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,



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

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

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