Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gearing up for Australia

Next week I fly to Sydney, Australia for nine days. I speak at a Preaching Conference and teach a Doctor of Ministry preaching course, (plus preach three times at different churches on Sunday May 9th). Actually, it works out that I speak for 17 sessions, eight of them completely filling in two days 9:30 to 4:30.

Honestly, I did think and pray about whether I should say "Yes" or "No" when the invitation came. I know the human response is often to say "Yes" without thinking. How it delights the ego to be invited! However, I knew the timing could be difficult and with a genuine measure of caution said yes. In the last three weeks, of course (I say of course because doesn't this so often seem to happen?) 101 things have sprung up crying out for attention before I leave. Especially my manuscript which I thought would have been completed a while ago!

I am hoping and praying that it will all prove to be worthwhile in terms of what God can do with my stuff in Oz. I know it is all up to Him.
Maybe I should have said "No"? I'll let you know what happens.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wonders of Collaboration

My blog has had no new postings for a couple of weeks for a very good reason! I have been buried in my basement study trying to finish the last five chapters of my book on worship. My wife Carol went to visit the grandkids in UK and left me to single-minded writing, hour by hour, day-after-day. I said to a friend it has been a little like taking multiple exams every day. Winston Churchill was right: writing a book begins as an adventure, becomes a mistress, then a master, after that a tyrant, and finally, just before you are ready to come to peace with the chains, you "kill the monster and fling him to the public". I have been at the tyrant stage!

However, I have not been alone. I don't just mean that this is a spiritual exercise and that God has promised his presence, strength and wisdom. That's the greatest reassurance. But, in addition I have had my six readers who have faithfully read chapter after chapter, and then sent back their comments including encouragements and constructive criticism. Each of them has come alongside over the past six months in very significant (contrasting) ways just when I needed them.

This past week, for example, I have been in continuous contact with one colleague, David Schlafer, who has sent me over 20 emails. Some of them run to four pages single-space typing! I told him how his insights and energy have so invigorated me and that he has helped me far more than he realized. Not just what he has written but his willingness to journey with me and wrestle with my ideas. I am in a place now that I could not have imagined a week ago because of his love and care.

My students are used to me championing COLLABORATION in Christian ministry. My message is well- worn: God has given us each other to belong in Christ's body so that we can listen and learn from each other and so grow together. Yet, again, my personal experience testifies to the invaluable role of collaboration.

I am still working through the manuscript and am (still) some way off completion. But I praise God that he has brought me this far and given me such collaborators. To all those who are praying and supporting (in many different ways)- a profound thank you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

City Ordination
Last night I celebrated an unusual ordination. One of my former (and very gifted) students, Mike Moore, was ordained in Chicago. So much was unusual:

  • It was held in the Tapestry Fellowship, which two years ago was a derelict building but which now houses a vibrant emergent church.
  • Mike is protestant chaplain at Loyola University. He believes in living in community. Already a service he's started up has 50-60 students attending, and people in his apartment are aware of his ministry too.
  • About 6 churches had come together - all rather unusual, witnessing to Christ in different neighborhoods and all with the same emphasis on community life.
  • About 6 pastors preached or spoke including Mike's father, who is a pastor (and former President of Northern). It was moving to hear them speak so realistically of ministry and the call to love people in Christ's name.
  • Mike was clearly rooted in these churches. Now belonging to the People's Church, several spoke about their love for him and their joy that he belonged to them.
  • About 20 pastors went forward to lay hands on Mike at the moment of ordination - wonderful.
  • Mike then spoke and said: "I know why I'm here? Because God has called me and sent me? But why are you here?" It was an important question. He probed - "Is it because you believe God calls and you are willing to be sent too?"
  • And, forgive me, but this thrilled me having taught Mike homiletics! Someone else said that they loved to listen to him. Every time he spoke he had something new and fresh to say!

