Monday, October 28, 2013

Pastoring and "The Old Vic"

Many of my blog readers are young pastors who ask me advice about how to be a pastor.  So, this blogpost is for them.  Sorry, if you are not a pastor, but perhaps there may be something for you in this post as well...

I often get asked what being a pastor of a large church is like.  No other professional enterprise quite compares to being a pastor of a large church, but I sometimes say, "being a pastor of a large church is like being the General Manager of 'The Old Vic' in London."  Then they ask me, "What's the Old Vic?"  "The Old Vic," is one of Europe's most storied theaters.  It was founded in 1818, and has had many of the biggest names in acting and theater and drama attached to it.  Sir Lawrence Olivier often played (acted) at the Vic.  Douglas Fairbanks also played there.  But here's the interesting twist.  Where most theater companies have a separate director and General Manager from the main lead actor, "The Old Vic" doesn't.  At "The Old Vic," the same person that acts in many of the shows also directs the shows, manages the theater, produces the shows (develops the money for them), and does advertising to the public for the shows.  Throw in general maintenance of the theater itself (custodial, refurbishment, expansion, safety measures), and you get an idea of how much the lead person does.

Most recently, Kevin Spacey, the actor, has been the General Manager of, "The Old Vic" (his official title was the 'new artistic director' but he basically runs the place).  Kevin would act as a main actor in the lead role, Kevin would run the board of directors, Kevin would hire the other actors in the theater, Kevin would make sure the patrons were taken care of, Kevin would talk to big investors about financing shows, Kevin would keep the name and reputation up of, "The Old Vic."  And theater isn't what it used to be.  Back in the day, going to a show at a theater was the best form of entertainment on the weekends.  Today, people are more likely to go out to a movie in a cinema, or better yet, stay at home and watch a video on Netflix.  So, there is an evangelism component to being the GM of the Old Vic as well.  Kevin spent most of his time actually convincing people that theater is/was a valuable medium, a worthwhile enterprise, a good use of time.  Most recently, the great Shakespearean actor Kenneth Brannach has been approached about the position of "new artistic director"( General Manager) of "The Vic."  If he takes the job, Kenneth will have an equally large responsibility and evangelical outreach component to his job.

Now...of course being the Head of Staff of a large church is very different than running a theater.  In a theater there are no bedside calls from patrons who are dying, there are no ministry discipleship efforts, there are no programs throughout the week, there is no outreach to the poor, there is no interface with other theaters, there is no need or desire to remain Orthodox in a particular approach, there is no mixing of many multiple voices and theological perspectives, there is no real desire to change the world or have eternally consequential conversations with clients (although perhaps there should be!).  There is no desire to serve God, and ultimately if God is served then none of the rest of it matters a whit.  Theater is very different from church in many, many important ways.

The most important difference, to coin an idea from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is that worship/church should have God as the congregation as the main actors, the choir and the pastor as the conductors, and God as the audience (I think I have that right...).  And church isn't a show!

But sometimes, my budding pastors in the making, church is (I am afraid to say) like theater.  I know it isn't particularly "missional" or even "christianal" to say.  But it just is.  And to coin the thoughts of another great theater manager/director/writer, from another era - William Shakespeare:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances"; ("As You Like It")

All For Now,

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Power Of Admitting a Mistake

By now, most of the major news channels have moved on from the headline story a week or so ago about the mis-spelling of God's name by the Vatican, on 6,000 commemorative coins printed for the celebration of pope Francis' ministry.  If you didn't catch the story, here are the basics.  "The Italian institute that mints coins, passports and postage stamps mis-spelled the name of Jesus on 6,000 coins, instead calling the savior of the world - Lesus."

The mistake has prompted a whole tide of slightly blasphemous, but a little bit funny, jokes about how the new name of God might be applied to our modern day church music and hymnody.  Consider the following names of songs and hymns as alternatives;

"What a Friend We Have in Lesus"
"Lesus, Lesus, Lesus, There's Just Something About That Name."
"Lesus Loves Me, This I Know..."

