Tuesday, December 29, 2009


A quick review of Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity by Mark Batterson. Okay, full disclosure: I was expecting to put this book down after a couple of pages. The publisher sent it to me so I felt obliged to give it a try. I wasn't judging the book by its cover but rather by its title (actually its subtitle). I read "Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity" and I thought, great, another book on how to be "real" Christians, we just need to go back to the early days and live like they did in the opening pages of Acts (without the falling down dead for incorrectly reporting your income to giving ratio.) Had I paid a little more attention to the author, I would have realized how wrong I was. Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. a cutting edge ministry in our nation's capital. I should have realized that he would offer us something a little more forward thinking and that he did.

The author bases his quest for the soul of Christianity on what Jesus proclaims to be the greatest commandment, that we love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and then dedicates the four sections of the book to considering what that would actually look like. This is not another manifesto on "what the church needs to do" but a clear challenge on what we are really supposed to do to live out our faith as followers of Jesus.

Mark Batterson is profoundly intelligent and very well read so his insight is reflected in great examples, analogies and stories from science, history, psychology, sociology, etc.

More full disclosure: I could not put this book down. It was compelling and convicting. For our University folks, this is a great recommendation for the mission phase of our Pathway to Discipleship. That is the phase where we listen for our call from Jesus and consider what we are supposed to do about it. This whole book is about what we are to do when we really decide to listen to Jesus' call on our lives.



Monday, December 21, 2009

December Encourager

This article appeared in the December edition of UUMC's Encourager. Since if includes some important statistics on The Pathway to Discipleship, I thought I would post it here:

The end of the year is a strange and wondrous time for me as a pastor, husband, father and follower of Jesus Christ. I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed by the confluence of activities and emotions. There are all the things that go with the celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and The New Year: decorations, travel, family, presents, parties, etc. Then there are the things that go with the end of the year itself: budgets, paperwork, charge conferences, and reports. Add to that the oddity that the sun is a little less present than usual bringing on workdays that begin before sunrise and end after sunset. This all tends to lead to me being a bit more reflective than usual. Fortunately, the end of the year is a good time to be reflective.

As we come to the end of the year, I have been reflecting on what brought me to University United Methodist Church, the idea of creating a system to help bring people into a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, a Pathway to Discipleship. At this time last year, we had just rolled-out the pathway, and were beginning to see the first fruits of offering people an intentional way to experience a Jesus Meeting, hear the Jesus Message and discover their Jesus Mission. We were encouraged by the first tentative steps of this new way of looking at the ministry of discipleship. Now, as I look back at 2009, we have even more to be encouraged about.

In my column in December of 2008, I shared that we had 50 people engage in the first phase of the pathway, the meeting phase in which we ask the question, “What is my need for Jesus and what do I do about it?” We were thrilled by that initial response. We are even more thrilled that in 2009 over 180 people have participated in meeting phase offerings: Jesus 101, Alpha and Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics.

The idea of the pathway is for people to continue moving forward from the meeting phase onto the message phase in which we ask the question, “What is the news about Jesus and what do I do about it?” Back in December of 2008, I had no idea what the response would be to the invitation to hear the message of Jesus. Since the inception of the pathway, over 200 people have responded to our invitation go deeper, participating in message phase courses like New Testament Survey: The Message of Jesus, and Disciple Bible Study.

We are even beginning to watch people move into the mission phase in which we ask the question, “What is my call from Jesus and what do I do about it?” People have been listening and discerning in Coach’s Directed Study, on The Walk to Emmaus and in our inaugural class of The Pastor’s Academy.

So, as I look back, I am always looking forward. The idea of the Pathway to Discipleship is really striking a chord with our new members. People are hungry for a deep and meaningful relationship with God and are searching for clear guidance about how to begin a journey. I am excited for them and I am also hopeful for those who have been around for a while. The pathway is not just for new members. It has so much to offer anyone who seeks a deeper walk with God. Maybe it is a chance to review what you believe, to fill in any gaps in your knowledge or understanding of our faith and tradition. Perhaps it an opportunity to become more intentional about your commitment to spiritual growth. It could be that you desire to better articulate your faith to those around you and need a little review to become more comfortable with speaking your faith. Or maybe you just want to share the excitement of sitting at a table with someone who is hearing about Jesus for the first time or cracking open the Bible for the first time. Maybe you want to be there at the holy moment when someone finally discovers that that God has a call and claim on their life.

Learn more about the Pathway to Discipleship at our next u|connect, Sunday evening, January 24. Register by calling Michael Andres or email michael@uchurch.tv. Or, jump right into the meeting phase and sign up for Alpha: Pop Culture, Monday nights beginning February 1st. Register by calling the discipleship office or email laura.mick@uchurch.tv

Blessings on a joyous and holy celebration of the birth of our savior!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blogging toward LCI

On April 12-15 University United Methodist Church will be the host church for the Large Church Initiative of The United Methodist Church. To quote the LCI 2010 website:

LCI 2010 is a national training event offered by the United Methodist Church Large Church Initiative Steering Committee in partnership with the General Board of Discipleship. LCI 2010 will introduce you to leading thinkers, major speakers, cutting-edge systems for making disciples and making decisions that make disciples. You will leave San Antonio with new tools for coaching individual disciples and coordinating institutional decisions. These tools will grow your congregation larger in both size and significance. Your team will also establish new contacts, friendships and peer networks that can assist you for years to come. LCI 2010 will help any congregation, especially those with a weekly worship attendance of 350 and more.

The theme for the 2010 event is Disciple Making & Decision Making in the Large Church. You can visit the website at lci2010.com to learn about all the keynote speakers and workshop. As we get closer to the event, I want to write about some of the things we will be sharing as the staff of University, especially surrounding the Pathway to Discipleship.

In the first breakout session, I will be leading an offering called “Creating and Implementing a Discipleship Core Curriculum.” This is where we will talk about the nitty-gritty of our Pathway to Discipleship and how to implement a similar structure that works in the context of another church. University’s pathway is three-fold. When people come to the church, we invite them to have a Jesus Meeting, learn the Jesus Message, and begin to hear their Mission from Jesus. I won’t go into the whole pathway here but instead invite you to check out the following posts:

I am looking forward to the session. We will be a couple of years into the pathway by then and should be able to share a lot of what we have learned. As we continue to roll toward April, I will be writing some more soon on some of the other breakout sessions.



