Posts filed under ‘Practical Theology’

Joel Osteen’s Typical Week

This is from an interview on southernillinoisan.com where they asked Joel Osteen (who I still think looks like Orel Hershisher) what a typical week in his life is like (h/t MMI)

Mondays and Tuesdays I try to take off. Wednesdays I read and study and pray. I have a stack of notes for potential sermons. I get a theme, and once I feel good about a simple thought, I read and find stories on that. I get up real early and write my sermon on Thursdays. Fridays I finish writing it and take three hours to go over it. I really get it down in me. Saturday I study it for several hours and finish getting it down in me. I have a real good memory. I rest Saturday afternoon before the Saturday night service, and I also preach two Sunday morning services. Sunday afternoon I edit the sermon for the television broadcast. I’m just used to doing that. That’s how I started.

March 4, 2008 at 9:09 am 4 comments

Control or Commitment in the UMC

In my last post, I reflected on some of Jim Collins’ insights from his chapter in Leading Beyond the Walls: How High Performing Organizations Collaborate for Shared Success. Jim’s chapter is the best in the book, so it merits another post (don’t buy the book on this basis, by the way – just read his chapter in the store).

He begins his second point with these words,

…executives must build mechanisms of connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice, rather than relying on systems of coercion and control.

Think about United Methodism (and most organizations for that matter). Do we rely on connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice or do we rely on systems of coercion and control? From administration to evangelism, I’m afraid that we often rely on the latter. Jim describes his high-powered research team and talks about the way he recruits people for that team,

…as a precursor to all our mechanisms of commitment and connection, each person invited to join the team receives a written and verbal orientation on team values, purpose, and performance standards and is asked to join only if he or she can commit to those principles. Before joining, each person is told, “If you have any doubt about whether this is the right place for you, then it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of rigorous introduction to the values and purpose of the organization reminds me of the old Christian catechism. Is it sad that becoming a member of Jim’s research team is more stringent and commitment laden than becoming a member of some of our churches?

It goes back to the basics here. If you don’t have team values, purpose, and performance standards, you can’t present them to people, and you sure can’t ask for commitment. Can you imagine having a clear, confident, and concise statement like that defining the mission of your local church? You could hand this to new visitors and say, “Here’s what we’re about, and everyone here is committed to it. If you have any doubt, it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.” Talk about true connectionalism!! This could be the same for clergy. Our connection could be in our adherence and commitment to core principles rather than in bureaucratic structures.

People often ask, “How do we get individuals to share our core values?” The answer is, “You can’t.” You can’t open somebody up and install new core values in his or her belly. The key is to find, attract, and select people who have a predisposition to sharing the core values, and to create an environment that consistently reinforces those core values, buttressing it with mechanisms of connection and commitment.

Interestingly, the predisposition can really be linked to the Christian concept of calling. I don’t twist arms to get people to join our congregation. My thoughts are that if they see what we’re doing and want to be a part of it, then they are welcome to invest their lives in our congregation and live our their faith in our community. If you have to be coerced, you won’t be committed.

Of course, God is the one who does all the calling and attracting. Once we have a little more faith in that, we can define and develop our core values more clearly.  Then we won’t have to rely so much on mechanisms of power and coercion. Only then can we describe and develop mechanisms of true commitment and true connection.

Jim write, “The minute you feel the need to control and mold someone, you’ve made a selection mistake.” We’ve been so vague about what people are committing to that we have to develop more stringent control methods and we end up arguing and spending valuable time working on power structures. On the other hand, a core of people committed to Christ, called by God, and enlivened by the Spirit will be thoroughly committed to the ongoing mission of the Church. Control and manipulation would just stunt the vibrant stuff that would come out of these folks, be they clergy or laity.

There’s a lot more I could say on this, but I don’t want to short-circuit the ideas that you’re coming up with. What are our core values? Once we articulate those, what mechanisms of connection and commitment could we implement to replace our mechanisms of power and control? Can the United Methodist Church survive thrive using a model that went out the window with cassette tapes and VHS? What do you think?

February 14, 2008 at 8:43 am 4 comments

New Monasticism & Real Life

There’s a great story in the LA Times about a group of folks trying the “new monasticism” on for size (h/t TSK). Turns out it’s really hard.

