Monday, February 15, 2010

March Pastoral Letter

What are you giving up for Lent? Chocolate? Beer? Coffee? Junk food?

Or are you taking something on? Time at the Soup Kitchen? Reading the bible or other material to help you grow in faith? Spending more time with family? Re-prioritizing?

For my Lenten discipline, I’m kicking my Belly Be Gone™ program into high gear. I’m using the weight loss/strength gaining program to remind myself that good stewardship starts with the self. But it doesn’t end there. I’m re-gaining my health so I can be a better person, a better servant to those around me, a better dad, friend, and pastor. So I can have deeper connections with people. Healthy relationships begin with healthy bodies. I can’t properly love others if I’m treating my body like a rental car.

For me, this isn’t merely a “Lenten Discipline.” It’s a lifestyle change. Like all good spiritual disciplines this won’t stop once I reach my goal, but will help me grow into who God wants me to be.

And your Lenten discipline, I hope, will have the same effect; to challenge you in healthy ways, to bring you closer to God and others, to build on the good things that are happening in your life.

It is my prayer Lent will be a healthy challenge for you, pushing some limits, exercising your spiritual muscles, so that you can continue to grow as a faithful follower of Jesus.

In Jesus’ Name,

Pastor Kevin

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Church in Palliative Care Rising Again?

Church decline doesn’t worry me. It used to. Not anymore. And it’s not because I have a “Jesus won’t let the church die. God is in control” type of attitude. God may be in control but that doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t send the church to its grave

Churches, like other organizations (or organisms!) have life-cycles. We’re born. We grow, reproduce, decline, then die. That’s the way life is built.

But of course, as Christians, we know that death is not the end of the story. With death comes resurrection. New LIfe. New Creation. Something new rises out of death.

I think the western church is in palliative care. We’re dying. And it’s not easy for anyone. Some are in denial. Some are raging against it. But it’s happening, and we don’t know what to do.

But I also think that God is creating something new. From the death to the old way of being church, God will raise a new way. The new church will be smaller than the old one. But it will be stronger. We won’t depend of the culture propping us up. People won’t feel socially obligated to belong to a church, but will crave a life together. Our influence will be relational, not institutional. We’ll be more like a family than a bureaucracy. More a clan than a corporation.

When I think of the struggles I have as a pastor, almost NONE of them have to do with theology or relationships (I say “almost none"). They have to do with organization. How we “run” the church.

And, I think, underneath those struggles is a realization that we’re fighting an uphill battle against decline. Our programs aren’t as effective as we want them to be. Our pool of volunteers (aka “ministers”) is diminishing. We’re being asked to fight off what seems an inevitable demise with fewer and fewer resources.

That’s why I think our job is to listen to the Spirit hovering over our chaos disguised as “good order.” I think the Spirit is dismantling our structures that inhibit discipleship and forcing us into re-thinking what it means to be the church in 21st century Canada.

It’s hard work. But it’s God’s work. Dying to comfortable patterns of church is painful. And so is rising to new ones. But the unchanging good new of Jesus is always looking for new vessels. The ever-new wine of the gospel cannot be poured into old churchy wineskins.

Of course, none of this is news. Its been said many times by better church thinkers than me. But it’s what I believe God is saying to me as a church leader, as one called to shepherd my tiny flock.

I don’t what all this looks like. But I do know that the future will be painful. But it will also lead to something new and exciting, people re-ignited with fiery passion for good news in a bad news world.

May our ears be opened to the still small voice who leads us with hope into the future.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tuesday Morning Snark

Here’s my theory on jazz: it’s the new classical. Jazz shows have replaced most classical programs on CBC and CKUA. People experience jazz today with a sense of awe and wonder that was once the sole preserve of symphonies. It’s the music of choice for the intelligentsia and wanna-be elite. If you want to sound brainy and hip, drop John Coltrane’s name. It gives off both the illusion of smarts and of street cred. The music people pretend to like without knowing how to listen to it. Just like classical had been previously.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Belly Be Gone! Update 3

Two spinach smoothies. 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. 30 minutes strength training. 20 minutes walking around Save-On Foods. I’m baking beans and chopping veggies this afternoon. I’m glad the sun is shining. I find it easier to get motivated when I can see the promise of summer.

People have asked why I’m FINALLY getting back in shape after so many false starts.What makes this time different from all the other efforts?

Well, I turned 40 last year and began to feel my age. I wasn’t happy with the sedentary and fast food lifestyle I was living. I didn’t feel like “me.” The happy, confident, energetic, specimen of power and manliness that I was previously seemed to be disappearing. I wanted to be that man again.

Also, my marriage ended. And I’m sure being out of shape and the attending emotional consequences of poor eating was a contributing factor in its demise.

I need to do better. I am doing better.

So I made a deal with myself to make 2010 the best year of my life EVER. And getting into the best shape of my life is the highlight of that plan. Especially when I’m losing weight/gaining strength in front of 200 people, many of whom have sponsored me in my quest. With my personal integrity and charity money on the line I DEFINITELY need to reach this goal!

But I’m using the weight loss/strength gaining program to remind myself that good stewardship starts with the self. But it doesn’t end there. I’m re-gaining my health so I can be a better person, a better servant to those around me, a better dad, friend, lover (if/when that happens again). So I can have deeper connections with people. Healthy relationships begin with healthy bodies. I can’t properly love others if I’m treating my body like a rental car.

Time for another spinach smoothie.

Hand to the Plow

Willimon, at study conference, was incredible. Better in person than on podcast. I also love his books. I got his autograph.