And the list goes on and on...

But what I think was missed in the often times self-satisfied coverage by the media of this major printing debacle, was how deftly and smartly the Vatican responded to this crisis.  They didn't try to cover up the mistake.  They didn't attempt to shove it under the rug (though, 6,000 coins under a rug is very probably hard to hide).  They didn't sound defensive or reactive.  "Everybody mades mistakes," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, "Even people who make coins."  And in being utterly transparent and mia culpa-ish (dare I say - Lesa culpa-ish), the Vatican was able to turn a major mistake into a life lesson, and a chance to model humility and non-perfection.

All of us, especially church leaders, should learn from the Vatican here.  For a denomination that has been steeped in alleged cover-up for so long, of childhood sex scandals involving priests, not to mention other coverups, this is a very refreshing new direction for the entire world to observe.  Pope Francis could not have engineered a lesson on "admitting mistakes" from the pulpit in a more effective way than was demonstrated by the admission of the misprinting on the coins.

On a more personal level, I can say that admitting a mistake as a pastor is one of the most effective things I can do to model Christian behavior and practice.  Often, in the middle of a message, if I make a verbal blunder or a mis-statement, and I say, "Gosh good one Graham," the whole room lights up with laughter and a more healthy sense of lightness.  It's as if they are all collectively thinking, "Hey, he's just like me...he's not perfect."  Of course, larger mistakes need to be admitted to as well, when they occur.  And in a similar fashion, public contrition and better understanding almost always ensue.

Pope Francis seems to be setting a pace for leadership in which he would appear to be able to do no wrong.  However, it is because he has admitted to doing something small and wrong, that he is able to be such a great leader.

We should do the same!

All For Now,

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Pastor To Counter-Culture Has Died

At the entry way to First Pres. Colorado Springs is a remarkable sculpture of the figure of Jesus holding children and smiling.  The sculpture is life-sized and greets every visitor who enters the church with a hearty wink and smile.  The sculpture has actually been the source of some small controversy in the church through the years.  The controversy revolves not around the placement of the sculpture or the safety of the sculpture, but rather that the sculpture features Jesus with long hair and a pony tail.  "Long hair and pony tails on guys," I heard one member recently say to me recently, "do not belong in church!"  One pastor, who as of last week (Oct. 3) is with God in heaven, would disagree.  His name is, and was - Pastor Chuck Smith.

Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement in Costa Mesa, California, and throughout the United States and World is dead.  Chuck, as he liked to be called, was 86.

In the words of the New York Times obituary about him from this past week; "The Rev. Chuck Smith, a Southern California minister who shepherded flower children and rock 'n' roll into the conservative wing of the evangelical movement while building a religious wing of the evangelical movement that grew to encompass 700 congregations and hundreds of radio stations has died."

Chuck came up through the Four Square movement in Southern California, in the 1960's and 1970's and often had many connections the brand new Vineyard church.  After becoming dis-enamoured by the politics of the Four Square church, Chuck joined a struggling congregation in Costa Mesa (basically Newport Beach), that had 60 members, called Calvary Chapel.  Mixing a combination of a genuine love of many who were a part of the "Jesus movement of the 60's and 70's, and a practical, non-flashy (expository, "line by line through the Bible"), style of preaching, Chuck attracted hundreds and then thousands of followers.  Chuck was never critical of the fashion styles of his counter-cultural congregants.  Chuck was never condescending about their taste in rock 'n' roll music.  Where many main line denominations threw the members of the "Jesus movement" out, Chuck embraced them (literally embraced them...hugged them each week).  His approach seemed to be that as long as people were following Jesus with their lives, it didn't matter how they dressed, or what music they listened to.  It would have been quite common in the early days to see someone at Calvary Chapel in bell bottoms and a tangerine colored orange tank top, standing right next to a senior citizen wearing a suit and tie.  There was a healthy mix of all generations and styles in the early days of Calvary Chapel.

