Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day in the Life

Had a fascinating day in the life of a pastor today. First off, it started with my wife heading out early this morning. She was preaching so that means she handled the 8:30am service and I would bring the kiddos later for worship. Good deal for me.

Worship this morning was lovely. Then I took the kiddos home and K went to go play with our African Marimba choir at the Crop Walk at TCU. Trinity continued a tradition of supporting this ministry. Reminded ourselves who live in the relatively affluent TCU/Tanglewood area of Fort Worth that there are hungry in our midst. They rocked it of course, then she came home. Which was good because then I left to go to the installation of a new pastor at King of Glory Lutheran Church.

Just an aside, King of Glory is on the far east side of Fort Worth. Basically in Arlington. Founded in 1966 (the glory days of church planting and suburban growth in that part of Fort Worth) it has been a small but persistent  community. Today, the mother of one of Trinity's most faithful members is a big part of their ministry and we are grateful for them as partners on the east side. They are a presence in their community because they host recovery groups and invite everyone to hear the message of God's grace. Trinity recently had two foursomes play in the east side ministries golf outing because of that connection. It is good to be part of ministry in all of our city.

But unfortunately I had to leave early from that installation (as such, I am not in the picture). The reason I left is that I was heading over to a ministry we are partnering with in the Fairmont area of Fort Worth. This is the "hip" area of town. An area of redevelopment and also urban decay. One in which you are as likely to hear Tejano rock coming from a front yard bbq as you are to be offered artisan cheeses or handmade chocolates at the latest coffee shop emporium.

Once at that ministry. I engaged the Kyrie community in conversation, connecting with some friends and they pointed a young woman out to me. They told me she had affirmed her baptism at Kyrie a couple weeks previously and lived in the neighborhood around Trinity. In addition, she actually had worshipped at Trinity that very morning and brought along her special needs son, eight years old.

My immediate reaction? Cringing. Praying she had a good experience. And I was concerned. First off, I had to get over the fact that I had not met her. Why didn't I recognize her? Well, duh, she came to 8:30am service, I was getting the kiddos ready for church. So not only was I not there, my concern was raised. Did the folks welcome her? Were they inviting, did the preacher (my wife) do ok?

Well the verdict was in. Not only good, but moving. She shared with me that she was inspired to see a woman in pastoral leadership. To see a woman preach and consecrate the sacrament. This was new and amazing to her. A welcoming and heartening sign. And additionally, her son had enjoyed the service and especially the music. This young man, so moved by the music, was crying by the middle of the service, especially when he heard the marimba's play the offertory. In response, he took the dollar he had received from his mother as his allowance, and placed it in the offering plate.

Raising Faith: Growing Disciples! That is our theme this fall. It isn't a stewardship campaign it is a discipleship campaign. Today was a day in which I was gifted to witness discipleship. To hear a story of my community expressing the joy of worship in such a way that a young boy was moved to share his abundance. Now everyday is no where near as good as this. But today, today was a blessed day to serve the church. Today I was reminded why we serve and I give thanks, especially for the music ministry of my congregation. If you ever doubt if investing in music is worthwhile. Picture an eight year old with special needs, tears on his cheeks from being moved by music, placing his dollar in the plate in offering and thanksgiving. We are blessed dear friends. Beyond measure.

(Psalm 126:2) Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Table Talk at NTNL Bishop's Convo

Today I had the privilege of moderating a table talk Q&A time at the Bishop's Convocation of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Territory of the ELCA (we like long names!).

The speakers for the last day and a half were noted author, speaker and missiologist Reggie McNeal (not a Lutheran) and Ken Inskeep, the director of Research and Evaluation for the ELCA. They were speaking to us on the theme of the convocation. Missional Renaissance: Discerning Context and Responding in Hope. Basically, Ken was there to give us some of the nitty gritty research and evaluation that the ELCA has been doing (discerning context) and Reggie was there to talk about that context and how we biblically and contextually respond to it as the church.

