Wednesday, February 28, 2018

N + R + HS = P

I have been thinking lately about the process that most churches use to decide whether to have a new program or not.  Having served in lots of different kinds of churches through the years, I have seen lots of ways that churches approach this subject.  Usually the process goes something like this.  Let's take an innocuous and fictional example.  Let's say the church is trying to decide whether to start a "Quilting Ministry."

1.  Someone comes forward and says, "We should start a quilting ministry."

2.  Someone else says, "Good idea, quilting, cool, let's announce it Sunday."

3.  Announcement gets made, "Come to our quilting ministry opener!"

4.  Two people show up to the quilting day opener.  Neither of them know anything about quilting.  One of them was under the impression that it was a "quitting ministry" that involved quitting smoking, and misunderstood that it was actually about "quilting".  The "Quilting Ministry" never gets off the ground.

Obviously this same scenario can be applied to lots of different kinds of ministry (youth, seniors, young adults, men's, women's, whatever).  Choose one that fits your own church.

A more helpful model that I have used in churches that I have served is a quick mathematical equation.  Keep in mind that I was always quite terrible with math in school, and...that's why I became a pastor:-)  Here is the equation:

N + R + HS = P

Needs + Resources + Holy Spirit = Program

The first letter is N for NEEDS.  What this means is that every church program must start with an actual NEED.  The more pressing the need, the more effective the ministry.  Where there is no need, there is no ministry.  What do I mean by need?  In Burlingame where I have just moved, and am pastoring, one of the most pressing needs is assistance for young adults and young families.  Living expenses are extremely high here, and people's lives are insanely busy.  What are some needs that young adults have in Burlingame?  Affordable childcare.  Many families in this area are known to spend around $3,500 a month on child care (gulp).  I bet the area that you live in has needs to.  REAL NEEDS, not small needs.

The next letter is R for RESOURCES.  Does the church have the resources to be able to carry out the ministry? Most people think that resources are just about money, but they involve many more components: facilities, staff, time, knowledge, intelligence, skill, ability, and long term sustainability. Often churches try to start important ministries that are actual needs in their community, but they don't have the resources to be able to do them.  For example, I would love to work on limiting fire arms sales for automatic weapons in our country, however, my church has no direct resources to help with this glaring national problem.  So it would be foolish to take on this issue.  So, you gotta have the resources.

The third couple of letters are HS - HOLY SPIRIT.  Is the Holy Spirit directing you to do a certain program or is this just a pet project?  Do you sense a prevailing wind from God telling you to do something or is this just a whim?  For example, I wouldn't mind if our church had a bagpipe band.  But, because I am the only bagpiper in the church (that I know of), and bagpipes are a bit of a "nitch" ministry (to say the least), it would just be more of a personal pet project than a ministry lead by the Holy Spirit.

So, that's it.  N + R + HS = P.  It seems quite simple, but this formula can save your church a lot of heartache, time, money, energy and burnout.

More often I have seen churches develop programs using a different formula:

PN + NR + MOA = Program

Perceived Need + No Resources + My Own Agenda = Program

Can anyone say, "Quilters Anonymous?"

What about "Bagpipers for Jesus!"

My apologies to all of the quilters out there who are reading this blog:-)

All For Now,


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Just As He Was

In those days he came preaching in the Desert
and saying "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near."

These words were written about a great preacher who lived not long ago.  They were written about a man who drew thousands of people to his fiery declamations about God's power and might and sovereignty and salvation.  People from all walks of life and all segments of society came to hear the man who preached these words.  They were, of course, originally preached by John the Baptist who lived in the first century in the country of Judea.  But they were made more famous in recent years by a man named Billy Graham who lived in the latter part of the 20th century and preached to millions and millions of people.  This blogpost is a tribute to Billy Graham's ministry and impact on my own ministry and life.

Billy Graham passed away last night at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.  He was 99 years old.

Like Billy Graham (not my namesake, though many have asked if I was named after Billy Graham), I was raised in a Presbyterian home.  Graham hailed from Presbyterian stock on both sides of his family.  Graham's late wife was Ruth Graham (nee, Ruth McCue Bell, whose father was Dr. L. Nelson Bell a prominent Presbyterian missionary to China).  Graham's own family were Reformed Presbyterians from Scottish stock.  The New York Times this morning wrote that, "Though the Grahams were Reformed Presbyterians, and though his father insisted on daily readings of the Bible, Billy was not an enthusiastic Christian."  The same might have been said of my early Christian upbringing.  I went to church each Sunday morning mostly because that's what our, "family did" on a Sunday morning.  It is not that my faith wasn't real growing up, it was, it was just that the way that it was practiced and experienced was not necessarily highly emotional, or flashy or fiery.

