A Return to Tent-Making?

April 8, 2013

Does the Church need full-time ordained leadership in the local context?

I have been wondering about the viability of the full-time ordained clergy in the near future. It used to be that the clergy were more often than not, the only educated person in the context of the local congregation. The knowledge held by the clergy, as well as the skills of reading, teaching, and public discourse often set the clergy apart from the parishioner. But that day has long been only found in the past.

What then is the purpose of a full-time clergy person? Is it a quaint holdover from “how we have always done it” or are we afraid of what might happen to the ‘orthodoxy’ of the Faith if the clergy were displaced from their ivory towers?

Now as a full-time ordained clergyperson, I do have a financial benefit in holding a call in a local congregation. I also have security in a future pension, healthcare, paid vacations, time and money for further education, and still some status in the surrounding community because of my position. Why do I question a good thing? Because I believe that we have stifled the Gospel by making it safe and comfortable. We have also diminished the ‘edginess’ of the message when it is wrapped in a corporate structure and institutional understanding.

I believe the ministry has suffered because of the time spent in administrative necessity in reporting a ‘successful’ ministry to the higher structural authority. The transformational power of the Gospel has been made palatable so that the financial supports may be protected while people continue to be suffocated with the status quo.

The Church needs to reawaken to the transformational power of the Resurrection if it is to continue to survive in a way that is true to its Commission. Change (conversion) is what this world needs, and if it cannot begin in the midst of those called together by the Author of Creation, we are truly a pitiful lot.

What if? – There was still more to understand

January 31, 2012

Where are we in our faith journey at this moment in history? Have we come to an understanding of faith and the Church that will serve us for the rest of time? Have we fulfilled what Jesus came to show us?
I just started reading “Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve” and have already found it quite telling in opening a new understanding about where the Church is and where it may have yet to reach. Paul Smith, a pastor for almost 50 years, uses an understanding of Ken Wilber’s integral psychology to delve into understanding the Church through its history, as well as where some churches have already embraced the possibility of going beyond the “traditional” understanding of the faith.
In conversation with a number of people from diverse backgrounds in Christianity, the Church, faith, and even other religions I have noticed a great number of differences in how one approaches “faith” and “belief”. Understanding these differences through the lenses of integral psychology and developmental psychology has given me a chance to reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of each stage of faith influenced worldviews. This book presents in an approachable way how we can better understand one another as we work and live out the life to which we have been called to in Christ.

Thank you!

July 5, 2011

Since August, 2009, abtrenewal.wordpress.com (or the What if? Blog) has been a place to get us thinking about renewal and new ways of ministry and thinking in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Alberta and the Territories Synod.  We have almost 150 posts from several contributors and almost 25,000 hits on our little blog.  We’d like to continue creatively push the envelope by sharing thoughtful, Christ-centered vision and innovation – ideas or reflections that move us in healthy and vibrant directions.  How do we move past broken systems?  How do we instill hope for tomorrow?  How the does the living Gospel of Jesus change our whole perspective and move us into open spaces?  If you would like to contribute to the conversation, please send your mini-articles to Preston Pouteaux (equip@oursaviourchurch.ca), and we’ll post your thoughts. 

Like Luther we want to turn hearts towards Christ.  This blog, we hope, will encourage us to live that out.  Unlike Luther, who faced tremendous push-back, our Bishop is quite pleased to hear of new ideas for faithful ministry.  So what is yours?

Reclaiming Our Spirituality

September 20, 2010

I have recently found the growth in the number of people who say that they are spiritual and not religious quite fascinating. Many of the people that I know that define them selves as such are quite fascinating. I had dinner with some folks who would identify themselves as such and they were each very creative, compassionate and profound people who were taking their beliefs and practices seriously as they made real differences in people’s lives. These were not flakes but profound people.

So we should be taking their critiques and description of religion seriously. Someone else gave me a list of how some 20-30 somethings described religion: tradition bound, blindly dogmatic, irrelevant, hierarchal and authoritarian, out of touch, institutional, judgmental and hypocritical and my favorite dead or dying. Spirituality on the other hand was defined as being of the heart, experiential, mystical, thoughtful, personal, engaged, progressive, inclusive, transformative. I must say with descriptions like that, and the reality that this description of religion in many way fits with my own experience of the larger church,  tempts me to start calling my self spiritual and not religious.