Friday, December 4, 2009

Bible History - In Fast Forward

I just finished Karen Armstrong's The Bible, A Biography. I want to start this review with a warning: depending on who you are, you might not like this book. It might even make you angry. Armstrong writes from a historical, academic perspective, not a faith perspective. Some people of faith are uncomfortable having their sacred text examined and deconstructed through the lens of critical history. If this is true for you, there are many other great books about the Bible written from a faith perspective that you might enjoy.

With that said, this is a great book and I think it adds a lot to our dialogue and understanding as Christians. In my New Testament Survey class, I begin by reminding the class that we all read scripture through a lens. We may think that we read the Bible with pure eyes, unaffected by our own context, bias or understanding, but this is simply not true. The eyes of a middle class 38 year old male Christian living in 2009 in San Antonio, Texas can't possibly see the words of scripture the same way as 25 year old female Jew living in the first century living in Palestine (if she could read and had access to Torah scrolls - which is pretty unlikely.) They can't possibly see the words in the same light as a 60 year old new believer living in Rwanda. I think the brilliance of Armstrong's book is that she gives a history of this lens. The way we read, study, interpret and consider scripture today is based on the history of not just scripture itself but thousands of years of rabbis, priests, reformers, theologians and pastors who have considered scripture in a myriad of different ways and debated, argued and even fought violently about how we should approach the sacred texts.

Armstrong takes us through the development of the Torah and how it became the writings (or scriptures). She sets up the context for the development of the New Testament. She then moves into a number of chapters on how we began to interpret these writings: through midrash (the rabbinical interpretation of the Old Testament); the the lens of the early church fathers who looked through the lens of charity, through the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina. Through all this, we hear how different people used different means to draw meaning out of the texts and how these different means created different meanings.

Armstrong then moves through the reformers who tried to get back to the original texts and make those texts available to all to empower all believers to consider their own interpretations and meanings. The book ends with a look at the forces of modernity and how the way we read the Bible today is affected by modern thinking and by the push back against modern thinking.

The reason I titled this post "Bible History - In Fast Forward" is that the author does indeed fly through the history of the Bible. I have read some critiques that she makes some arguments without really defending them. Although that can be problematic, I believe had she paused to fully articulate each point the book would have never ended. She does offer excellent notes in the back should you want to follow the argument deeper.

Again with the warning: even if you are open to this type of scholarship, Armstrong might step on the toes of your belief at times. I believe that is okay. You don't have to agree with her or even the scholars she cites. I believe points of disagreement strengthen us. In fact her epilogue speaks directly to that. We could all benefit from a little more listening, even to people we don't agree with.



Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ the King

I sort of miss the rhythm and pattern of the Revised Common Lectionary and the intricacies of the church year. I do believe that the thematic series that define the year on both the north and south campuses are the most effective way to live out the preaching ministry at University. However, I still have tremendous respect and appreciation for the rhythm of the liturgical year. At University, we don't completely ignore the liturgical year. Of course, we still observe Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. But you won't hear much about Christ the King Sunday or Baptism of the Lord Sunday. You won't likely notice when we are in the fifth Sunday of Epiphany or when it is Trinity Sunday. You may notice that our stoles change color with the seasons of the church year: green for ordinary time, white during Easter, blue for Advent - but we don't talk about it much.

I miss these things not out of sentiment but out of my call to teach. These seasons, I believe, were developed as a teaching tool to connect us to the overall story of salvation and redemption. The rhythm helps us to find focus and to continually return to some of the essential parts of the story. I was thinking about this this weekend which was, by the way, Christ the King Sunday.

The following is from my sermon on Christ the King Sunday which I preached at Grace United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi in December of 2007:

The Christian calendar is a little different than the secular calendar.As the world begins seriously winding down the year we, as Christians are starting a new one. This week marks the final week on the Christian calendar. We start a new “liturgical” year next Sunday as the first Sunday of Advent. As Christians, there are certain ways we set ourselves apart from the world and our understanding of time is one of those. As the world is still counting down to the end of the year, we will already be beginning a new one. But like the rest of the world, as we come to the end of the year, it is good to reflect on the year that has passed. That is sort of what Christ the King Sunday is all about.

Over the years, I have learned to love Christ the King Sunday. Here is why: It has become, for me, a Sunday of reflection about the Christian year that is ending. Next week is the first Sunday of Advent. In Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of God into our world in Jesus Christ.

While television and retail outlets are telling us it is time to sing “Joy to the World.” While we will still be singing “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Advent is the time when we prepare our heart and minds, our churches and our homes for the arrival of the new born King.

Before we enter into a time of looking forward, as we end this one year and prepare to enter another one, have we yet figured out who this king is? During another Christian year we will celebrate the birth and sing,

Hark the herald angels sing, “glory to the new born King”

But what does that mean? We will see Jesus praised by the wise men and treated like royalty,

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain. Gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.

But why?

We will stop thinking in kingly terms when we hear of him calling his disciples and teaching and healing. He will look more like the leader of a rag-tag revolution as we are led up to his confrontation with authority and his arrest and crucifixion. Then the kingly image will seem more appropriate as he is raised from the dead. Royal yes, but king implies a kingdom to rule over. His resurrection will cause us to look back at what he said and did. His ascension will remind us of that he reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit now and always. And then we will end up right back here, at the end of the year, ready again to prepare our hearts for the promised coming and will we yet know what kind of king we are expecting?

If you want to think more about that last question and consider the Kingship of Jesus as you prepare for Advent, that complete sermon and another sermon on the same topic are available in my sermon archive here:

Blessings of Grace and Peace,


Friday, November 13, 2009


I am not very private about it but, in case you don't know, our son Joshua came to us as a foster child about three years ago. We adopted him over a year later. Foster parenting and adoption are strange and wondrous things and I would never give up the experience. One of the strangest things for me about foster parenting and adoption is how radically different the experience is from that of parents who go through pregnancy and childbirth. There is a lot of pregnancy and childbirth that I can't speak to because I have never been through it even as an observing husband. But, I do know this: expectant parents have an anticipation calendar. I have walked alongside enough friends, family and coworkers to see a glimpse of this. The parents see it coming and life begins to change as the date gets closer. (Women who have given birth will, of course, say that this is a bit of an understatement.) I have watched life begin to change with each month as the moment gets closer and closer.

Alisha and I had a different experience. Training, home-study, interview, paperwork, sign-here, "we will call you." "Are you free Friday? We have a ten month old boy." I remember saying at a staff meeting that I was going home early because we were getting a child tomorrow. It is all very abrupt.

