Posts Tagged With: religion

Good News! Like it or Not, the Church is Reforming

Reformation Sunday is a festival Sunday unique to Lutherans. As the last Sunday in October, it’s a celebration of the day Martin Luther called out the 16th century European Church on it’s need to reform. He began a movement that resulted in what we call the Lutheran Church (and his contemporaries’ work resulted in other “Protesting” branches of the church), but is more than that. Martin Luther helped us recognize that the work of the Holy Spirit through the church is ongoing. Reforming isn’t a one-time thing from the 16th century, but never ends. As long as there is a church, there will be a need for reformation.

Reforming means changing, being made new, being re-formed. Therefore, the church that’s coming will not look like the church that currently exists. The sooner we accept this reformation, the sooner we’ll be set free to be part of it. Although I’m no expert or futurist, I believe the church that’s coming:

  • will be more focused on following Jesus and less on following doctrines.
  • will be more about compassion and less about conversion.
  • will be more about what we do on Monday and less about what we do on Sunday.
  • will be more about loving others and less about labeling them.
  • will be more about celebrating diversity of beliefs and less about policing uniformity of them.

What do you think is the future of the church? Is there a future? If so, what might it look like? How will it be different? What needs to be re-formed? It’s all speculation at this point, but we need to be talking about it. Share your ideas and thoughts!

Categories: Church in Context, Institutional Church, Reformation, Revitalization | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Inviting Environment (No Longer Welcoming, Pt. 4)

A few weeks ago, I posted on this site that my congregation is no longer going to emphasize “welcoming.” Instead, we are going to emphasize “inviting.” This is a move from passivity to activity, and was to be done in keeping with God’s missional activity in our neighborhoods. Get the vision, theology, and definitions that are the foundation at: We-Will-No-Longer-be-a-Welcoming-Church. There, I wrote that we are making this change with three emphases. The first of those is Motivating-for-Invitation. The second emphasis is Inviting-in-Bite-Size-Chunks. This post is the third emphasis, “An Inviting Environment.”

It started with coffee. Very few worshipers were staying on Sunday to share a cup or a piece of cake or a slice of cantaloupe (we always have good treats!). Virtually no visitors in worship stuck around. Granted, our “coffee area” was less than conducive to invitation. It was pushed into an available corner back by the kitchen. Though visible from the worship area, it was small and not very accessible. If one person filled their cup and then began a conversation while still in front of the urn (because there was no other place to move), the coffee’s availability to anyone else was cut off. Because we have no narthex (lobby) area, this was really the least bad option for the placement of our sacramental coffee. Yet it obviously wasn’t working.

As our council talked through our “Invitation Initiative,” it became clear to us that our environment was far from invitation-friendly. Some changes in our worship/fellowship space would be required if all those people being invited were to feel welcomed.

Now I know this sounds like “welcoming” instead of “inviting.” And, in fact, that’s partially true. Bear in mind, we weren’t giving up on welcoming; we were just placing invitation as a significantly higher priority which would get our best energy and focus. Beyond just the “welcoming” aspect of our space, however, there was a genuine invitation issue around worship and the follow-up coffee and treats.

For us, relationships are everything. We believe that the Triune God is God-in-Relationship. We believe that as beings created in God’s image, we are relational people. We believe that authentic relationships in the broader community are the best way we can reveal the reign of God and participate in God’s missional activity. Relationships are key in our congregation’s statement of purpose. Therefore, this “coffee time” comes out of our core identity. It is here that we have a chance to share, to talk, to get to know new people, to laugh together, to strengthen relationships. It’s not the only way, but it is an important way. Our configuration wasn’t allowing this to happen. Invitation, particularly to the relational coffee urn, was being unintentionally discouraged. We needed a more invitational environment.

So we looked at our overall space and considered where the most invitational place for coffee et al would be. For us, it turned out to be in a large open area that was adjacent to our worship space. By adjacent, I actually mean included. Right up the right hand side. That would be fine, except for setting up coffee and the treat table toward the end of our first worship service each Sunday would be a bit distracting, to say the least.

