Monday, January 7, 2019

January Newsletter--A brief reflection on 10 years of ordination and call

Grace and Peace to You from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

On January 3, 2009—surrounded by family, friends, colleagues, role models, and a bunch of people whom I scarcely knew and who called themselves members of Our Saviour Lutheran Church---I was on my knees and ordained as a minister of the church of Jesus Christ. Moments later I was installed as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church. Yes, it has been a full decade. Except for marriage and fatherhood, I think it is longest single experience of my adult life.

It’s strange. I know of only one other in my graduating class who is at her original call. Many are their second or third calls. Some have left ministry altogether. Some have moved away from parish ministry and serve the church in other ways. Some have the left the ELCA and serve in other church bodies. And I have been here all the while. It is such a blessing because I feel like I am serving Christ in a way that not many pastors get to serve. Serving in one congregation for a decade makes me I feel like I am gaining a wisdom that many pastors do not get to achieve. I am not sure I can explain it and people seldom ask me for it, but I feel that way.

One of the secrets to serving a long term is for the pastor to actually like the people. I don’t recall the movie, but I recall a scene where a young man tells Jimmy Stewart (I think it was) he wants to marry a young woman. Stewart asks, “well, do you like her?” The young man enthusiastically responds, “Oh, yes, I love her”. Stewart rubs his chin and says, “I didn’t ask if you love her. I asked if you like her.” I can’t tell you the number of pastors I’ve met who behind closed doors really don’t seem to like their people. I am sure they would say that love them in some abstract sort of way. But it sees apparent to me that they don't have any real affection for them. A pastor has to appreciate quirks, moods, and differences. And when you do, it makes being a pastor a joy.

I don’t want to use this article to talk about how unique pastoral ministry is. Jesse Corbett used to say that he’d rather be a roofer than be a pastor. Me? I’ll stick to pastoring. I’ve had a lot of different work experiences, and I know every vocation has its ups and downs. I also know that having to sit down and think about a sermon when you are not in the mood feels an awful lot like the salesman having to make cold calls when he’s not in the mood for it. I just think being a pastor has a fascinating combination of joys, challenges and frustrations.

Thank you for letting me serve and thank you for helping me as we serve the Lord together. Peace in Christ, Pastor Lance+

Epiphany Sermon

St. John Chrysostom warned preachers to not seek out flattery after preaching.   Yet this one received some good feedback.  So f you like it, keep it to yourself.  😜

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Stuff is about to get weird

Sunday, December 16, 2018

This morning's sermon here

Monday, December 3, 2018

All the cool kids are doing it....

It ups the preaching challenge to know that a sermon will be available for the ages. 😳

Happy New Church Year.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Zuckerberg is Closer to Being Right than You Think

The growth of mainline churches in the 1950's and 60's was astounding.   With the growth of population--the so-called Baby Boomers--and the explosion of suburbs, mainline churches adopted a formula.  The formula was simple, find an area where a new suburb development was planned, buy up some property, knock on the neighbors' doors, and, voila, a new congregation is born.  

Churches became centers for neighborhood activity.   Women gathered at the church for activities and their children would play on the playground.   Men would gather together, build a softball team and compete against other congregation teams.  Neighbors became friends.   There were common goals: sanctuaries to be built, Vacation Bible Schools to be planned, food banks to be developed.   The church provided a sense of community, a sense of belonging.  The model thrived for a few decades.

Recently, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he envisions his social media platform will, like churches have in the past, build a sense of community among its users that will bring identity and the urge to serve.   Reactions were mixed, but the fact is, Zuckerberg is right in many respects.  

In the face of decline, mainline churches have doubled down on the sense of community that belonging to a congregation can bring.   The UMC's slogan "Open hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors", the ELCA's "God's Work, Our Hands", TEC's "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"are all grounded in the notion of being welcomed into a community.  

So why isn't it working?

I suspect it isn't working for a couple of reasons.  First of all, community isn't really that hard to build.  If you have ever talked to the parents of a child involved in swimming, you know this.    Swimming meets are often far apart geographically.    Parents drive caravan-style to the meet.   They stay in hotel rooms next to one another.  They cheer for one another's children.   They wait and chat for their child's heat to come.   They have created a community.   I have heard Furries--young adults who (for some reasons not known to me) dress up like woodland creatures and meet at hotel conference rooms--describe that part of their joy of being a Furry is the sense of "community".   Community is not that hard to build and there are many, many opportunities find one.

The second reason may be that building community is not the calling of the church.  The calling of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So while the church can offer praise, provide charity, and build community, these actions are always secondary to the proclamation of the Gospel.   Even when Jesus prays for unity among his disciples in the Gospel of John, it occurs as concern after the call to proclaim (17:20).  

If the church wants to thrive, it needs to distance itself prioritizing the notion of building communities.  Mark Zuckerberg will figure out a way to build community more effectively than we ever have.  Let us instead put our focus on proclaiming the gospel.  I guarantee--community will come.