Friday, February 25, 2011

Vote yes on nFOG

Two weeks from tomorrow, the Twin Cities Area Presbytery will be voting on an Amendment to our Constitution that changes the Form of Government, also known as nFOG. Presbyteries across the Presbyterian denomination are voting on whether to institute nFOG. According to the gajunkie blog ( nFOG has been approved by 21 Presbyteries and disapproved by 26 Presbyteries.

I am more passionate about this Amendment than any other one that the Presbyteries will vote. I usually don’t speak on the floor of Presbytery, but I will at the meeting on March 12. I believe that the Form of Government—one part of the Book of Order—is too easily changed and too frequently debated. We have made a terrible mistake of turning the idea of being Presbyterian into a regulatory system called the Form of Government.

An excellent blog that makes the case for nFOG is The Presbytery of Twin Cities web site also has informative documents about nFOG.

Last Sunday at Chain of Lakes, my sister and I talked about what is special about being Presbyterian. View the presentation here: I made three points—I think Presbyterians are special because we believe that elders and pastors work together; we are not subscriptionist; and we are committed to social justice in the community and this justice is based on our faith. If I had more time I would have talked about our commitment to women pastors, about our fluid form of government where power flows both ways, about our commitments to overseas missions and missionaries, and I would have talked about our commitment to education and public education.

However I don’t think our Form of Government makes Presbyterians special; in fact I think our current Form of Government deeply holds us back from being the denomination that God desires for us to be.

When I started in ministry I would often get asked what it means to be Presbyterian. Before I got wiser I would often give a person a Book of Order and encourage a person to read it. I quickly learned that the Book of Order was a turn-off to new people in our Presbyterian church. I would be shocked if many pastors give a Book of Order to new members on the day that they become a member of a church. For many leaders the Book of Order is a hammer—it’s big brother looking over our shoulders ready to pounce on an irregularity.

As a new church development pastor, I frequently have people ask me what it means to be Presbyterian. I would never give them a Book of Order and say this represents Presbyterian polity. Though the Book of Order does represent our polity, it doesn't represent us well to people who are interested in learning more about being a Presbyterian.

In the next two weeks I plan on reading every word of nFOG and becoming familiar again with the concerns raised about it.

My main argument is we Presbyterians need a set constitution with clearly defined principles and not a manual of operations—which the current FOG has become.

A constitution is meant to be a set of guiding principles that remain in place over time. The United States has existed for over 200 years because we have a firm foundation set forth in our Constitution. It’s not easily changed, though frequently debated. Its simplicity is its strength.

The United States has a constitution of 4534 words. We Presbyterians have a Form of Government—just one part of the constitution—that is much, much longer. If the government can have a short constitution, I believe that we Presbyterians can too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A new season--the Minnesota Twins

Even though we’re buried in snow in the Metro, spring will be coming. Today is the first day official workouts for my favorite sports team, the Minnesota Twins. Opening Day is only 36 days away—and that’s no joke. Target Field will entertain the Twins a week later. The first game of my season-ticket package is Friday, April 22 against the Indians.

Last year was my favorite season of rooting of the Twins. I enjoyed seven games at Target Field, they won six of them, and the Twins far surpassed expectations in the regular season. Who would have thought that the Twins would win 94 games without Nathan and only a half season from Morneau?

But the season left us with a bitter taste in my mouth. I still remember the joy I felt going into the top of the 6th of the Twins playoff game against the Yankees. I was watching the game in Kansas City, but hundreds of miles away I could feel the buzz in the crowd. It seemed that this was going to be the year that the Twins were going to shake our Yankee/playoff hex. The Twins had a three-run lead, Liriano was humming, the Yankees looked deflated, the crowd was happy, and then all of a sudden—wham! I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Jessie Crain for the meatball he threw to Curtis Granderson. I cringed as I watched that pitch hang towards the plate—and I was watching the game in Kansas City! Even when we lost that game, I still believed the Twins would win the series. The season was so wonderful that it didn’t seem right for the Twins to lose.

The Twins have spoiled us—six division titles in ten years, but only one playoff series victory.