So I guess in normal terms, we are feeling a little pregnant. We have re-certified as foster parents and we are just waiting. We don't know when or exactly what we might expect. I just have to keep my phone in case we suddenly have a baby.

I would say, "I will let you know" but I might not mean it. Foster care comes with its appropriate amount of privacy. So, the web is not a place I tend to share much about who will live with us. But if you pay attention, you will figure it out.



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Focus Focus Focus

I recently finished Larry Osborne's Sticky Church. There are plenty of reviews out there so I am not going to give it a full treatment here. I am still wrestling with the book because it has some very specific recommendations for ministry that lead in a different direction from the vision we are currently following. However, the book is great and full of wisdom. While it may not fall in line with our current process for making disciples and taking disciples deeper, it is still a good process. Any church who does not currently have any process or has a process that is not working, should give it a read.

I do want to focus on one section of the book that does relate to some of the struggle that we face here at University. In chapter 12 "Overcoming the Time Crunch," Osborne writes a section on cutting the competition. The plan of ministry that has been effective at Osborne's church, North Coast, is sermon-based small groups. In order to create an environment for those groups to flourish, the church has had to work to eliminate ministries that compete with the core ministry. I can guess that for some readers of the book and, at this moment of this blog, that line of thinking in unnerving. We don't see ministries as being in competition with one another, right? All ministry in the name of Jesus is good ministry, right? Well, yes... but. It is a matter of focus. There is a great sentence in the chapter: "We also know that if given the choice, many people would pick the ministry they enjoyed the most, not the ministry they needed the most." (p. 93)

This line really fits in with our thinking on The Pathway to Discipleship. Under the old model of thinking the idea was to connect new people to anything you could because connected people would stick around. But that doesn't necessarily play in a society where people come to us often with no relationship with Jesus, no understanding of the most fundamental parts of what it means to follow Jesus, no familiarity with the Word of God in scripture, no skills in reading the Bible on their own, no prayer life and no instruction in the practice and discipline of prayer, etc. When that person comes to us, if we consider all ministries to be equal and they are invited to the cafeteria line, why would they not choose the ministry they enjoy the most? If someone likes to sing, why not join the choir? The choir is an amazing ministry of worship. The choir offers praise to God and leads the people in lifting their hearts to God. It is a great place to meet people. However, if new Christians jump right to the choir, where will they connect to the Gospel? Where will they learn to read the Bible? Where will they learn to pray?

My friend Cynthia very helpfully compared it to life in college. Colleges typically require some core courses and then allow for a certain number of electives. They do that for a reason. They know that many students, if given total freedom of choice, would just choose classes that sounded interesting or even fun. The students would likely miss out on some of the necessary fundamentals.

This is why we encourage our new members to jump into The Pathway to Discipleship a number of core courses that offer them the chance to have a Jesus meeting (to understand their own need for a relationship with Christ, the hear the Jesus message (understand the news about Jesus) and listen for their mission from Jesus (consider their own call to be in ministry.)

Whenever I go down this path, I get push back from folks who think this sounds way too authoritarian, as though we know what is best for you and are going to force you to do it. That is overstating it a bit. Although pastors and church leaders must humbly admit, we don't have all the answers, we are charged with leadership. Elders in the United Methodist Church are called from among the laity and ordained to a life of word, service, sacrament and order. We are charged with being spiritual guides to lead and facilitate in the lives of those seeking God. And while we are called to be bold in encouraging people, we are never forcing anyone to anything.



p.s. I always love comments but I have made a change on the way we comment. There are some places where anonymous comments are appropriate, but this blog can be a conversation and conversations require context so I want to know and I want others to know who is writing in response. If you want to comment but not for every one's eyes, just send me an email at will@uchurch.tv

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Still catching up writing about my vacation reading. I had a chance to read Max Lucado’s latest, Fearless, Imagine Your Life Without Fear. I have always liked Lucado’s writing but I have never considered it earth-shattering. However, I am willing to say that this book is important. Max Lucado has always had a way to make important theological truth accessible to everyone and he has landed on an exceptionally important and timely theological truth.

We are afraid of everything and even worse, we base our decisions and our very lives on this fear. Fear has become a commodity in our society with media and marketing playing to our deepest and darkest fears to get us to do things and buy things that might not otherwise match our values and worldview. And here is the worst part: each breath of fear is a mark of disobedience. The author reminds us that Christ’s most common command was against fear:

His most common command emerges from the “fear not” genre. The Gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, 21 urge us to “not be afraid” or “fear not” or “have courage” or “take heart” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common command, to love God and neighbor, appears on only eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he made more than any other was this: don’t be afraid. (pgs. 10-11)

This is a very relevant book to review on this weblog about discipleship because one of the biggest modern barriers to discipleship is fear. We cannot become what God is calling us to become when our lives are rooted in fear instead of love. If you want to live a life free from the spirit robbing specter of fear, give this one a read.



Thursday, October 8, 2009

Surprised By Hope

You might not like this book. I believe N.T. Wright to be one of the most gifted theologians of our time but he tends to make lots of people angry. Wright has found a shady spot between conservative evangelical Christianity and liberal mainline Christianity. It is a spot that tends to drive everyone crazy.

In Surprised By Hope, Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright takes on and amazingly hot topic: heaven and the afterlife. It doesn’t seem like a hot topic but it is. Here is the deal: it is not a hot topic as long as you don’t challenge people’s personal beliefs about it. And challenge personal beliefs, Wright does.

Every week, in Christian churches around the world, the people speak the words to the Apostles Creed,

I believe in the Holy Spirit;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

But, when you ask people about that “resurrection of the body” thing, you find some muddy answers. For Wright, this is not an odd addition to our belief; it is at the center of Christian hope and belief. Starting with an amazing contextual overview of the belief systems surrounding the time of Jesus, the author call us to consider what we believe about Jesus, his resurrection, ascension and final return and at the same time consider what we believe about our own duty as Christians, our own final destination after death and our own role in the present and coming Kingdom of God.

I am not going to review Wright’s work point by point for a few reasons. First, this book has been out a couple of years so there is plenty to read online in terms of reviews and rebuttals. Second, Wright is infinitely smarter than me, so his work can stand just fine without me meddling in it. Third, you really should just read the book. A fair warning about that: I believe that N.T. Wright writes in a readable, accessible way. However, this is some dense stuff. A lay person may need a theological dictionary to get through some terms like eschatological dualism and parousia. But even thought the text gets dense at times, the key messages are clear and readable.

