Thursday, April 30, 2009
The man in this picture is James-Michael Smith, who has been the Disicpleship Pastor at Good Shepherd since 2004.
Today is his last day on the job.
Thankfully, it's not his last day as part of the Good Shepherd community.
James-Michael is moving on from the staff so that he can prepare for and then pursue his Ph.D. in biblical theology. We hope that one day he'll be teaching in one of our United Methodist seminaries.
James-Michael arrived in Charlotte back in 2003 and moved in to a townhouse across the street from the church. As he studied for his MDiv. degree at Gordon-Conwell's Charlotte campus, he became involved in the life of our church. When the Discipleship position came open a year later, he was a natural for the job.
He leaves behind a Pathfinder approach to small group life that we all love here. His second legacy is the Passage School Of Theology, a collection of high-level, content-heavy classes that we now offer.
And no one taught those classes better than James-Michael himself.
As a farewell, we made a surprise DVD for him consisting of students in front of the camera telling what they'd learned under his teaching. His influence and reach have been enormous.
He's helped us in our goal not just to be a large church but a deep one as well.
Plus, he's passionate, sarcastic, quick-witted, and committed. All the things I like. I'll miss him around here on a daily basis.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
For example, I could come up with a different U2 song to go along with virtually every message I give. In fact, I would love doing that. It would suit me and my preferences just fine.
But after about the third Sunday of that, the rest of the congregation would begin to yawn. It would get stale and predictable and would get in the way of our strategy.
By the same token, many churches through the years have resisted any move towards more contemporary or modern forms of worship. Why? The preferences of the members. And with a few exceptions (such as here and here), churches that have adamantly stayed traditional in their worship have declined in attendance and impact.
So whether it's worship style or ministry design, make sure you don't mistake personal preference for kingdom strategy.
Monday, April 27, 2009
As you can imagine, people who come up with ideas like that -- and the wherewithal to make those ideas come to pass -- are fun to work with.
I am blessed on this day after Sunday.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Think Robert Duvall in The Apostle.
But what if we could reclaim that word pentecostal?
What if we in Methodism could wear it proudly as a banner?
Because Mr. Wesley himself was one of the great teachers on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.
He says this in his sermon "On The Holy Spirit":
The Holy Spirit has enabled men to speak with tongues, and to prophesy; but the light that most necessarily attends it is a light to discern the fallacies of flesh and blood, to reject the irreligious maxims of the world, and to practice those degrees of trust in God and love to men, whose foundation is not so much in the present appearances of things, as in some that are yet to come.
And this in the same sermon:
But I think the true notion of the Spirit is, that it is some portion of, as well as preparation for, a life in God, which we are to enjoy hereafter. The gift of the Holy Spirit looks full to the resurrection; for then is the life of God completed in us.
And Wesley's focus on holiness is a focus on the Holy Spirit: if salvation is what Christ does for us by faith, then sanctification is what the Spirt does in us by that same faith.
So the heart and soul of Wesley's preaching and teaching -- our heritage as Methodists! -- is deeply, profoundly pentecostal. Minus all the 20th and 21st Century baggage the term carries with it.
So when Good Shepherd does messages series like Without Limit or Without Limit 2.0 in which we talk openly about praying in tongues, divine healing, and expressive worship, we're not trying to break the mold of Methodist churches.
We're trying to fit back into it.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
As if the bottom line price of the car and its options doesn't matter, only what you have to shell out every month. Every month for the next four years. Or five. Or six. You can be convinced that you can "afford" the car since you can afford the monthy payment . . . if it's stretched out over a long, long time.
What a crock.
You end up having "affordable" monthly payments for so long that you move right into the next car and its new monthly payments. Money you could be using for long term gain goes instead to fueling short term desires.
It's so short sighted. It makes plans based on the now instead of the then.
Ministry can be the same way. Those of us in church leadership make decisions on short term results rather than long term impact.
It's why many of us make ministry decisions on who we want to keep rather than who we want to reach.
So whether it's buying a car or leading a ministry, forget the monthly payments.
Focus on the long term goal.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Questions keep building and building. Questions without any easy answers.
- Why does God allow mental illness?
- What redemptive purpose can you ever find in a suicide?
- Why is there so much jealousy among pastors?
- Why is there so much sexual dysfunction among church people and church leaders?
- Why are the deepest hurts that Christians experience . . . at the hands of other Christians? (Knowing full well I've been on both sides of that one.)