It’s not fair for fans to expect the Twins to win a playoff series this year, but fans aren’t fair. I see no reason that the Twins can’t win 90 games again this year. I expect Morneau and Nathan to have solid years. The starting pitching isn’t dominant, but it is deep. I trust that Rick Anderson will develop the bull pen over time. I’m not convinced that Casilla is the answer at shortstop, and I wonder if Valencia will have a sophomore slump.

But the Twins have earned my trust. They’ve proven since 2002 that they will make changes if their players don’t perform. If these players don’t perform, the Twins now have the resources to do something different.

The prospect of going to Target Field on a summer night warms my heart. With a foot of snow still on the ground, that vision makes me smile on a cold, February day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day on the Hill

Yesterday Amy & I joined about 850 others at the Joint Religious Legislation Coalition’s (JRLC) Day on the Hill. This is the yearly lobbying effort by the JRLC. The JRLC only lobbies on issues on which the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish & Muslim community can agree.

We rode down to the River Centre with Bob & Carol Cuthill. As we registered I was very pleased to see so many Presbyterian pastors present. The room was packed with people. Governor Mark Dayton was the keynote speaker. Here were a few quotes from his speech
• “I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe in freedom for religion not of religion."
• “Budgets reflect our values. It’s not hard to balance the budget. We could balance the budget by having schools open three days a week; we’d have a surplus is they were open two days a week; we could close half of MNSCU and balance the budget.”
• "I increased the taxes on wealthy Minnesotans because I know they can pay more taxes."
• "We’re here for other people; we’re not hear for ourselves."

After Dayton spoke Fatma Reda from the Islamic Resource Center spoke. Father David Mc Cauley, the Interim Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference spoke.

Brian Rushce, Executive Director of the JRLC gave issue briefings on saving the safety net, keeping an impartial judiciary, and the budget & taxes. I was very impressed with the large number of facts that Rusche gave us to use. For more information about what the JRLC is advocating in this session go to:

After eating lunch we rode over in yellow school busses to the State Capital Complex. We stood in the rotunda of the Capitol as the JRLC shared their awards. Lucinda Jesson, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services also spoke.

After the rally we went to meet with legislators. I was with groups who met with State Senator, Roger Chamberlain, and State Reps, Linda Runbeck and Tim Sanders. The priorities of the JRLC are different than all three of these politicians. They listened and talked to us with respect.

I enjoyed spending time with the “Caring in Common” group from District 53. They meet at Panera Bread in Vadnais Heights on the first Saturday morning of every month to talk about issues. They received the 2011 Interfaith Social Justice Community Award.

Minnesota is a much better state because of the work of the JRLC. It’s rare that a religious organization can unite the three main religions of the our area. I think Jesus would have been very happy with the many religious leaders who were walking around the Capitol yesterday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Rules of Marketing

One of the results of our planning process late last year is we at Chain of Lakes are trying to upgrade our on-line presence and use that presence as an Evangelism tool. At our last Outreach meeting at Chain of Lakes someone brought three books about on-line marketing. At the meeting I asked what book I should read. I was given “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” by David Meerman Scott.

Scott rightly claimed that the old rules of marketing are done. Just putting an ad in a newspaper or sending out a press release are part of the old rules of marketing. He encouraged businesses and non-profits to create and develop interesting stories and then share them across multiple platforms—via a web site, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and video.

He shared many examples in his book of companies and non-profits who successfully used these strategies. Scott talked about the strategies that National Community Church in Washington D.C have used to build their congregation. Their web site——includes a content-rich web site, podcasts of weekly worship, a motivational Webcast series, video, and email newsletter, and Batteron’s Evotional blog. On their staff they have positions for media pastor, digital pastor, and buzz coordinator. Batterson said that more people watch the podcast of worship than attend worship. These podcasts are an entry for people. Folks have a sense of what the church is about before they walk through the door.

I am not trained in marketing or publicity. I think I can speak for most pastors that all of these multiple ways to publicize our churches seem overwhelming to us. I remember when having video projection in worship was cutting edge. Now that is accepted practice in most churches.