As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help compare my life with these folks who are living in community while yearning to follow Jesus simply and whole-heartedly. Of course, I assumed, we would have nothing in common. After all, my wife, kids, and I live alone in a relatively small parsonage in a very small town in Oklahoma. We aren’t living on the mean streets of Philadelphia like Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way, or even the mean streets of Billings, Montana down from the pawn shop and beet factory. We probably have the same four varieties of salad dressing in our fridge, which is a sure sign, the article suggests, that simplicity has not yet been achieved.

Yet in the middle of these differences, I noticed something. Our small town offers community in a way that the Billings group struggled to achieve. While they were hoping to help their neighbors and wishing for kids to come by and shoot hoops, we have been blessed by a dynamic, interactive, living, breathing community that is drawn to Christ and the Church.

There are days when kids shoot hoops on the basketball goal on our garage. Saturday afternoon, while I was taking my Christmas Lights down (yes, yes), a young boy whose family we helped during Christmas walked by. He looked up at the roof and said, “Hey, Matt.” The next day, a little boy from the other side of the street rode his bicycle in front of the house. His wave was made even more special because his bike was donated at Christmas by a generous and anonymous stranger through the Church. I had the privilege to deliver it so his grandmother could give him a gift. Often, I’m able to stop my truck, roll down the window, and ask kids, “Has your mom found a new job yet? Ya’ll doing alright?” A trip to the post office is never just a trip to the post office. It’s an opportunity to comfort those who’ve recently lost loved ones. It’s an opportunity to ask about Jim, the brother-in-law in the hospital. It’s an experience of true community.

We may not be new monastics, but in the middle of life as a itinerant United Methodist pastoral family, we’ve experienced real community in the middle of real life – inside and outside the walls of the church building. We’ve had to think hard about what it means to live in a particular place at a particular time, while being about a particular mission for a particular God. We’re asking many of the same questions as our new monastic brothers and sisters about what it means to follow Jesus simply and whole-heartedly. Often, like them, we get it all wrong. Yet there are times, like our more monastic-minded friends, that the Kingdom peeks through the clouds of everyday life and illuminates everything around us. In whatever form you experience it, that’s a life worth living.

February 5, 2008 at 8:36 am 2 comments

Missional-Incarnational Impulse

If you are interested in thinking about the ongoing mission of the Church in this century, you really have to read The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. This is a book that I will almost certainly read twice, which is something I almost never do. It is really causing me to rethink, in a positive constructive (heck, even Wesleyan) way, many of the assumptions I have about the way we go about mission and ministry within the United Methodist Church.

At the center of what Hirsch calls the “Apostolic Genius” is the central affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Surrounding that center element are five aspects of mDNA (missional DNA): Disciple Making (which is what my last post was about), Missional-Incarnational Impulse, Apostolic Environment, Communitas, Not Community, and Organic Systems.

In chapter 5, he discusses the Missional-Incarnational Impulse, the second aspect of mDNA. Patterned on the “missionary God” (as described by Darrell Guder), he suggests that “a genuine missional impulse is a sending rather than an attractional one (p. 129).” Like the Incarnation of God in Jesus, we’re called to move into the neighborhoods around us in mission rather than operating from the “outreach and in-drag” model that the Church operating from a Christendom model is built for (p. 61).

Hirsch describes at least four dimensions that frame our understanding of the incarnation, and he believes these should profoundly shape our response to the ongoing mission of God:

  1. Presence: In Jesus, God is fully present to us. Jesus is no substitute or intermediary, but God in the flesh.
  2. Proximity: God approached us in Christ in a way we can understand and access, befriending the outcast and living close proximity to the broken and lost.
  3. Powerlessness: In the incarnation, God took the form of a servant. Hirsch writes, “He does not stun us with sound and laser shows, but instead he lives as a humble carpenter in backwater Galilee for thirty years before activating his messianic destiny,” showing us how love and humility reflect the true nature of God.
  4. Proclamation: He initiated the gospel invitation, heralded the reign of God, and called people to respond in repentance and faith.

In these four aspects of the incarnation, we find the following calls for our work together with God in mission (these are just snippets of what Hirsch describes):

  1. Being present in the fabric of a community, engaging in the humanity of it all. All ministry is relational and based in our particular local presence. “…Jesus actually liks to hang out with the people we hang out with. They get the implied message that God actually likes them (p. 134).”
  2. Like Jesus we’re called to be in proximity to folks from every level of society. This involves genuine avaliability, spontaneity, and regular friendships and community.
  3. We too are called to powerlessness: humility and servanthood to each other and with the world. This is an integral aspect of church, leadership, and mission.
  4. Genuine incarnational approaches to mission will result in our proclamation of the gospel story with the people we engage. “We are essentially a ‘message tribe,’ and that means we must ensure the faithful transmission of the message we carry through proclamation”

He goes on to provide specific examples in faith communities of the missional-incarnational impulse.

