Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Welcome Observations by a Visiting Priest

A friend of mine, The Rev. Scott Gunn, new director of Forward Movement, recently visited a number of Episcopal Churches. He has some great observations and recommendations in his blog that can be found at: .

Great food for thought for churches looking to focus on how they welcome the stranger.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Institution vs. Movement

I recently had a conversation with a priest who said to me, "Mary, I am not the same priest I was five years ago. I realize now that evangelism is about a movement, it has very little to do with the institution." My reaction was "hallelujah"! We all need to understand that evangelism is a movement of God, a vibrant life giving and life changing story of Jesus and his teachings that have the power to turn people around, to reveal the nature of God, and to absolutely fill people with hope and peace and healing. Our institution is around to support this movement, pure and simple. Somehow we have gotten things mixed up. The institution of the church has a way of taking precedent in terms of our focus, resources, energy, and attention. It can easily become front and center, especially for those of us who have lived out our vocation in it. It only takes attending a few General Conventions to realize how easily one's attention gets skewed! General Convention consumes at least 9 very full days every 3 years for the people who are elected to represent their dioceses. It is an exhausting focus on democratic process and debate. Often about a bevy of insignificant resolutions, with an occasionally important one thrown in for good measure. I don't know why people feel they must submit resolutions that have very little capacity to impact anything, yet will certainly consume people's time and energy. I know. I have been in the thick of it as deputy, committee member, speaker and gopher. I decided a number of years ago that spending the better part of two weeks every Triennial with 5,000 other Episcopalians was not my calling nor the best use of my time. I often like the fellowship and networking, I just don't like the hyper focus on the institution and the way we do business.

I walk a fine line of dedicating my life in service to God and choosing to work for the institutional church. But I try hard to never forget its about the movement. I know this movement can not and should not be contained. However, we love containers. Especially ones with pretty stained glass and historic or sleek contents. I got a phone call yesterday from a person who viewed a utube video on a church's homepage. The caller asked if I had seen the video and commented that the first minute of it was pictures of the historic building without a person in sight. That church obviously wants the viewer to focus on the container.

It is so easy to be seduced by beautiful boxes. It is so easy to forget its about a movement of the Spirit. Let's be thoughtful and not give so much of ourselves away that we forget what really counts.

To be missionary is to move out. To be evangelical is to join a movement of the Holy Spirit. To be the church we must do both. Watch yourself and don't be seduced. Remember, its about the movement!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Everything is Transitory

The last few months have been an interesting personal journey for me as members of both mine and my husband's families have gone through huge personal crisis, sickness and in the case of a few of them, facing the end of their lives. It has been a motherload, all coming at once. Included in this mix I am expecting my first grandchildren, twins, due in August, with my daughter-in-law having been flat on her back in a hospital bed since late May for the duration of her pregnancy. As life ends for a few of my beloved family new life is springing forth. Transitions. Life is all about moving forward and transitioning to each new day and what life has in store for that 24 hours.

I step back and look at our church as it ages. I love the Episcopal Church, but it is getting very gray around the edges. We haven't transitioned well into the 21st century in America. I believe we have been complacent, caring too much about the survival of our institution and not enough about the personal, powerful transformation of lives. It has been interesting to watch a sense of urgency surface amongst congregations around the 'need for new members'. This is precisely the problem. The focus should be on the power to change lives, the desire of persons to find our congregations to be incubators for the development of the faith and vehicles for sending Christians out into the world to witness in word and deed to the glory, grace of love of God.

