Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Right to Pray

A couple of thoughts have been mulling in my head for a while and were awakened by my recent journeys through the airport system. I was reminded of some Muslims that were arrested because of their "suspicious" actions, which included prayer. I am not going to get into whether or not the TSA acted appropriately or not. Instead I want to use that as a starting place to talk about prayer. I vaguely recall, though not with much context or details, a conversation I had with someone expressing their frustation over the respect given by companies to Muslims for their prayer time. I think it was based on mostly on why they got to do it and Christians did not.
This conversation fascinates me because part of what is getting laminated I think by this other person is the fact that Christians do not make a huge deal about prayer. While Muslisms are required to prayer 5 times a day, Christians as a whole probably average at best once. Public prayer is also something that is uncomfortable for many and seen as exceptional rather than commonplace.
All of this highlights a need for Christians to reclaim their part in prayer. I do not want to occur at the expense of others, such as mandating prayer in schools. But I would like to see prayer done in a more open and direct way. I wonder, but do not know, if the same people who call for prayer in school pray regularly at work with their fellow Christian coworkers. I think it would be great if prayer became somehting that needed no mandate to occur, no religious dictation but was an activity that was simply fostered out of the our love of God and our belief in the power of prayer. I think it is beholden of every Christian to make prayer much more common place, the norm for a Christian, rather than the exception.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ordaination Process

This week I was approved by the Board of Ordained Minisitry (BOM) for probationary membership in the Minnesota Annual Conference ... basically the final step before being ordained as an Elder in The United Methodist Church. As I reflect on the process I appreciate what I like about it. I know that for many people the ordination process can be long and painful, but I think it is a really good idea. I like it the process because I think it realizes that ministry is not just about whether or not you are qualified for the job, but whether this is what you are called to do. The hope in ministry is that you and the churches you work with will suceed. The BOM has not only the interests of the church in mind but also you. Too often a job interview is two sides looking out for themselves, the applicant wanting to know what the company can do for them, and the company what the applicant can do for them. With the BOM I felt that people were truly looking after everyone's interests and not there own. I do not think that ordination is necessary for ministry. In fact I believe a great deal of ministry is done by people who are not and never will be ordained. Thatbeing siad I thhink it is imprtoant that ordination is taking seriously. It should not just be seen like a job interview, where the board only has the interests of the church at heart, nor should it just be a rubber stamp, looking after the immediate interests of the applicants. As it is meant to function it tries to look to the long term interests of both, and this is as things should be.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The following is an excerpt from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sunday February 11th. (http://www.startribune.com/462/story/993598.html) The quote comes from Mac Hammond, the pastor at Living Word Christian Center, a congregation of about 10,000 in Brooklyn Park.

"I do think it's the will of God that every church grow," he said. "It really hurts my heart to see the kind of mentality that pervades much of the body of Christ right now, which is small church, friendly environment, know everybody, and they become little religious bless-me clubs. Our mandate is to exercise greater influence in the community than the ungodly elements seem to exercise."
I am struggling with how best to respond to this comment made by Hammond. While a great deal was said in the article, this quote about small churches stood out to me because of my own leadership of a small church. Maybe my church as meant to be excused from Hammond's allegation, but I doubt it. While small in size, Light of the Lakes has always sought to grow and reach ou to the community. Certainly I agree with Hammond that there is danger in a church becoming self-interested, and that the desire to form intense internal community, where everyone knows everyone, can come at the expense of knowing the community, I reject the notion that it is part and parcel of small churches, or restricted to small churches.

Now I do not want this to become a mud flinging competition, where pastors validate their own ministries by placing criticisms on others, so I believe while I am hurt by what Hammond says, the best thing to do is to understand why that is. One limit to growth is the fear of change. People are often concerned that growing will mean losing something that they have. I know that often churches use intimacy as an excuse to avoid growth, I want to use it at as a tool for growth.

Unlike Hammond I do not see "small church, friendly environment, know everybody, and they become little religious bless-me clubs" as such a terrible thing. Certainly the notion of a "bless-me club" is negative, but I think this is a concern for most churches. I believe that the self-interest of individuals is always a hurdle that has to be overcome in the quest to follow God. I believe churches should rise to the challenge of making themselves friendly environments, places where people can safely come to know everybody, I also think they should be places where people feel blessed. I think today's society is filled with the notion of bigger and better, and what gets lost is personal contact. I do not believe this gives a church a license to not reach out to the community, but I believe the very thing that Hammond is attacking is the sort of thing people truly need. The challenge is just offering it to them, letting them know it is there for them, and inviting them in, or bringing that warmth and blessing to them.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Welcoming people to leave?