I have a lot of questions for my fellow United Methodists. Every now and then I get messages saying, “Do you want to have a knock-down, bang-up method form mission and discipleship? Come to this or that conference. This will work in churches of any size, shape, or fashion!” Are we kidding ourselves to think any method is one size fits all (OK, I know you know where I stand on this, so it’s a leading question. haha)?

How can we encourage our congregations to moving from “outreach and drag-in” to incarnational gospel presence within communities sharing the message of Christ relationally?

What kind of influence do our largest UM Churches have on our plans for carrying out God’s mission? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-megachurch, but should churches in communities of 1,000 or even 5,000 base their approach to mission on something happening in a large urban or suburban congregation?

How do we, like Christ, move into the neighborhood? I did hear of a pastor and his congregation who held a block-party in their small-town community among a group of unchurched people. I think this embodies a lot of what Hirsch is saying. What do you think?

January 12, 2008 at 10:09 am 3 comments

Missional Methodism & Rigorous Discipleship

One of the books I recently bought is really good and thought-provoking. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church by Alan Hirsch is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Turns out it was worth the wait. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book, but so far I’ve been mesmerized by Hirsch’s description of mDNA (missional DNA, not to be confused with mRNA – messenger RNA – sorry, science humor). I’ve really been too engaged in the book so far, even when I disagree, to underline anything so far.

However, this passage is too important for us United Methodists to leave alone.

In the opinion of Stephen Addison, a missiologist who has spent much of his professional life studying Christian movements, the key to Methodism’s success was the high level of commitment to the Methodist cause that was expected of participants. This cause declined to the degree that the movement had moved away from its original missional ethos or evangelism and disciple making and degenerated into mere religious legalism maintained by institution, rule books, and professional clergy (p. 103).

He goes on to talk about the catechesis of the early Church,

…far from being “seeker-friendly,” by AD 170 the underground Christian movement had developed what they called the catechisms. These were not merely the doctrinal confessions they later became; they involved rigorous personal examinations that required the catechumen to demonstrate why he or she was worthy of entry into the confessing community. Not only could proposed converts lose their life, because of the persecution of the time, but they had to prove why they believed they should be allowed to become part of the Christian community in the first place!

…it was this element of vigorous discipleship that characterized the early Christian movement that was blighted by the deluge of worldliness that flooded the post-Constantinian church when the bar was lowered for membership and the culture was “Christianized.” (p. 104)

To be honest, I have totally mixed reactions to this. The concept of proving oneself worthy of joining the Christian community strikes me as a little antithetical to a gracious understanding of God. However, I do think that the concept of rigorous discipleship, as shown in early Christianity and Methodism, is incredibly important. For instance, the other night my wife was watching this stupid show about becoming a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader on CMT. They kept saying how important their identity was, and several girls didn’t make the team because they either didn’t live up to the values of the team or they didn’t have a certain level of commitment. I thought to myself, how is it that the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders have more rigorous set of practices and ideals than the Church?!

But that’s the tension isn’t it? Christ died and is risen for all, right? So how do we balance inspiring committed discipleship with the message of God’s free grace? Also, do you agree with Hirsch’s comment about legalism maintained by institutions, rule books, and professional clergy? Is that what United Methodism has become or not? How could the UMC become a Church that more fully embodies full-bodied discipleship?

Hopefully these questions can initiate a conversation in the comments. What are some of your first impressions?

January 9, 2008 at 1:51 pm 5 comments

Conversation on Barna’s Latest

Trevin Wax has a great summary of George Barna’s latest and greatest, Pagan Christianity.  After checking out his interaction with Barna, you need to click over and read Michael Spencer’s post on Proverbs for Christianity’s Angry Young (and Old) Men.  Good stuff – thought provoking fun for all.

January 2, 2008 at 12:25 pm Leave a comment

Advent with Eugene Peterson, No. 3

I’ve finished Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and I must say I got far more out of it in the second reading. I usually don’t read things twice. I’m not the kind of guy who will watch a movie over and over again either, unless I just love it. But during my first read of Peterson’s book I kept thinking, “Man, there is so much stuff here…I should slow down and really let it sink in.” In any case, this will probably be my last Advent post on Peterson, and I just picked a quote that I underlined and starred, which means I really liked it.

