Open Call for God-Called Preachers

My two oldest kids stayed overnight with my mother back in southeastern Oklahoma, so I drove down and picked them up in Henryetta today.  On the way back to Oklahoma City, I decided to take a different route.  We ventured through downtown and made a stop by an older United Methodist Church off the beaten path, several streets north and west of downtown.  As I pulled alongside the church my four year old said, “Wow, it’s dirty.”  I said, “why do you think it’s dirty,” and my seven year old daughter said, “because they don’t take good care of it.”  I then told them that any church that stops reaching out and bringing people to Christ ends up in even worse condition.  At the same time, across the street, I saw two young men.  They were dressed in white shirts, black ties, and backpacks and were walking from door to door in the older neighborhood around the church.  I pointed them out and said, “They don’t believe the same thing we do, but they are out telling people what they believe.”  I then told them how our church would look just like this one if we stopped inviting people to our church to come to know Jesus.

After getting home, I looked up this church online and found the typical non-webpages listing the congregation’s name.  However, I also found a defunct website on the Oklahoma City Cooperative Urban parish.  Here is an excerpt from that website (I’ve changed the name, because I’m not writing this to embarrass anyone and I think it’s common for many of our congregations regardless of the name),

In 1969 on a typical Sunday morning 365 people gathered for worship in the beautiful Gothic sanctuary at ____________ United Methodist in Oklahoma City. “On Easter, every pew was packed, even in the balcony, and we brought extra chairs in,” recalls a retired United Methodist pastor who was then pastor at ________.

“Our educational building was less than ten years old, and we needed every room in it,” __________ says. Average Sunday school attendance was 368. The church had 206 children from birth through the sixth grade and 184 youth.

Compare this with its current situation at the time,

On a typical Sunday last year, 85 gathered at __________ for worship. Seventy came to Sunday school. The church had 15 children from birth through the sixth grade and three youth.

The neighborhoods weren’t empty, people just moved and stopped commuting back to attend on Sundays.   For whatever reason, the church stopped reaching out to their local neighborhood (or any other neighborhood for that matter). So what was our ingenious solution to this dramatic shift?  We formed a cooperative urban parish whose purpose statement read,

The Oklahoma City Cooperative Urban Parish is composed of churches and organizations who have a common heritage in the Christian faith; are located in a common geographical area; share common commitment to effective ministry with persons in their congregations and the surrounding community. The members of the Parish covenant to identify resources, establish goals, and develop ministry strategies designed to achieve those goals. In no way does the Parish compromise the integrity of member institutions, but through cooperation strengthens the ministry of each

While I’m sure this doesn’t completely encompass their vision for these congregations, I can’t help but notice Jesus Christ is not mentioned anywhere here other than in their “common heritage in the Christian faith.”  In fact, the article said the goals of the urban parish could be summed up with our denomination’s campaign, “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.”  I also can’t help but notice how uninspired this makes me.

It just so happens we’re approximately ten years removed from what the date of this article.  Yes, this means we can judge the effects of this particular approach to revitalizing a series of churches.  According to the most recent conference journal, this congregation averaged just over 60 people in worship during 2008.  That’s right, down 25 in worship from the time of the intervention.

While I was parked in front of this old building, I took a picture with my phone and sent it to a friend of mine who is beginning to more fully grasp and develop his understanding of God’s call on his life.  All I did was take a picture of the exterior, and send him a note with the word, “Calling” in the subject line.  His reply?  “This made me tear up, let’s do it!”

We have young women and men in our conference who have a deep-seated Spirit-filled longing to lead congregations like this to revitalized ministry for Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God the Father.  We have young men and women who are tired of campaigns, sick of non-descript goals and efforts, and dying to be used by God to share the Gospel.   My 95 year old Grannie once called these “God-called preachers,” and I’m praying their tribe will increase and be invited to lead.  Let’s stop wasting time adding pages to the Book of Resolutions that no one will ever read, and begin to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Who knows what ten years of that might accomplish?

Core Values & Mission

While the United Methodist Church has agreed on its mission, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we have yet to have a common agreement on what this means!  Words like “disciple” and “transformation” are fairly nebulous and vague when you don’t have a common culture throughout your organization. Maybe this is just the nature of having a statement that is supposed to fit a global organization. Perhaps the best place to truly have mission and vision statements are on the local level.  

In my mind, the best vision statements provide focus.  They set the scope of your mission.  In a way, they function like fences around a daycare playground.  The fence keeps the kids in one general area, but within that area they have the freedom to play and do what kids do.  Core values then, are like the behaviors we expect from the kids: play nice, share, etc.  

So, a congregation and its leadership functions best when focused by a clear vision and guided by core values that can be embodied across the board.  One of the places that understands core values better than anyone is Zappos, the online shoe specialist.  Their core values are clearly and concisely articulated both in their culture and in their employees imagination.  They are focused – THE online shoe store – and they understand the behaviors they embody in carrying out that mission.

  1. Deliver WOW through Service
  2. Embrace & Drive Change
  3. Create Fun & a Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth & Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

In my two interactions with Zappos, they deliver.  While I was serving in a rural area of Oklahoma, I needed some brown dress shoes.  Wearing size 14s, it becomes pretty hard to find exactly what you want and get them quickly.  A friend told me about Zappos, so I took a chance.  I needed them in a few days, and figured it would be cool if they could get them there in a couple of days, but if not I wasn’t going to have a real problem.  I ordered them on Monday, and they were sitting on my porch Tuesday afternoon.  Magic.  WOW.  I told everyone.  They knocked core value #1 out of the park, and I’ve told the story several times.  Mission accomplished on their part.