The church I grew up in was named Trinity.  And potlucks, church family camps and children's sermons were, in many senses, my own personal Holy Trinity.

When I was about 12 years old, I went with my local congregation to the Billy Graham Crusade to be held in the Boise State University Basketball Arena.  I had never been to a religious (or a non-religious event for that matter) of this ilk.  Thousands gathered in that arena to listen to the mass choir, a few members of which came from my own local Presbyterian congregation.  Then Billy Graham began to preach.  What struck me, surprisingly, was not his fiery oratory, but rather his magnetism and kindness.  Even from a pulpit in the center of a huge arena, I felt like Billy Graham was speaking to just - ME.  He seemed like the kind of person who you wouldn't mind having in your home, sitting beside your bed, or holding hands to pray with.

At the end of the worship service in BSU stadium I found myself, for some inexplicable reason, walking forward to pray with one of the attendants at the front of the arena.  After the prayer, like Graham has said of his own similar conversion experience, "I can't say that I felt anything spectacular.  I felt very little emotion.  I shed no tears.  The Lord did speak to me about certain things in my life.  I'm certain of that, but I can't remember what they were."

Later when I went to college in Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota, I would visit friends in downtown who lived right next to the International Headquarters of the Billy Graham Association.  Because I was going through a bit of an agnostic stage in my own faith walk at the time, I was less enamored by the magnitude and size of the ministry organization, but still felt an innate power in their presence and Spiritual footprint, even as I walked around their buildings on snowy, sub-arcticly cold days.

As the years have elapsed, and my own ministry has unfolded, I have become aware of how different I am as a pastor and a preacher than Billy Graham.  I don't preach about evil very often, though I do believe in it.  I don't align myself with political causes, though, as a student of Poly Sci, I know that everything in life is inherently political.  I don't try or want people to feel bad about their lives after they hear me speak.  And perhaps most of all, I realize that the intoxicating, and more often wearying chimera of public life isn't really real, and doesn't last.  In the end, perhaps I realize that I am more PRESBYTERIAN than I ever realized.

However, I am grateful for the life of Billy Graham and his ministry.  And the world seems, somehow, more vacant and empty on this chilly February morning, now that it no longer has Billy Graham within it.  Graham's favorite hymn to have his congregation's sing after one of his sermons was the great, "Just As I Am."  Aptly, Graham's greatest contribution was that he was a pastor, "Just As He Was."  And now, Billy Graham is in heaven, and it might be said that he has gone there, "Just As He Is." But thankfully, those who listened to Graham, and were impacted by him will never again be able to say that we are, "Just As We Were..."

All For Now,


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Ear and the Heart

Tomorrow is Valentines Day, and many people in America are focussing on ways to endear themselves to the people they love.  Most guys, truth be told, who pay attention to Valentines Day, are scrambling to come up with a good website from which to buy flowers.  Flowers can be a way of showing someone you love, that you love them.  Personally, I have always found that a good bottle of Pinot is even more appreciated.  However, one of the things I have learned in life is that the ear is actually the closest part of the body to the heart.

Not long ago, my Spiritual Director, friend, therapist and mentor, Rev. Dr. Gordon Hess (PhD), told me an important life lesson; "The ear is the organ of intimacy."  To be honest, when I heard this for the first time, my mind went to the word intimacy, and then I thought about an ear, and I wondered if this was some new sexual technique that I was not aware of.  Gordon explained that the best way for a person to feel that you love them is to demonstrate that you have heard them.  Or better yet, to actually HEAR them.  When people feel heard, they then often feel understood, and when they feel understood, they feel like someone really knows them, and when someone really knows them, they often feel loved.

Yesterday on NPR, Terry Gross interviewed an incredible woman named Kate Bowler who is a professor at Duke Divinity School and who has just written a nationwide best-seller called, "Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved".  The title is incredible, and the book, which I have not read yet, is an account of her survival from cancer and the spiritual insights that accompanied that journey.  In the interview, Kate says that when she learned that the doctors who treated her had overlooked the cancerous tumor that was found in her colon, she became infuriated.  How could they miss such a basic medical malady?  Terry asked Kate whether she ever thought about suing the doctors who made this medical mistake that almost cost her her life.  Kate said, "No, I didn't, but I really did wish that someone, just someone had said to me, 'You know, I am really sorry, this is awful, I really made a mistake, I feel terrible about this.'"  In other words, what Kate wanted most is to be healed, but short of that, what she cherished was the chance to be HEARD.