Someone asked why don’t we reconfigure the worship space so that new coffee area would be in the back rather than along the side. That would be fine, but now we’ve got a back lighting issue from large windows there. Plus the projector and screen used for portions of worship would then be in the wrong place and not easily visible. Lots of other small issues kept emerging.

It was discouraging. These obstacles could have piled up and overwhelmed us. But instead, we took this as an opportunity to enhance our worship space, making it work better, be more inspiring, and be more attractive than before. With some imagination (and some unused memorial money) we have a much more attractive worship space and a much more invitational coffee space. The difference in the environment—physically, spiritually, and invitationally—was amazing.

On the Sunday morning when this was all unveiled, we pointed out that the change in environment also serves as a tangible reminder of our emphasis on invitation. The environment wasn’t changed just for you, it was also for those who aren’t here. Our environment is invitational for the neighborhood’s sake, so each of us could invite others more freely. Oh, and as long as you’ve invited them to worship, make sure you invite them to coffee, too.

Categories: Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, hospitality, medium church, missional church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Insights into the Election of a Bishop, Part Two: “The Presence of God Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

Part Two: “The Presence of God Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

This blog is mainly a “Missional Church” blog with helpful insights and conversations about how congregations can deepen their understanding and participation in God’s mission. However, the next few posts will be more personal. I believe them to be beneficial for the broader church, but for different reasons. You decide for yourselves.

Here’s the situation: I was recently a “middle of the pack” nominee for the office of bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). I’m sharing the journey of that process with you from the inside. I hope you find it beneficial at whatever level you are open. You can catch up by reading Part One here.

Because of the way the bishop election was set up, my name, photo, and biographical information (resume), along with the 16 other pre-nominees, were quite public for more than two months before the actual election process in April. The rationale was to give voting members plenty of time to review information on potential candidates and to come to the assembly prepared to nominate and vote in successive ballots.

In the meantime, I had informed my congregation council of these events and possible ramifications. They were supportive, asked appropriate questions, and agreed to keep this confidential ntil such time as we could agree on the most appropriate way to inform the congregation. We decided that a congregation-wide email, written by me, would go out in the next few days. That would be followed up by verbal explanation by me on the following Sunday during worship. My fear was that the congregation would somehow receive this news as a desire on my part to leave them—which couldn’t be further from the truth. The congregation, however, was characteristically supportive and promised to keep this election process—and me—in prayer.

On another front, many conversations among fellow clergy-types included the list of seventeen potential candidates. There was a lot of evaluation, a lot of questions, and a lot of critique. Motives were guessed at and qualifications examined. This began as a time of severe self-consciousness for me. I felt as if I needed to remain quiet among colleagues lest it appear I was somehow campaigning for this office. At the same time I wanted to remain authentic and speak among them of those things about which I have knowledge and passion. It was a difficult and tension-filled balancing act.

In the midst of balancing this fear and tension God broke through in a couple of impressive ways. The first involved my daughter, who for medical and other reasons had left college before graduating a couple of years earlier. She came over to the house one evening and announced to my wife and me that she had applied, and had been accepted, to return to college. She told me that if I could enter into this bishop process in spite of my terror, she could face whatever issues might come her way and complete her degree. As a self-proclaimed education snob, I was beyond grateful. I was thrilled. I was delighted. If I had the skill and agility, I would have danced. Even if this was all that came out of this whole “bishop thing” (as my family and I now called it), that was more than enough.

 

The second thing God did was exorcise a personal demon in my life. All of the old torments from Junior High that I thought I had dealt with long ago had been resuscitated in this process. Irrational fear and self-consciousness that I thought had been put to death had merely been covered over. Now that I was more or less forced to deal with the vulnerability that accompanied being one of the seventeen potential nominees for bishop, God took the opportunity to rid me of many of those fears. As I dealt with my paralyzing terror of ridicule, mockery, and snickering, I became aware of how much influence those things still had in my life. I also became aware of how their hold on me was disappearing. I can only explain the liberation I was experiencing as an exorcism. The demon of fear was being cast out of me. I was being set free. This was a biblical experience in the most profound sense of the term. It was deeply spiritual. The crucified and risen Jesus had come, found me in my terror-bound captivity, and set me free.