I really think this may be required reading for Christians who are serious about understanding what they believe, especially in terms of life after death. Even if you set the book down disagreeing with Wright’s premises, it will force you to get a better handle on what you believe, how you live those beliefs out every day and how you share the hope within you with others.



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just One Question

If you live in my neighborhood, you may have seen me out a bit more lately. Our new dog, Goliath, needs lots of exercise so he and Violet get a long walk nearly every night. I love long walks, they give me time to reflect and to listen to music, two things that often go together. As I was walking last night with my iPod on shuffle (I am too lazy for playlists) Joan Osborne's "One of Us" came on. I really like the song though it's theology is a little fuzzy. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the first few lines of the song go like this:

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

In my combination of walking, reflecting, praying and listening to music, that last line really stuck. If you were faced with God in all His Glory, what would you ask if you had just one question? I played with the thought for the rest of the song and tried out a number of questions. What would you ask?

Here is what I came up with: "What do you want me to do?" I reflected on that for a bit and have been thinking about it ever since. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Now, of course, this doesn't work in every situation. If I meet God at the end of my life, it might be more like, "What's next?" but if I get a chance today to chat with the Almighty, I will stick with "What do you want me to do?"

Part of my theology and rationale behind how I do ministry is this idea that every person is created with a unique set of gifts. When those gifts are used for the glory of God, they bring great joy to the person and bring great goodness to the world. I truly believe that the more people who connect their gifts to the work of God, the more this world resembles the Kingdom of God. This is why we do The Pathway to Discipleship at University. It is a pathway because it leads somewhere. We invite everyone to meet Jesus, hear the message of Jesus and then begin to hear their mission from Jesus - what gifts has God given you and how is He calling you to put them to work in the church, in the community, in the world. In the mission phase of The Pathway to Discipleship, we are asking that one question, "What do you want me to do?" This is a question we can ask now. We don't have to wait until we are standing face to face with our creator. It is just a matter of prayer and discernment.

If you haven't asked the question yet, get connected to the pathway. These questions are often best asked in community where others can listen with you.



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Leaving Church

I took Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church with me on my mini-vacation to Western New York a couple of week's back. I am not going to post a thorough review because this book has been out long enough that there are plenty of great reviews on the web.

It may have been that I read a lot of the book on the front porch of my childhood home, overlooking the grape vineyards where I spent seemingly most of my childhood, but this book really went straight to my heart. Taylor is an exceptional author (that is an understatement) and she weaves a beautiful story of her call to ministry, her life in ministry and her eventual calling to leave ministry. In it, we hear the glorious joys of the life of a pastor and the many stresses, pitfalls and dark valleys of the life on ministry.

I want to go out on a limb and say this one ought to be required reading: for pastors - that they might hear their own joys and struggles reflected so beautifully and look for the warning signs that lead to the end of a life in the church; for those who love pastors - that they might get a glimpse inside the life, the parts you see and the part you don't see; for those who work with pastors - church leaders, pastor advisory committees, pastor parish relations committees, etc - that they might better walk alongside the one appointed to lead the church.

Taylor is not the only pastor who has left the church. The burnout rate for church pastors is ridiculous. Sometimes it is a right a good thing that a person moves into another season of life and ministry. But sometimes the time is not right but the life is overwhelming. We should all be part of avoiding that.

Even if you are not interested in all that, the book is fun, funny and poignant. Barbara Brown Taylor is a gift to Christ's church.



Monday, August 31, 2009

An Invitation to Prayer

In developing The Pathway to Discipleship, we included an opportunity to take core offerings and electives. Just like a college curriculum, we figured that some things were essential to the journey. But we also know that people have different needs and interests when assembling their own "toolkit" for being a disciple.

As we roll into year two of the pathway, we are beginning to officially roll out some of the electives. The next pathway elective offering is called, An Invitation to Prayer. This is a course that I developed some years ago. I developed it in response to the realization that many people who come to church, participate in the ministries of the church, even lead the church, have no prayer life to speak of. I realized that this was a failing of the church. How, where and when does the church expect new Christians to learn about prayer? Yes, we pray in worship and at other church functions, but where do we teach, explain or model a life of personal prayer and devotion?

An Invitation to Prayer is a two week class that covers some of the obstacles to prayer, takes a biblical look at prayer and offers practical models and methods to help you begin or deepen your conversation with God.

I want to recommend this course to you whether you need to begin, restart or reinvigorate your prayer life. I also want to recommend it for those who already have a deep and abiding prayer life, but want to gain some better language and tools to help those you minister to develop their own prayer life.

The course is just two Tuesday evenings, September 15 and 22 from 6:30 to 8:30. This is an elective in the Meeting Phase of The Pathway to Discipleship so there is no prerequisite. You can register by calling the Discipleship Office at University 210-696-1033. Or email Laura Mick, laura.mick@uchurch.tv.



Monday, August 24, 2009

The Work of Worship

One of the peculiarities of being a pastor is sitting backwards in worship. This isn’t the case in all churches but at University, in both of our worship spaces, the pastors sit up front looking out at the congregation. This means that, throughout the worship service, anyone who wants to can see my face. If you sit in worship, you can’t see your fellow worshipper’s faces, but you can see mine. My every smile, frown, etc. is right there for you to see. There is a flip side to this. From my perspective, at least in our south sanctuary, I can see your face too – every smile, frown, etc. Only the worship leaders and choir have this perspective and our choir doesn’t even usually have it for the whole service so they miss the most interesting part: the sermon.

In some Christian traditions, the congregation really takes responsibility for the sermon. Perhaps you have experienced this at a church where the congregation is visibly and even audible praying for the pastor, encouraging the pastor, calling upon the spirit, that the word might be heard. One of my esteemed colleagues told the story at my service of ordination of delivering a sermon early on in his career where a woman in the front row rocked back and forth as she prayed, out loud, “help him Jesus” through his whole sermon. (He admittedly needed the help.)

