Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Shack

On Thursday, March 4, we, at Chain of Lakes, are sponsoring a Book Discussion on William Young’s book “The Shack.” The group will meet on the four Thursdays during March at Carbone’s Restaurant in Circle Pines, 9200 North Lexington Ave. We’ll gather at 7:00 p.m. and meet for ninety minutes. Folks who would like to enjoy dinner will gather at 6:00 p.m.

Anyone who is interested in talking about the Shack is welcome to the group. I read the Shack last summer and found it very compelling. The book surprised me. Mack—the hero of the story—shares many views about God that I find in the north suburbs. He’s a man who has a belief in God, but he keeps God at arm’s-length. He carries the deep pain of his daughter’s kidnapping and death. This pain stymies him.

He’s invited by God to visit the Shack—the location of his daughter’s murder. What he experiences there changes his life forever.

I’ve talked to many people who discovered a new and vibrant view of God—really the Trinity—by reading the Shack. As we read and discus the book I will share how this view and other views of the Trinity have been articulated throughout history. I will also share more information about William Young and some interviews about the Shack that he has conducted. Most importantly we will have plenty of time for discussion.

If you live in the north metro and are reading this blog, consider yourself invited to this Book Group. To help us prepare for who is coming, drop us an E-mail at to let us know if you are attending.

You don’t have to read any of the Shack before our first gathering. Bring a copy of the book with you on March 4. If you can’t find a book, we’ll have a list of places where you can purchase one.

I am very excited to read and discuss the Shack with others. What a privilege it is to share our journeys with each other!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Start of Sunday School at Chain of Lakes Church

This past Sunday we launched our Sunday School for the first time at Chain of Lakes Church. As I shared with the gathered worshipping community this past Sunday, we will have hundreds perhaps thousands of children participate in the ministries of Chain of Lakes Church. But we only have one “first day” of Sunday School. The group gathered on Sunday was able to participate in the “first day.”

It was a marvelous day. We had 47 people attend worship—a record attendance at Chain of Lakes. We had thirteen children participate in Sunday School. The spirit of the day was beautiful and very energetic. A few people from Chain of Lakes went home and posted on Facebook how much they love what is happening in our congregation.

For the present time our Sunday School is meeting after the Time for Children during worship. We’ve organized our kids into two groups—third to sixth grade and four years to second grade. We also have child care for children three years and under. We have built portable dividers that turn our Fellowship Hall into three classrooms. We’ve hired Gary Wassm to a short-term contract to be our Christian Ed consultant. His job is to recruit teachers, line up curriculum for teachers, and manage all the details.

So far so good!! The attendance on Sunday surpassed my expectations.

I feel confident that we will help the children of our congregation and community grow in their faith. If you have a child that doesn’t participate in Sunday School, bring him or her to Sunday School at Chain of Lakes.

The congregation surprised me on Sunday by sharing a card, a gift, and a cake in recognition of my one-year anniversary of being the Organizing Pastor of Chain of Lakes Church. It was a surprise—and I like this type of surprises. It’s always good to feel appreciated. (The above picture was taken before we all dug into the cake at our Fellowship meal.)

The Spirit is alive and active at Chain of Lakes Church. Praise God!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Marveling at Lindsey Vonn

“The Olympics are the ultimate numbing cream.” Thomas Vonn, husband of Lindsey Vonn

This quote jumped off my I-Phone this morning as I read it on a New York Times app.

I don’t know Lindsey Vonn; I hadn’t really followed her story until the last two days; besides her I couldn’t identify any alpine skiers. But I do know the experience of the rush of adrenaline that an important athletic contest evokes.

It’s hard not to marvel at the depth of her accomplishment.

At its core athletics bring out powerful mythic stories. Lindsey Vonn’s story parallels one athletic myth. Athlete prepares all her life for big event, she and others are uncertain whether she can perform based on her injuries, she is able to overcome her own pain and participate because the Olympics are the ultimate numbing cream, playing it safe during the event will only bring defeat, the only course of action is to embrace maximum risk, until the very last minute everyone is on the edge of their seats not knowing how the athlete will perform, and when the athlete crosses the finish line the result is ……………… victory!!!!

What a rush.

Last night I briefly watched Lindsey Vonn hug her husband after her victory. She could not stop sobbing. The emotions she displayed for the world at that moment are the emotions that this myth brings out of all of us.

I’ve been an athlete all my life. I competed on a much, much smaller stage than Lindsey Vonn. But when I ran on the field for any contest it didn’t matter to me how many people were watching or what the record was of the opposing team. What mattered was how our team and I performed. Our sole task was victory.

These athletic stories and myths are played out every day all over the world, and it's these stories that bring us back to watch the competition. Sports are way over-marketed and over-hyped and over-emphasized and bring huge pots of money to a too-small group of people. The way we Americans watch sports illustrates our own excess. Despite these terrible flaws we keep watching.

