Thursday, September 26, 2013

Evangelism and Church Growth Conference

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Evangelism/Church Growth conference organized by the Evangelism/Church Growth team of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which was held at a hotel in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida.
It was wonderful attending the conference with five other people from our Presbytery.  I had the opportunity over five days last week to have extended conversation with Walter Chuquimia, Newell Krogmann, Rochelle Le Tourneau, Beverly Modlin, and Dan Vigilante.
The conference was organized into a traditional format of worship, large group presentation, seminars, and shorter workshops.
I particularly enjoyed the two large group presenters.  Deb Hirsch shared six important incarnational practices from the life of Jesus that we are called to share with people.  She labeled them as six “P’s.”  They are 1) presence; 2) proximity; 3) prevenient grace; 4) powerlessness; 5) passion—of Christ; 6) proclamation.  What was significant to me is proclamation was the last part of the process.
Many of us have been taught to encourage our congregation to invite their friends and family to worship.  We have even set up special, “Invite a friend” days where the church can shine.  The mistake in these is we proclaim first and build relationship second.  What would happen if we trained people in our congregation to bless folks through relationships outside of God and the church.  After building relationships, we can then invite the person.  This process will undoubtedly take longer, but will also seem less manufactured. 
The next day Doug Pagitt from Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis shared the characteristics of what he called the “Inventive Age.”  He’s written three books on the idea which I purchased.  I’ll be sharing more in the future.
My favorite seminar was led by Glenn Mc Donald called, “Disciple-Making in a Fresh Context.”   He talked about how churches can get caught up in the ABC’s—Attendance/Building/Cash.  We can do well in all three and not help people have significant conversation with God.  He shared the characteristics of a Disciple-Making church. 
It was ironic or perhaps the work of the Spirit that I attended this workshop as I just shared a sermon series with folks at Chain of Lakes about the priority of making disciples and growing in discipleship.  The sermon was based on Mc Donald’s book called, “The Disciple-Making Church.”  I had a brief opportunity to share with him how I just had preached on his book and now was attending his workshop.  Yay, God!
I particularly enjoyed attending a workshop by Camie Minter on helping the families of New Church Development pastors.  Camie and her husband, Caz, have started a new church in Austin, Texas.  I’ve gotten to know  Caz through past workshops, but this was the first time I’ve met her.  He talked about the importance of developing boundaries and developing a support network.
I regret that more opportunities weren’t shared to help connect Organizing Pastors at the conference.  These folks are a special breed and need to connect and support each other.  I hope that opportunities for connection and support can be shared in the future.
I especially loved experiencing the energy of the 1001 Worshiping Communities Initiative.  I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Vera White who explained this Initiative and how churches can get connected.  I hope that someday in the not-to-distant future Chain of Lakes will be sponsoring a new Worshiping Community.
I’ve always believe that conferences are successful if one idea is implemented in the following six months.  I’ll let you know by March 26 if this conference was successful for me, but I have every reason to believe it was!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Faith the size of a mustard seed--the Presbytery budget deficit