Our church word liturgy comes from a Greek word that literally means, “the work of the people.” When the pastor is praying, presiding over the Lord’s Table, giving thanks over the waters of baptism or preaching, she or he is representatively doing the “work of the people.” The pastor’s role is representative. The pastor is leading the people in the worship that we do together. As I have looked out over the last few Sundays during the sermon, while Pastor Charles has been preaching, I have seen a number of faces that appear to get that. They have seemed actively involved in the sermon – listening, reacting, even visibly encouraging the preacher. But there are many other faces that don’t express that. Lots of folks look bored, disconnected, distracted, sometimes even perturbed. Now I can not know what is behind those faces. I cannot judge their thoughts or even how engaged they really are, but if they are engaged, if they are rooting for the preacher, if they are praying that the word may connect, they are not, in their expression and demeanor sharing that with the preacher. Now, it is always possible that there are some folks that are bored, disconnected, distracted, tired, even perturbed. However, my guess it that most people just aren’t thinking about how their expressions, reactions and demeanor can affect the preacher. We are used to being anonymous observers. Television news people, sitcom starts and talk show hosts don’t see us. They just see the camera. (Those that do see people, like late night talk show hosts, have studio audiences that have been selected, warmed up and even coached to react to and support the hosts.) We don’t owe them any support. They don’t need it. But our preachers - they are doing our work; they are leading us in the worship of God. We need their words and they need our support, we are working together to praise our creator and hear a word back as the ancient scriptures are incarnated in our setting. Every smile, nod, frown, laugh, tear, wink and amen make that work a little better. It takes a little work, but our God is worth it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Preaching in the Big Room

Preaching is not one of my central duties at University but I always love it when I get the chance. I hadn't been paying attention but it seems that we are now offering videocasts of our North Campus praise service sermons. You can watch my message from Sunday the 9th in technicolor HD here:

This is just a part of a sermon series offered on both campuses. You can see and hear more of the series here:



Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pocket Guide to the Bible

Just finished Jason Boyett's latest in his Pocket Guide series, Pocket Guide to the Bible. This is another one of those books for which, I will write a favorable review and then receive unfavorable calls and emails because I gave it a favorable review.

Here is why I like it: For people who have never read the Bible and for people who have tried but never gotten very far, this is the most accessible overview ever written. It is also really, really, funny. (Really, its funny. Even if you are never going to read the Bible, you should read this. It is that funny.)

Let's face it, the Bible is really hard to read but Boyett gives the quickest, easiest, primer you will ever find. You get "biblicabulary" (glossary) of all the odd terms scripture assumes you know and a cast of characters so you won't confuse Elijah with Elisha. Then the author takes you on a tour of the narrative of the entire Bible in 30 pages. And not encyclopedia pages, pocket book pages. Okay, so he has to skip over a lot but you get a good picture of the overall story.

This is great for people who think the Bible is inaccessible because it helps them get started. It is also helpful for people who think that the Bible is just a useless collection of thees and thous and shalts and shalt nots. (Boyett even explains why all the translations read a little different why some say thee and others don't.)

So with that favorable stuff said, here is why people will get upset at me for liking it. First of all, you can't describe the entire Bible in 190 pages without taking some, well, liberties. You have to pick and choose what you are going to talk about and if your bent is comedy, then there are going to be some irreverent moments. Second, the Bible has some really odd stuff in it. When you shine a light upon it, it is pretty easy to make fun of. Some folks don't think that it is okay to make fun of the Bible. The author doesn't really have a problem with making fun of the Bible. Third, there is a little bit of language in the book that might offend some. It is totally PG but I know someone will bring it up.

Here is my recommendation. You should not read this book if you are: easily offended, think Bible jokes aren't funny, don't want to know "The Four Best Moments for Donkeys" in the Bible, or have ever considered sending me a letter of complaint. You might consider reading this book if are: having trouble getting started reading the Bible, convinced that the Bible is boring, not offended by The Simpsons (actually, if you have never been offended by the Simpsons you likely haven't watched every episode), or are just looking for something funny that might trick you into learning something.



Friday, August 7, 2009

The Pathway in The Encourager

With my apologies to those at The U who read The Encourager, I want to post my column from this month's edition which gives an overview of what is going on with The Pathway to Discipleship this fall.

After many years in Texas, I am still getting used to the less dramatic change of seasons. In Western New York, you could feel and smell the first hints of autumn and you knew that summer would soon end and things would change. There would soon be new school clothes, new school supplies, and eventually new classes, new friends and lots of new learning.

Even without the radical change in temperature, the change of season can draw us into new things. As adults, we can still embrace the possibility of a new year of learning and growing. I invite you to engage in the journey of lifetime through the Pathway to Discipleship. The pathway is simply a means to engage in the process of growing in our Christian walk, of beginning or continuing to look to Jesus that we might look more like Jesus.

The journey begins with u|connect, an introduction to life in The United Methodist Church, life here at University and to life in the pathway. There are two upcoming u|connect opportunities: August 9 and September 27th both at 5:00 p.m. This class is designed for those who are considering membership in the church or who have recently joined. But, I have been asked, “What about those who have been around the church for a while and want to really engage in becoming a disciple?” On September 20th at 5:00 p.m. we will offer u|re|member, a version of u|connect specially designed for current members of the church. Whether you have been here six months or were here for the building of the south sanctuary, this is a great opportunity to experience what all of our new members are experiencing and see how you might fit into the Pathway to Discipleship either as a student or a leader.

After u|connect, the journey continues in the Meeting Phase, where we ask the question “What is my need for Jesus and what do I do about?” Fall brings us three offerings in this phase. Jesus 101, which introduces us to Jesus through a look at his life as recorded in the gospel of John runs Wednesdays from October 7 through November 11. Alpha looks at many of the foundational truths and doctrines from scripture regarding Jesus and gives people a chance to discuss them with others in a small group format. It is offered Mondays for ten weeks September 14 through November 16. Finally on October 23-24, we will present Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics. This short retreat centers on some common questions in the hearts of those who still have some doubts and concerns in their hearts about the idea of a relationship with God including: “Is hating the Church a reason not to like Jesus?” “Will God really send non-Christians to hell?” “Hasn't science defeated faith?” and “Isn’t this just about getting a get-out-of-hell-free card?” Pastor Adam, our J.S.S. team and I recently completed our first retreat and it was an amazing experience. We are looking forward to being part of the experience again in October.