I know it’s hard to believe that there are days when I get discouraged in ministry. Days when I feel like looking back after putting my hand to the plow. Days when I update my resume and cruise the list of pastoral vacancies. Or days when I think of getting out the pastor gig altogether.

When I have those days one of Willimon’s podcasts downloads from iTunes. And he always says something that re-energizes me about ministry and the church. He reminds me that churches are filled with people, sinful, petty, small - just like the disciples. And he further reminds me that I’m no different from them. I just have a collar around my neck. Not a halo over my head.

But more importantly, I learn that it’s not my job to “care” for people. My job is to tell people about Jesus. I am not in the “helping profession.” I am in the Jesus profession. My job is to preach. And sometimes preaching means wounding - even killing - so that we can rise again, a new creation. My job is not to make people feel good about themselves, but to help them grow as Christians.

There are days when I don’t care for people as much as I feel I should. But that’s why I preach a Word that is not mine, but a Word that belongs to Great Lover of the World. It’s not me who loves, but God, through me.

When I realized that, then I can put my hand back on the plow.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Why aren't people coming to church?

At the study conference people asked, “Why aren’t people coming to church anymore?” And I was struck by the seriousness with which people took the question.

I think that's the wrong question. It makes church all about US and what WE'RE losing.

But more distressingly, the undercurrent of that question is “What’s wrong with people that they don’t see the world as we Christians see it? Why do we have to work so hard to keep our doors open?”

Whenever I hear people complain about churches emptying I want to respond: why SHOULD people come to church? Why should going to church be part of social expectations? Why should attendance at worship be expected to be the norm in peoples’ lives?

What we should be asking is, “What is driving people away from church?” Or, perhaps, more importantly, “Is the way we presently do church turning people away from God?”

We heard from Bishop Ron reporting George Barna’s most recent research, that people are open, hungry for spiritual things, but turned off by church. People have a longing to touch the divine but don’t feel compelled to find the holy in traditional churches.

People, Bp Ron reported, are into a “do-it-yourself” religion. “Whatever works for you.” The assumption is that people are disconnected from centuries old wisdom that has pondered ancient mysteries, dismissive of organized religion that has brought comfort and peace to seekers of God for thousands of years.

But what is not acknowledged is the tradition that they are reacting to. The tradition that told women to be silent in church, the tradition that told people to be afraid or suspicious of their sexuality (homo, hetero, or...?), the tradition that mistook God’s power for Caesar’s - institutional religion that is more interested in protecting itself and its power over peoples’ lives than in setting people free in Jesus' name.

Whatever name you give our present cultural context, postmodernism or something else, it is a reaction to harm done in the past. And we can’t go on complaining about what we’ve lost as a church until we recognize our complicity in creating the problem.

We are given an incredible opportunity to show humility to the world. This is a missional opportunity. If we engage the world with open ears and soft hearts, then we might earn the privilege to open our mouths with the gospel. When people see that our agenda is nothing more nor less than a ministry of life and healing, rather than creating a group of churchgoers, than I think the world will listen.

People are hungry for God. But doesn’t mean they’re hungry for institutional church. Nor should it.

So, instead of asking, "Why aren't people coming to church?" The question should be, "Why aren't we going to them?"

Diversity? Community?

A big part of my job is creating community from disparate groups of people. While I’m not utopian with regards to how well we can build those important connections (people can be mean, petty, selfish, as well as kind, generous, and gracious. All at the same time), I still think that the greatest human longing is intimate relationships with others. And through others, with God. We’re disconnected, savagely independent, and appear to like it that way.

But when people experience authentic community, you can almost feel their frozen souls begin to melt. People long to be known. Like in Avatar, the Na’vi’s greeting was at the core of their life together: “I see you.” I recognize your existence. It’s personal and communal. In fact, one of the myths we have as a culture is thinking we can exist, have being outside of our relationships. My relationships MAKE me ME. For better or worse. I can’t escape that.

So, for Christians, I think we are shaped by the One who knows us, but comes among us as one UNknown. That’s why we struggle so deeply as a people trying to discern what God wants from us. The invisible God can be so utterly absent at times, leaving us to discuss, bicker, and debate God’s heart and mind. All that’s left is speculation.

Sometimes I wonder if the absence of community among Christians is because we feel an absence of God. The Word may have become flesh, but I often worry if that Word is spoken so softly that we can’t hear it. We have scripture, through which we confess that God is revealed. But no two people agree in what the bible says. We all have our own modes of interpretation.

Bishop Ron ruminated about how few pastors came to this week’s study conference. I wish he would have spoken to those who chose to be away, rather than spanking those present. I think people don’t come to study conference because they feel disconnected - amputated - from the Body of Christ. So they choose to disengage rather than re-attach.

To me, it feels like the breakdown in community among our pastors is a result of a breakdown in discerning God’s vision for us. Or maybe it’s assuming that God has a common vision, one goal for us that we all must share and affirm. If God is incarnate in the Body of Christ, then that incarnation looks different wherever God is revealed in and through us.

So, maybe diversity is the friend and enemy (frenemy?) of the church. We’re so used to being homogenous that we don’t know what to do with disagreement or difference.

But maybe the gospel challenge is for the Body of Christ to salve our disagreements. This is not our challenge, but God’s. It is the God who raised Jesus from the dead who decided to bring widely divergent people together and asked them to play nice.

So, perhaps what we’re supposed to do now is to pray for healing of division, for eyes to see God’s vision, and for strength to do God’s will. I think we’ve reached the final impasse. We need to stop yelling at each other and direct our voices to God.

The next move is up to God.