The realty though is that I am spiritual and religious. For religion is not all of those things listed, rather religion comes from a word which means to bind the whole together. Religion is the big picture, and the big questions which give meaning to life and shapes our life. Spirituality (the very term itself is rooted in the Christian tradition) is about how God moves in our life, lives though us and shapes us. The reality is that we have a tradition that that contains 4000+ years of accumulated wisdom. It is a tradition that at its heart is a God who comes down to us, moves in our midst, and transforms us so that we become the image of Christ and are invited to participate in the very life and Love of the Trinity itself.

Our challenge is to once again explore this rich tradition, and allow the spirit present in it to move though us once again.

Summer Sabbath

July 7, 2010

As we ease into these warmer summer days, I’d like to remind all of my hard working ministry peers to take some Sabbath rest this summer.  I’ll be doing some traveling, study, and a little bit of camping – all to recharge the batteries and allow God to quiet my heart with his love (Zeph. 3:17).  We may be easing up on blogging for the summer, but this fall will be a new season of renewal and attentiveness to the work God is doing in our midst.  God is up to something new in the ELCIC, and we’re excited to be along for the journey!

Reclaiming the Wisdom and Grace of God

May 6, 2010

I have been reflecting recently on the damage the 30 year old fight over homosexuality has had on the church.(I must admit that I often feel like a child who has come home from camp only to discover that your parents have ripped the house apart in some big fight and now the children are left to clean up.) I have begun to wonder if one of the great causalities is the interaction between gospel and law. In many conversations it seem like we have divided our selves up into two camps. One camp emphasizing the gospel of grace and the other the law of God. Since they have been fighting it is almost as if both sides have decided to shore up their defenses instead discovering the richness of their own gospel/law, and how vital the interaction is.

It just seems to me that the Gospel is about a God of such profound grace, that we are welcomed not only into a relationship with God, but into the very work of God, who shares with us God’s wisdom (law) about this work, and who picks us up when we fall and who helps us grow into this calling (grace). For me at least that is a much more compelling, and scriptural vision, then a God who loves us, but leaves us in our violence or a God who says shape up or I will denies you my blessing (which includes life it self). For what if instead of fighting over who is right, we are being called to be formed into the image of Christ (as Paul says),  a process that involves both the grace and wisdom of God.

Asking “What if?” in the Context of Global Conversations

April 6, 2010

Here is a great short video about the Lausanne Global Conversation.  They wonder what it would be like for Christians around the world to collaborate their ideas.  Bold and exciting, check it out.

Visit the Lausanne website here.

What If We Reclaim What is Good in our Faith?

April 1, 2010

So what would a faith community look like that you would want to be a part of? A version of this question is going to be a part of what Advent is going to be asking people in the communities surrounding our church. It’s a powerful question. For myself its power lies in how it has turned me to think about the times that I have been apart of faith communities that I have loved and what characterizes them. It has reminded me how much good there is in our faith. So here is some of what characterized communities that I have loved to be a part of.

There has been a strong experience of love amongst its members.

There has been a strong life of prayer and spirituality rooted in the mystery and Love of God.

They have been directly involved in addressing the needs of their community and committed to Justice.

They have shared their life with the poor.

They have practiced hospitality to strangers.

Worship has been beautiful and sacramental.

In the teaching and in the life of the community I have experienced the presence of God.

All of these things are a part of our faith, they are all a part of our tradition, they are all a part of what is possible for any community of faith. I encourage all of you today to reflect on what are some of the richness that you have experience in Christian communities. I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings.

What Allows the Spirit To Flow?

March 15, 2010

Last week I tried to start a conversation about the spirit. By faith we believe that the Holy Spirit is present and moving in our church. So I asked what blocks that flow? That is the negative side. A question of house keeping. Now I want to ask the much more important and positive side – What allows the spirit to flow? In other words what are the place that you find inspiration and life? What are those things that allow that life to grow? I would love to hear form you so please send your comments.

A Centre for Innovation

February 23, 2010

I want to continue to develop some of the ideas presented in other blogs. Today the question of a centre for innovation.

So what could this look like. Well to begin with I believe we need to recognize that innovation and renewal is happening. While some paint a broad brush that says the church is dying, the reality is that God is still at work, congregations are being renewed, people’s lives are being transformed, healing and new life is happening. If there was to be a center of innovation, its basic mission I believe would be to find and lift up this new life so that others can learn from it.

