Monday, August 23, 2010

Bogged Down and Stressed Out

In reflecting why I haven't written a blog in a couple of weeks I told myself how bogged down and stressed out I have been over ........ you name it. The list is boringly long. But it is that very same list of things that just changes names from week to week leaving me in a constant stage of feeling there is never enough time. Going to bed at night thinking about my 'to do list that I am behind on' never seems to help me get a good night sleep.

Then I had a conversation with one of my spiritual advisors, my 32 year old son who is passionate about his relationship with God and chooses to rely on God so much that he simply doesn't angst very often. About anything! He is the personification of a reminder to me about God's goodness, God's redemption and the way the Holy Spirit can change a persons' life. Conversations with him force me to be the learner, to stretch my faith and to be open to the wisdom of one's offspring. What is it about parenthood? This six foot five inch man is still the little boy I brought into this world. The child I parented, taught life lessons to, and watched as he stumbled through life to find his adulthood. Now God is using him in profound ways to teach me.

About ths bogged down and stressed out thing he said, "Mom, you have the work God created you to do. It is your 'dream job'. Why do you let it stress you out so much?"

Standing in my kitchen he struck a memorable, exaggerated pose, mimicking God with arms stretched out. In his pretending to be God he said, "I have given this great work you love to do Mary, it is a gift! You are the one who chooses to let it stress you out. That is not my intent! Your choice!"

Wow, nothing like a two by four between the eyes via a little dramatization!

I am sure I am not alone as a person fully engaged in ministry who allows the workload to sometimes get the best of them. Why, we are working for God, right? We have to give it our all, our best. Unfortunately this expectation I place on my self is self imposed. God has so richly blessed my work that sometimes I forget to give it all to Him. When I lean on myself, like anything else in ministry, I generally fail to make the mark. Yet God has shown me so often his satisfaction and delight.

I have felt lighter the last few days. Some of the scales have fallen from my eyes.

I am going to work to not be so demanding of myself, thanks to the wisdom of a son who gets it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Stewardship: Does Your Congregation 'Get It'?

The word 'stewardship' has become synonymous with the annual beg-a-thon in congregations for financial support. The Church has allowed this to happen and it is so unfortunate. Now we need to undo that damage and re-build the true understanding of stewardship because it is foundational to the faith. This last weekend the Diocese of Texas had its annual Stewardship Conference. This large gathering started in the 1980's with a significant emphasis on the theology of stewardship and all things money raising. It has gradually morphed through the decades to have a very heavy emphasis on the theology of stewardship and a minor emphasis on money raising. This critical change has been in response to those of us who work with vestries and congregational leaders who demonstrate little understanding of this theology. The notion that the Church is working out of God's abundance to us individually and corporately is contrasted by the more familiar human fear of scarcity. Turning off lights, lowering thermostats, cutting printing costs and renegotiating energy services are all good things. They represent being good stewards of God's green earth and people's pocket books. My question is, have congregational leaders been faithful first in teaching and reminding its people that everything they have comes from God? That we were born to reflect God's love one to another and to serve in His name? That out of thanksgiving we are to joyfully return to God a tithe which is just a portion of what God has given to us to steward? That all that we have is really not ours but God's?

Talk about a radical theology! This is hard stuff to teach in a culture of extreme material wealth and the 'self made man' who feels he is responsible for building his private wealth and is the master of his own destiny. It is also hard to teach to people who feel they have a right to determine where exactly there donated dollars are spent and where withholding is often used as pressure to get what they want.

When I hear clergy say they will not talk about money because that is the vestry's work, I cringe. We MUST not only discuss money and how it impacts our lives but we need to understand how it impacts our personal and corporate witness as Christians. The Church has a huge responsibility to help its members understand God's economy, what scripture says about money, what Jesus taught about money, in order to grow in our spiritual lives and faithfulness. The irony is that when one moves from fears of scarcity to understanding of abundance, their joy in giving grows dramatically! And the world becomes a better place.

America has been in a significant recession for awhile. Many churches are straining to be thoughtful stewards of their resources. I challenge missionary leaders to understand that embodying an attitude of gratitude and helping people understand the theology of stewardship while challenging them to grow in their faithful giving at this time will be very important to do. I also encourage leaders to identify laity who have the gift for stewardship and empower them to help in creative ways to assist their fellow congregants to grow in this understanding. People respond to leaders, clergy and lay, who witness to the power of God in their lives and their stewardship response. The Church will come closer to 'getting it', embodying a true understanding of what stewardship really means. Now is the time to step up and do this work. The church will be a more faithful community as a result.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Needs That Don't Go Away

I read an article in the newspaper yesterday about the home church movement. It spoke to the growing popularity in America of small groups meeting in homes in lieu of the institutional church we have come to know over the last 100 years. Some of the reasons cited for joining these home churches were as follows: opportunity for strong relationship building; fellowship; intimate and informal prayer;flexibility; child friendly; setting for engaging Bible study; low cost. The article went on to say that persons see home churches as a viable option to joining an established church. People interested also said that they think home churches model the early church which in some ways represents authenticity to the way God would design churches.

There is validity in these reasons which poses the challenge to those of us involved with the institutional church.

This movement has its downside which was not included in the article. I expect that home churches call for really wise and faithful leaders, outstanding resources that keep people engaged in learning, and establishment of expectations among group members that foster discipline and personal stewardship, just to name a few. Nevertheless, home churches are a growing viable option to established congregations.

The challenge for those of us in organized churches is to work hard at providing some of the same opportunities that home churches provide. Anyone who has worked at establishing small group ministries knows how challenging they can be. It has been my experience that organizing, developing and promoting healthy small group ministries in churches takes dedicated, creative and intentional work, not to mention prayer that seeks God's guidance beyond all the packaged programs available to the church today. It is particularly hard in congregations that are static with few new members and often tired leadership. Old habits and behaviors are hard to change. Just ask the established pastor who now wants to institute name tags in a congregation that has gotten along without them forever. Starting small groups in homes with the primary objectives that mimic those of home churches is HARD WORK. It is so important that it should become priority work for institutional church and its leaders. This isn't something that can simply be sidelined for consideration. People need to grow in relationship with each other, they need to have opportunities for intimate prayer, they need relaxed fellowship, and they need the opportunity to hear each other share how God is working in their lives. Often the best way to address these needs are in small home groups.

My question for you is, have you made small group ministry a priority at your church? If you tried and failed, have you discerned how you might go about it differently? Have you sought out good resources and understand the basics that you may be called as the leader to identify, encourage, resource train and support persons suitable to lead small home groups in your church? Have you realized this is an ongoing necessity for the organic nature of ever changing small home groups? Have you figured out the need to always create new groups because established ones become insulated and often not welcoming to new members because of the bonds of friendship and patterns of the groups?

How have you established the expectation that your members participate in small groups, with an emphasis of all new members having easy entry groups with outstanding leadership?

There is little doubt that Americans will opt out more and more for home churches. As long as there are people, they will have a need to be in relationship with others and to know God. These are simply needs that don't go away. Praise God for that! Let's take this movement very seriously. How will you as a missionary leader provide for your congregation the benefits that can be found in small home church settings?
Pray about it. Work on it.