your trust in God.

I remember preaching an ordination sermon that basically said the same thing.  I preached about our need to take risks, climb out of our comfort zone and step in the liquid uncertainty of life.  But I am beginning to have second thoughts about that being the sole interpretation of the story. The great thing about scripture is its ability to call forth new insights and wisdom.

After all, Peter sinks beneath the waves and needs to be rescued by Jesus.  Peter is chastised for his doubts, not the disciples who stayed in the boat.   And when Jesus and Peter step into the boat, the wind stops and all is calm.

The ship was an ancient symbol of the church, the community of faith.  At the beginning of the story, Jesus compelled the disciples to enter the boat and head to the other side (Matthew 14:22).   At the end of the story those in the boat worshipped him, saying “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).   I am beginning to wonder, “Should Peter simply have stayed in the boat?”   What do you think?

Do you think Peter’s actions are a model of discipleship or a distraction from Jesus?

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are always ready to rescue me whenever I begin to slip beneath the waves.