I am reading Jim Collins' book "Good to Great" and am attempting to sort out what it has to say to the church. One thing that really sparked my interest was his idea of getting people both on and off the bus. In "Good to Great" Collins looks at different companies that manage to suceed over a long period of time while other companies in their industry did not. One of the things he found was that part of success was getting the right people together and if necessary getting some people out of the mix. Now, from a business sense this is understandable and easily doable. The goal of a company is to make money, serve the client, protect the shareholders interests, and so on. Under these conditions and expectations it is clear that at times the best move is to let someone go, or to push them towards the door. Collins even makes the point that in most cases it is better for the person to find new employment as well since they are not going to be onboard with what is happening at the company. It is better for their lives and happiness if they find a workplace that is a better match for them. All of this makes sense and I agree with, but I struggle with what that means for the church. One of the things that I love about The United Methodist Church is diversity in culture and thought amongst its members. At the same time, I woud say that not every church is right of every United Methodist. As a pastor is it my job to encourage some people to leave the church for their own good and development? How would one determine when it is a good time to make such a move? Certainly individual memebers do it all the time, as many are quite comfortable voting with their feet and finding a new place to worship that is a better fit for them. Should a pastor be the one to make the first suggestion?
People who are just struggling to find a church that is the right fit are one problem, but a larger one, at least for a pastor is the church member whose work in the church is hurting rather than helping the ministry of the church. In an corporation the answer is easy, after several conversations and attempts at improvement you ultimately fire the person. Fire people is something that is not really done in the church. This comes from the image of Jesus welcoming everyone. If Jesus open his arms to everyone, shouldn't the church do the same? Let us dissect that for a minute. On the surface Jesus was open to everyone, accepting people regardless of gender, age, ritual cleanliness, nationality, or sinfulness. At the same time Jesus did have expectations for discipleship. The rich young man, or ruler, was asked to give up everything he had before he could follow Jesus. Certainly it would be fair to expect certain things from church members as well. Welcoming everyone does not mean welcoming everything that they do. Jesus' welcoming of sinners was not an encouragement to continue their negative lifestyles, but instead an invitation to enter into a new life.
From what I have just said it would seem possible for a pastor to initiate a conversation about a persons role in the church and the church's expectations for them, but what should be the outcome? I think the role of church is to invite people into and enhance their relationship with God. If that is an accurate statement of mission than certainly individual churches will not be able to perform this service for everyone. I love Super Target, it has everything I could want in a shopping trip under one roof, my mother hates it because it is too large, crowdy, etc. The same is going to be true for the church. I think there is a place for pastors to be helpful in working with people to know what is happening and understanding that the church they are in now is not the only way to find God. This is not meant as a carte blanche to pastors to expell whomever they do not like, but it does seem to say we need to realize that just as church should be welcome to all to enter in, it is also ok to welcome people into leaving for somewhere better for them.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Dreaded Meeting

I just finished my church's Charge Conference, the United Methodist annual meeting in which all the "important" nuts and bolts of the church is done. What is potentially wrapped up in the meeting is pastor's salary, updating of membership records, and electing people to committees. Now not all churches do this the same way, but what I have noticed is that the committees that we worry about electing people to are the finance, trustees, personal, and the nominating committee. What happens at the charge conference is largely about sustaining the church. What seems to get left out is the ministry.
I should probably place a disclaimer in here: I love committees and meetings. Perhaps there is a masochistic streak in me that has not been fully diagnosed yet, but I love meetings. What I love though is the exchange of ideas and the push for something new.
So what I am pondering is whether charge conference is a "necessary evil" or an under-utilized resource. I call it a "necessary evil" because I do believe that there is a certain amount of nuts and bolts business that must take place for a typical church to function, but at the same time, it is not the most exciting thing in the world. We end up gathering people in the church together for a meeting where their primary function is to listen and then consent to the process. Except for rare exceptions, the decisions are almost all voted on without a single nay vote. The problem I see is that what the church has done is voted to continue the church for another year, but has not really dealt with the ministry of it.
What I want to be sure of is that churches are giving the same emphasis to the ministry of the church as its corporate functioning. I would rather the large annual gathering of the church to be concerned not just with electing officers for next year, but also with voting on a plan for ministry. I do not think the process as a whole is flawed, but I think there is a tendency amongst people to deal with the nuts and bolts of without thinking about the larger picture and the purpose behind those nuts and bolts. In building up the church it is easy to pave over the real reason we are here, the ministry of Christ.