Monday, June 30, 2008
Now, not all Methodist churches did so. In any given year, about 20% or so of the churches in the Western North Carolina Conference say good-bye to one pastor and then hello to a new one through a system called the itineracy. By itineracy, Methodism means that its pastors "itinerate" or "move." This year, "moving day" was June 24 and the first Sunday for pastors in new churches was June 29.
This system has its roots from the early days of the Methodist movement -- in England in the 1700s and here in the U.S. in the 1800s. It was an effective means of deploying clergy and serving churches in the days when people traveled on horseback.
Even in the 20th Century, Methodist pastors rarely stayed in one congregation for more than four years. While this ensured plenty of "itinerating," it often made for churches that had little continuity and pastors' families who had little stability.
These days, our denomination encourages longer tenures. In fact, I've only moved once in 19 years of ministry -- something that would have been unheard of a generation ago. I served nine years in Monroe and this week begin my 10th at Good Shepherd.
But the larger question is this: is a system that served Methodists well in the days of wagon trains and stagecoaches still viable in an era of wireless internet and megachurches?
These days, there is a real connection between stability in leadership and congregational health. The largest and most innovative churches in the U.S. -- not to mention in Methodism -- tend to keep their pastors for a long time.
In fact, Rev. Don Haynes, who has served at almost every conceivable level of the denomination, has some provocative commentary on the itineracy. You can read it here.
By the way, while I did not "itinerate" this weekend, it was full -- Vacation Bible School, an emotional funeral, and then Sunday's worship. You can listen to the message here.
Friday, June 27, 2008
While my tennis game is nowhere near Agassi's, my struggle with image, appearance, and reputation is.
That's why this week's Confession Of A Pastor might just be the most personal of them all. I Am Obsessed With Appearances. I really am. We'll check out I Samuel 16 and see what kind of biblical remedy there is for an obsession that I suspect I share with some of you.
Along the way, the kids from Jersualem Marketplace will share some of their spirit with us. It's going to be a great Sunday . . . I can already feel it.
You know what's interesting about Andre Agassi? Late in his tennis career, he shaved his head, changed his clothing, and became known for substance rather than style. That's why he was a better player at 33 than at 23.
When it comes to ministry, maybe the same thing will happen in me.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
But we want to do justice to James' memory and bring honor to God with the funeral service. We've got our top music team taking part -- April Geiger, John Pavlovitz, and Chris Macedo.
And I believe that funerals are really important. I've seen a lot of bad ones in my time in ministry. Bad funerals do two things: 1) deny the reality of the grief the survivors are feeling; and/or 2) use the service as an evangelism tool, attempting to get all the "lost" people in the congregation converted to Christ. Please. Not the right time or place.
Instead, we want funerals at Good Shepherd to give expression and permission. Here's what I mean by giving expression: I pray that my words and our music will give voice to things that people are already feeling but haven't been able to verbalize. That includes memories of the person who died, the qualities that made him or her unique, and why it is that this loss is especially poignant.
Giving permission is closely related: I pray our funeral services give people permission to grieve. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." Grief is natural, healthy, and good; denial or trivializing of grief is in the long run harmful to survivors and congregation alike.
In the end, when we are honest in that expression and permission, we do justice to the memory of the one who died and bring honor to the One who gives life in the first place.
I pray that happens on Saturday.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Our entire campus has been transformed into "Jerusalem Marketplace." We have a synagogue, a central shopping/crafts area, and even a petting zoo.
You can see the last part here:
It's actually one of my favorite weeks of the year. Each time, I work as a "tribe leader," which means that I help move a group of VBS kids from activity to activity, finishing up each day with a special "tribe time" in which we review the teaching and the experiences.
This is what my tribe looks like:
It gives me a chance to be more than someone on stage to at least this small group of kids. I also get to experience first hand their interest in the things of God and their enthusiasm for the church.
In other words, it gives me a chance to be a pastor.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The most interesting thing about jet skiing is managing the wake left by other watercraft. Jet skiing is fine as long as the water is smooth -- you can go as fast as you like.
But if you get caught behind another jet ski or-- even worse -- a boat, the water becomes choppy and difficult to navigate. The action of that craft leaves a wake of turbulent water. Now the person on the jet ski in front of you has no idea of the problems he is causing you; he's simply using the machine as it's meant to be used. But as the trailer ski, you pay the price.
I've been learning that decisions are much the same way. Every decision you make has consequences that you don't anticipate -- and often those consequences impact people you aren't even aware of. This is true in your families, at your work places, and especially in spiritual leadership. The quality of decision-making, I guess, has to do with the amount of turbulence it leaves behind.
What kind of wake are you creating for those coming behind you? Maybe more to the point, are you looking around to see your own impact?