So it starts with a conversation. Much like what is happening here. After all conversations are places where something can be named as important and an opening can be created for us to begin to see that innovation and renewal is happening.

Next come means of sharing that conversation. This blog is  start or the “What if  . . . ? conference. All things we are doing. What if we were to dream further.

One of the next tasks would to begin to build more of a network between those who are committed to renewal in the church. These networks could be means of sharing ideas and hopefully collaborating on projects.

Another task is ensuring its spiritual roots. In other words, what is needed is a deep engagement with spiritual practice, formation and our shared life together.

And if we wanted things to really fly. Well what if we had staff . . . whose job it was simply to find where new life is happening and devise means of sharing it.

What if we could do research . . . actually go out and study this new life, test what is working and share the results.

What if we could gather those who are engaged with renewal on a regular basis . . . , to share ideas, and share bread and wine.

What if we could use more means of sharing this . . . posting pod casts, videos, templates, experiences. In effect planning seeds widely and freely.=

There is a part of me that says isn’t this what our national office and seminaries should be doing? Then  I think a much wiser part of me responds isn’t it good that they are not, for if it was to be a center of innovation or renewal, then it would need to be broader then denominational lines. It would be define not by history, but by wisdom and the spirit.

In many ways this is what we are starting to do. Could it go further? Oh yes. This is the question of where the spirit is leading this. And I can’t wait to find out. If you would like to join in though, come along.

So how does change happen?

January 7, 2010

The question of how change happens in an organization or society is a fascinating one. One version of this (From the Book Getting to Maybe) might be worth considering. It involves stages of release, reorganization, exploitation and conservation. So what does this mean?  To make it easier the analogy of a forest is a good one for this.

Release – Where does new life come from? Well from the seeds of what came before. This though is not enough. There also needs to be nutrients, and usually this comes from the nutrients given by what came before, whether it is mothers milk or the charred remains after a forest fire. Some how the life of what has been needs to be released so that the seeds of the new can grow. This can be forced on an organization or intentional, but for new life, the old must give of it self for life to continue.

Reorganization – Continue is exactly what life likes to do.  As a forest grows new opportunities are sought, connections are made, and there is intense competition for resources. Think of the flourishing of life after a forest fire when all the seeds begin to sprout. So organizations need times in which almost anything is tried, possibilities are sought, and tried. Most will fail, but a few will succeed and grow.

Exploitation –  If the previous phase succeeds it moves to the stage of exploitation.  A new path is seen.  Resources, and new structures are refocused so that the new growth can grow, thrive and develop roots. Think of when a few trees begin to grow above others, while smaller trees begin to die and fall down, making room for a few trees to thrive.

Conservation  is when the successful paradigme/form begins to dominate the landscape and consume all the resources. In some ways we can think of our previous model of parishes, with a building and a pastor, serving their dedicated members.

The danger of conservation, is that a rigidity sets in which prevents future adaptation. History is full of the bones of organizations like this. Basically they refuse to change, and then on mass collapse. This is much like the supper forest fires that have happened recently after smaller fires have been prevented for decades. – Since there is no release of resources, there is too few nutrients for new growth to easily spring up – clearly a danger we are now in as a church. There is also a danger in re-organization called the poverty trap, when a lack of focus and a lack of letting go can prevent adequate resources going to could thrive.

In many way the possibility thinkers group is like the time of release/reorganization, when what is needed is for resources to be freed for countless seeds to sprout. Yep, it might look like a shotgun approach, but this is good so that there is the possibility of every possible seeds to sprout. I was in the rain forest of Costa Rica last year. And interesting the largest trees which eventually dominate the landscape are actually from a seed that is often the last to sprout up and which grows the slowest. So really who know what might eventually thrive.

I think the current challenge is to get as many people throughout the church planting seeds, and seeing what grows.

We are also though at the release phase, and since we have allowed a strong set of rigidly to exist for a while now, the question will be extra difficult in terms of how to release the nutrients we need to allow new life to eventually thrive. That is perhaps one of the most important stewardship questions for the church at this moment. (I offer a strong hint for planned giving emphasising both congregations and individuals)

In time the danger we will face is if it never moves to exploitation, in other words if it remains with many sprouts, and nothing develops deep roots –if we never develop focus. That is still a problem for another day. For now our question is how do we release resources so that we can allow as many seeds as possible the chance of germinating, and sprouting into the church God is calling us to be.