At Chain of Lakes we’ve dipped our toes into these new rules of marketing. I’m blogging about twice a week; through my own Facebook page I try to generate traffic on our blog, in the next few weeks we will be launching a new web site; we’re posting my sermons on-line and using Facebook as a portal so that people can view the sermons. We’re already using targeted Facebook ads and decreasing our newspaper publicity.

We have a lot of room for improvement, but at least we’re trying some of these new communication methods.

We are fortunate at Chain of Lakes in that we have people in our new congregation who are very interested in using these multiple platforms to communicate our ministry. I see my role as encouraging everyone who is excited about using these new communication methods. I don’t claim to be an expert on these methods—though I have opinions about them. My role is to stay out of the way and not muck up the plans that our folks have for getting out the word about our ministries. And my role is to remind the people who are revolted by these changes that the Holy Spirit is always calling us to change.

I don’t think that the church is called to be the leader in technological change; however I do believe that we must stay relevant in how we use technology. Jesus was very relevant in his ministry in the 1st century. If he was alive in the 21st century, I believe he would be using video blogs to share his message. I’m proud that one of the Core Values of Chain of Lakes Church is relevance. In the north metro we at Chain of Lakes don’t want to feel old or out-dated.

My head is still spinning after reading Scott’s book. I encourage other religious leaders to take a spin.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thoughts on the recent large-church pastor proposal

Last week a group of mostly large church pastors published a letter declaring the denomination to be deathly ill. In the letter they shared a desire to create something new, shared their values, a proposal and invited like-minded people to a meeting in Minneapolis in August.
The entire proposal is here:

A web site has been set up that shares more information from the group. That site is here:

The leaders of the PC(USA) quickly shared a response to the letter. In their letter they shared that the current time is a time of rich ferment and discernment of who the PC(USA) is going to be.
Their letter is here:

Some of the blogs that I’ve found to be helpful on this issue are these:

I’ve sat around the table with John Crosby—who is one of the seven on the steering committee of the group. He is the head of staff of Christ Presbyterian, whose web site is hosting the information about this group. And I’ve sat around the table with David Lenz, pastor of Hope Church in Richfield, listed as one of the concurring pastors. I was very encouraged by the comments by David Lenz at the September Twin Cities Area Presbytery meeting.
I wrote about that here:

I have great respect for the ministries that the two have developed. I think both of them have much to contribute to the PC(USA).

The men on the steering committee of this initiative have come under sharp criticism for not having any women on their list of signers. In a response to this criticism, they shared that the letter and proposal came out of a network of large church pastors who meet every year for fellowship and to share best practices. These leaders are made up of white males.

It’s not surprising to me that a group of large church, conservative pastors is made up of white males. How many females lead a large, conservative Presbyterian church? The lack of females in the list is more a reflection that large, conservative Presbyterian churches haven’t made the commitment to employing females as their head of staff.

I completely believe that this group of leaders believes in female ordination. If they didn’t, they could have easily moved over to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church—who doesn’t support female ordination.

I completely agree with the statement in the letter that the PC(USA) is divided and fractured. Statistics share the fact that we are much smaller and have less influence than in the past. I also agree with the statement in the letter that “how we got to this place is less important than how to move forward.”

So let's move forward!!

I would take more seriously the values and proposals a lot more if the seven leaders on the Steering Committee had gotten together with leaders of seven large liberal churches in our denomination and from that conversation a proposal came forward. Until more theological diversity is shared in this and any effort, this and any proposal will come across as a “shot-across-the bow” from the conservative or any other like-mided movement within the PC(USA).

It’s my experience that when willing (for the most part) people of different minds are put in a room with a charge and a deadline, they can come up with something that will appeal to the majority.

Example #1—on a much smaller scale. I was part of an effort last summer to put together a strategic plan for Twin Cities Area Presbytery. The group was made up of willing people of different minds who had a specific charge. Through vigorous conversation we were able to come up with something that appealed to the majority of the Presbytery and has already starting making a difference in the life of our Presbytery.

Example #2—on an even smaller scale. One of the eight Core Values of Chain of Lakes is healthy disagreement. We understand this to mean that “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.” This value has already helped us move through the inevitable disagreements that all faith communities encounter.

