Moving In, Heading Out!

Today I finished setting up the basement / library / office / man cave.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it is the one space in the house that I get to make mine…

That makes three rooms that we’ve opened all the boxes and moved completely in.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but we finally feel like we’ve made progress!  Living Room, check.  Family Room, check.  Library, check.  Luckily June (my mother-in-law) has returned to help Carrie finish the move-in process because I’m heading out to a busy week.  
Before brain surgery I didn’t think much about busy weeks and weekends, but after surgery it is a whole different story!  Moving into the house wouldn’t have been a big deal before surgery, but post-op it felt monumental.  I am leading all three worship services for the first time since my brain surgery…for my last (Farewell) Sunday at the Pontiac church.  My last Sunday in a church would be an exhausting task anyway, but after brain surgery it feels daunting to lead worship, preaching, and greet and talk with people.  Oh, and lest I forget, I volunteered for church camp and leave Sunday afternoon for a full week of being a chaplain.  It will be a recharge and help me get back into the swing of being an active pastor…but holy cow it’s going to wear me out.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m excited for each and every thing that I’m doing.  This is stuff I love to do!  Oh- and I have plans for resting and taking care of myself, but surgery has sure changed the way I look at my days and weeks.  Every room I unpack, sermon I preach, and kid I hang out with at camp feels like a huge accomplishment (and makes me happy).

It’s getting late and before too many sighs go up into cyberspace, I’ll sign off and go to bed.
Parents, ugh!

Parents are wonderful.  Okay.  I know, I know, if you are a teenager it may not seem like it, right?  I remember that feeling.  As a teen, it is terrible when your parents show up…or don’t show up…look at you wrong…or don’t…or, well, when they speak.  Ugh, how could they be so weird and goofy?

If you are a teenager, am I on the right track?

Let me tell you, at 32 years old I have a different take.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have a great relationship with my parents.  Sometimes they get on my nerves and sometimes I get on their last nerve, but, especially this week, I’m SOOO glad they are coming to help me.

First, let me tell you what next week is going to bring for my wife and me.  I have some work and then early in the week we have to go pick up a whole trailer full of stuff in St. Louis and move it to Normal.  Then, on Thursday the movers come (so the house has to be packed and cleaned), We move in and have a half day to unpack and then I have to leave for a wedding rehearsal (fri) and wedding (sat) that I am co-officiating in Pittsfield… then I have to be back Saturday night so I can be rested for my Farewell Sunday at Pontiac… and then Sunday afternoon I start as a chaplain for church camp at East Bay in Hudson, IL.

So I’m thrilled that my mother-in-law is here right now cleaning and helping us pack; my mother and father are coming next week to help us move and then my mother-in-law will be back to stay with carrie and help her pack while I’m at the wedding and camp.

When I was younger I was embarrassed and stressed out by my parents (I still have my moments :-), but as an adult I see blessings in their presence.  It turned out that having parents was actually an asset, who would’ve known?  I am so glad for my parents and my in-laws and all that they do for Carrie and me.  Whether you are young or old, I hope you will, this week, take a moment to think of how your parents are a blessing for your life.  If you are a teenager it may not be easy at first, but there are things your parents do that make your life better, I imagine.  Think really hard about it and you may see that they are a blessing for you!

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How Do I Do This Job?!?

An appointment to a new church can be a anxiety-laden experience.

  • You still have to have your head in the game at your current church.
  • You need to start developing relationships with people at the new church
  • and…you have to begin thinking about what ministry is possible with the new congregation.

First, I admit that I have it easy in this appointment change because I am on a medical leave after my brain surgery.  I am working ‘ahead’ on some things from the comfort of my home, but I am still anxiously imagining ministry in this new place that I don’t yet know or fully understand yet.

I know, I know, partly I just have to go be with them and the rest will come…but that doesn’t stop my head from spinning with ideas.

First and foremost on my mind, of course, is communication.  As an associate pastor I’m not sure how much I can influence the church in communicating in the ways I’ve been outlining on this blog, but that won’t hamper my enthusiasm…