I drove back through the crowds Sunday evening exhilarated. The Sunday morning paper had a lead article: The Unbelievers - young atheists are bringing a friendly kind of skepticism to a campus near you. I was so glad to know Mike was right there for the Lord!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Evaluating Worship Outcomes (4) Understanding Worship

Up early this morning, working on my worship book, I was struck that the starting point for asking about effective worship should be how worshippers themselves understand and talk about worship. Isn't that very revealing?

The way people talk about worship shows how much of them is involved. It's a great sign if they are able to say:
We understand that worship is not:
Just going to church on Sundays
Just singing our favorite songs and hymns
Just following through the liturgy
Just listening to sermons.

We understand that worship is:
About who God is and what he has done and is doing.
About everything we do and every day we live in response to him.
About offering lives as living sacrifices ( Rom. 12:1 , 2).
About belonging with brothers and sisters in Christian family.
About being changed to be more like Christ together.
About living different kinds of lives from our neighbors.

We gather because God loves us and longs for fellowship with us , so we bring the best of our praise , love , commitment , money , time to share together. We prepare to be sent out to take the best of our praise , love , commitment , money and time to share in the world.

Leading them , preachers need to be worshippers, and everyone who worships needs to be proclaimers. Qualities of heart and mind should dare to see big-picture worship beyond our imagining. Worshippers should declare:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine , according to his power that is at work within us , to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations , for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20 , 21).

When worshippers have an understanding of worship that reaches wider than any of us can imagine, its a sure sign they are going to deeper places together. Isn't it?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Evaluating Worship Outcomes (3)

Several authors have studied church congregational life in order to identify positive characteristics. For example , Thomas Long (Beyond Worship Wars , Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Alban Institute 2002) discerned nine signs of churches that are building vital and faithful worship:
· Make room somewhere in worship for the experience of mystery.
· Make planned and concerted efforts to show hospitality to the stranger.
· Have recovered and made visible the sense of drama in Christian worship.
· Emphasize congregational music that is both excellent and eclectic in style and genre
· Creatively adapt the space and environment of worship.
· Have strong connection between worship and local mission and this connection is expressed in every aspect of the worship service
· Have a relatively stable order of service and a significant repertoire of worship elements and response that the congregation knows by heart.
· Move to a joyous festival experience toward the end of their worship service
· All have strong charismatic pastors as worship leaders.

Some of these issues may help provide categories for assessing worship outcomes, and I shall try and describe them in future postings. Hopefully you may be able to add to my list.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

First Baptist Church Wheaton has planned a different way (for them) of worshipping tonight. "The way to the Cross" will involve the congregation breaking into four groups which move to different parts of the church building, in order to remember howJesus journeys to the cross. Paintings (by church members) will help focus attention, and worship leaders have planned a variety of ways to help us all respond.

I am thrilled to be involved, helping lead a group. The journey begins with Jesus condemned to death (Luke 23:13-25), follows as he carries the cross helped by Simon the Cyrene (Luke 23:26-31), through to his crucifixion and being taken down from the cross (Matthew 27:27-61). So much happens on this terrible day we dare to call "good."

In personal preparation, among other things, I have spent some time visualizing bible events with the help of a book: The Bible and its Painters. Sometimes its pictures grab you, forcing you to think and pray anew. One such painting is "Christ carrying the Cross" by Hieronymus Bosch. It shows Jesus packed in a crowd, barely holding up the cross. Every face in the crowd is malevolent apart from three. Bosch really knows how to paint ugly people! But the three faces are extraordinary. Jesus, is in the center, tired yet serene with eyes closed, under the weight of the cross. The black face of Simon of Cyrene is filled with sadness and willingness. And, in the corner, a pious woman mourns. All the other faces speak of the worst of human nature that Christ goes to redeem.

It reminds me of a pilgrimage I once led to the Holy Land at Easter time. As we retraced the steps of Jesus down the Via Dolorosa, actually o Good Friday, Jerusalem was packed and noisy as a largely uncaring, unnoticing public went about its normal business. Thus it was on the first Good Friday. Yet this is THE day when everything changes, as Christ goes to die for the sake of ugliest and meanest in the crowd. And I know I am there somewhere too.