Watching the Future Emerge Together

Watching the Future Emerge Together

I am fascinated by the things that turn out to have retro appeal. People warn you not to get rid of your old clothes (the classic case being bellbottom jeans), “because they’re sure to come back in style again.” The whole business model for the cable channel Nick at Night was based on assumptions about the retro appeal of old cartoons and sitcoms to a new generation of children.  Technologies developed for Baby Boomers turn out to fascinate Gen Xers and Millennials. In The Postmodern Parish, I wrote about the first time I saw someone with a new Polaroid camera.  Although I couldn’t have imagined it at the time I wrote that passage, Polaroids are now experiencing a comeback. The cameras and film are being manufactured again, and young adults flock around this “old school” technology in the same way some younger music lovers now prefer vinyl over digital downloads. I remember how exciting it was to watch the image emerge on that first Polaroid picture.  As soon as the picture was taken, a completely blank piece of photographic paper shot out of the bottom of the camera.  As you watched, the yellow part of the image appeared on the paper, then the red part.  Finally, the blue portion emerged, and you could make out the whole image clearly. We are in a “Polaroid” era in the life of the church.  We all sense that the Holy Spirit is revealing new ways for churches to be faithful in our rapidly shifting American cultural landscape: showing us new “images” of what a post-Christendom congregation looks like. Our problem is that...
Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Are you living on the right side of Easter?

Easter changes everything. Like no other part of the Christian faith, the story of Easter is at the heart of what makes our faith unique and life-changing. Death is overcome by life. Not even the grave is immune to the life-giving power of Jesus Christ. Those simple statements have profound implications. Across the centuries, this triumph of life over death has proven to be the spark that has inspired individual believers and the church. No obstacle has been too large, no challenge too intimidating. Men and women have found hope in the midst of oppression, loss, and excruciating pain. Faith communities have leaned into challenges that seemed overwhelming with conviction, grit and confidence in victory. Living on the right side of Easter makes all the difference in the world. There really are two sides of Easter, aren’t there? One is the side of Easter that the disciples experienced during the dark hours following the crucifixion. It is the side marked by discouragement, loss and despair. There is also the side of Easter those same men and women experienced when they discovered the tomb was empty and Jesus had been resurrected. This is life marked by confidence and hope. Why, then, do so many of us, and so many of our churches seemingly live on the wrong side of Easter? Think about the difference in a church that finds itself mired in a “pre-Easter” mindset versus a church that lives out of it’s “post-Easter” mindset. Here are four key contrasts between the two. A pre-Easter church believes only in what they can see. Thus, they work very hard and are...
What’s Right with the Church?

What’s Right with the Church?

Sometimes a book ends up in your hands at just the right time with just the right words.  Reading that kind of book is like meeting with a mentor or friend.  You read a bit and think. Maybe you write something in the margin.  It becomes a conversation.    A book like this ended up on my desk about 30 years ago. I had served enough churches that I had faced some challenges and some discouragement. I was coming to grips with my own limitations.  I had even had a conversation with a trusted counselor about doing some coursework to prepare to take the MCAT to apply to medical school.  I wondered if I really should continue being a Minister of Music.   Fortunately, there were many voices that encouraged me to find a way to do more than survive, but to thrive in local church ministry.  Among those voices was a book by William Willimon, What’s Right with the Church? [1]  You see, part of my struggle was I had been taught to love the church in theory but I didn’t have much practice in loving the church in practice.  My error:  loving everyone but not every one.   Willimon’s book helped me to begin to reframe some of the resistance I had experienced from church folk.  (I’m sure it had nothing to do with my “I-have-a-graduate-degree-in-music-and-we’re-only-doing-great-music-here” attitude.)  There was much to appreciate, to value and to love about particular people and places.  To quote Robert Webber, “All worship is local.”  Yes, I could honor the gifts and callings bestowed on me but when I was at my best...
Holding Your Staff Accountable