Given the prominence of the Supper in our worshiping lives, the prominence of meals in the Jesus work of salvation, it is surprising how little notice is given among us to the relationship between the Meal and our meals. Our surprise develops into a sense of urgency when we recognize that a primary, maybe the primary, venue for evangelism in Jesus’ life was the meal. Is Jesus’ preferred setting for playing out the work of salvation on this field of history only marginally available to us? By marginalizing meals of hospitality in our daily lives have we inadvertently diminished the work of evangelism? And is there anything that can be done about it?

Reading this during Advent, I have a lot of thoughts swirling through my head. On one hand, I’m thinking about the day I have ahead of me. I’ll be taking food baskets to three different families in town today. I do have some relationship with each of these families, but I have never sat down to a meal with them outside of the Church. Think about that.

The other thing this makes me think about is Christmas meals with family. There are many folks in my family who don’t know Christ in a real way, and I wonder how my actions point, or fail to point, to Christ in acts of evangelistic hospitality.

Maybe you will be out and about taking part in similar activities. Hopefully in this time of meal after meal after meal, you can find ways to make Christ known in the meals you participate in. Then, you can imitate Christ in “evangelistic eating!”

December 20, 2007 at 9:24 am 1 comment

Lessons from Craig Groeschel @ 40

At the ripe old age of 40, Craig Groeschel has had a series of posts on 40 things he wished he had been told at 20. I’m 10 years late, but maybe they’ll be worth hearing at 30! haha If any stand out to you as particularly important or insightful, make a note in the comments.

  1. Life is short. Make every day count for God’s glory.
  2. Life is short. Don’t take it too seriously.
  3. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.
  4. Jesus cares more about the church than you do.
  5. You can’t please everyone…so why try?
  6. People will criticize you. Quit whining. Get used to it.
  7. Three months from now, you won’t even remember most of the things that are bothering you today.
  8. You can’t do it all. Stop trying.
  9. God called you because He is good, not because you are.
  10. If you blame yourself for the bad results in ministry, you’ll likely also take credit for the good results.
  11. Become close friends with other pastors in your town (as many as you can).
  12. Your kids will be grown before you know it. Don’t sacrifice them on the altar of ministry.
  13. Your ministry isn’t your god. God is your God.
  14. You know how to give and how to minister to others. If you don’t learn how to receive, you’ll burn out and/or die.
  15. Studying for sermons doesn’t replace your personal time with God and in His word.
  16. Err on the side of generosity.
  17. Believe in people that others overlook.
  18. If you’re going to reach people that others aren’t, you’ll have to do things that others won’t.
  19. Your integrity matters more than you can imagine.
  20. Hire staff members that you like.
  21. When you have a tough decision to make, but you know it’s right, make it immediately. (Like pulling off a Band-Aid: do it fast, and all at once.)
  22. Hire slowly. Fire quickly.
  23. You can’t change people. Only God can.
  24. Don’t criticize others’ ministries. Yours isn’t nearly as perfect as you think it is.
  25. Take care of yourself. Eat right. Rest. Exercise. Take time off. No one else can do that for you.
  26. If you don’t take much time off, it’s because you’re proud, and you think you’re more necessary than you really are.
  27. Don’t just delegate responsibility. Delegate authority.
  28. Laugh frequently.
  29. People will leave your church. People you love and trust will leave your church. Don’t take it personally.
  30. When you suffer and hurt because of ministry, worship Jesus all the more.
  31. Talk about Jesus every time you preach.
  32. Be careful what you say. You’re being watched (and recorded).
  33. Don’t return emails when you’re angry.
  34. Check to make sure your microphone is turned off before you use the bathroom. Double-check.
  35. Check to make sure your zipper is zipped every time before you preach. Double-check.
  36. Love your wife more than you love the church. The church is Jesus’ bride, not yours.
  37. Always be caught speaking well of others.
  38. Compliment, encourage, and build up your staff and volunteers.
  39. Hand write thank you notes.
  40. Smile and look people in the eyes when you talk to them.

 

December 14, 2007 at 12:49 pm 1 comment

Advent with Eugene Peterson, No. 2

I’m still hanging out with Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places during Advent. It has been a great, albeit slow, read. To get Peterson, sometimes you really have to slow down and absorb what he’s trying to say.