- Why are there birth defects?
The list could go on. I suppose I'm asking them because later this week I'll lead a memorial service for twin boys who were born 17 weeks premature and did not make it.
I've been in a season of spiritual and professional blessing. Great excitement and appreciate for what God is doing in me and in this church.
Yet the questions remain.
You probably have some as well. So keep asking. It's a lot better than pretending they don't exist.
Monday, April 20, 2009
A lot of pastors take Mondays off.
But somewhere along the way, someone told me that pastors who do take Mondays off have a higher rate of clinical depression than those who don't. I have no way of verifying that claim, but I've accepted it as fact nevertheless. Something about going from the adrenaline-high of Sunday directly into nothing on Monday and how that dramatic a shift leads to depression. It sounded logical, so I bought it.
So I work on Mondays. Actually, if I didn't, I'd feel like I was playing catch-up the rest of the week.
I used to spend Monday morning writing hand-written notes to our first-time guests. These days, I feel better doing that particular task on Sunday nights.
That frees up Mondays for message preparation, counseling, visiting, and blogging. Oh yeah, blogging. I'll do some of all of those today.
Bob Geldof of LiveAid fame may have sung "I Don't Like Mondays" (a lighthearted song about a very dark event), but I like them just fine.
Friday, April 17, 2009
In that series, I spoke and taught openly about praying in tongues, about expressive worship, and about the need for Spirit-filling outside of corporate worship gatherings.
The people of Good Shepherd ate it up.
We sensed they wanted more. Wanted to linger in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
So we're expanding and enlarging on the concept: Without Limit 2.0. Here's what it looks like:
We gave out about 2000 Without Limit car deodorizers (really!) on Easter Sunday as a series promotion.
The series will allow us to delve more deeply into the Spirit's role and working and will give us a platform to talk about our new Corner Campus.
Because we really want to be a without limit church made up of without limit people.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The line got a good laugh.
But it got me wondering: Is the generational shift that dramatic? Has the paradigm changed that much?
My first District Superintendent (way back in 1990) gave me a three point message the day he met me: Visit your people. Visit your people. Visit your people.
So I did. I didn't know any better. I believe it helped change a tiny little church in Monroe, North Carolina into a nice-sized one in nine years. (By the way, that "three point message" was the extent of the DS training I got as a new pastor, but that's another post for another time.)
But now, in a different century and a different setting, would people really rather receive an email than a personal visit from me or from other pastors?
I don't know. All I know is that on those occasions when I do make an old-fashioned, in-home visit with a family -- like this week when I dropped by to speak with a couple about a dedication service for their baby -- that's when I feel most alive, most like a bona fide pastor of a church and proclaimer of the gospel. I also have a sneaking suspicion that people are grateful for pastoral interest, regardless of what generation they come from.
Maybe I'm just old-fashioned.
But maybe not.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I believe in the resurrection of the body . . .
Yet the fact remains that most people don't take the resurrection of the body very seriously. They are more focused on the immortality of the soul.
Most Christians believe that eternal life is all about their souls resting in the arms of heaven forever. And most people who aren't Christians have been taught that's what Christians believe about eternity. There is an element of truth in all that; for example, 2 Corinthians 5:8 says this: "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Yet biblically speaking, that "away from the body and at home with the Lord" is but an interim state. As a whole, the bible in general and the New Testament in particular is much more interested in the ultimate resurrection of our bodies. That's what I Corinthians 15 is all about -- Paul corrects the Corinthians' misuse of their bodies by teaching them that their flesh will be resurrected:
So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. I Corinthians 15:42-44
When does all that take place? When Jesus comes back. What does it all have to do with the Easter season? Everything. Jesus' own resurrection was a downpayment, or a "first fruits," of our resurrection. He was saying, "What happened to me and my body -- that's what will happen to you and your body at the end of the age."
So believing in the "resurrection of the body" is not merely a line in a creed. It -- even more than the immortality of the soul -- is the destiny of those who follow Jesus.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
And no, it's not the name of that old Police album. That was Synchronicity.
Though the word may not be that familiar, a lot of people are doing it. And believing it.
Syncretism is a blending of different belief systems -- especially religious ones -- in an effort to gain wisdom from each and harmonize all.
Christianity Today has a fascinating article about two Episcopal priests living out syncretism in a dramatic way. One priest, Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, was recently elected a bishop of in the Diocese of Northern Michigan . . . in spite of the fact that he had recently undergone lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist.
