Monday, April 28, 2008
Knowing the culture, the people, and the workweek schedules, I also know that when someone works 12-14 hours a day to support their family, or his/herself there's not a whole lot of leftover time to sit down and study a language. So, often, when people fuss (by people I mean English only Americans) I get frustrated. Having not learned a second language themselves, they are virtually oblivious to the difficulties, and often seem to completely disregard the life, circumstances, and trials of those who are not learning English.
Being in the church, I also hear further complaint about Spanish, or Korean, or Mandarin (or whatever other language) services. Yesterday, in thinking about Palmdale UMC and the ways they aim at those who are not in the church and do things as they would want them done, not necessarily as those in the church would prefer, I thought about how this applies to language ministries.
These are some of my thoughts: We have to affirm people in their differentness and work with them in that. There has to be a place where people who speak different languages feel comfortable and feel incorporated, not just an after thought but a primary thought, a forethought of what we do and who we are. If you drove by a place and everything were written in Korean, all of the signage, all of the paperwork, everything was in Korean, all the voice messages were in Korean. If you don't speak Korean, you'd probably know that's not the place for you. Similarly, for folks who are learning English as a second language, if everything is in English, and nothing applies to them, they know that it's not the place for them.
Our job at the church is not to decide when, or where or how fast somebody learns English, our job at the church is to deliver the gospel in a way that is accessible and meaningful to them. And if that means we have to do it in Korean or Spanish or in Mandarin that's our job. That is our call--to make disciples throughout all of the nations, which means speaking their language and doing what makes a difference to them. Now, we may have our own opinions about when and how and how quickly people should learn English, but that's not the work of the church to define that. Yes, we can offer classes, and, yes, we can help people and encourage them as they grow in this country. But our primary responsibility it to share the gospel. First and foremost, always and everywhere in a way that is meaningful and accessible.
One of the new overseers of the RIM program brought us to his church and had things really well done. There were pre-planned presentations, time with each of the ministry leaders, good meals, relevant pieces of information. It was good. It was nice too because their ministry is going really well and it gave an example of where our "dying" churches can go and how ministry can be really fruitful and successful.
I learned a lot this weekend. Many of you know I have a bit of a stubborn character, "mildly indignant" as I like to put it. As such there are some things I've balked because they are popular or big name or whatever--one of those things includes anything "Purpose Driven". Well, Palmdale uses a lot of the purpose driven model, which I've known since I do camp with their associate minister and he regularly plugs most things purpose driven. For years, I've been unconvinced. But this weekend I saw how the principles have been effectively put into practice. I've also heard how the church community has latched onto those things. So, indignant or not, I have to admit that those things are working, and really, if my ultimate goal is to lead the church to greater health, action, and discipleship, then it doesn't really matter whether I really like the book or not (especially since I haven't bothered to read it). It's time to step up and at least read it, because seeing some things in practice made me want to know more and see how they might work.
One thing that PUMC emphasizes is their mission/vision statement: Building the next generation. Everything they do revolves around that statement. For two years now in workshops and trainings people have underscored the need for a relevant and pithy mission/vision statement and while I've understood it in principle, up until this weekend I'd never seen it in practice effectively. The statement becomes the litmus test for everything--why are we doing a program? study? event? it better have something specific to do with the mission/vision statement. You want to get up in arms about what we're doing and how it "isn't right" or "isn't how we've always done it"--your attack gets directed at the mission/vision statement. You know Bill, I'm sorry you don't like the new worship service, but our focus as a church is building the next generation and this new service does just that." Done. End of conversation. (more or less).
Another wonderful thing to witness was the lay empowerment at the church. Granted, it took years to really make it happen, but there are laity over all kinds of ministry--Christian education, music, the preschool, camping, discipleship, missions. It's really nice to see. They just flourish and love what they do.
I could go on and on about the wonderful things that Palmdale does and has done. But I'll just mention 2 more.
1) the youth are really empowered, they lead Bible study and their covenant groups. They also lead their own worship services on Sunday nights.