I have seen us crack the window, to let a little bit of the Holy Spirit blow through our church to release this revelation. Funny how this has to be re-learned with every new generation. Our church has a shelf life of a couple of generations left in terms of being large enough to have an impact. It isn't too late if we will recognize our true mission and help the people in the pews understand what the work of the church really is. That it isn't so much about us, but a world hungry for Good News and transformation. As missionary leaders, God calls us to lead the way, set the course, fearlessly tell the story and not be afraid. We are called to steer our churches out into unchartered territory. Talk about transitions! It is a challenging but eternally powerful mission. Let's strive to better impact our generation for the sake of the Kingdom.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Not Necessary Anymore

I have come to appreciate Tom Ehrich's blog 'Morning Walk Media' alot. Recently he posted the following article. I hope he doesn't mind me copying it for you all to read. It is about the things we often cherish or think are essential that are only a means to an end and are disappearing from our lives. This includes church buildings. I urge you to read it and consider the implications for you as a missionary leader. Here goes:

The Yawning Divide Between Pencils and IPads
by Tom Ehrich, Religion News Service

In preparing a commencement address this week, I decided to werite it on my new Apple iPad, sitting on a sofa beside a window, using an app called Quickoffice. Big deal, you say. But, think about it.

A month ago, I didn't own an iPad. I had never heard of Quickoffice. I had never imagined that a touch-screen keyboard could be satisfying. I carried 20 pounds of gear, files and books onto an airplane; now I tote around a 1.3 pound iPad.

In one month's time, everthing has changed. What's the point? The point is change-rapid change, change in even the most basic functions we perform, like stringing words into sentences. New gear, new media, new ways to express thoughts, to store and process images, share ideas, collaborate with others, and manage time. Of all the current tools I use in my work, only one, a mechanical pencil, was in my toolkit a year ago.

Is it all about gadgets? Not in the least. I read this week about a family that sold their property in Arizona and now just travel around in a Winnebago, doing their jobs by internet and laptops. Others live and work on boats or run businesses from coffee shops.

My list: no car, no checkbook, no landline telephone, no lawn mower. Much that I considered normal a few years ago isn't even part of my life now.

Churches are forming without buildings, pipe organs, stained glass windows, pews or wood-paneled offices. Bricks and mortar universities are moving online. Even dating has moved online.

The point isn't to extol technology, but to note that most of these changes will seem normal any day now. Former ways, it turns out, weren't essential. We want to fall in love, yes, but whether we do so at a church social, company picnic, group meetup, or is just a detail.

We need to eat, but whether we shop at a corner market, a huge Cosco or online grocery is just a detail.

We need to have faith, but whether we find it in a building with a steeple, a house church, or walking with a friend is just a detail.

A divide is openining between those who still consider the details of yesterday's normal to be necessary and those who perceive the details as optional. When something is necessary, you fight to preserve it. When it becomes optional, letting go is no big deal.

Church buildings, for example , feel like sacred space and a solemn trust to some people, who sacrifice much to preserve them. Others say, "So what? We can worship in a hotel ballroom, meet at Starbucks, study online, and find the sacred anywhere." The point is faith , not facilitites.

Sorting out these two perspectives is wrenching work, filled with misunderstanding, suspicion of motives, loss of employment, loss of certainty, loss of common ground for imagining basic things. These deep divides aren't about age or maturity, education or income, or intangibles like respect. It's more disposition than anything. It's like the gulf between ranchers and farmers a century ago over need for fences. There are elements of self-interest, but also different ways of seeing history, land, values and future.

The obvious answer is to coexist: some using pencils, some iPads. But when so much is changining, and details are in constant dispute, the bonds of community can get strained.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York.. He is the author of "Just Wonder, Jesus" and founder of the Church Welllness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter@tomehrich.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Stories Yet to Come

It is Easter Monday. Hundreds of thousands of folks who worked hard to prepare their houses of worship for this most holy of our religious observances can now rest abit and reflect about the meaning of it all. Hopefully, those reflections will be full of the knowledge that God loved us so much that He gave his only Son, and that Son died for us bearing the weight of the sin of the world, and rose from the dead, showing us that truly, Jesus was the the Messiah, the Son of Man, God Incarnate.
It was in that resurrection that we can catch a glimpse of the glory that awaits us upon our physical death. Stunning! Awesome! Miraculous! Indescribable!