A second priest, Seattle-based Ann Holmes Redding, was recently defrocked -- had her ordination rescinded -- because she claimed that she was simultaneously Christian and Muslim.
So I guess the Seattle Episcopalians take a dimmer view of syncretism than do those in Northern Michigan.
And so do I.
Because although harmonizing of disparate faiths in this way sounds nice, it is intellectually untenable. I also suggest it does a disservice to both faiths involved.
Syncretism is intellectually void because two contradictory ideas cannot be true at the same time.
Think about it: Buddhism & Hinduism teach that after death we are reincarnated as someone or something else; Christianity teaches that "it is appointed for man once to die and then to face judgment" (Hebrews 11:27). They can't both be true. Either one is right, one is wrong, or they are both wrong.
Or this: Christianity teaches that Jesus was literally God-in-the-flesh. Judaism regards that as view as an offense against the God of both faiths. They can't both be true. Either one is right, one is wrong, or they are both wrong.
Or this: Islam teaches that salvation in the afterlife comes as a reward for good works. Christianity teaches without reservation that people are "saved by grace through faith . . . not by works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). They can't both be true. Either one is right, one is wrong, or they are both wrong.
I believe that the attempts by the two priests in the Christianity Today article -- as well as scores of other leaders from different denominations -- stem from good intentions coupled with intellectual laziness.
I am all for interfaith cooperation. And I certaintly try to preach what I preach about Christ out of love and not out of judgment. But I believe Christ and his church -- as well as people from other faiths -- deserve our sharpest, clearest thinking about who Jesus is and what he claims.
And because of the unprecedented truthfulness of his resurrection, I'm staking my life on the claim that Jesus is not one of many. He is the one and only.
That's what Easter was about. You can listen to it here.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Come to one of our four Easter Celebrations -- 7:00, 8:30, 10:00, or 11:30 -- wait until the very end, and you'll see what I mean.
The Easter services bring the Voices series to a rousing conclusion.
The band is ready. The singers are ready. The A-V and lighting people are ready. The greeters are ready. The parking lot team is ready. I even think I'm ready.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Every so often in my 47 years, I have had brushes with the famous and the infamous. So here's a brief tour. (Please note: there is virtually no spiritual content on this post. No Methodism, no church leadership, no nothing. Just fame dropping.)
I shook George McGovern's hand at a rally in Dallas during the 1972 campaign. I was 10. My family was involved in the Democratic Party and I was sure he'd beat Richard Nixon.
I was wrong.
A bit later, I went to the same college as Brooke Shields. She was a freshman when I was a senior. One day, I was walking through the garden in the center of campus and she came walking towards me. Eating an apple. Get it? Me, Brooke, a garden and an apple.
My doubles partner in college was Steve Feinberg. He has since gone on to a secret sort of fame as the founder and principal of Cerberus, a massive hedge fund that now owns Chrysler. He is reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
I later met Arthur Ashe. In fact, I met him twice, once in September of 1985 and the second time a year later. And he remembered my name. I found that astounding. I still smile anytime I see replays of his winning match point against Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Wimbledon final and still get teary when I see old news accounts of his death in 1993.
When we lived in Kentucky, Julie and I won front row tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert. He came out on stage, asked "Anybody want a date?," thew a rose to the front row, and launched into Tunnel Of Love. We caught the rose and still have it in our photo album.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Who said that? A United Methodist pastor. This person said that and believed that . . . and was still ordained by our denomination.
Or a pastor friend of mine was refused ordination by an annual conference in another part of the country . . . because he calls God "Father" (you know, like Jesus did).
Well, that same pastor applied for ordination in Western North Carolina, was approved, ultimately won the evangelism award given by the conference and now pastors one of our largest churches.
But the anecdotes reveal a troubling trend in Methodism: our system so often makes small things big and big things small.
I've heard it said that a candidate for ordination can doubt the literal historicity of Jesus' resurrection from the dead and still move through the system (see anecdote #1). But if that same candidate expresses doubt about infant baptism or inclusive language for God -- both subjects about which Christians of good will can have very different opinions -- then he or she is sunk in terms of ordination.
The resurrection is a BIG thing -- according to I Corinthians 15, the biggest of them all -- and our system allows ambiguity.
Infant baptism and God language are, relatively, much smaller things -- and our system enforces conformity.
In this week of all weeks, in this season of all seasons, may Methodism move towards the big things.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
So God causes frustration within his own created order? Which includes us? Why would he do that?