If you have completed the Meeting Phase, fall is a great time to continue the journey of discipleship in the Message Phase where we ask the question “What is the news about Jesus and what do I do about it?” Our premier offering in the Meeting Phase is Disciple Bible Study. Disciple I is a study that moves from the very beginning of creation in Genesis to the compelling images of hope in the book of Revelation. There are 17 sessions on the Old Testament in the fall and 17 on the New Testament in the spring. This program is more than Bible study; it is a transforming small-group experience. Because of the small-group nature of Disciple, space is limited. We are currently offering sessions Sunday, Monday and Wednesday evenings and Monday morning. For those who aren’t ready to commit to the long-term, consider Invitation to the Bible, a day long retreat that offers a lightening-fast tour through the Bible, plus a chance to learn about some of the tools and methods that will help you to read and study the Bible on your own. If you want to read and study the Bible but just don’t know where to start, join us on Saturday, September 19.

It has not been quite a year since we officially rolled out the pathway. We are excited that we already have people entering the third phase, the Mission Phase where we ask, “What is my call from Jesus and what do I do about it?” We have people engaged in Coach’s Directed Study exploring their calling through Bible study with one of our coaching pastors. We are sending people on The Walk to Emmaus to hear what God may be calling them to next. And in August, we launch the final piece of our pathway with The Pastor’s Academy led by Directing Pastor Charles Anderson. Rev. Anderson will lead this group through study and discernment about the principles of spiritual leadership. I have had the opportunity to view the syllabus for the course and it looks amazing. It is high expectation but it will be very high return.

This is an amazing season in the life of University United Methodist Church and fall is a great time to get connected. We are already seeing the fruits of The Pathway to Discipleship. New members are becoming committed, engaged disciples of Jesus Christ and that is why we are here. Perhaps you are ready to begin the same journey. Perhaps it is a road you have already walked and it is time to go back to walk alongside someone else. To get started, contact Laura Mick, Elizabeth Mooy-Fink or Michael Andres in the Discipleship Office.



Thursday, August 6, 2009

Some Random Thoughts on Church, Social Media and The Web

I have been reading a bunch on trends in the church relating to the use of different means of communication, especially social media. I thought I would throw them all up in one blog post.

First, we talk a lot in my classes about our own ability to share the gospel, especially our own witness. So, what does that look like in the new twitterverse of 140 characters? Check out the post on the blog Fallen and Flawed that challenged bloggers to summarize the Gospel in 10 words or less. Now such an exercise can always risk trivializing the message, but some of these folks did an amazing job.

Second, I have been saying for years that the church is always about one paradigm shift behind. In media terms, we are usually riding the back side of the wave of what is cool or "culturally relevant." It is not the church's goal is to be cool or "culturally relevant." The Gospel holds its own. But sometimes we try anyway and are unaware that we are behind. (By the way, when I say "we" here I am not referring specifically to University where we tend to be a little bit closer to the wave.) Many churches discovered PowerPoint about the time many students and business folks were getting sick of it, put up websites when blogs were taking over, put up blogs when facebook was taking over and are getting on facebook in the world of twitter.

You can't really blame churches anymore. Now it moves so fast not even corporations with giant marketing and IT departments can't keep up. Check out this article in The Guardian out of the U.K. that shows how the hippest of the hip, the 15-24 year olds are abandoning social media. (This is corroborated by some studies in the U.S. but this is more comprehensive article.) Where are they all going? No one knows yet. But likely we will figure it out about the time they leave.

It's SO over: cool cyberkids abandon social networking sites at guardian.co.uk

One last piece in the random collection. Check out this post by Paul Steinbrueck at ourchurch.com.

Why Willow Creek and Saddleback are Losing Influence While North Point and LifeChurch.tv are Gaining Influence

The author asserts that giants like Willow Creek and Saddleback are losing the impact and influence over the national evangelical community and being replaced by new key players largely based on their primary communication mediums. Steinbrueck points to a shift from Willow Creek and Saddleback's focus on the spoken sermon, the written book and the attended conference to North Point and Life Church's multimedia, blogs and social networks.

Okay, that is a lot to digest. Give it a look and post some comments.



Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Finally getting around to posting a little review of Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. This may seem like another odd choice for a discipleship pastor but it has a lot more to do with my role than you might think. Nudge is an introduction to "choice architecture" for novices. We all make choices every day and frankly, we all make some pretty bad ones. We decide poorly about our health, our money, our time, our resources. There are ways that we can help people make better choices. At first read, that sounds like manipulation or coercion but that assumes that there is someway to make any choice neutral. There are always forces, good and bad, that affect the decisions we make. Why would we not want to uses good forces to help people make good decisions. According to Thaler and Sunstein, a nudge, "is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives." (p. 6) In other words, a nudge helps someone to possibly make a better decision about something without taking their freedom to make a different decision off the table.

Maybe this makes more sense when I put it into my work. At University, we believe that Christianity is about more than just make a decision and profession, it is about a lifelong journey of discipleship. We want people who join the church to engage in this journey. However, we know historically that most people will choose to remain on the sidelines, attending church semi-regularly. We know that some will eventually lose interest and drop out. Some of the people who remain on the sidelines or even drop out make an intentional decision. Most however are, at first, truly committed to growing in their faith. But they get busy and distracted and fall off track. We know that being in the pathway, being in Bible study, learning about their faith is good for them. They know that it is good for them. They need a "nudge" that will help them to stick to what they want to do and what is good for them. As a discipleship staff, we struggle with how to do that without being coercive or manipulative. It is truly each person's choice but we want to do what we can to help them make smart choices.

You might enjoy this book even if you are not trying to make systems that help make disciples. If you like the genre of pop behavioral economics: books like Freakonomics, The Tipping Point, etc. or are into looking at the forces that shape modern public policy you might enjoy the read, especially if you like economist humor.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not Just Membership

Take a look at this blog post from Eric Bryant at Mosaic, a church in L.A.

It is another way of talking about the philosophy behind our Pathway to Discipleship. They have an interesting approach. Anyone may join the community but there is a narrow path to become part of their volunteer staff. This is slightly different than what we do. We encourage all our members to engage in the Pathway to Discipleship and it seems to me that eventually we would expect our leaders to either have been through the pathway or engaged in it. We already have conditions for leadership based around worship attendance, planned giving and small group participation. The requirement of active engagement in the life of a disciple would be the logical next step.



Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting Things Done

People make fun of me a lot for my stack of index cards. They come out of my pocket at every meeting and you can see me walking through the halls of the campus sorting them, reading them and writing them. You can make fun of me all you want, they keep me from going crazy. The cards are one part of a system that is often referred to as GTD or "Getting Things Done." Not everyone who uses the system uses cards or uses them the same way but they represent an integral part of the system.