Holding Your Staff Accountable

Whenever I have an opportunity, I suggest that the starting point for bringing health and effectiveness to a church’s ministerial staff is the critical work of clarifying mission, vision and purpose in the congregation. That clarity then becomes the “north star” for every decision, every investment of resources, every staff position, every event that a congregation chooses to engage in. What comes next? May I suggest that accountability is essential for a healthy and functioning staff? We find that many times congregational staff members operate in a bizzaro congregational world devoid of healthy accountability. Without a thoughtful, rational system in place, evaluation and accountability disintegrates into personal opinion and judgments made without benefit of facts. Expectations are fuzzy. Ministers find themselves pushed and pulled by individual tastes and priorities. Congregational bullies show up and exercise inappropriate influence. Motives begin to be assigned. Facts take a distant backseat to innuendo and gossip. Other times, congregations are victimized by clergy who seem to operate without rules or fail to practice rudimentary work habits. Clergy too often operate in silos, content to patter around their ministry corner without concern for the church as a whole. Clergy who are not held accountable make mistakes that no one calls them on, and thus fail to learn valuable lessons. Boundary violations are inevitable, as most are reticent to “call foul” on a man or woman of God. There must be a better way! Accountability for clergy teams begins with healthy peer pressure. Patrick Lencioni  (The Advantage) goes so far as to say that “peer-to-peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on...
The Church & Social Media Workshop

The Church & Social Media Workshop

Belmont University, Nashville, TN April 18, 2017 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Transitioning to the Digital Communication World Now that your church is ready to communicate in the age of the Internet, the next steps can be daunting. What exactly does a communication director do? How do you manage a Facebook page? How important is your print newsletter? What do you do with email? And what are you missing? We’ll talk about all these needs and more as your church transitions to the digital communication world. We’ll also discuss the rewards as well as the risks of how and when to use social media for your church and as an individual in ways you may not have considered yet. Question and answer time will be provided. Our workshop presenter for the morning is Natalie Aho. Natalie is the Interactive Communications Specialist for Baptist News Global. In addition, she works as a communications specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and as a communications consultant for the Center for Healthy Churches. She brings years of experience in both social media and church engagement to the workshop. Cost: $40 – Includes Breakfast & Materials To register go to www.belmont.edu/ifbl and click on the “Upcoming Events” tab.  (For information on how to register more than one participant from the same organization, contact Jon Roebuck, 615.460.6073 or...
Unity of the Spirit

Unity of the Spirit

I like the story of the man from the Northeast who was in the south for a conference. He went to a diner for breakfast and asked for eggs, sausage, and toast. As the server brought the order he noticed a little white puddle on his plate. “What’s that?” he wondered. “Grits,” she replied. “What is a grit?” he asked. She rolled her eyes and said, “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.” Neither do Christians who are trying to be devoted followers of Jesus. Instead we connect in a community. This has been the commission of Jesus from the very first days. He drew his followers together into a community and said to them, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NRSV) Christians . . . honey, they don’t come by themselves! From the earliest days of the church, our challenge has been living together in a community of love. After two thousand years, this challenge has not grown any easier. The culture today is divided by politics, ideologies, generational differences, economics, race, and the list goes on. The church cannot avoid these cultural differences. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” (Letters of C. S. Lewis) How can we live together as a community of...
Jesus on Strategic Visioning

Jesus on Strategic Visioning

Building a congregation’s life around a clear vision and purpose is an easy thing to believe in. Aligning that purpose with biblical teaching and witness is an agreeable notion. I seldom encounter a leader or leadership group who resists the idea that the path toward a vibrant and engaging congregation is to embody God’s mission in clear, dynamic and powerful ways. The problems emerge when we begin to talk about the HOW of living out God’s call to be his people on a mission. Like barnacles on a ship, our preferences, traditions, icons, and cultural accommodations have encrusted the mission and threaten to smother it. I’ve been thinking about using Jesus as a model for how to live out a clear and compelling mission. In his life and practices, perhaps there are some insights for us in our struggle to stay true to our calling. How about this for a list of healthy habits of congregations on a mission? Solitude: Jesus knew the value of time spent with a compass rather than a calendar. He repeatedly frustrated those who prized efficiency. From the beginning, he was prone to pull back from the limelight and reconnect with the divine dream and mission. Rather than allow others to sway his agenda and trajectory, he clearly defined who he was and what he came to do. The wilderness was his friend, and solitude was a regular habit. Planning and preparation claimed a healthy portion of his time. Relentless adherence: For the kingdom vision to take root, Jesus found it imperative to avoid every temptation to water down or diverge from the vision...
Courage to Become

