Measuring

Do not judge, and you will not be judged;
do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap;
for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
Luke 6:37-38 (NRSV)

Recently I’ve been helping the Marshfield Community Theatre with some of the set pieces for the upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast. (On a side note, you should go and see the musical, because it’s a great story, because it supports local theater, and because Sean Deakyne is playing Lumiere!) All that construction has gotten me thinking about the importance of measurements.

For example, I was using a tool to mark some boards. I wanted to cut them at four inches and noticed that one side of the square was directly at that mark. I marked the boards, made my cuts, and did all the assembly. When I brought out the measuring tape, the piece was one half inch taller than I anticipated. What went wrong?

Well, when I looked back at the square I was using to make the marks, there is an extra half inch between the edge of the tool and the one inch mark. Zero isn’t marked. I just assumed it would be the edge of the tool. I was wrong. Careful measuring is important.

Measuring is important in the church, too. We want to be a growing and vital community of faith. To determine if we are, we have to measure something. To know if our plans result in the desired outcome, we have to find a way to measure that outcome. But, that isn’t always easy, especially in the church.

There are some things in church which are fairly easy to quantify and measure. How many people are attending worship? We can measure that. How does the offering compare to last year? We can measure that.

But areas of spiritual and personal growth are harder to measure. How have I grown as a Christian, husband, father, etc. in the past year? Well, that is a little harder to pinpoint. And, if that weren’t hard enough, there is the added challenge of figuring out how much of that growth is a result of my experience in church and how much happened as a result of other experiences.

Measuring personal and spiritual growth is a subjective art. Furthermore, it requires a qualitative measurement as opposed to a quantitative one. “Regular” church attendance does not directly correlate to spiritual growth. It may be a contributing factor, but it isn’t the only factor. (It may not even be the most important factor…)

In all this thinking about measuring, I remembered this little passage from Luke 6, where Jesus is talking with the disciples about judgement and measurement. Jesus says “do not judge.” But he does not say, “do not measure.” Actually, he says “the measure you give is the measure you will get back.” We should be measuring our growth, especially our spiritual growth, both as individuals and as a church. As we do so, we should be generous and gracious with our measurements.

Celebrating as the Body

If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.
If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
1 Corinthians 12:26 (The Message)

First off, THANK YOU for the amazing and overwhelming surprise on the 15th! I was caught completely off-guard by the celebration you all put together for my graduation and the 10-year anniversary of my ministry here at Marshfield Christian Church. And, catching me by surprise is not an easy thing to do. I think it’s the first time in 27 years of our relationship that Jennie has been able to completely surprise me, especially with something of this magnitude.

It is truly a blessing to be part of this body of faith, where we celebrate together and grieve together. I certainly do not underestimate the importance of your support over the past decade. And I am keenly aware of your prayers and willingness to participate in my doctoral journey as well. In countless ways each of you has influenced me, and the research in church leadership.

During the past few days of celebration with my fellow graduates, a theme developed in our conversations. Many of my colleagues are wondering “What now?” Completing our research, finishing the writing, passing the oral defense, and crossing that stage have consumed so much of our energy and focus over the past four (or more) years. What do we do now?

That answer is different for each of us, I suppose. For me, for Marshfield Christian Church, the answer is that we work together to implement what the research into church leadership has shown us. We continue to strive to be the church God is calling us to be. These are unfamiliar waters for us, however, and that brings with it a certain level of anxiety. We could try this new way of being church, and it may not work. What then? On the other hand, it may just propel us forward in our faith journey…

The future is not clear. I sometimes wonder if the path I am suggesting is the right one for us at this time. That uncertainty brings with it fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Yet, as those fears rise and threaten to choke out the growth of what God has planted among us, I hear God’s voice saying, “Do not be afraid.” And I remember that I am not alone. You all reminded me of that in a profound and tangible way just 10 days ago.

We really are journeying together with God. That makes all the difference!

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to visit the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Mission First! initiative website at http://missionfirst.disciples.org. (If you don’t do the whole internet thing, give me a call and I’ll be glad to get the information to you.) Sharon Watkins and Todd Adams are leading our denomination to ask some of the same questions we are asking as a church, “How do we best pursue our mission?” There are many ways to keep our mission at the forefront of our minds, and to diligently strive to accomplish all that God is calling us to do. (And become all God is calling us to be.) However, I find some striking similarities between what is happening at the denominational level of our church, what has been happening at the regional level, and what I believe we are called to implement here at the local level.