Every now and then a story slices through these excesses and illustrates profundity.

Congratulations to Lindsey Vonn. However she performs during the rest of the Olympics I celebrate her athletic achievement and marvel in the myth she illustrated.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lessons from the first year of starting a church

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my serving as the Organizing Pastor of Chain of Lakes Church. I still remember February 16, 2009 very well. I left our home in Rochester driving my uncle’s pickup. In the back of the pickup I had loaded a bed and some other household items. I drove to Shoreview to meet with John Ivers at the Parish House at Presbyterian Church of the Way to unload my belongings. I ended up living at the Parish House for four months. John and I then drove up to the office, stopping by at Matthews in Lexington for lunch. The rest of the afternoon I got ready for our Steering Committee meeting. That night seven families met with me at the office. At the meeting we talked about our dreams for our new church. I shared with the group that the most important task of the year was to develop our culture.

We have made tremendous progress since that day a year ago. Today we are worshipping in a wonderful space. Between thirty and forty people attend worship on a Sunday. We have 26 families listed on our directory. We have a Purpose Statement and our Core Values set. We have hired an Administrative Assistant and will soon be hiring an Accompanist. We’re starting Sunday School this coming Sunday. We are well on our way into living into the Purpose Statement that God gave us.

As this first year passes, I can’t help reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned on starting a new church. Let me share five.

1. Don’t start a church if you don’t have a call.
I’ve felt a call to be a New Church Development pastor for at least nine years. I can’t imagine starting a new church without believing that God wants you to do it. The work is too hard to do this from any other motivation. When we faced the inevitable challenging moments this past year it was helpful to remember that God had asked us to do this. A month before I started this job I led my final Session/Deacon retreat at Community Presbyterian in Plainview. During one small group we read the story of Abram following the call of God in Genesis 12. As we were discussing it one of the women turned to me and said, “this story is like your story, Paul. You’re starting off on something new. You really don’t know what will happen, but you are starting the journey because God has asked you.” I’ve thought about that moment often during the last year—it’s sustained me.

2. Be intentional right away about developing the culture of the church.
I’ve said often that the most important task of our first year was to develop our culture. We didn’t start worshipping for ten months because I wanted us to have a sense of our culture before we gathered to worship weekly. For the first four months we developed our Purpose Statement. We also spent time discussing the name of our church and the type of person we are targeting. This past Thursday night our Steering Committee voted to approve our Core Values. We had a task force working on the Core Values since September. Having our Purpose Statement and Core Values set gives us a sense of permanence. We are clear about the type of church we are going to be. I completely believe that the risk of waiting to start worship in order to develop our culture was worth the risk.

3. Develop prayer support from the wider community
One of my first tasks was to set up a prayer network among people in other Presbyterian churches. I send out a bi-monthly prayers newsletter via E-mail to them. We have over 100 people on this prayer list. I can’t prove it to you, but I believe this prayer support has made a big different in the development of the ministry of Chain of Lakes Church. We’ve had many events happened that we never would have thought would happen. Things just fit. I attribute this to all the people who have prayed for Chain of Lakes.

4. Develop personal support.
I have a trained New Church Development coach who I speak to on the phone once a month; I have a mentor with whom I have lunch once a quarter; I meet with my Executive Presbyter for lunch once a month—he does this not to check up on me, but to offer support; I also know that the Church Development Team of our Presbytery offers support when needed. All of this support was helpful and needed. I can’t imagine starting a new church without this kind of support.

5. Look for ways for people to spend extended time together.
One of the events that just happened was six of us going to leadership training in California. This experience was very influential in the formation of our community. Three of the leaders who went are serving on our Steering Committee; one is serving as our Christian Education consultant. Having three days to just spend time together was a wonderful gift. We were able to get to know each other at a deeper level—and we could in a way that never could have happened “back home.”

It is a privilege to start a new church. Not many people in their lifetime have the opportunity to be part of a new faith community. Thanks to all of you reading this blog who have supported this effort!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Celebrating Valentines at Chain of Lakes

Last night we had a fabulous Valentine’s Party at Chain of Lakes. I shared on my Facebook page that we had outstanding attendance (at least 30 people), tasty food, and lots of hearts.

Did we every have hearts! We ate meatloaf in the shape of a heart, plus mashed potatoes that were dyed red. On the table were heart shaped buns with butter that was shaped in a heart. We made Valentines that are now on a tree in our sanctuary. We shared with each other from our heart who and what we love. I dusted off my violin and played love songs. We even danced. I had to stop when the kids did the limbo--I'm not that flexible anymore!

It still amazes me that we’ve worshipped at Chain of Lakes for a little more than two months and still have this large of attendance at a Fellowship Event.

