Friday, April 23, 2010

Back to Reality - Is That Always a Good Thing?

In the weeks after LCI 2010 I have committed to continue to pray for the people who invested the time and energy to come to UUMC for a few days to think, learn, pray, dream and share. A piece of scripture keeps coming to mind. Luke 4:42-44:

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

At this point, Jesus is in Capernaum and has been healing and casting out demons. The people of Capernaum would have been quite happy for Jesus to set up shop and keep doing that. There was certainly no limit to the amount of people who needed healing. But Jesus, history's clearest and most compelling visionary, knew that this was not the focus of his mission and ministry.

While none of us should claim to have the lightening clarity of vision that Jesus had (he was, after all, the Son of God) we can pray that we have moments and seasons that there is clarity of vision, that we do have a glimpse of what we are supposed to be doing in the name of Jesus Christ and in the service of the Kingdom. Sometimes that happens when we go to a conference or have some other time away to think, learn, pray, dream and share. But here is what often happens:

We go back to Capernaum.

And when we get back, people are still lined up waiting for us to do what they expect.

This is where things get sticky and tricky for church leaders. We can't just ignore human need. We can't go back to our churches and say, "who cares what these people think they need, I have bigger plans!" But that is not what Jesus did. Jesus was clear about the larger human need. Jesus was clear that, as much as the people of Capernaum needed healing, the world needed saving.

I said in the closing words of LCI that it is my prayer that everything that we learned and shared would not just end up in another binder in the bottom of another file cabinet. These are the critical days. Can we find a way to be a clear about the purpose we were sent for? Can we manage to do this while people continue to line up demanding us to fulfill the purpose they think we were sent for? Can we hold these two in tension? Can we be good pastors and leaders and care for the immediate need around us while keeping our eyes set on the larger vision and purpose that God has set before us? If we can, God will continue to do amazing and powerful things in our churches and communities.

Feel free to post comments with your own struggles and victories.



Friday, April 16, 2010

What a Week

My brain is pretty much fried after a week of LCI. But what an absolutely amazing experience! What made the experience powerful for me was having the chance to share about the vision for ministry we have been implementing over the last two years with pastors and church leaders from many different contexts. It is pretty easy to lose perspective when you stay inside the walls of your own ministry context too long. The frosting on the cake for the week was being able to do this while learning even more from some of the most gifted minds in ministry. Will Mancini's pre-conference workshop on Monday affirmed the clarity of our vision and challenged me to find continued clarity and do a better job of sharing the vision. It was even powerful to hear Pastors Ryan and Charles share the about the vision map and pathway in the keynote. I live in the trenches of that every day and to hear it presented with clarity and from a distance was great. From then on, the keynotes just seemed to sing harmonies. We heard the same big idea from many different perspectives. If you didn't hear at the conference that you need some level of intentionality, some clarity in what you are doing, some ability to articulate your vision and mission and method for carrying it out, you likely weren't paying attention.

One clear learning experience for me was on the periphery of the conference. A significant number of our University "red-shirt" volunteers came up to me, the staff and other pastors throughout the week to ask about our pathway to discipleship. This is exciting and clarifying. It is exciting because it is causing a new wave of interest in the way we make disciples. It is clarifying because we have been talking about this for two years now and active participants in the life of the church are still just hearing about it for the first time. It makes it clear to me we still have a long way to go in articulating our vision to our own people. And from my experience at LCI, it is a worthy vision to articulate.

If you have any comments or questions about the conference or the Pathway to Discipleship, feel free to post them below.



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Welcome to LCI

If you have found your way here during the Large Church Initiative (Living Congregations Institute) here are some links to blog posts and other resources that speak to our Pathway to Discipleship and other aspects of our ministry at University United Methodist Church. - a description of the pathway on our website. - Directing Pastor Charles Anderson has posted to first half of the keynote on his blog. We will post the entire keynote soon.

There are lots of posts on this blog about the pathway. Here are some specifically about it:

Our Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres, did a guest post on this blog about our pathway to membership:

You can read about the newest addition to our pathway, The Forum, in our latest encourager:

I will keep looking through our stuff and post anything else I find.



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blogging toward LCI in Photos Part IV

Large Church Initiative 2010 is almost here. Time to post a few more photos and write about a few more reasons to come and join us.

Our Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres, is crunching a few more numbers to show to effectiveness of our Pathway to Discipleship. He can show you how our pathway is more than just another program. We are seeing its fruitfulness in transforming lives by raising expectations and providing a foundation for people to begin a true journey of discipleship. If you want to learn what we are doing to help people "look to Jesus to look more like Jesus" don't miss the first keynote with our Directing Pastor, Charles Anderson and then find your way to these workshops:

A-03 Creating and Implementing a Discipleship Core Curriculum - This is where we will talk about the nuts and bolts about creating a system that puts people in a place where they can meet Jesus, learn the message of Jesus and begin the claim their own mission from Jesus. I will share some of the specific architecture of the pathway and Michael Andres will share some data to show its effectiveness.

C-07 Resources for Systematic Discipleship - Our out|reach pastor, Adam Knight will join me for this one where we will talk more specifically about some of the components of the pathway. Some of these we created, others are commercially available. We will spend most of our time looking at the unique way we use these resources to help people move forward in their journey of discipleship. We will also open up the hood a little more on the pathway and talk about some of the ways we help people maintain forward momentum.