The concern that all missionary leaders face is now that we have passed Easter we will lull our ways back into our congregational routines which can be so human, demanding and draining. These routines can easily sap the spirit and dull awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Fanning the flame for the people of God can be a big challenge.

We now enter into a time that leads up to the observance of Jesus' ascension and the spectacular event of pentecost. We are fortunate to be a church that liturgically celebrates these observances. We can make them come alive through drama, music, visuals, re-enactments, and especially story telling. We must remember that it is our responsibility to keep God's story alive, not only for renewal but for those who have never heard them. Alot is at stake. Let's not let the work in preparing for Holy Week and Easter tire us from remembering some of the best of the story that is yet to come.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Invite, Welcome, Connect

Evangelism in the Episcopal Church is often maligned, dismissed, considered disrespectful of others' beliefs to the extent that we are rarely engaged in it. I have been convicted that I will never again let someone's dismissive remarks about the 'E' word go without a response. We have talked ourselves out of believing the critical need for each of us to share the Gospel, not only personally but corporately. The personal thing is hard. I have often heard it said, 'I joined the Episcopal Church so that I would never have to say the word 'Jesus' outloud.' This remark usually comes from someone who was raised in a more fundamentalist theological background who has found the Episcopal Church to be an open minded, non-pressuring kind of place in stark contrast to their upbringing. I am glad that our church has created a safe place for those who were beat over the head with fundamentalism. However, we do no one any good by dismissing evangelism altogether.

The Diocese of Texas has undertaken a Newcomer Ministry Project that takes a comprehensive assessment/look at the way we corporately invite, welcome and connect new persons into the lives of our congregations. The invitation speaks to the ministry of evangelism. The welcome speaks to the ministry of hospitality. The connection speaks to the manner in which we connect persons into the Body, listening and discerning spiritual gifts, God-given passion and talents and where these people may find a significant outlet for ministry. It takes all three acts of invitation, welcome and connection to open ours doors and closing our exits.

The response to this focus has been significant. It appears that people are realizing the call to evangelism is not one to be dismissed and that intentional work is needed to do this ministry well. We are seeing people get energized by the thought of approaching evangelism in these essential ways. There is alot of work yet to be done but this is a good start.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Timely Opportunity

As I watch the devastation of Japan with the earthquakes, the tsunami, the unbelievable speed at which normal life was destroyed in a matter of minutes for hundreds of thousands of people I reflect on the incredible life God has given us and how fragile our lives and world really are. In an instant life can be over. In an instant life as we know it can be changed for ever. Truly, the only constant in our lives is God, the Alpha and the Omega. The only source of hope is the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in times of dramatic challenge such as these. We have the power to manifest the love of God through our response to others who are going through crisis. Those of us who are blessed with more than we could possibly ever need have a responsibiity to give to those who are suffering. And there is always suffering in our very backyards. Every time we support those in need out of our gratitude to God we are drawn closer to Christ. And when we turn away from the opportunity to care by not reaching out with our time, talent or treasure, we distance ourselves from Christ.

Those of us in positions of leadership have the responsibility to guide others toward opportunities to give. God calls us to help others understand how imporant giving is to personal transformation. We should step out fearlessly in this regard. People will be changed when they engage in the sorrow and need of others. As leaders we need to model giving beyond what might be expected by those we lead. This is a time of extraordinary opportunity. How will you draw others toward giving to others in need?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Getting off the Wheel

I have a unique perspective. Serving on a diocesan staff I am invited into alot of congregations to consult, do a bit of work, celebrate, and challenge. This is a privilege that I do not take for granted. It is also an opportunity to observe. And alot of what I am observing is a total consumption into busyness. All the activities of a church seem important when they fit nicely into their liturgical calendar correctness and congregational expectations of predictable activities. But they are a bit like a hamster's wheel. You know, the kind that are in their cages in order to provide a tool to keep them physically active and distracted. Please don't hear that I think all of a congregation's activity isn't important or necessary. It is just obvious to me that they are very distracting and time consuming. Racing around on a wheel keeps us internally focused and unable to get off very easily. They consume our energy to the point that we get exhausted and have to step off occasionally just to catch our breath. That leaves us unable to step back and really spend time and energy evaluating the effectiveness of our activity or putting energy into creative endeavors that truly take us out of our comfort zone.