There are so many things that I agree with Chuck about.  Chuck's desire to lower the inherent barriers for people who want to worship God, without throwing the proverbial, "baby out with the bathwater" was revolutionary.  Chuck's embracing of rock 'n' roll music in church began an entire movement of Christianity in America that would eventually include Willow Creek, Saddleback Community and Northpoint in Atlanta.  Chuck's genuine love of people from all backgrounds and walks of life was palpable.  Chuck's orthodox theology in the midst of his acceptance was transformative.

There is also a great deal that I heartily and strongly disagree with Chuck Smith about.  Chuck's dis-inclusion of women in ministry, his oft times ill-informed sentiments about the sin of same sex relationships (Chuck claimed that Sept. 11 was caused in large part by homosexuality in this country), and his unending but never actualized predictions about the end of time (Chuck believed that the end times would come in 1981, and then almost every year thereafter he made similar predicitons) put him squarely (perhaps pun intended) in a very different evangelical camp from my own.  However, Chuck's contributions to opening up the Christian church to people who have long hair, and pony tails can never be overlooked.

After all, I'm pretty sure Jesus DID have long hair, though the pony tail might have been an invention of the 1960's and 1970's in Costa Mesa, California,

All For Now,

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Space Between

One of my favorite pop singers is Dave Matthews, and one of my favorite pop songs is, "The Space Between." "The Space Between," is also the name of a major motion picture film made in 2010.   Like most rock and roll songs, Dave Matthews' song carries several levels of meaning, some of which are probably more "carnal" that I would care to address in this blog post.  However, I believe that;

The Space Between

is a phrase that also carries great theological depth as an understanding of our God.  This past week, I offered a message on being 1% more trusting of God in our lives.  The text we looked at was of the Roman soldier (centurion) who had a servant who was dying.  The Roman soldier, you will remember, asks Jesus to come and heal his servant.  When Jesus is just outside the door of his house, the Roman soldier stops Jesus and tells him not to come into the house, because he is not worthy of Jesus' presence.  "But say the word, and my servant will be healed."  In short, this soldier believes (TRUSTS), that God can heal the servant not by laying hands on him, or by touching him, but that Jesus is powerful enough to heal the servant in;

The Space Between

the Roman soldier's house and Jesus in the street.  This past week, my 1 year old daughter, Sheena, took her first steps of life.  I was actually not there to witness it, (which sort of bumbed me out) but the person that did told me that Sheena was a little nervous at first.  Sheena was standing, and then, somewhere within her 1 year old heart, she decided to put one leg in front of the other.  She took a step.  Now, most of us take for granted or we don't think about the fact that when we walk, one foot will sustain the weight of our bodies, while the other foot shifts the weight of our bodies.  But Sheena trusted that in;

The Space Between

two steps, she would be ok on the other side.  And, of course, she was.  One of the seminal concepts of our faith is covenant.  The exact Hebrew notion of covenant is that a covenant must be, "cut."  The Hebrew words for covenant are, CARAT BAREAT, and it means "to cut a covenant."  I will never forget this phrase since when I learned it, I thought of a carrot being cut in two (pneumonic association is the only way to memorize Hebrew).  Now, when an object is cut, say a piece of meat (lamb) or a dove for an offering to God, the Jewish notion is that God will bring something new and Godly into;

The Space Between.

Remember Gideon?  He made an offering to the Lord, on a rock.  Then, the offering was cut in two.  A flame of God appeared in the middle of,

The Space Between,

And God spoke.  Here's my question for you this week.  What space are your giving God, between this and that in your life?  What space, between driving kids to practice and making dinner are you giving to God?  What space between your last job and your new one, are your giving to God to speak to you?  What space between retirement and professional life are you allowing God to speak to your heart and give you a deep peace?  Like me, I hope you will find, that upon reflecting on this question that,

The Space Between

Will be more than just a good song.  That it will be the main way that God speaks to you!

All For Now,