D-07 u|connect: One Church's Model of Assimilation - Don't miss this one! Michael Andres will talk about the most essential part of the pathway - how we get people into it in the first place.

If you have some other people coming with you, you may also want to check out:

A-01 Alpha: A Practical Introduction to Christianity - Adam Knight will give a more in-depth look at one piece of our core curriculum.

D-04 The Pastor's Cabinet + Pastor's Academy: Models for Mentoring Leaders - Directing Pastor Charles Anderson talks about a core offering from the "Mission Phase" of the pathway.

How about some other photos?

Company is coming, so we are sprucing the place up. Our narthex is getting some fresh paint.

And here is where some of our keynotes and our closing worship service will take place, our North Campus Worship Center. (We are also eating there a bunch of times.)

If you will not be able to join us for LCI, some good news: We are taking this opportunity to pull together our thoughts and resources. There will be a lot more resources and information available on the website when we are all done.

I hope to see you next week!



Friday, April 2, 2010

The Forum

This appears in this month's Encourager, University's monthly magazine. If you are reading the blog, the column may seem a little odd. It is directed at readers who might not be familiar with blogging, twitter, Facebook and other social media forums. I am posting it here because it is about a new addition to our Pathway to Discipleship, a main focus of our presentation at Large Church Initiative 2010. Get all the details at

Ever heard of Twitter? If not, don’t worry, lots of other people have. Twitter launched in 2006 to allow people to share their answers to the simple question, in 140 characters or less, “What is Happening?” Just the other night, I watched as someone posted the 10 billionth tweet (their word for status update.) 10 billion! But, this column is not about twitter, it is about the revolutionary change in communication going on, and how we are thinking about it terms of discipleship.

When I used to meet couples a few years ago and asked them where they met, the answer was church, school, or work. In the last year, I have noticed that the answer is now more likely to be places like, MySpace or Facebook. I have been startled by how quickly Facebook, in particular, has become a normative means of communication – not just for teens or young adults, but for people of all generations.

These new ways of communicating don’t only reflect a change in technology; they reflect a change in the way we live. My best friend from college now lives in Houston, except he is rarely there. On Sunday nights he flies to Delaware for work, and returns home on Thursday. I only see him about once a year, but we don’t need to do much catching up, because we are able to stay in touch through Facebook.

In the world I grew up in this sort of thing didn’t happen. Our ability and need to travel, how we participate in work, school, and family has radically changed where we are and when we are there. We certainly notice this in the life of the church. Have you recently tried to schedule something for a group that was cross-generational? We ask and reply: “What day or night works,” “Sorry, I will be out of town that day,” “I work that night,” or “My kids have swim lessons.”

I think the church needs to be cautious when jumping into new technology, but we should always look at what is available in the world to see how it can serve the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. This rise of new technology may have come at the perfect time for the church to address some of the problems we are all having getting together.

A few weeks ago, thirty staff members and I attended a conference featuring speakers from churches all over the Unites States and Europe, yet the speakers didn’t have to travel. Our friends at Leadership Network hosted it, had them record their presentations on their home or office computers, and then streamed all of the teachings out to us. It didn’t cost us a dime because we gathered in the John Wesley Room and watched the whole thing over the internet.

As we are continuing to refine The Pathway to Discipleship, we’ve been in conversation with people who aren’t progressing from phase to phase. Some of them may have taken u|connect, moved into the “Meeting” phase, and then got stalled in their journey. What was discovered was not a lack of commitment or lack of appropriate offerings, but rather that there was difficulty in scheduling.

We have people in our church who travel for work during the week, work irregular hours, or who take degree classes at night – like our own Assistant Director of Discipleship, Michael Andres, who is working on his Masters of Divinity through Asbury Theological Seminary’s online extension campus. These are people who want to commit to reading, studying, and learning the message of Jesus, but can’t commit to one specific night over the course of numerous weeks.

This eventually led us to ask the question question, “What if we could read the Bible and study the message of Jesus together in community online?” So, we are trying an experiment. We have recently launched a pilot group of an offering called, “The Forum.” We selected fifteen people, most of them participants in The Pathway to Discipleship to spend 12 weeks together, online.

On our own, we are reading, The Story, Zondervan’s abridged, chronological telling of the overall Biblical narrative. It is not the complete Bible, but the parts included are scripture, in Today’s New International Version. Together, and we are “talking about it.” Participants are asked to go log-in, answer some questions about the reading, and respond to each other’s answers in order to engage in some amount of “conversation.”

While I believe in the power of personal Bible reading and believe we should all be reading the Bible a lot more on our own, I also know that something amazing happens when we read and study the Word of God together. Yet the question remains – in this age, with distance and time separating us more and more, and technology seemingly trying to draw us closer, “What does ‘together’ mean?” Over the next few weeks, we may find out. I will let you know.

See you around the church and wandering cyberspace – follow me on twitter: @pastorwill, visit my weblog at, email me at, or find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Foursquare. (If you don’t know what some of those are, don’t worry, some didn’t exist last year! And don’t worry, I still have a phone and an office.)