Evangelism can take that kind of energy. One of our congregations in the Diocese of Texas recently decided to take its church into homes on a Sunday morning. It had an objective of getting into neighborhoods, into parishioners' homes which would be a comfortable place to invite 'guests' who were unchurched for fellowship, a brief worship experience, food and fun. They met in 12 venues across a broad geographic area. Almost 100 'guests' attended with many demonstrating a desire to know more about the church. I spoke to the rector and he said this event has changed his church. The benefits were many, not to mention introducing their congregation to many new people. It truly was an evangelical event that took the church into the community in a creative way and made an impact far beyond the metrics.

This sort of activity took months of planning and a willing spirit, believing that risking to do such a thing on a Sunday morning with most of the parishioners was a risky endeavor. But isn't having faith and being willing to do the extraordinary for God risky? Indeed it is. This sort of activity meant falling off the hamster cage wheel of predictability and diverting that energy into an opportunity that would enrich the life and mission of a congregation in extraordinary ways.

When was the last time your congregation took a major risk for God? What is stopping you from getting off the wheel?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Customer Centered Questions

Tom Ehrlich writes a number of blogs. I found the one he wrote today on "Customer Centered Questions" to be dead on for congregations that truly seek to be missionary focused. Take a few minutes to read it, then start asking your leaders the questions.

February 24, 2011
Ask "Customer-Centered" Questions
By Tom Ehrich
At dying churches, leaders are asking questions like these:
• What do WE want?
• What will please our loyal members?
• How little can we change and stay alive?
• How can we stay true to our identity?
• What can we cut next?
The attitude behind those questions is, in all likelihood, the primary reason for their dying. They will blame location, denominational politics, cultural shifts "against religion," recent clergy, and the recession.
But it's their attitude – call it "provider-centered" or "us-centered" – that is killing their church.

Thriving churches, on the other hand, are asking exactly the opposite questions:
• What do other people need from us?
• How can we deploy our present constituents to serve people outside our ranks?
• What changes must we make in order to connect with a changing world?
• How is God trying to change our identity to be more like that of Jesus?
• How can we improve our giving so that we can do more serving?
Call this attitude "customer-centered" or "other-centered."
You can see the difference in church web sites. A "provider-driven" site features photos of the building and information about what WE want to do. A "customer-driven" site features people, in all of their diversity, and tries to anticipate what site visitors need.
You can see the attitude on Sunday morning, when "us-centered" congregations talk with each other and ignore visitors, whereas "other-centered" congregations turn outward toward visitors, the unattached, strangers, and the different.

A provider-driven church will grudgingly rent its facilities to outside groups, with lengthy rules about usage; a customer-driven church will give its facilities away gladly, as well as its coffee and clean floors.
A provider-driven church will sing hymns that members enjoy singing; a customer-driven church will expand its music to embrace new constituencies, such as Hispanic and African-American, as well as contemporary Christian music.
The list goes on and on. The difference is profound, and prospective members can sense it immediately. Many never get beyond the web site that takes pride in a building but says nothing about mission. Or they attend a Sunday service, face tired old words and music, get frozen out, and never return.

If you wonder why the average age of mainline congregations is pushing 65 and young adults are missing, this is why. You can't build an enterprise without doing everything possible to connect with the marketplace.
Leaders make the difference. On their own, most folks won't venture into the uncomfortable, beyond the known, or outside their walls. It takes bold, risk-embracing and confident leaders to do that work.
While old dialogs are still going on, entrepreneurial leaders need to be asking better questions, imagining vigorous responses to a changing world, and shaping a future that is radically other-oriented.