2) The way they talk about the purpose of their outreach ministries is great! They say, doing X earns us the right to...." (talk with parents, invite youth....etc) For instance, doing the preschool well earns us the right to talk with the parents and invite them to parenting classes or ESL or whatever, which in turn earns them the right to invite them to worship. Basically, they don't assume that simply because someone's child is at the preschool that the parents will buy into the church as a whole. They use outreach as trust-builders. It was refreshing.
Now, I've shared lots of good things, which there are many of, but Palmdale also shared stories of failures, heartache, and trials. It hasn't always been so glorious, when JP arrived there were about 100 people in the church and not all came on Sunday morning (a pretty normative line around here) and it's taken 17 years to get from A to B. But, they've done it! (Also, sharing some of the "I wish I'd known...." bits of wisdom gives me hope that I might be able to do it in less time, hence moving toward more possibilities.
Needless to say, I'm pumped!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I have dealt with a lot at my current church--division, lack of hope, conflict, new beginnings, change in constituency, more conflict, racism, seed planting, vision casting, leadership development, budget shortfalls--a whole array of things, and yet, I have the sense that come July 1st I will be drinking water from a fire hydrant yet again, and that, my friends, is a little bit daunting.
The books I've been reading give all kinds of wisdom and guidance about what to do, what not to do, how to spend your time initially, waiting on making major changes and getting to know the people first. While it's good advice, it's a lot to do at the same time, and in many ways I'm still a novice, oh yeah, and, I'm a do-er. I like to get things accomplished and I have lots of ideas for how we can expand ministries and work in new and different ways, and I'm supposed to put those things on hold for now. Logically I understand why, but practically, patience is not my strongest fruit!
So, for now, it's more reading. Writing down ideas to be saved for later. Working out a schedule of visitation with my new SPRC, and tying up my areas of ministry in my current location.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
I wish I had a good final thought, but I'm afraid I don't. Not yet anyway. Just this I suppose: 1) someone give those judges some diversity training! 2) Marlee: You go kick some dancing with the stars booty!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
Yes, my work still has the integrity it should because of my studies, my eternally long process, and my painfully long essay examinations, not to mention my own commitment to the office, but still. Maybe I'm just hyper sensitive, but it seems so easy for those outside the church to look at ordination or pastors and discredit what we do or the importance of education or preparation because they can walk down the hall and find the latest person to have a Universal Life ordination certificate. I don't know. Maybe I'd feel differently if I were baptist or in another denomination where the standards for ordination are not quite so rigorous. But it bugs me that people that aren't even partcipating in a church, heck, people who aren't even Christian, are getting ordained in the Universal Life Church. And meanwhile, back at the parish, I'm preparing to write 75 pages of theological, personal, and pastoral reflections in order to have the privileges I already have (as a probationary member) sealed and certified.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Thanks in advance!
As I read "What Happens When Women Pray" I was struck by the author's words. I was also struck by the words of scripture, words of challenge. As one church member pointed out, "this sounds conditional; it sounds like God will only forgive us if we first forgive others." Yep, that's exactly what it sounds like. And that's uncomfortable. We want forgiveness and we trust God to be forgiving and gracious, but are we really willing to do and be those things ourselves? The following words of scripture are definitely uncomfortable, especially if we're holding onto unforgiveness somewhere in our lives (as I suppose most of us are).
One of the more challenging pieces comes from the 2 Corinthians passage: "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him[/her]". It's one thing to set aside ill-content and anger, it's wholly another to love such a person. But that's the goal, to experience such a profound sense of forgiveness that you are able to love again.