Why celebrate Valentine’s Day in the church?

Originally Valentines was a church holiday. Saint Valentine (in Latin, Valentinus) is the name of several martyred saints of ancient Rome. The name "Valentine" comes from valens means (worthy). The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I.

Chaucer first linked Valentine's Day with romance. In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.

In 1797 in England a man started composing love verses for people who couldn’t write them on their own. These verses became known as Valentine’s Cards. They first came to be popular in the early 1800’s in England.

In the United States, Esther Howland developed in 1847 a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards.

Valentine’s Day has become huge business. One billion Valentine’s Cards are purchased each year--85% of Valentine’s Cards are purchased by women. Valentine's Day is expected to generate some $15 billion in retail sales in the United States. The average U.S. consumer will likely spend $102.50 on Valentine's Day gifts, meals and entertainment.

Jesus taught that the whole of the law is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I think that any celebration that helps us love God and our neighbor is worthy of our effort in the church. I don’t know if the party we had at Chain of Lakes was what Pope Gelasius I had in mind when he established Valentines. I do know that over thirty people had the opportunity to grow in love for each other last night.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Core Values

This past Saturday the Core Value Task Force at Chain of Lakes completed its work. Since September this group has met off and on. The purpose of the group was to develop the Core Values of Chain of Lakes Church.

A Core Value is a principle, quality, belief, and/or attitude that is foundational to a community. A Core Value is not a goal, a strategy, a tactic, and is not reactionary. If done right a Core Value could last beyond our lifetime.

Our hope is that our Core Values will permeate every person and ministry in our congregation.

We have worked extraordinarily hard on these Core Values. We spent three and a half hours this past Saturday coming up with the explanations for our Core Values. The final wordsmithing was invigorating!

The Steering Committee of Chain of Lakes will review and most likely vote on these Core Values this coming Thursday. If a reader of this blog has a comment about these Core Values and the explanations for them, please share your thoughts in the comments section. Would you want to be part of a church who was committed to these Core Values? If you make a comment, we’ll take them seriously.

The following are the Core Values that our Task Force developed and an explanation for each Core Value.

We will go out of our way to welcome people as Jesus welcomed the, with an open heart and open arms.

God’s Church
In every decision we seek to discern God’s desire. No leader, person, or ministry is more important than what God wants.

Jesus successfully communicated his message by using examples and symbols of first century culture. We will be open to using examples and symbols of our culture to communicate Jesus’ message.

We accept people without judgment, regardless of what has happened in a person’s life or where someone is on his or her faith journey.

Outward Focus
We will keep the needs of the broader world before us and won’t only focus on our own congregation’s needs.

Investing in Future Generations
Our priority is to create an atmosphere where children, youth, and young adults grow in faith.

Healthy Disagreement
When we disagree we will encourage discussion while valuing all opinions. We will speak truth in love, treat others respectfully & with dignity, and seek to remain in community.

Joyful Love
We are released to love each other with joy because of what God has done for us. We are a community who enjoys spending time together and supporting each others’ journey.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Presbyterian Mugging

One issue that every congregation eventually confronts is how to respond to first-time visitors. Research shows that timely follow-up makes a difference in whether people will attend worship a second time. When I served in Plainview I discovered through trial and error that some sort of follow-up had to be made before the next worship service. If we followed up with a first-time visitor after a worship service took place, we were shooting ourselves in the foot. I found that it was better not to follow-up then to follow up after the next worship service.

When I served at Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview, we tried all sorts of follow-up.

We tried mailing letters, but over time found that this was too impersonal.

We tried having lay people bake some bread and bring it unannounced to the door of the family. This idea worked well, but over time it was too hard to coordinate getting the bread made and dropping the bread off at someone’s home. Too often it was too much for one person to do during the week and too difficult to coordinate one person making the bread and another person dropping it off. Believe me it sounds strange that such simple tasks are too hard to coordinate, but that was my experience.

Eventually we came up with the idea of sharing a coffee mug with a person. We got this idea from Adam Hamilton, pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. As he developed his new church, he would drop off a coffee mug with every first-time visitor. In Plainview we had a very faithful woman who would drop off the coffee mug. Over time we called this a “Presbyterian mugging.”

The idea is simple. Show up unannounced at the person’s door. Choose a time when the person is most likely home. If the person comes to the door, share the coffee mug. Share with the person that we were very glad that the person came to worship, ask the person if he or she had any questions, and then encourage the person to attend worship the following Sunday.

If the person isn’t home, I write a note and put it in the mug and then call the person the next day to share that I put a mug at their doorstep.

Of course we have to get the address of the person in worship. At Chain of Lakes we put a Communications Card into every bulletin. During the announcement time in worship we ask people to get the Communication Card out of the bulletin and to fill it out.