I would also encourage you to mark your calendars for October 7th and 8th. On Friday the 7th, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins will be speaking at our regional assembly in Springfield. I will have more details as the date draws near, but I would encourage as many as are able to go to hear her speak. She is a gifted and dynamic speaker, and she will be sharing with us the plans and process for Mission First. Then, on Saturday, we will be holding a Mission First Gathering in Springfield. This is an opportunity for your voices to be heard in this process. Not everyone will be able (or willing) to give up your Saturday, but I would encourage you to prayerfully consider taking part in this process. I truly believe it can be transformative, not only for the denomination, but for our congregation, and even for us as individuals. As I get more information, I’ll be sure to pass it along to you.

Again, thank you for the celebration, the stories, the cards, and the gifts. I am humbled, and honored, to be called to serve as the pastor of such a loving and thoughtful congregation.

 

Dreaming Together

I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters.
Your old men will dream, your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28 (The Message)

It was a hot day in August of 1968. Throngs of civil rights activists had marched on Washington D.C. and gathered around the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to the microphone and delivered a speech that has reverberated through the decades. “I have a dream,” he proclaimed. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” One day… He continued:

I have a dream today … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope.

The prophet Joel proclaimed that young and old alike would dream TOGETHER. MLK, Jr. dreamed that the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and that all people would see it TOGETHER. Dreaming is good, but dreaming together is even better.

Jennie and I have been dreaming about a house we would like to build in the relatively near future. It has been fun to dream about what might be. It has been even better to share those dreams with one another. I enjoy talking about what the floorplan might look like, how we would like to clear the land, what other structures we want to build, and even what kind of driveway we would like to construct. Dreaming together and working together to turn those dreams into a reality makes me very happy.

I also have dreams for our church! I have dreams for how we can work together as a community of faith to serve our community, and even the world. I have dreams for how we will grow and mature spiritually. I have dreams for how we will grow numerically, and dreams for how we might expand the church campus.

As you can see, there is a lot of dreaming going on. But, I don’t want to dream alone. I deeply desire for us to dream together as a community of faith. I long to share my hopes and dreams with you. But, more importantly, to hear your hopes and dreams. And, to work together to bring our dreams to reality.

I can assure you, however, that we will not wake up tomorrow and see our dreams fulfilled. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not live to see his dream fulfilled. You and I may not live to see our dreams for MCC fulfilled, either. But we simply cannot give up our dreams. We must keep striving, keep working, keep praying, keep learning, and keep dreaming!

I am working with the Elders and the Church Board to identify three to five people to serve on what I am calling a Church Council. This small team of leaders will help us dream together. They will help us to dream big dreams and suggest achievable steps to take toward achieving those dreams. As we do the important work of discernment, we would ask for your prayers. Please pray that we would be open to God’s guidance and wisdom as we prepare for the day when our dreams are realized.

What’s Next?

During my time in youth ministry in Arkansas, two young men were particularly adept at pushing my buttons. Every time we would be at a youth event they were constantly asking me what was going to happen next. For a while, I gave them an answer. But, that just led to them trying to persuade me to do something different. Eventually I opted to keep them guessing. If they asked, “What’s next?” I would reply, “You’ll have to wait and see.”

Well, the wait is over. If you’ve been wondering what was going to happen after we finished our travels through The Story, now is the time for you to find out. Over the summer months I am going to take some time to walk through some of the scriptures which were important to my doctoral research. In essence I’m going to share with you what I’ve been studying and learning over the past 15 months.

Don’t worry, though. It won’t be as dry and boring as it may sound. I promise that I won’t preach in the third person, past tense. The pastor thought that was too stuffy for a sermon. Basically, this summer will be me sharing my heart about relationships, leadership, and the future of the church. As you all know, I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing these topics for quite a while now. Finally, I get to share them with you.

We will begin by looking at Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy. You may remember that Jesus sends 70 disciples out to minister in the Judean countryside. This small story has big implications for us as a community of faith, and as individuals. Although we will begin with a one-week overview of the story, we may come back and spend more time on it later.

We will also spend some time in John’s gospel. There we will think deeply about what it meant for Jesus to wash the feet of his disciples, and listen again to some of Jesus’ last words. These two passages of scripture provide us with a framework for how we are to interact not only within the community of the church, but in the wider world as well.

And, we would be remiss if we didn’t spend some time with the Apostle Paul. We will investigate what he had to say to the church in Corinth about being the body of Christ. Most of us will be familiar with the 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter. And we may have heard the idea of the church being the body of Christ, but did you know that these two important images are tied together? And what does it mean to be the body of Christ, anyway? That’s what we’re going to talk about!

