For those wanting to see our guide for devotions you can now find it on my new website
For those wanting to see our guide for devotions you can now find it on my new website
I just finished a week long silent retreat focusing on centering prayer (which is a method of prayer that leads into the prayer of contemplation). It was great. I must say that I was so deeply impressed by the wisdom contained within this simple practice and the possibilities of transformation that it holds.
The part the I especially connected with was the ways in which, by opening our self in silence to God’s presence and action in our lives, our deepest injuries, our false selves and sin begin to emerge from our unconscious and are healed. I was amazed as I could watch this happening with in me, and now as I am back at work, how this continues to open me up to God’s grace.
It makes me wonder what a church, rooted in contemplation, would be like. I wonder if this is a part of our path to renewal. That we can be renewed when each of us, in silence, opens the core of who we are to be healed by God’s grace, so that that grace can flow through us to heal each other.
Perhaps it is the structures of our false self that need to be transformed so that there might be new life.
To learn more about centring prayer visit contemplative outreach
Lately I have been wondering more and more about the Holy Spirit. In a conversation the other day with Preston, he mentioned something quite important along the lines of – “Every renewal movement of the church has been a movement of the Spirit and rooted in a renewed piety.”
I am sure that this is enough to send chills down many a Lutheran spine. Yet there is something profoundly true about it. We try to restructure churches, we try to reason out new theologies, but it is usually only people’s experience of God that moves and motivates people. Further, one of the things I learned from my research into transformation is the importance of habits. It is not great decisions or great treatise that change our world; rather it is the ongoing daily patterns that, like the water of a stream, move mountains.
So where do we turn first? There is only one place, to again turn to God’s Spirit, to pray that we might be open to its movement, open to its renewal and that we renew this commitment in daily prayer, in daily reading scripture and in our daily practice of love.
Convention – and I am excited.The church is in upheaval, the rescue plan is dead on arrival and the faithful gather. Its Holy Spirit time!
I have been spending some time pondering how the wider church could most effectively help congregations renew. The challenge is that most of us don’t even know what renewal could look like. Lets face it, most of us have grown up in and been trained in a model of church that seems to be struggling. As a parish pastor, what would help me is to see and lean from other churches that have found ways of thriving in their mission and ministry.
What we often forget is that there are many congregations out there that are thriving and in the process learning things about what it takes to thrive in our present age. What we need is for people to learn about these congregations and make available the lessons they have learned and the models that they have created. Thankfully someone has started this process. Luther Seminary and the Lilley foundations are undertaking such a project. It is called the Vibrant Congregations Project. It is still in process, but well worth keeping an eye on. Perhaps it is also something we could think about doing in our own contexts.
I was just sitting with one of my parishioners, working on how we can rework an old website so that it can be more interactive. Before this I was visiting a parishioner who had been in hospital. Before that I was leading a bible study and before that a staff meeting. While I did use a few bits of knowledge that I gained in my seminary education, I must admit that both what I learned in seminary classroom and and the very setting of a classroom somehow antiquated or perhaps out of touch with the reality of contemporary pastoral ministry that I experienced in this one day. The skills that I used today involved working with and leading a team, facilitating discussions, creating a healing relationship and technologically based communication. I must admit that I am not sure how any of these skill can even be taught in the setting of a traditional classroom. Perhaps it is time to not only rethink what is taught in seminaries, but even how we teach. What if seminary education was moved primarily out of classrooms and was instead in sites of practice. What if the focus shifted from knowledge learned to skills and competencies gained? This is now a question that many seminaries are exploring. If you want to read more you can read this article in the Washington Post.
I was having a conversation with a fellow pastor the other day and something struck me. It is truly remarkable all of the ways in which we in the church cut one another down. Congregations often go from loving their pastor to actively trying to drive them out-of-town. Pastors are far more likely to point out each others failings instead finding ways to build each other up. So many are working so hard in their ministry, yet the focus seems to rest only on their failures and short comings.