  • I am concerned with developing a more effective (and relational) presence on Facebook.  They are a urban, on-campus church of about 1500 members but have 40 people on their Facebook page.  I can’t help but think we can explode that!  We can develop an atmosphere of check-ins, upload more photos and videos from around the church, and encourage relational posts (and sharing blogs).  What else are people doing out there?  Help me dream!
  • I think that blogging is one of the most effective ways a church can develop an online presence, but I’m just an associate pastor.  Does anyone have ideas for how an associate can get others blogging?  Anyone out there doing it effectively, especially where there isn’t currently a culture of blogging?
  • This next one may surprise you.  I think that printed media can be a highly effective mode of communication. So much communication is shifting to the internet that more-and-more people will be surprised by and notice real life mail, I think.  Yet, what a church puts out should not simply be a repository of small type and long articles.  It has to be concise, relational…and (this is the big one) high quality.  It has to look and be great!  And, by the way, what we put in worshiper’s hands on Sunday morning should be high quality and add to the worship experience, hopefully adding to the experience visually (with photos).  How important is it to have color capability?  How does one help train and inspire staff in not just publishing technique, but also taste?  (Again, not an indictment on the current staff…I just don’t know yet)
  • Oh, and the website… well, there is work to be done but until we develop social media and dynamic content I’m not sure it’s time to put too much energy into the internet presence with the least future potential.  This article shows that blogging and social media combined is outpacing website connections for churches and I think we’re only at the beginning. (38 percent of respondents said they had accessed a religious website and 41 percent had liked a religious institution, friended a religious leader, or read a religion oriented blog)  Most importantly, we should note:  17% had read a blog whereas people who had visited their religious institutions website (19%) won by a surprisingly narrow margin of only 2%.

Well, those of you involved with organizations, please leave me comments on how you do communication or send me an email!

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The Burden of the Pharisees

Today’s Scripture:  Matthew 23:1-7

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples,  “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do.  For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes.  They love to sit in places of honor at banquets.  They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’

Today isn’t going to be an academic study, so much, as a devotional look at this scripture.  I came to my devotional time and found myself in Matthew 23.  Boy did that take me down a notch!  If anyone likes being called teacher or rabbi, it’s a pastor, especially us young pastors who sometimes feel we have to gain visibility and respect…

Hmmm.  Well, let’s look more closely at this one line:

For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others.

I know a few modern day pastors that are like this and I strive to not be like them.  Oh, but yet they are often well-liked by their congregations.  How is that?  Pastors who tell everyone what terrible sinners they are and make long list of prohibitions “tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry” are, in fundamentalist circles, often beloved.

I’m all about setting high expectations for the faithful, but there are two caveats:  1.) I’m one of the faithful.  That means: I have to live by the expectations as well!  2.) God’s expectation of us, it seems, is first and foremost that we should love others and God.  It is hard for me to effectively tell other people (in a prescriptive formula) how they ought to do it without modeling it.  It is better that I should attempt to live out my faith as I share that faith from the pulpit!

The problem with the pharisees is often a problem we have today.  We prescribe other people’s faith without living out our own faith.  As a people of the book we would be wise to set it down once in a while and live out the love we so often read about and stop creating ineffective burdens that weigh down our congregations.


Weight Watchers Saved My Life!

Lately I’ve had a whole lot of people comment on my weight.  Either they say something like, “Oh you’ve put on some weight, you look much better,” or something like, “oh, you look too thin (or sick).”  Now, I know that it is all amplified because folks know I had a brain tumor: so I don’t take it personally…but it has me worried!

I think it reveals a larger problem in society, especially the rural, midwestern culture here in Livingston County (Illinois). Our American Society is, quite simply, obese.  I was overweight until not long ago and now that I’m at the top end of my healthy weight range, everyone thinks I am sickly.  I still have flab, I’m still not fit and toned…yet everyone thinks I am now unhealthy!  Let me say it one more time:  I’m not even at the low side of my healthy weight range and everyone around me seems to be freaking out, why?  Because so many who are around us in rural midwestern America are overweight.  Overweight has become the standard, quite simply.

I’m not coming down on obesity because of how people act, by the way (I’m not calling people lazy), nor am I even upset because of how people look (It’s really not about vanity).  I’m honestly concerned for my health, my family’s health and for the people around us.  Being overweight is a serious problem which leads to all kinds of health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, for example.  And weight gain, beyond one’s healthy weight range, is an indicator that one’s diet and exercise are out of whack and that things are not well with your body!  (When you are gaining weight your body is trying to communicate with you)

Well, back to me.  Last week someone cornered me and shared their concern about my weight and I responded that Weight Watchers (my weight loss) saved my life.  It did, by the way!  I told them the story of how my spinal fluid leaked into my bed after my second surgery.  I told them about how the surgeon shared with Carrie that I would have died that night had I been any heavier or older.  I told them that losing 35 pounds and getting into my healthy weight range was not just to look better (vanity), it actually saved my life.  Now, I’ve responded this way with several people, but the reason this one interaction stands out in my mind is because the person responded to my story: first, by saying, “Oh my.” and then saying, “what do you mean about a healthy weight range?”