We won’t neglect the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) either. We’ll take a close look at a small portion of the creation story to develop an understanding of how we are to relate to one another. It will be an interesting journey through scripture which will help us understand more clearly how we are to relate to one another as part of the church, and how we relate to the world around us.

Yes, we will touch on issues of leadership, culture, structure, and many other topics. But, our main focus will be on how we, as individuals, and as a church, are called to live as followers of Jesus Christ. I’m excited to share this journey with you. And I promise that it won’t be like sitting through endless hours of someone’s vacation photos! We are on this journey together. You’ve been by my side as I have scouted the way. Now, I’m ready to guide us through this next part of our journey together as a community of faith.

Sustaining Easter

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
disregarding its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV)

As most of you know it happened a little earlier than anticipated this year. Yes Easter was early in the calendar year, but so was my after-Easter illness. Often in the hours and days following Easter, pastors and other church leaders, choir members, and the like suffer an emotional decompression, if not an outright physical illness. With all the pressure and buildup leading to this one day, when it is finally over, we can be left wandering like the disciples between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

It happens around Easter and Christmas almost every year, so I’ve come to anticipate it. But when I started feeling ill on Saturday evening, I knew it would be a long day. I am thankful for your many prayers and words of encouragement. And I am thankful that I was able to go home after worship and rest. The break was much-needed for both my body and my mind.

Unfortunately I needed another day to recover, so I took Monday as a day of rest as well. Then, on Tuesday it was back to the business of getting things accomplished that need to be accomplished. I guess it was a day and a half Sabbath on the heels of Easter’s celebration.

I don’t know if it was that time to renew my energy, or God’s voice prompting me, but I’ve been thinking a lot about something I said a few years ago, and thought again this year as I looked out across the sanctuary, “I wish every week could be like Easter.”

Really? Do I really want that? Do we really want that as a community of faith?

Sure, the fullness of church on Easter morning is inspiring. Certainly, the music and prayers and story are powerful and moving. Definitely the call to renewal and restoration is something we would do well to hear each week, hourly, and daily.

But, can we put in the work and energy that it takes to make Easter “happen,” each week? Are we willing to devote that much of ourselves to church, to worship, even to God?

I don’t think we can sustain that level of energy 52 weeks a year. To me that would seem a perfect recipe for the dreaded “burn-out.”

So, then what? Easter was WONDERFUL!  What happens next week?  How do we maintain the joy of Easter over the long-haul? The life of faith is not a sprint to the finish, but rather a race that rewards those who run mile, after mile, after mile…

I, for one, am thankful to be running the race with you. Both “you” in the individual sense of the word, and “you” in the collective sense. I am truly glad that each one of you, and all of you, are part of my life. You make my days so rich and full of blessings, and you support me with your prayers when I am struggling physically, mentally, or emotionally. Thank you, for helping make the renewal of Easter a reality in my life this week, and every week.

Holy Thursday

As we prepare to join in worship with members of the Marshfield United Methodist Church this evening, I find myself excited by this annual opportunity to join in worship with a larger portion of the community. I truly enjoy all of the special services throughout the year, but these times of joint worship during Holy Week are particularly special. So, I started to wonder, “Why is that?”

I think I like the special services because it is an opportunity for the holy to break into our routine. Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, is almost an oxymoron in some sense. We are accustomed to worship services on Wednesdays, think Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent. And we are certainly accustomed to worship on Sunday, although Easter does have a particularly special atmosphere. But, a worship service on Thursday?

Thursday is just another day of the week, right? One day closer to Friday and the weekend. Just over the hump of Wednesday, Thursday is only rivaled in its ordinary-ness by Tuesday. (Actually Tuesday is probably even more ordinary as it doesn’t get a special worship service, ever!) So it is special that something holy breaks into the midst of our ordinary. And, I think it is particularly poignant that the reminder of the holy in the everyday is the celebration of the Last Supper.

Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal, something they had done countless times before. True, there is the tradition that this was a Passover meal which adds some significance to the event. But, Jesus would likely have celebrated many of the festivals, including Passover, with the disciples over the past few years. So, this was a fairly ordinary gathering, at least on the outside.

Little did the disciples know the importance of what they were about to experience. God’s message of salvation, of forgiveness, was about to break forth before their eyes. And what is remarkable to me is that the disciples don’t realize what is happening. They miss out on God’s presence. For them it is just like any other passover meal.