In the following passage, I didn’t have to slow down. In fact, I wanted to speed up and fly right by!! In this passage, Peterson is talking about the idolatry of trying to live our faith disconnected from the places where we find ourselves, especially the workplace. Rather than risking everything and trying to find creative ways to live faithfully within our jobs we instead, “fantasize about jobs in which we can wholeheartedly work, in the wonderful phrase, ‘to the glory of God.'” He also argues that we look to the Christian marketplace to fulfill our need for a deeper faith.

“…what we do is look around for ways to affirm and cultivate our new life in Christ outside our workplace. And we soon find, quite to our delight, that there is a lot to choose from. A huge religious marketplace has been set up in North America to meet the needs and fantasies of people just like us. There are conferences and gatherings custom-designed to give us the lift we need. Books and videos and seminars promise to let us in on the Christian “secret” of whatever we feel is lacking in our life: financial security, well-behaved children, weight-loss, exotic sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers. The people who promote these goods and services all smile a lot and are good-looking…(p. 125).”

Peterson then suggests that when we get caught up in this discipleship via consumerism, “we have become consumers of packaged spiritualities.”

“This also is idolatry. We never think of using this term for it since everything we are buying or paying for is defined by the adjective “Christian.” But idolatry it is nevertheless: God packaged as a product; God depersonalized and made available as a technique or a program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative (p. 125).”

Well…ouch. I’ve asked my family to buy me Amazon giftcards this year so I could buy tons of great “Christian” stuff to read. Hey, a new prayerbook would deepen my prayer life. A new commentary would certainly spark a renewed interest in Scripture. Doggone-it, my faith in Christ will be deeper and stronger in the new year because of these purchases…

Idolatry, huh? I suppose at times, God as a technique or a program is much more attractive than a living and active God.  Maybe this Christmas when I’m opening my new commentaries, prayer books, and emergent manifestos on leadership (w/apologies to Tim Keel, whose new book I can’t wait to read), I’ll remember that God doesn’t fit in a package. Maybe I’ll look up long enough from my new cache of books and catch a glimpse of the manger. Maybe then I’ll remember what I really need is an ongoing relationship with the living, active, Creator God, who is too big for words and much too big to wrap.

December 12, 2007 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

Advent with Eugene Peterson

Christ PlaysI’m re-reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places for Advent this year. I continue to be amazed at the pastoral wisdom that Eugene Peterson has packed into the pages of this book. As I read slowly through the pages, I’m more and more convinced that spiritual theology is one of the most important disciplines for the pastor.

A passage I read a few days back has really stayed with me, and I want to share it here. In it, Peterson is discussing the ways that accepting Jesus as the definitive revelation of God makes it impossible for us to make up our own individualized spiritualities. Peterson may very well have been writing during this time of year when he wrote, “…we can’t get around him or away from him; Jesus is the incarnation of God.”

In the first words here, he goes back to the theme I’ve been hitting hard lately of the importance of “place” (a better word than context, I think). Incarnation is incredibly important for elevating the value of being a particular person in a particular place:

Jesus prevents us from thinking that life is a matter of ideas to ponder or concepts to discuss. Jesus saves us from wasting our lives in pursuit of cheap thrills and trivializing diversions. Jesus enables us to take seriously who we are and where we are without being seduced by intimidating lies and delusions that fill the air, so that we needn’t be someone else of somewhere else (p. 33).

However, it’s the expansion of this that really strikes me,

Jesus keeps our feet on the ground, attentive to children, in conversation with ordinary people, sharing meals with friends and strangers, listening to the wind, observing the wildflowers, touching the sick and wounded, praying simply and unselfconsciously. Jesus insists that we deal with God right here and now, in the place where we find ourselves and with the people we are with. Jesus is God here and now (pp 33-34).

These are the “Christ-practices” that are essential for any good pastor. I would even suggest that the pastoral life well-lived also inculcates these practices in the group of believers they shepherd. If you’re like me you’ll probably find some who don’t do these things, but you’ll find many others who already do them, but don’t realize that they are part of the amazing good news of God! Part of our job is to help people understand how many of the simple practices of their daily lives are caught up in the narrative of God’s mission to reclaim the world.

Maybe this year, as we prepare to remember God’s Incarnate Son, we can cling to the Christ-practices of the here and now. Maybe we can embody the way Christ’s Incarnation shows us a faith is earthy and real as we become more and more like the One who came and is to come.

December 6, 2007 at 8:38 am 3 comments

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