*A note of caution and compassion: the scriptural expectations of forgiveness have often been used to re-abuse victims. They are told to "forgive and forget" or to "turn the other cheek". These are neither helpful nor holy. I don't know of anywhere in scripture where "forgetting" is mandated with regard to forgiveness (aside maybe from debt), nor do I know of a place where God encourages us to move back into an abusive situation or relationship simply forgetting what has happened in the past. (For more on repentance and true healing with regard to an offense and not simply putting the onus of responsibility on the offended/victim/abused, click here or here.) "Turn the other cheek" has also been taken out of context in so many ways and used in destructive manners. That passage is not about submitting yourself to ongoing abuse, or allowing someone to pummel you, it's about honor and shame. It's about not having to one-up the next guy or prove yourself. (For an example of what that passage DOES NOT mean, see "Never Back Down" and you can be reminded of all the things we are mandated not to do. Also, for many, forgiveness is very hard and should not be expected right away. God does offer miracles of healing and restoration. God also uses time to teach us and heal us. So, be patient with others, encouraging even of baby steps, and patient, too, with yourself in your own journey of forgiveness.
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. ~Matthew 6:12, TLB
Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you, but if you refuse to forgive them, He will not forgive you.
~Matthew 6:14-15, TLB
Listen to Me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! But—when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive you your sins too.
~Mark 11:24-25, TLB
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake in order that Satan might not outwit us.
~2 Corinthians 2:5-11
1. 1. Ask God to bring to your mind that person who has grieved you and whom you have not forgiven.
2. 2. Ask God to forgive you for the sin of not forgiving that person.
3. 3. Now forgive that Person, asking God to give you the strength and ability if you need to.
4. 4. Now ask God for as much love as God wants you to have for the person who grieved you.
5. 5. Next ask God how you should confirm your love to that person.
6. 6. Wait in silence for God’s answer.
7. 7. Pray, promising God that you will do whatever God has told you.
8. 8. Go do it!
**All scripture citations and steps toward forgiveness come from "What Happens When Women Pray" by Evelyn Christenson. (HT: mom).
I called around to make sure it was okay that I saw a copy of last year's questions and got the go-ahead, so I called a friend and asked her for a copy. They arrived yesterday. This morning I've spent a fair amount of time typing them into the computer so I can brainstorm when there's time.
Let's just say it makes my head spin. I'd forgotten the anguish of having all these questions looming overhead, and the pure joy at NOT having to deal with them. That in and of itself makes me want to take another year before writing. But, at the same time, it also makes me want to hurry up and get them out of the way. There are a number of doubts I have.
#1 The board is notorious for not passing people the first time through. So, do I really want to write 75 pages and do that much work only to be deferred?
#2 With their reputation, would waiting the year really make a difference, or will I get deferred whenever I go up, so I might as well get deferred this year so I can make it through for 2010?
#3 The majority of the questions focus on experience as a probationary member, not just academic thought, and I wonder if a transition year is really the best year to write papers. I mean, am I going to get there and simply hear, "You know Deb, you just haven't been there long enough for us to see what you're actually capable of."??
The next one is not a doubt, it's more of a complaint. A lot of these questions are VERY specific, or at least they are looking for very specific things, and it would have been nice to know these things, oh, say, 2 years ago when I started out. I mean, I got feedback after my probationary interview: "Grow in your strengths. We affirm X, Y, and Z about your call to ministry. Work on being more open to a diversity of theological perspectives in all areas of ministry." That's about all I got. Fairly vague really, except for the perspectives piece. But what they want in the papers is not so vague. They want SO much.
I guess I'm just overwhelmed right now. It's been a couple of years since I had to write something other than a sermon, meditation, prayer, liturgy, letter, eulogy, or Bible study (oh yeah, or a blog entry). I'll take some time to let the questions sink in and to pray about all of this and to see if this is really the year God would have me press forward with this madness.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
- Trust is of utmost importance in identifying your prayer partner(s). You need to be able to confide in those with whom you pray. You need to be able to be honest about what is really going on in your life. Be discerning about those you can trust so deeply. Pray about it! Ask God to guide you to the right people/person for this relationship.
- Many recommend choosing a prayer partner of the same gender. Often men find it easier to pray with men and women with women. This doesn’t mean you should not have co-ed prayer relationships, simply that you need to be realistic about how honest you can be with someone of the opposite sex.
- Identify someone who can lead you in your prayer walk. Find someone who can show you the way to the “next level” in prayer. Find someone who understands the power of a true commitment to prayer and can help you develop the same commitment in your own discipleship path.