The truth be told, I have always been pretty good at listening, but I have never been very good at demonstrating to someone else who is communicating with me, that I have actually HEARD them.  Recently, I received a critique about an aspect of the worship service that I lead each week.  The critique on its face was not a bad one, and when the person pointed out the mistake, I immediately heard what they were saying.  In previous years, my instinct would have been to shoot this person back an email and said, "Oh, ok, great, thanks for sharing, I'll consider this."  However, what I have learned is that this kind of response isn't a great mechanism for hearing.  So, instead, I picked up the phone, and I talked with this person for about 30 minutes.  I talked with them not just about the issue that they were presenting, but about their entire lives.  How were they doing?  What was going on with them?  How were things going?  The next Sunday, the person who made the critique walked up to me with tears in her eyes and said, "Graham, I just want to thank you.  And I want you to know that I really felt HEARD by you the other day."  Now, here's the truth.  I really didn't modify my behavior in the slightest.  What I did do is take time to try to demonstrate to that person that I had HEARD them.  And in hearing there is healing!

So, this Valentines Day, you can buy flowers, or a bottle of Pinot.  These are both good things.  But what may get you closer to that person's heart is not a dent out of your checking account, but a dent in your ear.  To show, for a few brief moments, to demonstrate, that what they have said, that you they really are - you have HEARD.

All For Now,


Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Gospel of Seinfeld

Like a lot of other Americans, I have been enjoying a series of television shows on "Netflix" (a movie streaming service), that is called, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."  The premise of the show is extremely simple - it is all tied up in the title - a series of comedians who drive with Jerry Seinfeld (a comedian) who are getting coffee.  But the great nuggets of simple wisdom that are shared in the show are priceless.  Here are a couple of them:

"Pain is knowledge rushing to fill a gap" - Jerry Seinfeld
Seinfeld explains that a lot of times we don't have the knowledge we need in life.  But then we have some experience of pain, and we immediately know the truth.  Seinfeld says that an example of this might be when you are walking around your room at night, and you don't know where your bed is, but then you stub your toe on the bed, and it hurts.  Pain just helped you to learn some important knowledge:-)

"Comedy is basically a series of proofs"- Jerry Seinfeld
Again, Seinfeld explains that a good comedian stands up in front of people and says something ridiculous that needs a proof.  An example of this might be, "Why are the raisin brand people always telling us about two scoops of raisins?"  Are two scoops more compelling than one?  No one really likes raisin bran in the first place, so saying there are two scoops doesn't make it more of something someone wants to eat.

"Sometimes backstage I think, 'I don't even know why I picked this business'" Jerry Seinfeld
Seinfeld says that almost always before he goes out on stage he wonders if he is really all that funny or really has much to offer people. He is constantly amazed that people would pay good money to want to come out and hear what he has to say.  As a preacher, I can relate to this at some level.  Quite frequently I wonder if the sermon I have prepared, right before I deliver it, really has anything to offer, or is all that good.  My experience is that this is often a sign that it is, in fact, pretty good.

"The comedian studies himself, the actor studies other people." - Jerry Seinfeld
Seinfeld says that the main difference between acting and doing comedy is that comedians are always looking inward and questioning themselves.  The good comedian questions their motives and their drives and their ambitions and their wants and their desires.  The actor, says Seinfeld, does the opposite, they look outwards.  The comedian wants to be him/herself.  The actor wants to be anyone but themselves.

"Talking about comedy is like talking about sex." - Jerry Seinfeld
Seinfeld says that his favorite thing to do is to talk with other comedians about comedy.  But, in the end, he says, it's sort of fruitless.  It's like talking about sex.  In Seinfeld's words, "You can talk bout all the fancy dives you want, but it's still just a foot of water." I'm not sure I really understand this last one, but I think it relates to the fact that comedy is like diving off of a stage into a foot of water.  It's pretty basic, and in the end, it either works or it doesn't.

"The key to happiness is always having something to look forward to." - Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Seinfeld interviews other comedians too, one of them is Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  She said that the key to happiness is always having something on the horizon that you are looking forward to doing.  It doesn't have to be a big thing, but a small thing, a favorite place to have coffee in the morning, a vacation on the horizon, a good book to dig into when you go to bed.

All For Now,