Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Renovate Or Die by Bob Farr, Chapter 6

The title is "Think Strategies, Not Programs."  I resonate with Bob's opening sentences:  "It is important to have a strategy to achieve your vision and mission.  Most congregations are simply going along and are guided by the calendar of events."

Wow!  I say this because I see many of our churches being guided more by the event calendar than anything else.  When an event works we naturally want to do it again next year.  A program calendar can easily become packed with successful events leaving little room for new initiatives.  The question needs to be asked, "What criteria shall we apply to all of our church's events to determine whether or not they should be continued?"

Bob Farr writes that UM Churches do not need to spend time writing a mission statement.  We have one which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  "Our mission is clear; the only question is how your local church is going to carry it out."  The answer to this is our vision.  "Once you have your vision, make sure it is easily understood by all, and that it is obvious and strategic so that the congregation will support it by putting feet to it to make it so." (p. 51)

Farr believes that everything we do in our churches should be measured by whether or not it is achieving the mission.  When talking about a church preschool he writes, "There's value in having weekday ministries for children, but you must ask if that value is in line with the overall mission of the church.  Too many churches have lots of separate little ministries going on that are good but don't align with the mission.  They may look like they are not hurting anything, but they take up needed time, space, and energy and thus lessen our ability to achieve the overall purpose of growing our church."  (p. 53)


It has been my experience as a pastor and superintendent that we generally do not do a very good job of measuring our ministries by our missional purpose.  We find it difficult to turn down a traditional event we've had every year for 30 years.  We don't want to risk hurting others who value an event.  But as Bishop Mike Lowry advised us at annual conference in Homer, "mission always trumps niceness."

I don't think this is a call to become less nice.  Rather, it is a call to put mission first.  The major issue for our leaders is to keep the mission and vision of the church before our congregations.  Farr's words are a helpful challenge to us all as we seek to be faithful to the mission God is giving us.

Grace Always,

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Suggestion on Dealing with the Nomination Process

Have you scheduled your Lay Leadership Committee (formerly known as the Nominations Committee)?  Pastors know they need to have this report ready for Church Conference so leaders can be elected for next year.  We all know that this is the only committee in the church where the pastor can serve as chair or co-chair.

But with a plate full of autumn ministries pastors all too often succumb to the “warm body” approach.  Let’s ask so-and-so.  She isn’t doing much in the church.  Or there is my favorite, the “activate the inactive” by giving them a job.  Or the “lower the bar” approach where “you don’t have to do very much to be on this committee.”

Do our churches have written job descriptions for committees and ministry teams?  How are new people asked to serve?  A single phone call from someone who doesn’t really understand how the committee works?  A phone message?  An email?  Does anyone speak with a potential leader face to face, and perhaps with several conversations?  Maybe the quality of our church leaders is partially dependent upon the quality of how they are courted and asked.

What is the criteria for choosing people to serve?  I suggest each Lay Leadership Committee ask these questions when names are brought forward.
1.    Does this person attend worship regularly?
2.    Is there evidence that he/she is praying for the church?
3.    Is this person a faithful giver, perhaps even a tither?
4.    Is she/he involved in our community with acts of service?
5.    Is this person able to share their Christian faith by words and actions with others?

You will notice that these are the vows for becoming a member of the United Methodist Church.  Do you promise to support the Church with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness?

Lay Leadership committees need to operate a bit like SPRC where they can share their discernment about their future leadership in confidence.  It is high time that we all take leadership development more seriously.  It rarely is a squeaky wheel so it rarely gets grease.  Pastors deal with so many squeaky wheel clamoring for attention.  But not everything that clamors for our attention should get it. 

When it comes to creating a healthy church system leaders really need to make leadership development a high priority, especially in Alaska where we experience such high turnover.  Revamping how we choose leaders this fall can be a great time to begin anew.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Renovate Or Die" Chapter Five on Preaching

It is clear and should come as no surprise that Alaska lay people want and expect their pastors to inspire them through experiential worship with life-application preaching.  It is why this is one of my expectations of all our clergy, and it is essentially the title of Chapter Five of Bob Farr's book, "Renovate Or Die."

Bob opens this chapter by citing the rapid rate of change in our world today.  While it took 71 years for the telephone to get into 50% of American homes, it took only ten years for the internet to reach 50% of American homes.  Given this velocity change Bob believes that current preaching methods must change to keep up.

"I'm not asking us preachers to give up our values or change our theology.  I'm asking us to rethink our presentation style.  I'm asking us to change our medium to rethink how we communicate, so that we might be culturally and emotionally relevant."  p. 45.

Some of the preachers in Alaska remember being trained in seminary to have three points and never talk about yourself.  Farr wants to dispel these notions.  In fact he believes that people are hungry to walk away from a sermon able to remember a single, main point!  And he believes that we must begin with peoples' experience.  His outline process is:
A. Theirs
B. Yours
C. God's
D. Ours
We live in an era where people are hungry for authentic discipleship models, so it's not only okay for preachers to talk about their human experience, but necessary if people are going to make a connection.

But it isn't about us.  God's story is always included, ending with the story that we are never alone, that we live in a world and faith community.

Farr goes on to discuss how to inject music, video, dialogue, or humor every 4-5 minutes.  We need to be multi sensory and work with themes.  How pastors plan and include a worship team is vital to inspirational preaching.

I think clergy and laity alike will enjoy chapter five.  I am confident that all of our preachers truly want to become better at helping their people connect their real lives to the story of God acting throughout human history.

Grace Always,


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


One of the aspects of local church ministry I miss is the creativity.  When I was pastor at St. John and overwhelmed with administrative functions I could visit the children in the preschool, or write a song alone in the sanctuary, or create a new visual for worship.

In my role as superintendent I do not always have these outlets.  This was driven home to me this past Labor Day weekend.  I had several projects planned at our little cabin in the woods north of Willow.  A combination of factors including rain made those projects undoable.  I was really looking forward to completing these projects so I was fairly grumpy when it did not happen.  So I went home and built a roof over part of our deck.

I was amazed at how my spirits lifted.  This roof project was the outlet I needed to express my creativity.

Maybe you are a person in touch with your creative spirit and you set aside time for art and creative projects.  Most of us however find it easy to push this part of us down in favor of checking off our to do lists.  And creativity is often not a part of our daily routine.

I know God can speak to us through the mundane administrative details of our daily lives.  But I am more open to hearing and seeing God when in a creative mindset.  Our God is a Creator God.  Thanks be to God who gifts us with creativity.

Pray for Kim for patience to deal with a husband seeking creative home projects!

Grace Always,