 

A member of my congregation asked me, a couple of week before the synod assembly, what was going on with me. My preaching, this person said, now has a further power and clarity that wasn’t there before. My only explanation was that death and resurrection are real. I was experiencing it. Again, if this is what came out of the “bishop thing,” I would be more than grateful. I was, for the first time, content in the chaos and weirdness of this pre-election process. Let the synod assembly come. Whatever happened would be fine with me. The outcome of the election of our new bishop in some ways no longer mattered to me. There was no pride at stake if I wasn’t actually nominated and no anxiety if I was actually elected. It wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about me. It was about God continuing to reveal God’s self in some strange and wonderful ways. There was peace. My yoke was now easy. My burden was now light.

 

I was ready for anything at the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. I fully expected the Spirit of God to be at work, even through the church! Which will be the focus in Part Three.

 

Categories: american christianity, religious, rostered leaders, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Insights into the Election of a Bishop: Part 1, “Fear Doesn’t Make Your Decisions for You.”

This blog was always intended to be a “Missional Church” blog with helpful insights and conversations about how congregations can deepen their understanding of participation in God’s mission. However, the next few posts will be more personal. I believe them to be beneficial for the broader church, but for different reasons. You decide for yourselves.

Here’s the situation: I was recently a nominee for the office of bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Granted, I was a “middle of the pack” kind of nominee, but a nominee nonetheless. I’m sharing the journey of that process with you from the inside. I hope you find it beneficial on whatever level you at which you are open. So here we go. Part One: Fear Doesn’t Make Your Decisions for You–

The Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA, elected a new bishop at its most recent assembly in April. I couldn’t be more pleased with the selection of the Rev. James Gonia as our new bishop. Jim is without a doubt qualified, competent, experienced, gracious, humble, and called by God to that position. I am elated that the RMS is in such very good hands indeed.

The process leading up to that election was new for us. It involved months of discernment, prayer, meetings, and reading. Last December, all people in the RMS were invited to consider submitting the name of any ELCA pastor they deemed likely to be nominated for the office of bishop. Bear in mind this wasn’t a nomination, it was a “pre-nomination” of those considered likely to be nominated once the assembly opened in April. Confused yet?

As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” No one was more surprised than me to find that I was on that list with 63 other pastors. Someone thought I was at that level of leadership, clarity, maturity, and responsibility to have submitted my name for consideration on this list. I had, apparently, fooled at least one person.

In order to remain on the list of potential nominees, the 64 “pre-nominees” were asked to submit biographical information by filling out a three-page online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod. Since I had never seriously considered myself “bishop material,” and had never really aspired to that office, declining this offer to fill out detailed information on my views of the office of bishop, my gifts, my challenges, and more seemed an easy call to make. I intended to save myself the embarrassment and headache of this process by simply removing myself now. I didn’t necessarily feel called by God to be a bishop, knew all too well the gaps in my own leadership, and understood that I had a slim-to-none chance of being elected anyway. Withdrawing seemed an easy decision.

But in conversations with God, my family, and trusted colleagues about all this, here’s what I realized during the intervening weeks. This process for me was less about “winning” an election and more about what God may be up to. Maybe I wasn’t called to be bishop, but perhaps I was called into the process for other non-bishop reasons. If God was doing something, and I was being invited to be part of it, then maybe I should consider going along and seeing what that was about. As a strong introvert and foundational nerd whose default setting is to shy away from any situation that might open me up to ridicule, this prospect was terrifying at a core level. I desperately wanted out.

Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted the requested biographical information, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could hear the taunts and jeers now, surprisingly similar to those that haunted me through Junior High and High School. “Hey, everybody, look at Moss! He actually thinks he’s got a chance at this! Ha! Who does he think he is? What a loser.” And I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. This is worse than when I tried out for the Junior Varsity basketball team in 7th grade. The whole school was laughing at the skinny near-sighted geek who thought he could play basketball. It’s just not worth it.” At that point I was glad I didn’t know who had submitted my name because I was thinking somewhat less than charitable thoughts about them.

Then my 25-year-old daughter had the audacity to remind me that as they were growing up, I had always told my kids that when facing new and difficult choices, “fear doesn’t make your decisions for you.” “Doesn’t that apply to you now, dad?” she asked. Dammit. Parental sayings of wisdom are deliberately abstract and are supposed to be for the benefit of the children. They were not meant to be used as weapons to be hurled back at you when you least want to hear them. Because they are freakishly effective.

I stewed on this for a couple more weeks. I spoke with colleagues, confided with my wife, and prayed some rather unpleasant prayers. I pretended I knew just how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, and told God that since the salvation of the world was hardly at stake here, couldn’t I just be let off the hook?

But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children, I quickly filled out the biographical information form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, submitted it the evening of the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

My closest consolation at this point was that there were 63 other pre-nominees. I was certain most of them would also fill out the biographical information and that my name and photo would then be lost in the midst of them. To my horror, when the bios were published, there were only 17 of us. My name, picture, and hastily drafted biographical information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I was certain the mocking and snickers would be unrestrained. My insecurities were flying brightly high atop the flag pole. Every molecule of self-doubt, nerdiness, and inadequacy had risen up and was standing at full attention. There was, from this point on, no place to hide. What was more, now that it was public, I had to tell my congregation.

Watch for Part Two: “The Presence of God is Revealed in Unlikely Ways”

Categories: faith practices, religious, rostered leaders, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Listening in the Image of God, Part 6 of 6

This is a series on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

The Stylist:

You know one of the best places to listen to the people of your neighborhood? Seriously, it’s the local barbershop or salon. Don’t underestimate this amazing listening resource! While you’re getting your hair colored or trimmed, do a little bit of eavesdropping (politely, of course). For some reason, people seem to feel quite free to express honest opinions on every matter under the sun when sitting in a chair in front of someone with sharp scissors very near their scalp. I’m not sure if there’s a significant relationship between scissors and expressed opinions, but it does seem to work. Ask a question about any issue in the community and then sit back and take mental notes. You can do the same thing in the bank, the grocery store, the gas station, and so on. Some have told me that this works well in a bar too, but that, of course, would be just hearsay on my part. .  .  .

Next time everyone on your team gets a haircut or manicure or whatever, commit to utilizing this resource. Make a list of questions about which you want to know the answers regarding your neighborhood, and divide them up. Gather in a couple of weeks after everyone has their hair and/or nails done, and share your notes. Again, make sure everyone’s listening observations are recorded. Not only will this follow up meeting get you get right down to some significant listening, but it’ll probably be the best looking meeting you all attend together!

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You Spiritual or Religious?

1 Christmas (B)

Isa 61:10—62:3; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

 Are you spiritual or religious?

I was driving home one evening a few weeks ago, coming west on Alameda, complaining to myself about the glare from having to look right into the sun. But then the sun dipped below the mountains and a spectacular color show appeared in the sky. The light was streaking through these layers of wispy clouds in a way I’ve never seen before. It was breathtaking. I pulled out a camera and took a couple of pictures of it—which, of course, don’t do justice to this scene. Maybe because it was a camera on a phone, and maybe because I was taking the pictures through the windshield while I was still driving. But the majesty of that image was beyond description. I’ve driven west on Alameda at sunset hundreds of times, but I’ve not seen anything like that before. It was like beholding the glory of God right there in front of me. I happened to be coming home at just the right time. It was a spiritual moment.

Have you ever chanced on a spiritual experience like that? Coincidentally being at the right place at the right time?

Anna and Simeon, I think, had a spiritual experience kind of like that, but bigger, more profound, more dramatic, more global in scale. And in another way, their experience was quite a different one altogether. It was religious.