What are the core values in your church?  What are the values you communicate in evereything you do from greeting guests on Sunday morning to cleaning up after wedding receptions?  Do you know?  When people leave your church on Sunday, do guests say, “WOW, I felt like an honored guest,” or do they say, “Wow…they acted surprised I was even there”?  Do the people on your leadership team understand the values they’re called to embody in everything from answering the phone to sending out emails?  If not, it may be time to give it some thought.

Amazing Ash Wednesday

Tonight was special.  Not only did I get to think about my mortality on my birthday, incredibly appropriate as that might be, I was able lead worship with an incredible group of Christ-followers, and I saw scripture come alive.  We worshiped together tonight – hundreds of children, youth, college students, and adults – and it was incredible.

Our text for the evening was from the lectionary: Joel 2:12-17,

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;  gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.  Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

As we assembled in our more contemporary worship center, it was the most raucous Ash Wednesday service I’ve ever been a part of.  Little girls were dancing in the aisles as we sang.  Kids were literally cheering the images Jeremy shared – images of the bread and cup, and images of the cross!  And somehow it was a beautiful picture of what it must have been like in the solemn fast that the leaders of God’s people called so long ago – the aged, children, and even infants gathered to consider their lives.  Even then, responding to God’s call to repentance, the children must have giggled in the crowds.

There was an incredible beauty in being able to tell tonight’s assembly that their lives wouldn’t last forever, and then to be able to share the paradoxically good news of the cross.  God is incredible, and even as we enter this season of discipline and examination in preparation for Easter, the joy of Christ was present.   Tonight we gathered the people, we called for a Lenten fast, and the Lord indeed left a blessing behind.

Morgenthaler on Worship Evangelism

Sally Morgenthaler, who has a terrific article on leadership in a “flattened” world in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, has been a pioneer in the world of worship. Her book Worship Evangelism set the tone for a large cultural shift within evangelicalism back in the late nineties.

Lately, she’s been rethinking some of the ideas presented in that work. In a new article from earlier this month, she reflects on the successes and failures of this movement (h/t Jonny Baker). Two years ago she taught her last seminar on worship, a year later she abandoned her worship resource website. This article is an explanation of the disappointment Morgenthaler feels over the way “worship evangelism” became an excuse for not being involved with those outside the Church. Instead of holding worship and mission together, some took her work as an excuse to believe that quality worship is a substitute for missional involvement.

Instead of attracting the unchurched, many found that their emphasis on evangelistic worship was not living up to that intention. Morgenthaler writes,

Were these worship-driven churches really attracting the unchurched? Most of their pastors truly believed they were. And in a few cases, they were right. The worship in their congregations was inclusive, and their people were working hard to meet the needs of the neighborhood. Yet those churches whose emphasis was dual—celebrated worship inside, lived worship outside—were the minority. In 2001 a worship-driven congregation in my area finally did a survey as to who they were really reaching, and they were shocked. They’d thought their congregation was at least 50 percent unchurched. The real number was 3 percent.

She later describes the movie Saved as an example of the true attitudes of many secular folks to the evangelical movement, and goes on to cite a journalist who observed worship in one of the congregations that has invested heavily in high-production worship for non-Christians,

“The [worship team] was young and pretty, dressed in the kind of quality-cotton-punk clothing one buys at the Gap. ‘Lift up your hands, open the door,’ crooned the lead singer, an inoffensive tenor. Male singers at [this] and other megachurches are almost always tenors, their voices clean and indistinguishable, R&B-inflected one moment, New Country the next, with a little bit of early ’90s grunge at the beginning and the end.

“They sound like they’re singing in beer commercials, and perhaps this is not coincidental. The worship style is a kind of musical correlate to (their pastor’s) free market theology: designed for total accessibility, with the illusion of choice between strikingly similar brands. (He prefers the term flavors, and often uses Baskin-Robbins as a metaphor when explaining his views.) The drummers all stick to soft cymbals and beats anyone can handle; the guitarists deploy effects like artillery but condense them, so the highs and lows never stretch too wide. Lyrics tend to be rhythmic and pronunciation perfect, the better to sing along with when the words are projected onto movie screens. Breathy or wailing, vocalists drench their lines with emotion, but only within strict confines. There are no sad songs in a megachurch, and there are no angry songs. There are songs about desperation, but none about despair; songs convey longing only if it has already been fulfilled.”

Morgenthaler’s response is direct, “ No sad songs. No angry songs. Songs about desperation, but none about despair. Worship for the perfect. The already arrived. The good-looking, inoffensive, and nice. No wonder the unchurched aren’t interested.”

I’m not capturing all of the nuances of the article here, but these are some of the high points that stood out to me. I would encourage you to read the whole article to get a sense of Morgenthaler living through the shift from modernity to “whatever it is that we’re now experiencing” (post-modernity, hyper-modernity, post-Christendom, whatever). In closing, she describes the uncomfortable call she is currently experiencing,

I am currently headed further outside my comfort zones than I ever thought I could go. I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship, I want to offer this hope and prayer. May you, as leader of your congregation, have the courage to leave the “if we build it, they will come” world of the last two decades behind. May you and the Christ-followers you serve become worshipers who can raise the bar of authenticity, as well as your hands. And may you be reminiscent of Isaiah, who, having glimpsed the hem of God’s garment and felt the cleansing fire of grace on his lips, cried, “Here am I, send me.”

May we all be so uncomfortable.