Monday, June 23, 2008
But this weekend, I got to play a decidedly easier role: Vice President's Husband. Julie is a Regional VP of Sales for Kinetic Concepts Incorporated, a leading edge medical device firm. As a way of thanking certain high performers in the sales division, the company hosted an all-expense paid trip at a gorgeous Florida resort. I happily tagged along.
- Learning the vast insider lingo that goes along with any company. COPAs, CAMs, AEs, CCs, care settings, VACs, RVPs, MPGs (OK, I made that one up) are all now part of my daily conversation. I can even tell you what some of them mean.
- We had dinner one night with a couple whom I had never met. When they found out that I am a pastor, they immediately named me "Rev." It stuck. Priceless. I'm still not sure they know what my first name is.
- Reading Pete Sampras' new memoir.
But more than anything, I noticed a new trend in personal service & hospitality. Whenever I needed directions within the property, the people in hospitality -- whether they worked for KCI or the resort -- would not give me directions.
Instead, they'd take me where I needed to go. And there's a huge difference between saying to someone, "turn left at that hall, then through the double doors take another right" and saying, "here, come with me and I'll take you there." This weekend, I got none of the former and all of the latter.
That's the kind of hospitality and customer service we want to have around Good Shepherd as well. Because we do occupy a large building and it can be intimidating for people coming in for the first (or second or third) time. "Here, come with me and I'll take you there."
After all, Jesus didn't say, "I'll point you to the way" or "I'll teach you about the way," but "I AM the way, the truth, and the life."
That's hospitality of the eternal kind.
Friday, June 20, 2008
By way of reminder, here's the series promo:
This week, we'll look at the confession: I Have To Work Hard To Stay Sexually Pure.
It's a long list of pastors who have "fallen" sexually, isn't it? This week you'll hear how those of us in pastoral leadership at Good Shepherd strive to keep our names off that list.
Along the way, I think you'll get some pretty revolutionary views about sexuality and godliness. Can you believe those two words are in the same sentence? This Sunday, find out how. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
- Charlotte Christian School. The only school my kids have ever attended. CCS is biblical and evangelical without being close-minded and separatist. It is a delicate balance and the leadership does it very well.
- The tree canopy along Queens Road.
- RiverGate Shopping Center. The developer and I were in the same graduating class in high school in Dallas, Texas. Twenty-five years later we end up in the same corner of Mecklenburg County. The traffic flow, selection of stores, and proximity to my house (minutes!) make it my favorite.
- The Olympic Community Of Schools. We partnered with OHS to build a Habitat For Humanity house this year. A win-win for church and school.
- Independence Boulevard. OK, not really. I guess I don't like everything about Charlotte.
- Para-church organizations such as the Billy Graham Ministries and SIM International that have their headquarters here.
- The Observer. Really. I like it.
- The fact that the nations are coming to Charlotte. Our congregation has people from Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, France, Ecuador, Great Britain, Congo, Liberia, South Africa, Columbia, and many more. It's definitely the best thing about the church.
- Speaking of churches, here's one I like pretty well.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I mean, I really like this city we live in. Always have. I wouldn't be half bad working for the Chamber of Commerce.
Here are the top five reasons I like Charlotte so much:
5. The skyline. How about this nighttime picture?
4. The foliage at the corner of Hamilton Road and Highway 160 (right by our house). It's both city and country at the same time.
3. Three topnotch seminaries: Gordon-Conwell, Reformed Theological, and Southern Evangelical.
2. The Panthers. At least in 1996, 2003 and 2005.
1. The Morning Sports Page on WFNZ radio. Gary Williams and Jim Celania have a formula that works every time. Funny, irreverent, and smart. I can't imagine the city without them.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There are three primary reasons why we don't do fund raisers around here:
Charles Kyker, a friend who pastors Christ UMC in Hickory, once told me, “The unchurched believe that all the church wants is their money. And we hold barbecues and bazaars to remove all doubt.” I can’t get that thought out of my mind. We live in a skeptical world and in cynical times – and people not familiar with the church often assume the worst in us. What message do we convey when our signage asks them to come into our facilities not to receive anything but to buy merchandise? Not a message of gospel but one of commerce.
Beyond that community impact, I find fund raising to be a moral issue. I have been in a church that held barbecue dinners to help pay the Methodist apportionment! That is asking people in the community to help the church meet its own obligation. Pay it or not – but don’t have other folks pay what is your responsibility.
Do you know why Chick-Fil-A is so successful? They don’t make hamburgers. They do one thing – chicken – and do it brilliantly. Anything else would detract from their core mission.
At our church we have tried to adopt a philosophy of doing fewer things but doing them better. That means pouring our resources, energy, and excellence into what we do on Sunday morning. It is difficult enough to do church well that peripheral activities are an inevitable drain from what is most important. We have decided we are first and foremost a church. We are not a car wash, hot dog stand, or farmer’s market.