They were hanging out at the temple, seeing all kinds of people coming in for all kinds of reasons; including bunches of babies and mothers coming in both to dedicate the baby (at 8 days old) and for the rites of purification for the mother (either 40 or 80 days after giving birth)—the same every day. So what’s one more poor couple coming in with yet another infant? How did they know this was the Savior of the world? How did they recognize him? To everyone else who saw them, this was simply another non-descript little Jewish family, bringing the sacrifice required by the law for the poor. To date in Luke, only Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds knew that this baby was God’s salvation for all of us; hardly a brought or respectable audience. And this was before the days of texting, email, or twitter. But to eyes of faith, this was the glory of the Lord right in front of them.

How did they know this was the Savior of the world? How did they recognize him? Apparently, seeing this baby made all the difference in the world for them. They had been waiting, watching, longing to see the salvation God was bringing into the world. Now, upon seeing this new baby, their lives are fulfilled. It’s such a big deal that Simeon says that now he can die in peace.

So, how do we know when we see the Savior of the world? How do we recognize him? God’s salvation has come, it is present, whether we see him or not. Our recognizing him doesn’t change what God does in the world. However, it does change us. It is spiritual, yes, but not only that.

I’m here to tell you that we can see the glory of the Lord among us. It’s not just luck or coincidence or being in the right place at the right time. And it’s not just spiritual. Anna and Simeon were prepared. It’s more than just the chance of being on West Alameda on a certain evening. It’s knowing where to look. It’s more than just spiritual; it’s religious.

That’s how Anna and Simeon’s experience is different. They didn’t just happen to be in the Temple on the day Jesus came in, and just happened to recognize him—like chancing on a beautiful sunset. They were expecting him to show up every day. And they were prepared for him to come—every day.

That’s the part that we don’t always want to admit. They were ready for God’s salvation to come to them and to the world. We aren’t prepared for it to be so close and accessible. And we aren’t ready because we have fallen into a cultural trap.

There’s a cultural movement now, where people proclaim, sometime with great pride, they are spiritual but not religious. Horse-hockey. Not only is that quitting, it’s spiritually dangerous. The best it gives you is a bland hope that you can be in the right place at the right time, a hope that you can recognize a great spiritual movement if you chance on it. Being spiritual without being religious is like trying fad diets. You might chance on one that works, but why not practice eating habits that have proven to work over long periods of time? Being only spiritual leaves you blind and vulnerable. But being spiritual as shaped by our religious practices gives us a context to see God at work, the preparation to recognize God’s salvation in our midst, the ability to concede God’s grace in the hardships of a broken world.

Anna and Simeon were each ready. They had been preparing for many years to see God’s salvation come into the world. They were ready not just because they were spiritual, but because they were religious. Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit. But he knew it was the Holy Spirit and not his own inner desires because of the rites and practices of his Jewish faith, which pointed to the Messiah. He was able to recognize the movement of the Spirit.

Anna was in the temple all the time, worshiping, praying and fasting according to the particularities of her Jewish faith (she was a prophet, of the tribe of Asher). It was within the context of practicing their religion that they were ready for God’s salvation to come to them—to recognize God’s movement in the world. They had practiced their religion, and so they were ready. And in being prepared, they recognized hope and life when it came to them.

So be ready for God to show mercy. Be ready to accept forgiveness. Be ready to be made new by grace. Be ready to see God in the midst of pain.

Practice religion. Start with corporate worship every week. Receive the bread and wine of holy communion. Spend time each day with some scripture; you can start with a small devotional booklet like “Christ in Our Home.” Pray often and at times that aren’t emergencies. Give away more than seems prudent. Practice forgiving those who’ve hurt you. Talk to other religious people about how they are seeing God’s salvation in the world. Do this every day. Again and again. As if you were preparing to see God do amazing things in the world—and in your life. God’s salvation comes—even to us. God is at work in the world—even in our lives. Be ready. Practice. In other words, be religious.

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