I find that comforting, or maybe the word is reassuring… Whatever the appropriate word, it helps me to know that I am not alone in missing God’s presence in the ordinary things of life. I’m not the only one who needs to be periodically awakened from a zombiesque trance and alerted to God’s transformative work in the world.

That is, for me, part of the joy of Maundy Thursday. It is a reminder of God’s loving presence in each and every day of our lives. Although I may not see it, God is working in the world to bring about wholeness and healing. Today is a good reminder to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts so we might experience and appreciate the all-too-often unseen work of God.

Where has the week gone?

I  had all the best intentions (we know about those, right?) to post something for every day of Holy Week this year. Actually, I’m just going to refer us back to some posts about this week from last year… But, I obviously couldn’t even get that accomplished yesterday…

So, here are the first two installments of our Holy Week meditations:

Monday – “Monday Mayhem”
Tuesday – “Teaching Tuesday”

Check back tomorrow for a link to some thoughts about Wednesday, as we journey together through Holy Week!

24-Hour Prayer vigil

Saturday Morning (3/26/16) at 6am we will begin our annual 24-hour prayer vigil. Please sign up at the church, or call the church office and Jennifer will help you find a time to pray. This year, as in recent years, we are not opening the church for the vigil due to logistical concerns. So, we do want to provide you with a list of suggestions of how you might pray during your selected time. These suggestions can be found on our website. We hope you will join us for this time of intentional prayer!

Changing Seasons

Take a lesson from the fig tree.
From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green,
you know summer’s just around the corner.

Matthew 24:32, The Message

As I left home to come to church yesterday morning, I noticed the first sure sign that spring and summer are just around the corner. The Bradford Pear trees along our driveway were covered with little white blossoms. If that wasn’t confirmation enough an hour or so later I heard from Jennie that our cats were VERY interested in the birds who are apparently building a nest in our gutters.

Suddenly I was struck with the realization that summer is near. As I went about my tasks I had almost forgotten the relentless changing of seasons was taking place around me. It has been said that the one constant in life is change. While I would argue that at least God’s love for us is also constant, I understand the sentiment.

Change is hard, even though it happens all the time. Transformation makes us uncomfortable, even when we know we need to transform, to grow, to mature. I recently saw a cartoon which talked about change. In the first panel the speaker asks, “Who wants change?” Everyone raises their hand. In the second panel the speaker asks, “Who wants to change?” Not a single hand goes up. Then there was another cartoon in which the business executive is standing at the boardroom table saying, “I don’t want to change. I want all of you to change.”

No matter how uncomfortable change makes us, it is a vital part of our existence. If we want things to change for the better, it is our responsibility to work for those changes. It is not fair to expect everyone else to change so we can remain the same. One of the most important things I learned in the course of my research was that the role of the pastor in congregational change should not be underestimated. However it should not be overestimated, either.

One of the things I appreciate most about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is the congregational nature of our polity. In other words, the ultimate authority lies in the congregation. It is precisely because the community of faith (as a whole) is ultimately responsible for the direction of the church that the pastor cannot force changes to happen. I, personally, think this is a great thing. It keeps any pastor from being that chairperson in the board meeting expecting the congregation to change to suit him or her.

Instead of being an authoritarian ruler, the pastor is to be responsive to the needs of the community of faith. Pastoral leadership is to equip and empower the congregation to survive in the changing cultural climate. However, my goal is not for our local church to merely survive, my goal is for us to thrive! Through much prayer, and the results of my research, I am convinced that our thriving as a congregation is tied directly to how well we work together to serve our community and the world.

You may have heard, as I have for years, in any organization 20% of the people do 80% of the work. While that may be true here at MCC, we can do better. We MUST do better! The good news is that we are. If I have learned one thing from my research it is that I have some growing to do as a pastor, as a leader. All-too-often I will take a task and just do it myself. What I’ve realized is that behavior actually steals an important opportunity for me to work with someone else and build a stronger relationship.

Our culture puts a high value on being able to do things on our own. Think of do-it-yourself books, or websites, and how they promise to give you the knowledge and skills to do just about any task. I often chuckle when I see pictures of people’s attempt to recreate a craft they saw on Pintrest. Rarely does the result look like the example. What I’m coming to understand is that it isn’t important that we are able to do things on our own. What is important is surrounding yourself with good people who are willing to try new things, to change. It’s important to notice when the fig tree gets just that hint of green, because then you know summer is on the way.