By generosity here, I mean tithing. Here is the core reason why churches should not do fund raisers: any church that holds fund raisers is, fundamentally, teaching its people not to tithe. Why tithe when we’ll get the money through the bazaar? Why grow in the giving of 10% or more of my income when I’m giving the church that chicken to barbecue or corn that I grew? Our church doesn’t do extra fund raisers because we do God’s appointed fund raiser every Sunday when we receive an offering.
So now you know why we do what we do . . . or in this case, don't do what we don't do.
Monday, June 16, 2008
But the group got the most energized when I told them about our church's policy towards fund raisers: we don't have them.
That's right. No bake sales. No raffles. No car washes. No barbecues. No pumpkin patches. All the people in First Step breathed a sigh of relief: it was if they were saying, "thank you Jesus!"
We don't do fund raisers because we do God's appointed fund raiser each week: we receive a Sunday offering.
You do that, you teach tithing, you set budget with foresight and boldness, and you'll never need to do a fund raiser. Ever.
You can listen to yesterday's message -- "I Feel Completely Inadequate" -- here.
Friday, June 13, 2008
And it's a genuine confession: I feel completely inadequate.
I had a friend in high school tell me once that I was a "simmering cauldron of insecurities."
Some friend, right? Actually, you can find out more about him here.
But he was probably on to something.
That's why this Sunday you'll find out some of the ways I feel like I'm in over my head; like I'm playing out of my league.
Oh, and you might learn something helpful for you own inadequacies as well. To get ready, check out I Corinthians 1:26 - 2:5.
By the way, Julie did read Tuesday's anniversary post -- but only because I put a highlighted link to Kinetic Concepts Incorporated (her company), and several colleagues have an alert system that lets them know whenver the company gets a citation like that. For a day at least, I had some notoriety over at KCI.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Anyway, the architect was stunned. He'd never heard of a Methodist church doing such a thing.
Now he has. And we made the space for the pool.
The drama of immersion baptisms in front of a worshipping community on Sunday morning is without compare.
This past Sunday, we baptized eleven students. Their boldness gave courage to all who were there.
It looked something like this:
The question: Do you trust in Christ as Lord and Savior? They answered yes!
We use a Wiedemann Value Line Fiberglass Portable Baptistry, product # PB-SWS. It has been a good investment in eternity.
Even our architect would agree.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
But just on top of that drawer is another drawer. That's where I keep some correspondence that, to put it mildly, is not so encouraging. The kind of correspondence that questions my intelligence, spirituality, and motivations.
Why keep some of both?
Because I believe that leaders in general and pastors in particular are never quite as good as their fans want to think . . . nor quite as inept as their critics claim. Those two kinds of correspondence that I keep around are subtle reminders not to believe all my headlines -- for good or for ill.
I suspect that there is both "wheat" and "chaff" in my encouragement file and my criticism pile. As a leader, I have to be bold enough to believe the wheat and honest enough to admit to the chaff.
So that in the end, when it comes to leadership, I'll be able to read the one headline that really matters: "Well done, my good and faithful . . . "
By the way, one of the best leadership blogs comes from Tim Stevens of Granger Church in Granger, Indiana. You can read it here.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
- Ghostbusters was the #1 movie in America;
- "Time After Time" was the #1 song in Kasey Kasem's Top 40;
- The Celtics and Lakers were battling for the NBA title;
- Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale were campaigning for the presidency;
- and Julie Munoz and I got married in Princeton, New Jersey.
Yeah, yesterday was our 24th anniversary. We went out for a nice dinner here and then for dessert had Krispy Kreme donuts. What better combination?
There are a number of reasons why I married well:
- Julie has always been really good looking with a really good tan;
- She is a Regional Vice-President of Sales with Kinetic Concepts Incorporated, a medical device firm based out of San Antonio;
- She has a great laugh;
- She puts up with my insecurities and idiosyncrisies, which are legion;
- And she rarely reads this blog.
I'll let you know if she saw this post.
Monday, June 9, 2008
A couple of conference highlights:
- Good Shepherd's own Rich Tuttle was "commissioned" as a probationary elder in the Methodist Church. Don't worry . . . in this case, probation is a good thing. It simply means that he is on the way to ordination and tenure as a pastor in our denomination.
- Good Shepherd is currently the third largest church in the WNCC in terms of average Sunday attendance. In 2007, only Christ UMC in Hickory (2098 average attendance) and Matthews UMC in Matthews (1697) were larger than Good Shepherd (1475).
But the most interesting moment came when Rev. Hubert Clinard won the Harry Denman Award For Excellence in Evangelism. The Conference gives that award each year to a pastor who has done innovative work in sharing faith and growing churches.