Leaders need to fight against the inertia that constituents inevitably try to impose on them. Leaders need to risk being unpopular. The most change-resistant will threaten reprisals. But leaders need to push through such self-defeating behavior and take the congregation's future, not its momentary satisfaction, as their charge.
That is a tall order, and it's the reason leadership groups need to form strong bonds of trust and mutual support. It's why Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Spirit is Moving

Last weekend I had the opportunity to make a brief address to our diocesan convention about congregational development news in our diocese. In my mind it was perfunctory, a report of activity of the number of churches worked with, updates on our diocesan sponsored church plants, conversations we are having with congregations who want to do some creative 'planting initiatives'. This is my world. I really didn't think this was an extraordinary report. Little did I know the absolute BUZZ it would create. People stopped me in the convention hall to slather praise about it. I met a priest in a church three days later who said, 'best report in 21 years'. What was that about??? It really took me by surprise to see the reaction it stirred. Apparently my report's impact was all about the 6 congregations who have in the last year stepped out, tried to gather folks creatively to start satellite, daughter, spin off congregations, all with the pure motive of evangelism. Imagine that!! Congregations that love the Good News of Jesus so much that it motivates them to do this challenging work.

Something is afoot here. These are congregations who, with joy and anticipation, want to multiply for all the right reasons. This isn't about being mad, leaving, taking people out. No, it is about evangelism, pure and simple.

I think the news that congregations are doing this was met with great surprise and a reaction of hope. We all know these are tough times in our culture to start churches. We all know God calls us to do this very thing, no matter how big the challenge. Obviously, the Spirit is moving in ways that we can't fathom. Thanks be to God that we are seeing this work in our corner of the Episcopal Church. I hope this movement is contagious for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Countless lives are waiting to be touched, even transformed by our faithfulness to the mission of the Church. Let's allow the Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities right in front of us! How have you been inspired to act? What are you going to do about it?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. The ONE day we set aside to say, "I love you". Funny that we have to have a national day to remind us to tell each other how much we care. I guess that is a good thing. It's too bad that we have to be reminded by florists and greeting card manufacturers and advertisers.

We hear alot about God's incredible, immeasurable, unbelievable love for us. But do we work to make sure that our congregations reflect that love, not only inside, but especially outside our walls? What power does that love have to change the world if we don't share it with those who need it the most?

I have the privilege of working with lots of congregations. Each one is distinctive. Each one has an intangible but palpable spirit. It usually doesn't take very long for me to sense that spirit. I often wonder about the courageous people who walk into our churches at a time in our culture when the act of entering a church on a Sunday is counter cultural. It would be a whole lot safer going to Starbucks and sitting on an outside patio or by a fireplace on a cold morning drinking a cup of jo then entering a strange place with an even stranger liturgy with people saying rote prayers who seem to know exactly what to say and do next. And to experience that odd time in the service when everyone turns around and says hello and in many places people get out of their pews and greet each other, but as a first timer it feels so lonely. These are the congregations that describe themselves as 'friendly communities' when actually they are just 'communities of friends'. People are often so in tune with saying hello to their friends and acquaintances that newcomers become invisible. Imagine how these visitors feel. The love of God is often not felt at those very awkward moments for these courageous souls who braved the visit. And the church can become a place that feels void of spirit because of people's insensitivity. Simple overtures, a sincere smile, an introduction, asking a few inquiring and caring questions, can translate into God's touch one for the other.

Valentine's Day is an okay reminder. Those of us who have experienced the profound love of Jesus MUST share it with a world that is yet to experience what we know is the most important and life changing love of them all.

Not being sensitive to the simple acts of kindness we can easily do for others is denying the power that we have to let God show His love through us.Every day for the people of God should be Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Strength in Community

The last few weeks have been difficult. They have been filled with illness and tragedy in my extended family and the lives of persons close to me. Times like these are predictable. They are a part of life. They are so hard. They are such incredible opportunities.