This other pastor reminisced with me about another tradition that was once the culture of many churches. It was a culture where while people’s oddity and faults were still noticed, they were loved and lifted up anyways by their community; he describe a culture in which people would get in heated debates and still share a beer after wards as close friends.
His reminiscing made me dream about a time when ministers would instead of comparing each others’ stats, look for ways in which they could cooperate and build each other up; a time when congregations would actively seek out ways to support and develop their pastors, a time when we would see each others not as people on opposing sides, but rather as brother and sisters in a shared ministry. Ah it is good to dream. Over lunch though as I ate with my friend, a fellow minister of the Gospel, I think I saw this dream becoming reality.
Lately I have been doing some thinking about relevance. Should the church try to be relevant? That depends on what we mean by relevance and what we are trying to connect. Instead of repeating a long article you can find my thoughts on relevance on another blog I contribute to called Call and Response you can find it here. It is in response to another very good article which you can find here.
I spent the other week with a group of people all working in small rural parishes while at the same time studying this ministry at a graduate level. It was for me a great opportunity to hear about all of the struggles and joys of this type of ministry. It has got me thinking. The reality is that there are a reletively small number of people in medium and large congregations. Alot of our people are in small congregations. The problem with this is not that there are small congregations, the challenge is how can these congregations see themseles not as struggling but thriving places of discipleship.
The reality is that it is often only small communities that our discipleship can be deepened. In larger churches we have to create this setting through small group ministry. In small congregations the whole congregation can have the richness of a small group. If you think like myself that it is though deepening our discipleship that our chruch can have a future, then our small congregations may in fact hold the future of what our church can be.
Still there are some real challenges that I have heard from people wiser them me. Bishop Mark MacDonald has asked an important question, How do we shape ministry and the chruch so that it can be a chruch people can afford? Prof. Cam Harder asks another question, how do we make sure small congregations do not have the sacraments withheld from them because they have to pay for it? (It is interesting that two of the main challenges are related to structures and their financial consequences – do I sense constantine’s shadow). I would add how do we in our chruch culture lift up and celebrate the gifts of a small congregation?
Perhaps it is time for us to create more means by which we can celebrte and enable small congregation ministry.
At Advent there is a conversation that seems to keep coming up. What are we really about? The answer is fairly obvious. We are about discipleship and helping people grow in their discipleship. Now this involves many things, such as sharing the gospel, justice, care for each other, worship etc. At it heart though it is about placing Christ as the centre of everything we do. It is amazing though how easy we get distracted from this.
Just over the past several months we have been distracted by worrying kids being noisy in worship, parking, who can use the church when, coffee making, the debate over same-sex blessing, broken photocopiers . . . The list could go on. There are even more subtle and seductive distractions. Things like focusing on getting more people, bigger budgets, better programs and simple human politics. These are things that need to be attended to, but if focused on corrupt.
If we are to be renewed, Christ must be the centre of what we do, and discipleship must be the central things that we develop, otherwise any renewal we experience is only a poor illusion. So with so many distractions how do we keep the main thing the main thing? That is one key to renewal. We are starting by asking a simple question when we make decisions. “Where is Christ in this?” If you have ideas about how we can keep the main thing central. Please share.
This season is the season where we truly see what is possible when God comes down to live amongst us. For in the birth of a small child, suddenly all things becomes possible. Tiding of great joy and peace amongst God’s people on earth.
Merry Christmas to all
Over the last several months I have been interviewing individuals about the process of transformation. This has given me the opportunity to interview people who themselves have both been transformed and been a part of the transformation of communities and organizations. One of the most striking things that has come out of these interviews is that for each of these people, their transformation and leadership was not an individual process, rather it occurred in relationships with others, and as a part of communities that created a context for their leadership and transformation to develop and occur. This has led me to wonder if we need to partially turn the concept of leadership upside down, from a focus on individuals to communities that create a context in which leadership can happen.