They were serious.  They had no idea that based on sex and weight there are guidelines to help people find a healthy weight!  Today I want to begin correcting this view.  More importantly, I want to become more vocal about our need, especially in rural communities, to work against obesity and grow in health.  I want to do this work not to be critical of people or to be hurtful, but because I want to help.  There are many people suffering from the plight of obesity (or at least being overweight) and I would be remiss if I didn’t share my own experiences and work to help them.  At my heaviest several years ago I was 225 and I hit my goal weight of 165 pounds a few weeks ago (when I arrived in Pontiac two years ago I was about 200).  I’m a 6′ male and my healthy weight range is 147-184 according to Weight Watchers.  I got to where I am by eating more vegetables and fruits and cutting down my oil and carbohydrates, I got to where I am by eating well (not being hungry), and I got to where I am by adding some basic exercise to my routine which not only helped me feel better and lose weight, but also helped me to have more complete and enjoyable days.

I hope you will join me as I continue working to be more healthy.  Don’t do it for me, do it for you!

Also, if you’d like to find you’re body mass index (figure out how you are doing), click here!

Get started with a new and accurate bathroom scale:
A Social Media Pentecost

To Ponder:  Full Pentecost Scripture

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.  (Acts 2:1-4)

When the day of pentecost came, the believers were emboldened with the Holy Spirit.  They were able to be understood by the people around them, even if they spoke other languages.  The religious people of this past century have begun to struggle in being heard and understood by a new generation and their new and “troubling” ways of communicating.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is coming upon believers who are open to it and alighting us with new language and new ways of being heard!

Pastors and lay people alike who feel the Spirit upon them and who God has given the language of social media must be a new church, just like the earliest believers at Pentecost.

This is our chance.  This is a new day and there will be a new church whether we like it or not.  It will look different and it will not be confined by the traditional walls that we have come to associate with ‘church.’  Will the mainline (or I prefer to say: old-line) churches (United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterians, etc) be a part of this new church?

If we can let go of the structure and fear that is holding us back, we will.  And the price is too high to not be a part of this new church.  We have theological gifts to share with a new generation.

Unfortunately… and I can only speak for the United Methodist Church, but our UM Communications and, in Illinois, our Conference Communication team make the church look old-fashioned (that’s honest, mostly, I suppose) and they move too slowly and carefully.  Worse, they focus on communications rather than relationships!  Our denominations are stymied and they make us look terrible (recently at our annual charge conference we were shown a video of our bishop that made him look like a used car salesman, oh- and the district office couldn’t provide my church a digital copy when asked!!!).  But at the local church level and in our own communities we can now accomplish bigger things than they are even capable of with social media.  Our reach can be effective in our local communities (even the most rural) and they can grow our local, walled churches…  yet our reach can also,now, go well beyond our local communities and walled churches.  When we effectively use the internet, social media, and blogging we can share faith, touch lives, and experience community in places that we never before dreamed possible.

If you are listening for the Holy Spirit in this new generation and want to speak out and connect with new people, I have some suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and (and this is the really important part) grow your presence:
    1. Work hard to cultivate a following by:
      1. posting often
      2. posting quality and relational materials
      3. try not to use insider language
      4. continually adding friends / followers
    2. Look at other accounts / pages / walls / feeds and share interesting items
    3. Don’t be afraid to share personal things about yourself (within safety and reason).  Use these avenues as a way to foster relationships!
  2. Get a blog account!!!
    1. There are several sites that can help you, I especially recommend:  Blogger (by Google, just use your Google user/pass) or WordPress.
    2. Get your blog and social media accounts connected to your webpage.  It makes your page more dynamic and personal.
    3. Share your blog by social media.  It turns 140 characters into a full and on-going narrative.
    4. I can’t emphasize this enough:  don’t be afraid to share your own personal stories, yet connect them to your faith.
    5. Keep it short.  Think in terms of a 1/2 to full page of paper at most when you write your blog! (This blog post is pushing the limit)
  3. Keep your eyes peeled for new ways to connect online.  If lots of people are using 4square or LinkedIn, etc…then go where the people are.

Paul used tent making to build relationships, John Wesley went out to the masses in England preaching in fields and cemeteries…I don’t know what it will look like entirely yet, but we have to find new venues and ways to build relationships and share our faith story!  Now, in 2012, we must be a Pentecost people!  We must feel the Holy Spirit as it enlivens us to share our faith and we must speak the languages that God is giving us the gift to speak.  It is our time and our new and exciting world.  Let’s share our faith as disciples of Christ!!!

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