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November 4, 2009

Now you can subscribe to “What if…?” ABT Renewal Blog and get email updates with the very latest.   Click on the link here, or to the right.  Let’s keep asking the “What if…?” questions! 

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… we really believed change was possible

October 27, 2009

Why is it that we so often fear the change that may make things not only different, but better?  I think that we really do not believe that change is possible.  We know the power of habit and the comfort of the usual, but change could bring a whole new level of understanding, of cooperation, of happiness.  All of our powers of thought, science, theology, passion, and grit have brought us to where we now find ourselves; might they not also be used to bring about a whole new world.  We must believe in the possibility of change if we want change to be a possibility in our lives.  If we feel we are powerless and hopeless and we cannot see a way out, we are most to be pitied.  But if we cannot put up with the way things are now (decreasing membership, biblical illiteracy, conflict) what is to stop us from doing a major makeover of what we are as church.  Only believing that change is really possible…

…we affirmed the best in worship?

August 28, 2009

tissot-david-dancing321x223As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. – 2 Samuel 6:16

Lutheran worship can be a rather laid back, solemn, sometimes tired affair. There are moments, however, when we seem to let loose, not quite like David, and clap our hands or hop around pretending we were a South African congregation. Generally though, we’re formal and very orderly about worship. There are times when I enjoy this aspect of the way we worship and at other times I need something else.

How we worship is not so much the issue for me. We certainly must remain authentic and have some order to our worship, but the issue is not how we worship. Rather, it’s how we look at the worship of others and even how we respond to the expressed worship needs of our own people.

Sometimes like Michal, the daughter of Saul, there ‘s a certain arrogance within our church about the way we worship. It implies that there is somehow a “right” way to worship and of course, we have it. At the same time, comments are occasionally made about the worship of other churches as if it were “entertainment” rather than “true” worship.

Now I’m not saying that all worship is the best or even that it’s all okay just the way it is. Sometimes even our worship slips into self-centered entertainment and performance whether in music or preaching. Whether as Lutheran or Baptist churches we’re all prone to making worship more about us than about God.

So what if we made less fuss about the how of our worship or someone elses and began to affirm whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable (Philippians 4:8)? I wonder whether in the process we would learn some new ways to worship and live together in God’s kin-dom.

..we were perseverant?

August 27, 2009

I love that moment in the movie Luther, when Martin Luther ” is forced to respond to his position with a “Yes or No.” Luther’s response is “Unless I am shown through Scripture or reason, I cannot and will not recant, here I stand.” A clip of this can be seen below…

Some have said that the church is on the cusp of another Reformation. Others have suggested that this is a time of renewal for the church. I believe we are closer to a Pentecost-like transformation.

Whether reformation, renewal or transformation, we will always be tempted as individual parts of the body and as Christian communities to slip back into the worn rut of the status quo if we are not somehow perseverant in the faith and calling we are being led to through the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be “perseverant” though?

Perseverance is not the same as stubborness. To be stubborn is to be unwilling to move even though reason would suggest otherwise. Luther was not stubborn when he said, “Here I stand.” Luther had moved significantly from the position he had grown up under and been oppressed by. The Holy Spirit is not calling us to be stubborn or “stiff-necked” as the people of Israel were often referred to by our Lord, the prophets and Stephen in Acts. Perseverance is not being intransigent.

Instead, perseverance is adhering to a course of action or toward a specific purpose or mission. The Holy Spirit is moving us to a perseverance focused on a missional journey. This journey will be marked by prayer, God’s Word, worship, being and serving together, as well as sharing our faith with one another. This journey will take us as individuals and communities through many times and places of transformation. This journey will call us to bear crosses and realign values, practices and maybe even beliefs. Perseverance is focused on the goal of our high calling as the people of God and yet it is also a dynamic journey, one that reflects the very image of our life-giving, life-transforming Creator.

So what if we as individuals and communities  within the body of Christ were perseverant? What would that look like?

In one of the congregation’s I served I began to unfold God’s vision for them. In the process some people rebelled and I gave up on that vision. Two years later I discovered that pieces of that vision were blooming, not because of me, but because some of the people persevered and lived out that vision. A perseverant church is one that begins to see the unfolding of God’s kin-dom.

God is calling us as a church into a challenging and exciting “present-future” kin-dom. However, it will require our perseverance as we run the race towards the goal of that high calling as God’s kin-dom people.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. – Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

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