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.