I decided that when I came to Chain of Lakes that I would deliver the mugs myself. This past weekend we had eight new families come to worship, so one of my goals of the week is to deliver eight mugs. I delivered four mugs last night and as soon as I finish this blog will deliver the other four mugs.

My experience last night was interesting. None of the people were taken aback that I was at their door unannounced. Every person knew me because they had seen me lead worship this past Sunday. Every one of them was appreciative that I would come on a cold, February night to deliver a coffee mug. I learned something about every person when I delivered a mug. Too often evangelism is difficult because we know so little about the person. We don’t know why the person came to worship, or the person’s background, or the level of the person’s interest. Last night I was able to fill in some blanks about the four people to whom I gave a coffee mug.

I resisted going inside to talk to the people. If a person comes to worship a third time, then I will visit the person. Last night one person told me that it was an African custom to offer hospitality to a visitor, so if I didn’t come inside I was refusing hospitality. I couldn’t refuse that offer. So we visited for about a half hour. I don’t know if the family will come to worship this Sunday, but I do know that I enjoyed the visit.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Symphony of Wows!

What a fabulous day of worship we had at our Grand Opening worship service yesterday. Because it’s such an important day a Grand Opening service should be remembered throughout the history of the church—and I believe that years from now people will still talk about what we experienced yesterday in worship at Chain of Lakes.

Numbers matter to me—mainly because numbers signify something deeper. Here are the numbers from yesterday’s service:
Over 100 people attended. The usher told me 101. We encouraged everyone to sign a communication card, but there was so much going on that everyone didn’t fill out a card. If we took the time to scan our memories, I’m sure that many more than 100 people attended. The attendance was so large that we had to open the back walls to our sanctuary. Some people sat in the hallway because the sanctuary was full.
Forty-three adults and children attended from Chain of Lakes Church. This was the most we’ve ever had attend worship from our own faith community on a Sunday morning.
Seven new families came to check us out. I’m going to have to figure out when I’ll have the time to deliver coffee mugs to each of those seven families this week.
Approximately twenty-five children came up for the time for children.
Seventeen Presbyterian churches sent representatives to support us. I think we should just declare yesterday’s meeting the second Presbytery meeting of the year. We had churches from three different Presbyteries attend, so I guess it could be called a Synod meeting too!
We collected 58 Haiti Hygiene bags which will be sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
A large number of people shared their hopes and prayers for Chain of Lakes by filling out a card and pinning them to the cross we made for the service. I counted approximately 50 cards in the above picture.
Fifty-seven people voted for the topic of the next sermon series. This coming Sunday, I am starting a three-week sermon series called, “Mythbusters.” For three weeks I am going to explore the myths that prevent people from having a deeper relationship with God and with the church. On the Communication card I shared eight myths about God and the church and asked people to vote on three. The results are now tabulated. The myth that we will be exploring in worship next Sunday is-------------I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. You’ll have to come to worship next Sunday, February 7 to find out which myth we will explore.

Even more important than the numbers was how the Spirit was present in worship yesterday. The music shared by Richard and Melinda Marshall and Sue Ruby was fantastic. My daughter, Hannah, caused many of us to choke up with her song. Chaz Ruark shared a powerful message about being connected as Presbyterians. John Ivers shared his passion for Chain of Lakes when he shared the history of our new congregation. As an aside, John gently teases his wife, Gloria, about how she cries in public. When he spoke yesterday, John appropriately choked up twice. As he did the second time Gloria shouted out, “he’s put a lot of work into this project.” That was beautiful on many different levels!! Many people complimented the sermon. And the singing—wow! When Presbyterians are inspired we sure can sing! One person from Chain of Lakes decided to accept the invitation I had previously extended her to serve on our Steering Committee as she sang the final hymn, “Here I Am, Lord.” Never underestimate the power of singing!

The Scripture we heard in worship yesterday was the story in Acts 2 of the birth of the church. That story shares that “awe” came upon the group as many wonders and signs were performed. In my sermon I shared that a three-letter synonym for awe is “wow.” I believe that when we say the word, “wow” we are expressing the movement of the Spirit. Yesterday at Chain of Lakes we experienced a symphony of “wows.”

Thanks to all of the Presbyterian Churches who sent representatives. From my memory the following churches were represented at our Grand Opening.
Bloomington, Oak Grove
Buffalo, Buffalo
Chaska, Shepherd of the Hill
Columbia Heights, Church of All Nations
Coon Rapids, Church of the Master
Eden Prairie, Eden Prairie
Golden Valley, Valley
Hudson, First
Jackson, First
Minneapolis, Aldrich
Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis
Minneapolis, Westminster
Redwood Falls, First
Rochester, Community
St. Louis Park, Peace
St. Paul, Central
St. Paul, Macalester-Plymouth
Shoreview, Presbyterian Church of the Way
Waukon, Waukon