- Choose a prayer partner who is reliable. Knowing you can rely on your prayer partner to be available and consistent in prayer can greatly increase the blessings of your prayer life.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about keeping confidentiality. When sharing deeply, it doesn’t take much to fracture trust, so be honest about your expectations and needs in regard to confidentiality.
- If you want to share your partner’s prayer request with someone else, ask if that’s okay. Sometimes we are not ready to share our concern with a church community or family members—that’s okay. Be sure to ask before you share, even when you are convinced that “more people praying will mean better results”.
- Be open and willing to pray in all places at all times. You never know when someone might need a prayer partner
Whether it’s a single prayer partner or a prayer group, it is important that we pray together. Being together for Christ’s purposes creates a unique space for him to be present with us. Scripture tells us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” (Matthew 18:2). Christ promises to be present with us when we gather together in his name—in other words, to do his will, to walk his path, to share his love. If we gather in hate, in anger, in rage, in unforgiveness, or in hostility, we are not gathering in the name of Christ, even if we try and stamp his name on our meeting. To gather in the name of Christ is to gather in the things of Christ.
Does God hear us when we pray alone? Yes, absolutely. Scripture tells us, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6). Private prayer is an essential part of our walk with God and growth in Christian faith.
And so is community prayer. We pray together to share in Christ’s presence, to bear one another’s burdens and to grow in relationship with one another. Something special happens when we come together with a brother or sister in the faith and reveal the desires of our hearts, the wounds of our past, and the needs of our present. When we develop healthy, meaningful, and prayerful relationships with fellow Christians, our relationships grow in connection, trust, and depth.
Developing relationships with fellow pray-ers should create a safe space to cry, to laugh, to lament, to grieve, and to celebrate. It is a beautiful and holy thing to listen with focus and care. Listening and caring are essential in our relationships with one another. And while sometimes we regard them as one in the same, listening and prayer are distinctive, and being able to pray with someone, or have someone pray with you, offers something wholly different than simply listening. A prayer connection is different because it intentionally brings God into your relationship. It reminds you that God is the ultimate provider, that we are dependent on God, and that we must remain connected to the divine in all we do.
 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galatians 6:2, NIV
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
1) What would you remember me for/as?
2) What will you be remembered for/as?
- Love the people. This one is simple and obvious and repeated time and time again. It is also about as true as they get. I have been amazed by the outpouring of love I have received. Granted, at the beginning it was not so loving, but now, having "loved them through it", these people are fantastic in showing and sharing love.
- Rest on your call. There will be lots of things that challenge your sense of self, your sense of ministry, even your sense of God. Hold strong to what you know--that God has called you to this work with a plan and a purpose. Remind yourself of why you followed the call and the ways that God has equipped you to be faithful.
- Surround yourself with a community of support (peers, mentors, colleagues, friends) who draw you into accountability, who encourage you, and who affirm you up one side and down the other. I am quite convinced that without my "cheerleaders" who offer me encouragement, a listening ear, advice, and time in the good times and the bad I would not have survived these first two years. I would have left without people holding me up in the most difficult times.
- Practice Sabbath for your own sanity and that of your people. Take your day off. Use your vacation and study time. You are not indispensable. (Sorry to break it to you). Sabbath will restore you. Taking sabbath also models for your congregation that neither you nor they have to work yourself/themselves into the ground in order to successful or productive. (Plus it's a commandment and thou shalt do it!)
- Keep studying and learning. I suppose I figured that after leaving seminary I would only be reading the Bible, commentaries for sermon preparation, and leisure books. Boy was I wrong! But it's been worth it. I have learned a lot. My new recommendation is: Spiritual Entrepreneurs. It has resonance with "Deepening your Effectiveness" but I think is more user friendly and would get the point across in a laity book study in a better way.
- Take time to structure your time and your schedule to do the things you need and want to do.
Any tidbits for "How to change churches" or "Becoming a senior pastor" that you would offer this transitioning pastor?!