Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Goes the Pathway?

In the first month of 2009, I am working on our annual review/previews with my staff. These are University’s way of checking in on how we felt we did in the previous year and making plans for the coming year. I thought this might be a good time to reflect, in this space, on how our overall systematic approach to making disciples is working.

I may return to this stream to present some numeric and narrative results. We are starting to get far enough in to see how the system is actually impacting lives and that is what it is all about. But, for now, I am going to focus on how things are working from a practical perspective. In other words, what parts of the program are running and seem to be working and what parts need some additional work?

Let’s break it down by phases in the system. I will cover Phase 1 today and post on the other phases at another time.

Phase 1 – Meeting – “What is my ­need for Jesus and what am I supposed to do about it?”

Each phase is designed to offer a choice of: a Bible study, a small group experience or an immersion event. The good news is two out of three are operational. Our small group experience, Alpha, has been a successful ministry for some time here at University. So really, that part was done and continues to run well. Because of the emphasis on the system and the expectation of a high number of people running through the system we will offer a slightly different version of Alpha in the spring that we are calling Alpha: Pop Culture. It is the same basic material, but framed through common questions asked about Christianity. Regular Alpha (or, we say, Alpha Classic) will continue to run in the fall. This allows us to keep the material fresh and keep our table leaders interested. Alpha is not a course we created. It is offered through AlphaUSA and taught all around the world.

A course that was created at University is our Bible study offering for the phase, Jesus 101. Rev. Adam Knight created and leads the course which introduces people to Jesus Christ through a six-week study of John’s Gospel. I am excited that, last night, this course began its second run with another decent-sized class. It is a lecture and discussion class and the feedback from the first run was excellent.

The last part of this phase to be rolled out will be the immersion event. It is called Jesus for Seekers and Skeptics and it will be first offered June 26th and 27th. 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. I look forward to the pilot offering. I had really hoped to have this up and running as the system was rolled out, but it takes an incredible amount of work to put these together and just keeping University moving day-to-day tends to tax even the coaching pastors to their limits.

I will post soon on phases 2 and 3. These are exciting as, the system is working and people are rolling into the later phases.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beyond Relevance

I have been meaning to post for a while about a weblog called Beyond Relevance. The website started with a fanstastic video, "What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church?" You can see the video at the website or search for it you youtube. The video is cringe-worthy as it makes us think about how we might look through the eyes of someone who doesn't know the church and doesn't know Jesus. The weblog's author Richard L. Reising has continued to write some amazing posts on how we can do a better job of presenting and marketing our churches and how we can me more aware of the things that we think are effective that are actually stumbling blocks.

I write about this weblog today because his latest post is exceptional. In "The Toilet Stall Effect," Reising, quite graphically, calls us to look at our churches from "the seat" of newcomers and the people that we proclaim to be reaching out to. Check it out and come back to this space to post comments.

"The Toilet Stall Effect" at Beyond Relevance



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Websites I "can't" live without

I have been meaning to write a post on some of the web based tools that have become part of my daily routine. The web is full of a world of distraction and time wasting diversions. But, it is also full of some amazing and powerful tools that I find can make us more productive and more connected. I remember my first several computers that were basically stand-alone devices. Eventually they had modems, but they were just used to occasionally connect to the outside world. Now, for many - including me, our computers are simply a portal to the outside world. When the Internet is down, my computer sits idle.

As an early adopter of technology, I often spend time experimenting with new tools to see if they are a way to connect us and assist us or if they are simply another diversion that keeps us from doing what we really need to be doing. For me this is a spiritual and theological thing. I feel called to do some pretty specific things in the service of God and God's church. I believe that I should take advantage of whatever tools I can that help me do that better. Here are some of the sites that continue to be worth my time.

Facebook - - I know a lot of people see this is a just a waste of time but I am convinced that people will look back at sites like facebook (and myspace which I believe has lost its luster - but it did have its day) and see them as a paradigm shift for society. Although there is always a danger of online relationships taking time away from the face-to-face intimacy we are designed to share, I believe that social networking sites have the ability to bring us together in whole new ways. Unlike some users, I do not use facebook to make new friends, I use it to stay connected and reconnect with friends I have made over my entire lifetime. For most, gone are the days of growing up and living out our years in the same town with the same friends. Because of the number of times I have moved, compounded by the number of times my friends have moved, I have friends all around the United States and as far away as China. Facebook allows me to stay connected with friends, not just from different geographic regions, but also from distinct spheres of time from my life. On facebook, I live in a community where I interact with my childhood friends, my college friends, friends from my career in radio, my time in seminary, the three churches and have served at, etc. What is amazing is to begin to see the created web of interconnectivity when I begin to see that friends from one sphere are connected to those of another through something besides me. (Perhaps through Kevin Bacon.) All this is to say, if you are not a facebook user, you don't necessarily need to become one, but realize this is more than another waste of time - for good or for bad it is world changing.

Blogger - - This weblog is hosted by blogger, which doesn't much matter. I could have it hosted by a number of providers. I like blogger because it is free and it works for the way I publish. The amazing thing is this, through hosts like blogger and other free providers, anyone in the world who has access to a computer can publish words that can be read by anyone else in the world (with some exceptions due to government filtering - which is getting harder and harder for governments to do.) That is amazingly powerful.