This past Monday night I received an E-mail detailing the Presbytery’s grave financial situation.  The E-mail shared that the projected deficit for the Presbytery budget in 2014 is $180,000.  I was shocked at the size of the number. 
Chain of Lakes Church is funded by the Presbytery.  Our ministry has never been in better shape than it is right now.  We are poised to grow in numbers; we have some pieces in place that we’ve never had before.  However the optimism that we feel at Chain of Lakes will go poof if we receive a large cut in our financial support.   Every group that receives funding undoubtedly feels the same way.  The stakes regarding this issue are very, very high. 
My motivation for writing is not to criticize or be pessimistic.  I’m writing in the spirit of humility and hope.
I would love to see a Presbytery-wide conversation take place in how to reduce this deficit.  This is an opportunity for people in the Presbytery to come together to develop solutions.  It’s imperative that we pull together. 
So in hopes of starting a wide-scale conversation, let me share these thoughts.  I also hope that everyone in our Presbytery who writes a blog will also share some ideas.
What would happen if every Presbyterian congregation spent five minutes praying about the deficit in every Sunday worship service in October?  What if we set up prayer groups within every part of the Presbytery?  What if we set up prayer chains among our Presbyterian churches?  Let’s submit ourselves to God and listen to God’s direction.
What would happen if we created a message board on the Presbytery web site and encouraged people to offer solutions?  What if we challenged people to come up with 100 ideas to solve the budget deficit? 
What would happen if we tried to raise the entire 180,000 through a special offering from the Presbyterian churches on some Sunday in 2014?  Some talented group could make a DVD and every church could receive a visit from a rep from the Presbytery sharing the importance of this offering.  We could develop energy and momentum towards this special offering.  I certainly would be willing to go to churches and speak about Chain of Lakes and share how grateful our new congregation is at receiving financial support.
What would happen if we approached the five churches who might be leaving the PC(USA) and ask them if they would give $10,000 a piece that is over and above the gift they are planning on giving to the Presbytery as they leave.
Or what would happen if we went to the 70 current churches—I think that is 70—and ask them to give $3,000 to a special 2014 budget request.  This $3,000 would be over and above their current giving.
Any pessimist could share why any of the above ideas won’t work.  However even if folks feel pessimistic we only need faith the size of a mustard seed—that tiny amount of faith that can move mountains.
I’m not wedded to any of the above ideas.  I’m most interested in seeing a large number of people engaged in solving this problem.  I do know that we have tremendously creative people in our Presbytery who are skilled at coming up with solutions to complex problems.  We might be foolish to try one of these or many other outside-the-box ideas.  However I am a fool for Christ.  And I believe that others fools in our Presbytery can solve this problem.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September Presbytery meeting, Twin Cities Area Presbytery

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area met for their regular meeting yesterday at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater.  I arrived early to set up a table to share information about Chain of Lakes Church, a ministry of the Presbytery. 
I also came early to attend a Pre-Presbytery event on terms of settlement for congregations seeking to depart from the PC(USA).  The Administrative Commission (A.C) that is working with Hope Church in Richfield was making a report and seeking input from the Presbytery.  Hope Church has requested to be dismissed from the PC(USA).
Representatives from the A.C. shared the following information.
·         Their conversations with appointed leaders from Hope have been filled with grace—not at all acrimonious.  Hope  has supplied all the information that has been asked of them.
·         The A.C. has discerned that people from Hope want to leave the PC(USA).  An on-line, confidential survey was conducted that led the A.C. to this conclusion.
·         The A.C. is now entering the negotiation phase on terms of settlement.  They are hoping to present a settlement to be voted on at the November Presbytery meeting.
After each person from the A.C. shared a report everyone present was allowed to share thoughts on what should be part of the settlement.  Opinions varied from dismissing the church with the Presbytery’s blessing to asking for a financial settlement of various sizes. 
The conversation was painful.  This is a divorce.  Who enjoys a divorce?  What is also painful is that four additional churches have requested to leave, so this process could be repeated four more times.
I have expressed in the past and I still believe that churches who leave should give a financial gift to the Presbytery based on some percentage of their property.  If Chain of Lakes were to leave the Presbytery in the future (which will never happen) people would expect us to share some if not all of the gift of property that we were given.  I wish that Presbyterian churches weren’t connected by property, but this is how the PC(USA) is set up.  It doesn’t seem right to change the rules in the middle of the game.
After that Pre-Presbytery I went to my table to talk to people.  I missed a sizable chunk of the meeting.  I came back when the Presbytery was voting to receive a first report on changing the structure of the Council.
It was wonderful to hear the excitement of Ministry in a Changing World.  This initiative has helped many congregations deepen their sense of mission.  Yay, God!
The Finance Work Group brought a proposal asking for approval to move the Presbytery offices and to eliminate Dennis Sanders’ position, who is responsible for communications out of the Presbytery office.  I was pleased to hear many people question the elimination of this position.  Dennis has done an excellent job of using new media to communicate information from the Presbytery.  Everyone recognized that buying some web services from an outside company wouldn’t cut it.  The Presbytery voted to move the offices and table the recommendation on the Communications position.
I’m sure the Budget Task Force is going to wonder how they are going to fill that gap.  The Presbytery is facing a large gap in their budget for 2014.  I have a vested interest in this process being the Organizing Pastor for a new church who receives money from the Presbytery.  That money is critical for the future success of Chain of Lakes.  The biggest threat that our new church has to our future is a cut in resources from the Presbytery.  A cut could negate the growth that our new congregation has recently experienced. 
I don’t believe the Presbytery can achieve a balanced budget only by cutting their budget.  Churches and individuals must give more—preferably their giving would be voluntary and not mandatory.  I hope everyone who spoke against the cutting of the communications position is willing to ask their own congregations to double or even triple their General Mission pledge to Presbytery.  I’ve volunteered to go out in the past to speak to churches about Chain of Lakes Church and encourage churches to give to General Mission.  I’m still willing to do that.
The Presbytery has multiple issues on its plate right now—more than I can ever remember in the 20 years since I’ve been a member of the Presbytery.  We need to rally around a vision of who we are, and we all need to acknowledge that we can’t get through these issues without significant shared sacrifice.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sunday/Funday at Chain of Lakes!