One of my dreams for Chain of Lakes Church is we will be a place where people of all theological and political convictions can land. I believe that the Presbyterian Church needs to have many more congregations who can model and successfully live through these tricky differences.

I am very interested to see what comes out of this initiative started by the conservative, large-church pastors. Wishing for more theological diversity within the group may be a fantasy, but until it happens even the best proposals put forth by the group will not be trusted by many Presbyterians.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Can a Vikings fan root for the Packers?

I’m not as rabid of a Vikings fan as in the past, but I still care whether the Purple win or lose during a fall weekend. After worship on Sunday my family is going to a Packers’ fans house to watch the Super Bowl. The question for me is, “Can I root for the Packers?” Would I be losing my Vikings purity by donning a green-and-gold uniform and cheering, “Go, Pack, Go!”

I grew up in southwestern Minnesota, so the Packers weren’t the terrible enemy that many folks in southeastern Minnesota and the Metro still view them as. When I was a kid the Packers were terrible. I didn’t see the Packers as a rival because most of the time the Vikings beat the Packers. Even when the Packers won an occasional game against the Vikings in the 70’s it seemed more of an aberration.

I asked football expert, Gary Wassam his opinion on this rooting for the Packers conundrum. The following paraphrased ideas are what he had to say

“The question is whether you can be a gracious loser”
“Even when politicians lose elections the day after is a day of graciousness. It’s not a time to be sad or angry, but a quiet day to reflect.”
“It’s not healthy to be rigid in our love for the Vikings and our hatred of the Packers.”
“Even in the church—and the Presbyterian church—we discuss and debate. Sometimes our ideas prevail and sometimes they don’t. Hopefully we don’t go home feeling like a loser or like a proud victorious winner.”

I can only conclude the following—“Go, Pack, Go!”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"English-Only" in Minnesota?

Yesterday a bill was introduced in the Minnesota Senate that would make English the official language of Minnesota. I read the entire bill—the link to it is here:

According to the Star Tribune story, “the bill would make it illegal for the state to require documents, proceedings or other state activities to be in a non-English language. Exceptions are made for defending criminal defendants and protecting "the public health or safety."

I’m against this bill. I spoke out last summer when the Lino Lakes City Council passed a resolution for making English the language of the City. The blog I wrote about that issue can be found here:

One challenge of this issue is it generates more heat than light. Already over 400 comments have been made on the Strib web site in response to the story. Many of these comments are based on strong emotions

Let me do my best to share thoughtfully why this bill is a very bad idea.

I am all for people speaking English. I think a country needs a common language. I have never been convinced that making a law saying that English is the language of the state will compel people to speak English. A better way for people to speak English would be to fund and make more accessible ESL classes; however this bill doesn’t do that. Instead it says that documents of the state have to be printed only in English.

Sponsors of the bill say that making English the official language of the state will save the State money; however no figures were shared about the amount of money that will be saved.

The “savings money” argument is a red herring. The same argument was used by the Lino Lakes City Council last summer to justify the need to make English the official language of the City. Despite the claim, no figures were ever shared to show how much the City was paying for translation costs or how much money would be saved in the future. I still haven’t seen any cost figures.

In my work with people who don’t speak English I have never met a person who didn’t want to learn English. Most people who don’t speak English are adults; many of these adults have children who do speak English. Over time most do learn English

The question I have for supporters of this bill is:
• What problem is this bill going to solve?
• How many people in the state of Minnesota can’t speak English?
• What are the estimates of non-English speaking people who will speak English because of this bill?
• What are the present costs of translating documents into non-English languages?

I appeal to both sides of this issue to use facts and logic in this argument. It is way too easy for supporters to fall into the rhetoric of “if you’re going to live in America, you have to speak English, and it is way too easy for detractors of this bill to use the racism card. Neither approach is helpful.

I’m not convinced that this bill or approach is going to help more people speak English. I’m open to being convinced that I’m wrong—but only if I see verifiable facts. Until then, I will continue to speak out against an “English-only” bill.