Our church communities can truly show their strength by demonstrating Christ-like caring at times like these. There is truly strength to be found in our faith, with each other in community. Simple acts of kindness become big overtures. The human touch can become God made manifest. Offers of prayer become intimate links to heaven. These are all things the church can offer like no other place. Times like these can be what make congregations relative, responsive and authentic. All talk about the 'institutional church' fades as it reaches out in ways that touch the soul and calm the spirit.

Our role as missionary leaders is to foster a spirit of caring in our congregations. Often we need to make sure that there are organized ways to respond to congregants in spiritual, emotional or physical need. There are so many people with gifts for pastoring and mercy. They need to be put to work. Their lives and those whom they minister to will be so enriched. No matter the size congregation, there are individuals with these gifts, waiting to be tapped, perhaps waiting for some training, anxious to utilize the abilities and desires of their hearts. They are no less than the touch of Jesus in times of need.

Caring can be so powerful that it can change a person's heart. Indeed, acts of kindness can demonstrate God's love so strongly that they become transformative spiritual experiences. Caring can often convey to individuals the 'peace that passes all understanding'.

Let's make sure our churches are places where the love of God is made manifest one to another. There is nothing more powerful than witnessing this type of strength in community.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No More Parking Lot Conversations

I have the privilege of working with congregations and their leaders as a bishop's staff member involved in congregational development. One of the persistent behaviors I witness among vestry members is their reluctance to speak up about lingering concerns in the course of their meetings.

I am sure there are many reasons for this reluctance including not wanting to rock the boat or appear disrespectful. Whatever the reservation, this silence forces issues to go underground only to surface in parking lot conversations. Yes, people literally lingering after meetings beside their cars to air feelings about what did or didn't happen in the vestry meeting. A modern day alternative might be to send a quick text message or email to a like-minded person who was also present to air concerns or judgments about what was or wasn't done. This might be automatic behavior that is not conscious of the impact it has on group process.

Any way you slice it, 'parking lot conversations' are unhealthy for a congregation and its leaders. They amount to informal caucusing outside the bounds of intentional gatherings of leaders who are entrusted with responsibility. They are symptomatic of lack of honest and respectful airing of leaders' observations. This behavior is often exhibited in congregations where there is lingering distrust and less than good relationships between leaders, often leaders and their clergy.

It is incumbent on leaders of faith communities to be very thoughtful about the ways in which they communicate with each other. Clandestine meetings, parking lot conversations, closely guarded incendiary emails are always destructive. Always. So how can leaders minimize these behaviors?

First, vestry members and clergy must face the reality that people will be tempted to act out in these ways, especially when things aren't going the way they would like to see happen. Knowing this, vestry member covenants of behavior and meeting norms should be established in every congregation. These covenants should be communicated on websites, newsletters, and in very visible, high traffic places in churches. These covenants should be agreed to by nominees for vestry elections and reviewed at the beginning of every vestry meeting. Many churches commission their vestries annually during a main worship service. This covenant can be read out loud and in unison by all the members being commissioned. This practice is not only a public promise but sets a tone of mutual trust that all who make this commitment will work to comply with it. A covenant is not only a promise one to the other, but an agreement to demonstrate holy manners in a faith community.

Covenants should be as brief as possible. Episcopalians are notorious for their wordiness! It is important to make them as brief and to the point or their effectiveness is diluted. Covenants should be written by a vestry or an appointed group and approved by a vestry after thoughtful review. A written covenant may remain intact for years or edited as deemed appropriate. The point is to have one, to let the congregation know that it represents a promise by its leaders to be honest, disciplined and respectful of their relationships with each other. The impact of covenants on the culture of a church can be powerful and positive. A community of faith should expect no less of its leaders.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