I want to invite the community to Sunday/Funday at Chain of Lakes which will take place this Sunday, September 8 at Da Vinci Academy, which is located at the intersection of Central (Highway 65) and 131st Ave. in Blaine.
Sunday/Funday is the celebration of the start of our ministry year at our new congregation.  During worship I am beginning a sermon series on prayer called, “Delighting in the Divine.”   I will teach everyone who attends worship the purposes of prayer and give tools that will enrich their prayer life.  We will be commissioning Sally Narr, our new Director of Children’s Ministry.   Kristel Peters has arranged some wonderful music.
After worship we are having a big carnival—this is the Funday of Sunday/Funday.  We will enjoy carnival games for all ages, enjoy a congregational meal, and celebrate a fund time of fellowship.
A special thanks to Pam Van Meter, Lois Peterson, Sally Narr, Val Owens, and John & Gloria Ivers who joined me in distributing door hangers in the neighborhoods near Da Vinci Academy about Sunday/Funday.  We distributed close to 700 door hangers.  If you received a door hanger and are checking out this blog, come check out the wonderful people at Chain of Lakes. 
Sunday/Funday promises to be a memorable event for everyone who attends!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Parent's Prayer

A Parent’s Prayer
Lord, I waved goodbye this morning to a young girl sitting in a yellow school bus.
            Oh, I know she wouldn’t want me to call her a young girl.
            It takes all of our efforts just to get her off her I-devices.
            She would rather text her friends than talk to me.
            I offered her scrambled eggs for breakfast, but she rolled her eyes and took her cereal into her room.
I still remember the first time we did this.
            I took a video of her almost every step as she got ready for school.
            She was young and excited and full of wonder.
            We took a lot of pictures and all walked together down the sidewalk to the bus stop.
            I didn’t even have to think about recording everything on video.
            We talked to the bus driver and waved with all of our strength as the yellow bus drove away.
            She took our hearts with her.
The world is scary.
            Today we wonder about safety and violence and whether all of this technology is too much.
            Every time the sirens go off near the school my heart turns over.
            I pray that the teachers will notice her amidst the crowds of kids.
            We’ve shared our expectations with her and are confident she’ll do well.
            But who knows what will happen.
            We pray that she will grow in her mind and her heart and her spirit.
            We want her to grow to be the person God desires for her to be.
            Our concerns are no different than every other parent’s in our neighborhood.
            But that doesn’t make it easier to watch the yellow bus drive away.
Another year has started.  Summer is over.
            She rode away with our dreams
            Keep her safe, keep her interested, keep her as enthusiastic as that first day.
            She still is young and excited and full of wonder.
The yellow bus has driven away.
            We didn’t wave from the bus stop today, but she still took our hearts with her.