I post this now because I am finally getting around to reviewing Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. This may seem a strange book for a discipleship pastor to read and it may seem even stranger for this to appear on a blog about discipleship. However, productivity is an important part of my life as a pastor for two reasons. First of all, it is a stewardship issue. God has given me time and talents and I am responsible for them. Being productive allows me to utilize my time well and maintain boundaries that allow me to also spend time with my family, time in prayer, and time being rejuvenated. Second of all, a systematic approach to productivity allows me to make better decisions about what gets done. Realistically as a pastor, I could just sit in my office and let work come to me. That could keep me busy about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. But would that be the work God is calling me to do? Let me be clear, Getting Things Done is not a spiritual book. However, if you consider your time and talents gifts from God and want to treat them in a way that honors God, a little organization can be a very spiritual thing.

In the first chapter of the book, "A New Practice for a New Reality," Allen sets down the background for his system, the idea that work has changed. For many people, "in the last half of the twentieth century, what constituted 'work' in the industrialized world has transformed from assembly-line, make and move-it kinds of activity to what Peter Drucker has so aptly termed 'knowledge work.'" (p. 5) The problem is that most of us were never trained in how to function in this kind work world where our work no longer has clear boundaries and "there are no edges to most of our projects." (p. 5) For many of us, pastors included, our work is not clearly defined and we never feel like we have the time or resources to get it done. A lot of us have "project manager" buried somewhere in our job description. We are given a general idea of the work before us but often have trouble clearly defining our goals. Once we do, it can be difficult to break them into the appropriate steps. This causes us to fall behind or invest a ton of time trying to reach a destination we haven't defined.

David Allen gets at this problem in a way that works for me. He has developed a system to help get all of the stuff of our work organized in such a way that it can be handled. One of the biggest hindrances to knowledge work it that our brains are crammed with all these things that we are working on or that we need to remember or that we need to get done. Allen's system gets all of those things are out of our heads and into writing so that our brains are free to think. The system also takes unmanageable projects and makes them manageable by helping us to see the next steps. Getting Things Done has a nice bit of theory but it really gets down to business and tells us exactly how to do this. And you can use the system without a fancy day planner or Palm Pilot. Mine works with file folders, index cards and a calendar.

I am not going to write much more about the book because this is a discipleship blog, except to say a few things. First, this has really helped me. I have tried numerous productivity and organizational methods over the years and they have not stuck. I started this system before I even read the book. The book just helped me clarify and simplify my system. So I have been with the system pretty much since I came to University and it has been amazing. It may help you too. I meet so many people who are overwhelmed. Some of this comes from not being able to get a handle on all the things we have to do. Once we get a handle on them, we make better decisions about what we do with the gift of time that God gives us and we usually find we have more time for the things God is calling us to.

And you can keep making fun of my index cards. I am used to it.



Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Times They are a Changing... Slowly

I was pretty surprised to the response to my very unscientific poll about how news travels. When asked where they heard the news about the death of Michael Jackson, I would have expected blog readers to be heavily biased to online sources and social media. In the limited responses I received, television and "someone told me in person" beat out sources like twitter and facebook and text messaging. The most interesting thing was the number of people who didn't vote because I didn't offer them the correct option. As a person who spent 11 years in the radio business, I surprisingly left off radio. (And using blogger polls you can't change the options once the polling starts.) I stopped counting the number of people who left comments on the blog, comments on my facebook page, replies on twitter and the number of people who called me, emailed me or spoke to me directly to say, "I heard about it on the radio." Fascinating. Time to hang up the blog and get back on the air.



Monday, June 29, 2009

Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics

I have been at University just over a year and we have been gradually rolling out all the pieces of the Pathway to Discipleship. (For a review of what the pathway is all about, check out 'How Goes the Pathway, Part I, Part II and Part III.) This has been, at times, a grueling but always amazingly rewarding process. This past weekend we moved one step closer to completing the pathway with our pilot of Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics. In pathway lingo, this is an immersion event in the meeting phase. In other words, it is designed to give people a chance to get away and ask the question, "What is my need for Jesus and what I am supposed to do about it?" Our initial description of the experience (written before we offered it) was this:

This is a two-day experience designed particularly for those who still have questions about the meaning and relevance of Jesus. It is not designed to force people into a relationship with God but to allow room for questions.

Adam Knight and I designed and wrote the material for this course. The event has really been designed for a retreat setting, something off-site, something perhaps more appealing to people who still aren't sure they are into the church thing. For the first one, so that we could give it a try, we stayed on site using our new youth worship space and cafe. The working version of the offering revolves around four questions:
  1. Is hating the church a reason not to like Jesus?
  2. Will God really send non-Christians to hell?
  3. Hasn't science defeated faith?
  4. Isn't this just about getting a get-out-of-hell-free card?
The talks are combined with lay witnesses who talk about their own experience of the faith and table discussion time where participants can talk and share with each other about what they are hearing, the questions they still have, and the struggles they face.

I want to say, overall, Adam Knight, the lay folks that help to lead and I are really pleased with the first time out of the gate. I think it was a good experience and I think we learned a lot about how to make it better the next time.

A big thanks to our lay leaders and all of the table leaders, helpers and staff that helped to pull this off. We are looking forward to the next one in the late fall. If you are interested, call the discipleship office or email me and we will get you signed up.



Friday, June 26, 2009

The Times They are a Changing

For many people, the death of Michael Jackson was the first major news event they heard about through social media. Early adopters of myspace, facebook and twitter will likely claim that there was something before this but I believe that this may be the biggest story since twitter and facebook really hit their stride.

The reason I am posting this on my weblog about discipleship has to do with the fundamental shift that is happening in how we receive information and how fast we receive information. It was not too many years ago when you would hear the news about the death of a celebrity through the evening news, the morning paper, a phone call, or through a face to face conversation. As you will see from the poll on the right side of the blog, there are a lot more ways to hear about things these days. (And I couldn't list them all.)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ originally spread simply through word of mouth. The letters of Paul were the first written media regarding the Gospel but even those were read and shared in a community setting so the news was still spread orally and face to face. With the advent of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into common languages (something other than Latin), for the first time, people could learn and read about Jesus on their own. Flash way forward to today and people can not only read and learn about Jesus, they can "go to church" online, all alone, in their homes.

Please take the poll on the right side of the blog. It is not scientific. I am sure someone else will do that. It just helps us to think about how our world is changing. The Gospel will always remain the same, but it continues to speak to a changing world.



p.s. If I missed a possible answer on the poll, feel free to post it as a comment to this post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oh My

(Thanks to Matthew Paul Turner (@JesusNeedsNewPR) for the tweet with the link!)