Twitter - - I can't tell you how many people have told me, "I just don't get twitter." I understand, but I do get twitter and so do millions of others. Twitter allows you to express yourself: what you are doing, how you are feeling, your random thoughts, in 140 characters or less. It also allows you to follow other users who are doing the same. Who you follow is completely up to you. I don't know that I can yet explain the power of twitter. I thought is was a generational thing, but people are starting to break that barrier. The New York Times' David Pogue recently wrote about the site, if it is still a mystery to you, you might find his article helpful:

Twittering Tips for Beginners

Yammer - - Business, corporate and organizational users have begun to see the power of twitter for communicating but have found that it is to cluttered for that use. So, the birth of a new tool, yammer. Yammer is basically twitter for organizations. You have to have a corporate email address to post and follow others in your organization. If you don't "get" twitter, yammer seems even more strange. For twitter fans, it is a bold new day for communication. Some of the more techy folks at University UMC are experimenting and we like the results.

Gmail - - It is hard for me to remember what life was like before anyone could have their own email address without even having their own computer.

Toggl - - Now I have reached the level of the obscure sites that most people will never need or want. I meticulously track my work time. I oversee a tremendous amount of ministry and as I try to prioritize where I will focus my efforts, it is incredibly important for me to know where my time is going. At a church like University, you can spend a whole week just responding and reacting and never accomplishing any of what you might consider the most important things. Toggl does it for me on the web. God gives me 24 hours every day and I have to decide how to spend it. The more productively I spend it in the hours I dedicate to ministry, the more fruitful my ministry and the more abundant my time spent with my family, my friends and my God.

Simply Noise - - An amazing white noise generator. It just helps me concentrate, that's all.

There are many more powerful and important websites that I find my way to: youtube, wikipedia, Biblegateway, google, google reader, The Upper Room. The ones I wrote about today are just a few. What sites can you not live without?



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

NT Survey

The blog is sparse because all my writing time is going into my new course: New Testament Survey: The Message of Jesus. I really had fun putting together the study guide and I am having even more fun writing the lectures and group exercises. This is actually the first full course I have taught since coming to University and the first course I have written for the Pathway to Discipleship. The pathway makes is much easier to focus a course. This course is designed for the second phase of the pathway, the "message" phase, which focuses the news about Jesus. There are so many angles from which you can approach surveying the entire New Testament, some more helpful than others. The focus for this one is clearly helping people to understand the message of Jesus and helping them hear what they are called to do about it.
I am writing the lectures and putting together the exercise for this course from week to week. I decided to do it that way so I could evaluate each week if things are working. This is an introductory class and there is always a tricky balance of not going too deep and losing folks while giving enough depth to keep it interesting.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

College Football, Scripture and Google

Below is a link to a great article from Brian Lowery at Out of Ur the leadership weblog at Christianity Today. My wife Alisha is a Florida Gator fan and so was watching the BCS Championship game the other night and pointed out to me that Tim Tebow had changed up his under eye scripture and had chosen to share John 3:16 with the national audience. (In the past he has often worn Phil 4:13.) We had a discussion about the choice of the verse, but Lowery put a whole lot more thought into it. It is worth a read. Feel free to come back to this page to post your thoughts.

Biblical Literacy Reaches New Low
Why "John 3:16" being the top Google search isn't something to celebrate.



Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review: Jim & Casper Go to Church

I just read Jim & Casper Go to Church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper. This has been on my wish list for a while but I didn’t read it until our directing pastor was cleaning out his library and put it on my desk. The basic premise of the book is this: Jim Henderson, who spent years as a pastor but is now running an evangelism organization, paid Matt Casper, a self-proclaimed atheist to visit some of America’s biggest and best known churches (and a couple you may not have heard of.) The result is quite insightful. If you have been around church for a while, you may find some of Matt Casper’s insights stinging if not offensive. You may want to argue with him when you think he has missed the point. But, that is sort of the point. When new people are visiting our churches, for them, perception equals reality. For instance, we can truly be the most friendly people in the world and we can be doing everything we can to make people feel welcome and comfortable. But, if someone comes to our church and leaves with a feeling that we are unfriendly and unwelcoming, it doesn’t really matter if it is true, does it?

The one thing that left me wanting while reading the book was that I would have loved to hear more from Matt (the atheist) and less from Jim (the Christian.) It is not that Jim’s insights weren’t useful, but the raw expressions coming from Matt were incredibly helpful. Matt comes across as a pretty easy to like atheist (if you find that surprising, you ought to spend more time with atheists, they are not all militant, anti-God people.) He knows a lot more about the Christian faith than many Christians He lacks some clarity of understanding of some of the key doctrines of the faith, and this causes him to make some judgments on what he experiences, but we shouldn’t fault him for that. First of all, he is not a Christian and second of all, an awful lot of Christians lack clarity of understanding of some of the key doctrines of the faith. What is most compelling is that, at times, he comes across as a seeker. I almost felt like that if someone could overcome his objections, he might take another look. Most of his objections seemed to be about relevance. In other words, he seemed to be asking, “What differences does all this make? How does it change people? How does it change the world? If it doesn’t, what is the point?” Good questions.

This book is not perfect but should be required reading for all Christians especially those who think they know what will bring unchurched people into the life of faith. We tend to make decisions about how to bring people into relationship with Christ based on what would work for us. This book at least stirs that pot a bit.
If you read the book or have already read it, your comments are always welcome.



Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thoughts on Gaza from Adam Hamilton

If you have questions about what is going on in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, you might want to read Adam Hamilton's latest post:

Thoughts on the Gaza Strip - Adam Hamilton at Seeing Gray



New Year's Resolution

If you made a New Year's Resolution about reading the Bible and/or praying every day, one of my favorite recommendations to help you get started is The Upper Room Daily Devotional. It gives you a little bit of scripture and a brief devotional piece, written each day by a different author. It is a great place to get started and you may find it becomes a permanent part of your daily discipline. Today is a great day to start with some great thoughts on my favorite subject: grace.

"Not Fair" Today's Devotion at The Upper Room