Yet Hubert Clinard is 83. Turns out he has taken over 50 mission trips to Costa Rica alone in the course of his ministry. I cannot think of a more deserving winner. You can read more about it on page 3 of this Conference Update.
It got me thinking . . . do I have enough zeal for God still to be doing His work at that age? Or will I be winding down, figuring that the work of the gospel is for only for the young?
Thanks Hubert. I want to be like you when I grow up.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
It's a series a lot of us are excited about around here. It's based on the book of the same name by Craig Groeschel. You can see more about the book here.
Here's the series trailer:
This Sunday's installment: Sometimes I Don't Like Christians Very Much. Really? Yeah.
I bet you don't either. This Sunday you can see what to do about it. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
While many preachers dread going because a) there are many long sessions and b) the auditorium at Junaluska is not air conditioned, I actually love going. I think it's the family reunion element that keeps me coming back. Well, that and the fact that attendance is mandatory.
But all of that gets me thinking about why I like being a Methodist so much.
After all, the denomination as a whole is in decline, my theology and the theology of Good Shepherd is somewhere to the right of the hierarchy, and sometimes people tell us that our church doesn't seem like a Methodist church. In spite of all that, I love the denomination and am proud to be a United Methodist. Here's why:
- Methodists take I Timothy 2:4-5 seriously: "this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." We believe God genuinely wants all people to know him, that he has given us free will, and celebrates when we come home.
- Methodists have a marvelous doctrine called prevenient grace: the notion that God is at work in your life when you are not aware of it. It's the move of God that you see in the rear view mirror. If not for that prevenient grace, I wouldn't know him.
- Methodists have long had a good mix of personal faith and social outreach.
- Historically, Methodists were known for their rowdy worship, their passion for sharing their faith with those who had not yet accepted Christ, their love for small groups, and their commitment to help the poor. Hmmm, when we get it right, that sounds like Good Shepherd. Maybe we're more Methodist than all those sedate churches out there!
I'll be back on Saturday so I can preach on Sunday. And I'm sure I'll return with even more appreciation for being part of the "people called Methodist."
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
See, for years I have been a master of avoidance, an expert at innuendo, an artist at dropping hints. Instead of speaking the truth with clarity, I have often danced around it and simply hoped those who work with me would know what I want.
But in recent months I have been learning the power of expectations. It has been freeing as a leader to say with simplicity and conviction: "this is what I expect."
And most people want to do and will do what their leader expects.
But they can't do what they don't know.
It's my job to make that clear. So that cloudy desires become clear expectations.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Here's the video that led into his own sermon:
Trust me, the message itself had more of a point than the video!
James-Michael reminded the church that what John sees and what John hears in Revelation can be two very different things. But more than that, JMS showed the people of Good Shepherd that the more we go "full color," the more we resemble the 144,000 saints in the throneroom of Revelation 7 and Revelation 14. Amen to that.
I'm already grieving the end of NUMB3RS. Definitely our most thought-provoking series ever.
But to help with that grief, we're launching Confessions Of A Pastor this Sunday. More on that later.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Reunions at Princeton almost defy description. Each May, over 20,000 alumni and their families gather for three days of reconnecting, remembering, and, well, partying. You can see a bit of what the festivities are like here.
Here are some things I noticed on this trip:
- There is a reason they call New Jersey the Garden State. The tree canopy over Princeton in late May is stunning.
- There is a bit more beer at Princeton reunions than at reunions for my other alma mater -- Asbury Theological Seminary. OK, a lot more.
- Some of our contemporaries from Princeton are now virtually retired. In their mid 40s. They did well on Wall Street and are now on to other things. Incredible.
- On the flip side, there are a lot of people from Julie's graduating class who are now clergy. They probably won't be retiring anytime soon.
- I played doubles with Glenn Michibata, the current tennis coach. I actually did pretty well -- it was on a hard court. I learned afterwards that Glenn had been ranked #1 in the world in doubles for a time in the 1980s. I'm glad I didn't know that going in.
Believe it or not, I often wonder if I'm glad that I went to college there. It sounds sort of ungrateful, doesn't it? What a gift my parents gave me and what an experience I had.
But on the other hand I never was completely at home in New Jersey. And today when people learn that I went there they make assumptions about my attitude or background that aren't necessarily true. Plus, that degree comes with an expectation of future accomplishment -- and it's not like I needed any more incentive to get worked up wondering whether I've done enough or not.
Yet in the end, I see God's hand even in my mixed emotions and mixed experiences. Without taking myself too seriously, I do think He wanted me to go there. It's where I met Julie, it's where I first sensed a call into some kind of ministry, it's even where I heard about Asbury. Maybe I should fret less and appreciate more.
I think I'll be going back for my 25th next year.