What was interesting was that I posted that this would be going on to the ELCA Clergy Facebook site and that if anyone had questions they should get them to me and I would try to work them in. That generated some interesting questions, some general, some specific. But also some wonderment as to what these two would talk about together. There was an assumption that they were interested in different things, different aspects of the church. That assumption couldn't have been more incorrect as it turned out.

So what did we discuss and learn. I don't have an actual transcript, but here are my highlights...

1) We HAVE to get out of the church and into God's World. Ok, this is a DUH thing. However, here are some interesting stats and ideas to back that up.

1a) Inskeep posits that the Pew study recently released actually WAY underestimates the unaffiliated in our country. There are probably another 20-30% of the country who may say they are "Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist" but haven't been to a church in years. As a result, that unaffiliated number is more like 40-50%. So he proposes a 1% principle. For example...

-In his data, in Texas there are approximately 12 million unaffiliated. From that he figures there are   about 2.5 million folks who are probably former Catholics, Lutherans or other mainlines (people who are at least somewhat familiar with the story) who are now unaffiliated. 1% of those folks is 25,000 people. If we were to connect with and get connect with that 1% it would double the size of the current worshipping population of the NTNL. So what does that mean? There is great opportunity out there and folks to connect with and you don't have to think in huge numbers.  Your church doesn't have to go from 50 to 5,000 to make an impact. 50 to 70 percentage wise is a huge change. Think in people, individuals, make connections.

1b) So how do we do that. McNeal says the first place to go is the schools. Now he cautions there will be those who immediately say the schools don't want us yada, yada. Go there and ask a very good question. "How can we help? What can we do to serve you?" Do that, and mean it, you will make connections.  Again, if you can't adopt the school, adopt class, or a teacher, or a student.

2) The institution of the church must change its scorecard (this is Reggie's thing) and must be honest about its barriers (Ken's). We measure what we value and as Reggie said, we have to get out of the church business and into the people business. Counting is not bad, numbers are people. But it is our calling to make sure we are measuring and valuing the right things. Lutherans have a great message to help people in this regard. Our theology and teachings are beautiful and connect with those who are unaffiliated. But our traditions often get in the way. What do we really need to keep? That is what congregations should ask. What do we do because it makes us feel comfortable but for a new believer might be a stumbling block? Those things must be talked about.

3) You gotta be the mission. Reggie reminded us that we are in fact ourselves God's mission. God's redemptive power to bring life starts with us as much as with anyone we might want to reach. So we need to live that. The reality is that many don't want to change, so go and lead. Decide what you are passionate about and move forward with it. Find what your community can do to make its world a better place (no matter how small that is) and do it. Ken showed up clearly that there is opportunity there, people who are potentially open to our message of hope and grace. But we must get into relationship with them to share it.

Finally we were reminded by Ken that we must stop thinking about the resources we have or don't have and believe in God's abundance. Money will follow inspired and spiritually focused missions. As Reggie said, American religion is a $100 Billion business.  The money is there, what is it being spent on?

All in all it was an inspiring conversation and I only have hit highlights here. Rooted in the factual reality of what we are facing but hopeful in the reality that all congregations big and small can in fact be vital if they are embodying the mission.

My editorial note is this. We have too many congregations that are stagnant, in decline or just treading water. Too many leaders are ignoring those numbers in their parishes. Pastors expect congregations to be there for them, to provide healthcare and insurance and etc... That can be true, but only if the current generation of pastors make that happen for the coming generation. If your congregation is stagnant or floundering it is your calling to change that. There are ways to move onto God's agenda of hope, opportunities for mission. But first you gotta get out and get on the mission. Don't leave behind a community smaller, less engaged or less energetic than when you were called to lead it. If you do, you cannot expect there to be another engaged, energetic and growing parish waiting for you. Eventually, the numbers can't add up.

We are in an exciting time as the church. The opportunities are there. We don't have to steal sheep from other congregations to grow but we are going to have to change. That isn't easy. But that is the mission. God's mission.