So often when we think about leadership, we think about an individual who sparks our imagination and then changes the lives of others. In my interviews with these transformative leaders, my interviewees have often directed my attention, not just to themselves, but to others. They have talked about people who opened them up to seeing the world differently. They spoke about people who took risks by giving them opportunities while others mentored them and guided them. They describe being a part of teams that together could take on anything. They also talked about communities and organizations that entrusted them with significant resources so that they could develop their vision. Instead of being drum majors leading a crowd of followers, these people instead described their leadership as embedded in networks of relationships that made their leadership possible.
These people have also described how communities and cultures can block leadership. Some of these people that I have interviewed have been major players within the fossil fuel and mining industries. They talked about how issues such as climate change or ethical extraction of resources can be addressed, but that the aversion to risk and potential failures within corporate culture prevents leadership or meaningful action from occurring. Likewise, in my own experience in churches I have seen how tendencies to treat developing leaders as threats to established officials, or the tendency in the face of challenging times to first cut developing leaders to protect the old guard has prevented entire generations of leadership from developing.
So what if we turned leadership partially on its head. What if we saw leadership as a function of a community? What if we saw leadership as something that happens because there are communities that develop individuals; communities that embrace risk, including the failures that come along with it; communities that together will not only seek out new visions, but put their resources into exploring that vision together. What if we as churches reclaimed our mission of being communities, not led by great leaders, but rather who’s life together created leadership not only for the church, but for the broader society around it.
With that title I am sure that many of you simply wanted to stop reading. After all Stewardship is one of those words that seems to cause many to flee, or at least put their heads down. Yet without stewardship there can be no renewal, no growth, no faith community, no mission.
Stewardship is simply about our call to live out our faith by using what God has given us for the purposes that God is calling us to. It begins with recognizing how richly God has blessed us. We are each blessed with life, with time, with talents and sills, with money and passion. It is only when we release these gifts, to be used by God, that the Christian life and the Christian mission can happen. There is one thing that has always amazed me. It is the sheer gathering of gifted people that happens at church.
Releasing these gifts though is a greater challenge. After all the gifts that God give to each an every one of us are usually that very thing that we think of as being “our” gifts. They are the things we grasp on to most tightly. What this means that this is an area of work. It is an area that any church that cares about mission and ministry must focus on (after all with out stewardship – no ministry can happen) It is also an area that each of us need to focus on if we want to also grow in our own faith as well. After all is though the practice of stewardship that our own lives become lives of mission and lives that are a part of the building up of the kingdom of God.
So where do we start. Well start by reflecting on the ways in which God has blessed you. How has God given you life, water to drink, a home to live in, friends, skills, family . . . Then begin praying about how God is calling you to give back. What is your ministry that you are called for – in the church, in your home and in the world? Finally how are you being called to contribute to our shared mission as communities of faith?
For churches there are many good resources to help with stewardship. If you are looking for a place to start “New Consecration Sunday” is perhaps the best stewardship program. It is just a starting place. Also look into the theology of Stewardship (John Douglas Hall’s book “The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age” is a classic, or look at how you can practice your Stewardship of Creation
I once was given the responsibility to look after our national stewardship programs. At first I was fill with trepidation, by the end I had discovered stewardship is perhaps one of the richest areas of our faith. I pray you can have a similar journey, for stewardship is essential if we are to be renewed.
Many thanks to Erik for sharing this story. If you have your own stories of renewal to share, please pass them to us and we will share them.
I am starting to think about what our Possibility Thinkers Group should focus on this fall. In stead of dreaming up something in my own head (which s pretty sleep deprived at this moment) I though that I would turn the question over to all of you who read this. If you were called to help a church dream about renewal and discover the life that it is called to what would you focus on? What are the key elements of renewal? What is the church’s mission toady? What might it need to live this out. I look forward to hearing your ideas, thoughts and dreams.