For those wanting to see our guide for devotions you can now find it on my new website
http://transforminggrace.org/prayer/ Use away.
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.
In July of 2010 I resigned from the congregation I was serving. It felt good to be out from under the pressures that characterized my ministry in that place. It was good to breathe again without someone breathing down my neck. But after a few weeks of relaxation the question of “What Now?” popped up.
My wife suggested trying something new and I took here advice like an good husband should. I took a course totally unrelated to being a pastor and discovered another world. I sought out other jobs, but soon discovered that ageism was indeed the number one form of discrimination today. By December I had discerned that my calling to follow Jesus was in and through the church in some form.
So for the last nine months I’ve waited (not always patiently) and prayed (not always fervently) for an invitation to serve somewhere. For nine months the institutional church doors have been shut to me.
I’ve wrestled with the silence and at times been depressed that no one would want me. However, through this time I’ve practiced living missionally where I am.To live missionally is not only about being “Christ-like” where I am, but also listening and watching for God’s presence where I am.
Over these months I’ve visited with my neighbours and gotten involved with my neighbourhood. I’ve brought my neighbours together for fellowship. I even set up my barbecue one evening and offered free hot dogs and hamburgers. I’ve tried to practice a ministry of presence to the people around me. In a way, I’ve tried to live out my calling as a follower of Jesus where I am and with the people around me.
All of this neighbourhood ministry has made me wonder what would happen if upon graduating from seminary new pastors were sent to some neighbourhood and said, “Go therefore and make disciples…Be Christ’s presence and his voice calling people there.” I wonder how well we would do and how many of us would be able to survive.
I’m still looking forward in hope to a “community” call, but I realize now that the most important calling we all have is right where we live and move and have our being. In our neighborhoods and wherever we journey God is there inviting us to participate in the good news God is unfolding.
Perhaps that’s the lesson I needed to learn.
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 was at a seminar on prayer last week. I reluctantly went. The last thing I wanted to do was spend my Friday learning about 5 glorified steps to spiritual clarity and enlightenment…which is kind of weird (my reluctance, that is) because if there is anything that I really long for it is spiritual clarity and enlightenment. I know that I am not alone in my unfulfilled desire. Most people I run into admit to having lackluster spiritual lives marked by uninspired dialog with God. So how does the blind (or deaf) lead the blind (and deaf)?
Turns out I don’t have to. God will. God does. We receive eyes to see and ears to hear. I think it’s time I stopped assuming these were metaphors. This is the actual promise of our actual savior who lives with the Father in constant prayer on our behalf and thanks to the Holy Spirit, we get to listen in on the conversation. It’s right there in the Bible -pretty much everywhere (Check out this Sunday’s Epistle reading: 1 Cor. 2: 1-16). How could I have possibly been so thick as to have to attend a seminar to discover it. God actually speaks and guides…me…us. (Does this make me a Lutheran renewal guy?)
Did you know that the word “Behold!” occurs in the Bible 1400 times and “Lo” shows up another 200 times. What if… God actually means it? – “Pay Attention! Look! I’m going to show you something!”
I will admit that as I have pondered the daunting task of church renewal among the cloudy ambiguity that is our perceived future I have felt discouraged by the seeming impossibility of it all. I will also admit that I’m an idiot. GOD IS SPEAKING TO US. GOD IS ACTUALLY SPEAKING TO US. GOD IS TELLING US WHAT TO DO.
This Sunday’s O.T. Reading (Isa: 58:1-12) dampens my embarrassment as it reminds me that as pastor, moping around like a deaf and blind guy I’m in good company. The dialog is between God, a prophet and a group of religous folk. Turns out they couldn’t hear God speaking to them either…and then God did. God actually spoke! God told them what to do and promised that their obedience would impact the world.
Why don’t we talk about this more?
Why don’t we expect God to speak to our church?
Speak Lord and give us an education in “saltiness”.
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.
I was handed the latest United Church of Canada periodical, “Touchstone: theology shaping witness” and told it might speak to me. The issue is titled, “Ministry, why bother?”
An article written by Hugh D. Reid struck me as I read it this morning. He tells of the ministry experience of a man named Christian.
“He met hostility and suspicion from the people to whom he was sent, people who could believe more easily in their rejection by the world and their insignificance to the world than they could believe in a God who loved them, but Christian was equipped with joy. He said, “in the face of their antagonism,” he was sustained, “by the truth about them that they did not know.” His task was not to coerce or to manipulate them into recieving this truth for he was more than a conqueror; he had only to patiently be for them until they could own for themselves the love and significance that was theirs. He has seen many lives transformed from the street to stability, from violence to community, from death to life as the redemption that has been accomplished took hold.”
Do I have the eyes (and the patience!)to see in others the truth about them that they do not know?
Lord, you have given me the desire, give me also the grace to complete this task.
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