Courage to Become

I’ll never forget August 3, 1995. The family and I were in Destin, Florida with good friends. We vacationed here regularly during the child-rearing years. We did the same thing every summer. We had our place to stay, our spot on the beach, and our list of restaurants we loved. The image has never left me—the water was literally “rocking” in the commode! I was searching for a “safe” place for us in the condominium. Hurricane Erin was making landfall on the Florida panhandle. For most of that week, we followed its route from its origin in the Atlantic Ocean across the Florida peninsula, projecting along with the “experts” the path it would take. All along, convincing ourselves that this year would be like every year. We could expect our experiences in the past would prove to be so again. The weather channels predicted a Texas coast event. However, all residents and tourists were encouraged by local authorities to evacuate. Despite the warning of Southeastern Conference basketball expert, Joe Dean, the night before at a local restaurant, we still decided to stay put and do nothing. At 2 a.m., Erin turned due north, straight toward Fort Walton Beach, leaving us just to the east of landfall at 8:30 a.m., August 3. We were scared, all day long. Hurricanes come early and stay late. They aren’t like tornadoes. Suffice it to say, though shaken, we were not hurt. A section of the roof from our condo struck our van. Thankfully, it was still drivable and we made it home. I will never make that mistake again. Today’s church finds itself...
Faith & The Arts – New York

Faith & The Arts – New York

Jay Lynn Executive Director / Pastor St. Martin Baptist Fellowship www.stmartinbaptist.org Faith Foundry Studio www.faithfoundrystudio.com Dear Friends, Join us May 15-18, 2017 as we explore the many facets of creative expression in the Big Apple, New York City, focusing particularly on ways in which the Arts can be integrated into faith communities. Bring your curiosity (and your walking shoes) for some of the following experiences: (Specific events and venues may change as plans continue to develop) Exploring the biblical history of the arts and the use of individual artistic gifts in a ministry setting in partnership with Marble Collegiate Church Worship together through music in jazz vespers. Central Park and its prolific works of sculpture and inspiring venues. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its vast collections of works in the visual arts Attending a performance of The Most Reluctant Convert, C.S. Lewis’ journey from atheism to faith at the Fellowship for The Performing Arts, followed by a Q&A session with the production team. Reflections on architecture and design at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, The Cloisters, and Riverside Church Designing experiences with an emotional impact at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum All of the experiences will involve aspects of presentation, observation, and reflection, guided by Learn By Going staff or on-site subject experts. For more information, go to www.learnbygoing.com Where do you want to learn?...
I Beg to Differ

I Beg to Differ

When Dr. Bill Wilson asked me to join him and others as he was founding the Center for Healthy Churches, he explained that the main focus of our work was to be four-fold: visioning, pastoral transitions, staff development and conflict engagement. While honored by his invitation, I told him I wanted no part of the ‘conflict’ work. He has recruited other folks who do that kind of work, and they do it well. But the truth is that no one of us and no church can escape conflict altogether. It happens in business when partners disagree. It happens in sports where players and coaches dispute the call of a referee or umpire. It happens in our families when there are misunderstandings. It happens when teachers at school assign a grade someone thinks is unfair. It happens when there is an accident and everyone points at someone else. It happens in Congress when ideologies clash over policy. Much of what takes place in court rooms is born out of conflict, and lawyers are paid large sums to help their clients win a settlement. With due respect to those who make a living in the practice of law, my dad used to say “If we didn’t have the first lawyer, we would not have needed the second one; but once you get yours, I have to get mine.” What he was saying is that we need someone who knows the system to argue our case for us. No one ever wants to lose in a dispute or conflict. Our son-in-law practiced law for seventeen years. He did a lot of good...