To rescue us; to "liberate [us] from bondage to decay and [bring us] into the glorious freedom of the children of God."
Which means: God frustrates you to rescue you. To deliver you from the false god of self-sufficiency and drive you to your knees in submission to him.
Addicts who continue to look in vain for a high that is as good as that first one: God frustrates you to rescue you.
Pastors who wonder why that new program/paradigm/seminar is not bringing in the growth it promised: God frustrates you to rescue you.
Young adults who set happiness as a primary goal in life and then wonder why you never achieve it: God frustrates you to rescue you.
Older adults wondering how to make the time you have count: God frustrates you to rescue you.
If you are frustrated and ill-at-ease today, then join the crowd. Chances are good that God is trying to rid you of any vestige of self-reliance.
Your frustration is God's gift to you.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Which is a way of saying that people want the hands-on experience of making a difference more than they want to send money to overseas missionaries who will then make a difference for them.
I think that consultant is probably right.
I also think that's why our First Serve launch was a good success this past weekend. Over 250 people from Good Shepherd served at venues ranging from a Friday night gang prevention ministry with middle schoolers to Saturday morning sites such as a local nursing home, a battered women's shelter, a transitional housing unit, and the Charlotte Rescue Mission.
I spent Saturday morning at McDowell Park, cleaning litter from the shores of Lake Wylie. It turns out that there have been staff cutbacks there, leaving only two people to clean 1100 acres. So they really needed the volunteer help. It was dirty, smelly work . . . but I firmly believe it was kingdom work.
So if the other 249 volunteers had half the experience I did, it was doing mission indeed.
(By the way, Good Shepherd still sends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to our overseas mission partners.)
The next First Serve is on Saturday May 3. You can find out more here.
Friday, April 3, 2009
The people are expectant.
The Spirit is waiting.
First Serve launches tomorrow morning.
It's a focused, simple way of mobilizing large numbers of people from the Good Shepherd community to be involved in meaningful ministry throughout the Charlotte area. We believe First Serve will revolutionize our serving ministry in the same way that Pathfinder has brought new life to our group ministry.
To find out more -- and to sign up -- look here.
And no, the name of the ministry has nothing to do with tennis.
Even though my first serve was by far my best shot . . .
More Voices this Sunday.
Last week we looked at the voices that Judas must have heard on his way to betrayal and ultimately to suicide.
This week, it's the voices of the crowd that you find in Luke 19 . . . and again in Luke 23.
Check it out. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Football instead is an expression of our 19th Century belief in Manifest Destiny; it is a weekly morality play featuring "good" and "evil"; it even reflects the uniquely American need to congregate, regroup, and plan . . . in other words, to "huddle."
So why should a church staff study a book that on the surface has so little to do with church?
In the grand scheme of things, I want us reading books like this so we can better understand the culture within which we minister. The more we "get" people's values, assumptions, and desires, the more we can speak Christ into their lives. It's why later this year we'll read a seminal book on cultural communication called Made To Stick.
But beyond that, we recognized in reading How Football Explains America that many of the elements which contribute to a football team's success or failure do the same with a church staff. Cliches, but they are true:
- You win with fundamentals.
- You measure progress in identifiable units -- like a first down.
- You tap into the power of people's narrative.
- People tend to fill a leadership vacuum with their own poison.
- There is a common enemy -- and it's not other churches.
Down, set . . . hut.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Perhaps it was the growing influence of John Piper on evangelicalism.
It could be a nostalgic reconnection with the first church I ever attended as a new follower of Jesus, some thirty years ago now.
Or even the Time-magazine-inspired realization of what robust theology is winning the hearts and minds of young people around the country.
But probably it is my growing understanding of the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men.
In any event, I believe that I'm being moved to embrace a Calvinist understanding of Christian theology, biblical anthropology, and cosmic soteriology.
In other words, I'm coming to believe that people really are totally depraved, that we receive unconditional election either to salvation or damnation, that Jesus offers a limited atonement for the elect, that his grace is irresistible, and that I will be one of those who will enjoy the perseverance of the saints.
I'll probably need to some theological re-training so I can de-program my mind from its Asbury Seminary indoctrination. It may require some trips to Philadelphia or simply a good school right here in Charlotte.
I'm not sure what this will mean for my future in the United Methodist Church -- or if I even have one.
What a long, strange trip it's been. Talbot Davis. Calvinist.