Monday, August 29, 2011

To Live As Trish Lived

Last Saturday I attended the memorial service for Trish Opheen Redmond. About 17 years ago Trish and Mike were part of a marriage retreat Kim and I led for the Chugiak UMC. Trish was an active and vital leader for the church who had knee surgery so she could enjoy her love of skiing. On the way out of the hospital she fainted and never revived even though medical care was immediately available. An apparent blood clot blocked the flow of vital oxygen to her brain.

And suddenly, without warning, a vibrant, energetic, compassionate woman left this world. When someone in their 80's or 90's dies we understand that she or he has lived a long life. But when someone dies "before their time" it gives us pause. Somewhere deep inside we wonder out loud, "This could happen to me. This could happen to the people I love."

It did happen to Mike and his family and the entire Chugiak church. It was clear that the church building would not hold all those who would come out of love and respect for Trish so the Chugiak High auditorium was made available. It was in that space that we had church. Pastor Carlo Rapanut led us in a time of worship and remembering. We sang hymns from the Faith We Sing hymnal that were Trish's favorites. Chugiak member, Jan Wachsmuth, sat near me. I noticed that people were not singing, probably because they did not know the hymns. I am not one to sing loud, mostly out of a desire to save my voice for preaching. But there in that holy place where church was happening Jan and I raised our voices a notch or two. I had a sense that we were helping to fill the empty space that Trish had left with hope, the kind of resurrection hope that only comes from God. It felt like we were witnessing to our faith with our singing.

I wondered what people thought of us as United Methodists. I found myself grateful that Trish was loved by so many people that we had to hold her service in the school auditorium. It was a moment of intersection of Christ and culture, of church and society. It felt right.

Trish did not choose to die. But the way she lived, so full of life and passion and joy, gives me an example to follow. I am not promised tomorrow. God only gives me today. God help me to live like Trish lived, fully present to the moment, fully present to God who is the source of our love and joy.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Highlights from “Renovate Or Die” by Bob Farr. Chapter 4

Continuing with our book study/review.  I skipped to chapter 4 titled "Momentum."  Bob writes, "You know when you have it and you know when you lose it."  The scientific definition of momentum is a measure of the motion of a body equal to the product of its mass and velocity.  I am partial to the definition of momentum in the investment world: "the perceived strength behind a price movement."

As we think about momentum in the church it might be helpful to think about the "perceived strength" behind any kind of movement.  Farr believes that momentum, like the movement of the Holy Spirit, cannot be created, only caught.  We don't create a wave or the wind but we can notice where it is and ride.

Five steps to catch momentum according to Farr.
1. If you want new momentum, you have to change something.
2. Make the easy changes first.
3. Do best practices and keep doing them.
4. Lead by example.
5. Preach change to get change.

One thing I am learning is that renovation and vitality in our Alaska churches will not happen unless our clergy and lay leaders agree that our old sails are not catching the wind like they once did.  Our churches will not change unless our leaders are willing to embrace the changes we need in order to gain spiritual momentum.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Highlights from “Renovate Or Die” by Bob Farr. Chapter 2

Understand Your Present Reality is the title of chapter two.  How well do you as a leader in your church understand your present reality?  One of the reasons I enjoy living and ministering in Alaska is that people are real.  You don't see a lot of posturing, posing, and pretending.  My next question is: do we look at our local churches and communities through such a realistic lens?  Or because we don't want a negative reality to deflate our hopes for the future, do we ever try to paint our reality in a new light?  Do we gloss over the hard realities because we don't want to face them?

This chapter is about taking what we can learn from others and mixing them in with our local contexts.  Upon arriving at a new church Bob Farr "wanted to know more about that church and community than they themselves knew."  p. 26.  He cites three kinds of data leaders need to know.  1. Demographic statistics.  2. Historical information.  3. Stories (what he calls "walk-around information").  Welcoming a new pastor is a good time for a church to engage in this activity.  Let us remember that we need to find ways to share this data with the new people who come to our churches.  It's not just the pastor's job to learn a church's context.

The last point is about survival vs. vitality mode.  "This is where most mainline churches find themselves today: survival mode.  This turns us inward and leads to protectionism.  It also most often separates us from the vitality that makes us a church, which is our connection with the mission field."  p. 28.

I do hope you will get Bob's book and study it together.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Highlights from “Renovate Or Die” by Bob Farr

Bob Farr is the Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence at the Missouri Annual Conference. He attended seminary at Perkins School of Theology, and he first served in the Missouri Conference at Randolph Memorial in Kansas City. He started a new church in Lee's Summit called Grace UMC, and his latest appointment was at Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles where he led the congregation through a relocation. He is experienced with developing the Pastor Leadership Development program, church consulting, relocations, mergers and new church starts.
Renovate or Die: 10 Ways to Focus Your Church on MissionFrom the book cover: “Bob Farr asserts that to change the world, we must first change the Church.  Rearranging the pews, painting the fellowship hall, or paving the parking lot are just not enough.  With clear language and practical tips, this book will inspire and help you organize your church for new life.”

My plan is not to review this book so much as share my highlights.  Here are the highlights from the introduction and first chapter called, “It All Starts with the Pastor.”

“Renovation and innovation, not just redecoration.” P. 4.

“The attraction model is dying and being replaced with a networking model.”  P. 9.

“If the pastor and some key leaders do not possess a sense of urgency, they are doomed to fail.  That burning desire that something must be done NOW is essential in beginning the renovation process.”  P. 10.

“Adam Hamilton, in Leading Beyond Walls, says you need to know three things about your church in order to cast your vision:  1. Why do people need Christ?  2. Why do people need the church?  3. Why do people need this particular church?”  p. 11.

“The church isn’t going anywhere if the pastor is not willing to lead.”  P. 17.

“A church must also be pastor-led rather than pastor-centered.”  P. 17.

 “Moving a church from being pastor-centered to pastor-led is a long process and transition.”  P. 19.

“(The pastor’s) job is to focus on the health of the whole community more than one individual.”  P. 20.

“A leader’s job is to provide vision.  It is the congregation’s job to confirm it.”  P. 22.

Bob’s words will no doubt challenge and even offend church people.  I encourage you to get the book and read it with me and start a conversation.  My plan is to offer these highlights in my dibble over the next several weeks.

Grace Always,

Monday, August 1, 2011

Downgrading My Life

"It won't happen to me." In one way or another we all have likely lived with this attitude, at least at a subconscious level. I have seen the news reports of traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers and witnessed advocates bringing this issue into the national spotlight. We all know that we should not drink and drive. Now the mantra is don't drive distracted! People can die. Last week I saw the ultimate example of distracted driving. A father was feeding his baby in the back seat while driving! It's making me angry because now I don't feel safe on the roads.

But how do I contribute to the plethora of distracted drivers? I have an iphone that keeps me connected with people. While stopped at a red light it is so easy to touch a couple of buttons and check my email. But then I hear what I truly believe to be the voice of God whispering, "It could happen to you." Would I ever be tempted to give attention to my phone while driving? I shiver at the thought that my distracted driving could someday cause injury or death to someone. So I have decided to downgrade my smart phone to a "dumb" phone, one that mostly is used for conversation with people.

At a store one clerk said, "Why would you want to downgrade?" After my response she said, "No one has ever come in here to downgrade before." I hope she hears it more often as people make proactive decisions to reduce the distractions in their lives. I have decided to give up my iphone this week. Less distraction. Less money. Less risk on the roads.

It is a way to simplify my life. A way to create a bit more space for conversation with God. I am truly looking forward to the changes it will bring.

Grace Always,