One of my favorite prayer sites on the web is Sacred Space, a contemplative prayer site run by the Irish Jesuits. I was there this morning contemplating the daily scripture.

Matthew 7:6

'Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

So that scripture has been rolling around in my head. It has always perplexed me a bit. I guess I know what it means, but exactly what does it mean. Does it mean this?

Lookin' Good For Jesus @blog.jasonboyett.com




Monday, June 15, 2009

Hate is Such a Strong Word

I just finished 10 Things I Hate About Christianity, Working Through the Frustrations of Faith, by Jason T. Berggren. Somehow this never made it onto the “What Will is Reading Now” list so it has to go straight to the “What Will Read Last” list. My friend Billy put this book on my radar so I ordered it not really knowing what to expect. Judging a book by its cover, my initial assumption was that this might be a book with a negative take on the Christian life and faith. Instead it is an apologetic piece dealing with some of the common misconceptions and hang-ups people have about Christianity. Given that, it works out pretty well. Berggren tackles some pretty tough questions of Christianity like faith, prayer, the Bible, sin, rules and hell with some pretty plain language. He shares how he has come to terms with some parts of the faith through his own struggles and his insight is extremely helpful. Occasionally an oversimplification would make the pastoral theologian in my cringe but I think sometimes we have to break things into pieces we can swallow. For instance, in Chapter 8, the author, when writing about why bad things happen to good people, pronounces, “So the answer is this: bad things happen because some people choose to do bad things.” The line made me cringe, but then the author went on to do a really clear job of explaining the brokenness of creation and how things won’t ever be quite right until God restores us.

Where this book got interesting for me was chapter 10 where the author basically claims that the #10 thing he hates about Christianity is Christians. Now, I can see where some Christians may take offense at this but if you really love Jesus and you want more people to experience life in Christ, take a deep breath and read. He takes some pretty hard shots at some of the actions and attitudes of Christians that turn people away from Jesus.

Okay, this book is by no means a masterful, apologetic treatise on Christianity. It isn’t meant to be. If you are looking to wrestle with deep theological questions, I have some other suggestions. But if you are person who is having a little trouble being a Christian, is hung up on some things that are keeping you from being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ or if you are looking for some clear language to talk with people who have some internal road blocks keeping them separated from God, the book is worth reading.



A little more on the amendments

I wish I had time to write full annotated notes to the amendment voting results but it is not likely going to happen. Here are a link that may help:

Analysis of amendments by Rev. Kim Cape - Executive Director New Church
Development and Transformation, Jay Brim - Conference lay leader

Open that in one window and the results in another:

Constitutional Amendment Results

Now you should be able to wade through what the results mean. Also remember this: the votes from the Southwest Texas Conference will be tallied with the results from all the other annual conferences with two thirds of the total voting membership in all the conferences required to pass the amendments.

Hope this helps. I will keep my eyes open for some more analysis and pass it along.

Constitutional Amendments

The results of the voting on the constitutional amendments during the Southwest Texas Annual Conference have been posted on the conference website:


This is just the raw data with no links to the amendments themselves. I will either post an explanation or a link to an explanation (if someone writes it before me.)



Thursday, June 11, 2009

More thoughts on twitter...

This is the most thoughtful article on the theology of twitter I have seen yet.

I would love to read your comments!



Saturday, June 6, 2009

The constitutional amendments have been voted upon and the results will be available next week. All over but closing worship.
I have spoken on the floor twice at this conference. I need to shut up while I am ahead.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Congratulations to The U's Leslie and Kit Tomlinson as well as all the members of this year's class of ordinands.  Leslie was ordained by Bishop Jim Dorff as and Elder in Full Connection and Kit was ordained as a Deacon in full connection.  If you would like more information about what that means, read one of my previous posts:

Also congratulations are in order for the latest commissioning class, those commissioned to provisional membership and licensed to serve in ministry until their ordination as elder or deacon.

This is my first year watching the service of ordination as and Ordained Elder and it is a new experience.  I commented to one of my colleagues that the first ordination service I attended I knew no one on the stage.  Now, after a few years, I know nearly all the ordinands and pretty much everyone participating in the service.  It is a great feeling to become more and more part of the family of the annual conference.

Back to business in the morning.  Lots to do before noon!


At the ordination service watching Bishop Dorff preach.

Live from Annual Conference

Finally found a wifi hotspot in the building.  While I am blogging most of the conference is meeting in dialog sessions on issues like addressing poverty and starting and revitalizing churches.   We have been in business sessions this morning and this afternoon and will be back in session at 4:15.  We have a few things to cover and then we will break for the night and prepare for the service of ordination.  I wish I had a chance to blog yesterday while the Bishop's address to the conference was still fresh in my mind.  I will try to write more about it later.


Sorry about not posting a full update last night. I got in late. Just heard report from New Church Development. Next midday worship then back to business.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Conference Lay Leader Jay Brim giving his address. I haven't heard him mention twitter yet. @swtxumc

Annual Conference - Day One Wrap Up

Opening day of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference ended with some pretty amazing worship with music from The U's Mark Swayze and the Mark Swayze Band.  Bishop Garcia de Ochoa delivered a spirit-filled message on the common call to ministry we share as clergy and laity.  This was the traditional Memorial Service and Opening Eucharist which happens on the first night of the conference.  But, for me, it had a noticeably different feel.  When, towards the end of communion, the band launched into Jesus Paid it All and the congregation one by one came to their feet, the feel inside the Selena Auditorium changed.  Communion music, especially at the large conference gatherings can largely background music, but by the end of the song everyone had spontaneously joined together in song.  It was cool.

The rest of the day was filled with conference business.  As I blogged yesterday, Pastors Kit and Leslie were elected into full connection, their final step before ordination on Friday.  We also had our first informal discussion on the many constitutional amendments.  I guess I hadn't been paying attention, because I was surprised to learn that we won't be discussing or voting on the amendments until Saturday morning.  That is good news in that it might keep some delegates from leaving early.  However, it will not allow very much time for the body of the conference to discuss and vote.  Perhaps we assume that everyone will have already made up their mind by then.

If you want more information on the amendments, you can find it here:

This morning, there will be small communion services led by each of our District Superintendents followed by the first official business session.  I will let you know how it goes.