No Longer A Dirty Word

I am sitting on a plane returning from a meeting I facilitated of 30 Episcopal clergy, most under 50 years old, who gathered for three days to talk about the work of evangelism. They came from around the country, from small churches to cathedrals, from church plants to re-starts. The wonderful news is that these clergy from diverse theological perspectives agreed that evangelism is gaining a fresh and powerful emphasis in all of their ministries. They talked about the ‘why we do it’ and the ‘how we do it’. They shared stories of risking new ways to help their congregations gain greater understanding of the Great Commission mandate Jesus gave us all to share the Good News. They talked about the essential spiritual work that is needed to transform their congregations to be places that truly reflect the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives. To be places where people are free to share their faith stories without fear, not only with peers but with others within their faith communities. They claimed we can no longer dismiss evangelism as if it were the work of televangelists and somehow beneath our dignity as Episcopalians to be about this work. They agreed that evangelism can never be a program given lip service again. No, these clergy were expressing the need to make evangelism central to the work of their churches.
There was a lot of sharing, confessing of failures, celebrating others successes, encouraging each other to return to their faith communities and work with the most influential 20% of their congregations to understand the essential nature of this focus for their churches.

It was interesting to observe much more conversation about the need to see transformation from within than taking the church out. However, this was a huge start. By the end of three days it was apparent that there is a new found sense of urgency to be about this work and for that I praise God. There can be no more ‘decades of evangelism’ that are miserable failures. This isn’t about a short term effort that everyone is relieved to see end. This is about saturating everything our churches do with a spirit of sharing the Gospel. It is about infusing the manifest love of God through our lives, our actions, our ministries so that the world can see that we are Christians. It is about inviting others to come and see and be a part of accepting and loving communities that seek the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to change lives and bless others.

This meeting went beyond being a rah-rah session. The depth of commitment from these young and hard work Episcopal clergy of all stripes was incredibly refreshing. I truly felt that evangelism may no longer be a dirty word, at least in the hearts of these 30 clergy. Praise God. It’s a start.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Not An Academic Exercise

Turn of the year, days off, how will I start out on the right footing? I made the decision to jump into my cluttered office and dig to the bottom of the stacks laying around my desk and get a CLEAN and clutter free start. Actually, it was fun going through the voluminous notes, copies of emails, articles, etc. It was hard to finish the clean up because I had to scan each and every piece for its importance. I wouldn't have saved them if they had not been important, right?? What I found were numerous articles and materials on evangelism, leadership and congregational development. Scanning these documents helped me realize the huge effort that has gone into well written, academically researched and thoughtful tomes on these subjects. As I delved deeper into these papers, I wondered, if leaders and those who follow spent as much time actually doing the work of evangelism and development as the time that has been spent writing about these things might the church not be facing the decline in attendance it is experiencing?

Have we justified not doing evangelism by writing about evangelism? Psychology and behavioral sciences have helped us greatly understand leadership and the ways that our congregations work as organizations. This is worthy and important knowledge that informs us. But does it motivate us to act and to change our familiar and comfortable ways of doing things? Maybe. I sure hope it has helped some people. But I am afraid the academic exercise of writing and studying these things assuages too much of our guilt about not getting out there and doing something. Or perhaps these academic exercises have been frustration relief valves for those of us who have the knowledge but haven't found outlets for action or have deluded ourselves into thinking that we don't, when it is really about unwillingness to do something.

I believe God is calling us to act. I believe the Good News of God in Christ doesn't have to be overly intellectualized. Evanglism is not an academic exercise. It is about modeling. It is about living a life that demonstrates what we believe. It is about saying outloud that we have experienced God's transforming love and power in very personal ways and then sharing those stories. It is about leading in ways that we know are mature and faithful, building relationships and sharing Christ's love with those we lead. It is about leading congregations into mission and ministry like never before, radically inviting and welcoming others to join in.

We can continue to write and read about evangelism, leadership and congregational development. However, by the end of 2011 all of us who assume responsibility for leadership in the church need to be able to say, "I shared, I worked, I put into action alot about what I have learned and I trust God will use it for building up the Kingdom."

Put down the articles and books. Vow to put into practice what you know and help others to do the same. Are you ready as a leader to take this challenge in 2011?