Sunday, June 21, 2009

Housekeeping

  • The Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists (a.k.a. "the Heartland,") has added two dozen bloggers to its website -- all of whom (I'm sure) are being paid big bucks for their efforts. I'll be evaluating them one-by-one with an eye to links with this site; meanwhile, you can check out them for yourself by clicking here.
  • Traffic was way up this week from all over -- I even got my first ever visitor from Lesotho! As always, Washington led the pack (which leads me to ask just what is going on there in Prosser?). Oregon, California, and British Columbia followed close behind -- and there was a three-way tie for fifth-place between Maine, Colorado, and Saskatchewan.
  • This week marks my fourth-anniversary as a blogger; I'm told the traditional gift for such occasions is a small appliance, so I think I'll buy myself a yogurt maker and celebrate.
  • My access to the Web will be kind of sporadic for the next week or so . . . but things should be up and running again by Wednesday, July 1.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's Odds & Ends

  • No sooner are they back from college, then our two daughters are off again -- the eldest to Rosario, and the youngest to Sunset Lake. Fortunately, it was raining, so they shouldn't mind leaving Lincoln City too much.
  • Interesting article in The New York Times: It turns out that comparing the health of moderate drinkers with that of abstainers is an apples and oranges kind of thing; that's why some experts say all those studies touting the health benefits of moderate drinking are fatally flawed. (And guess what? Many of those studies were funded by the alcoholic beverages industry).
  • Out of Ur offers this teaser from July's Leadership: "most of the highly celebrated, experimental worship services launched in the Nineties to reach 'Gen-X' are now gone." Fortunately, they've all been replaced by something even better -- right?
  • And I'll close with this quote from Albert Einstein: "Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This week's lesson: community

Every now and then, somebody will ask to be baptized -- "but I don't want to join your church," they'll tell me.

"Is there another church you'd rather join?"

"No, I don't want to join any church. You see, I love Jesus -- but I can't stand Christians!"

"Hmmm . . ." I'll say. "We may have a problem here."

And no, I'm not saying that to be mean; neither am I a big fan of Cyprian of Carthage -- the bishop who said that "he cannot have God as a father who does not have the church as a mother."

But over the years, I've learned that following Jesus means hanging out with other people who are following Jesus -- and not just the people I like. No, there's a whole raft of believers out there who don't listen to my kind of music, read my kind of books, or support my favorite causes . . .

But guess what?

They're part of Christ's body anyway.

"You see," I'll tell my wannabe solipsist, "getting baptized is kind of like getting married to someone who has kids: if you want to spend the rest of your life with that person, then you're stuck with the kids as well. And if you say to that person, 'I love you -- but can we ditch the kids?' . . . well, it ain't gonna work.

"Likewise, if you love Jesus . . .

"Then you'd better get used to the fact that He loves a lot of other people too."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review: Peter Drucker's Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices

Three things you need to know about Peter Drucker:

1. Author of 39 books before his death in 2005, he is considered the father of modern business management.

2. Towards the end of his life, he switched from studying the management of businesses to the management of non-profits -- especially churches.

3. "One of the most important things about running a church," he once said, "is making sure that you don't run it like a business."

Drucker's book, Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices, explains that last point in five chapters: mission, management, performance, people, and developing yourself as a leader. Though many of his examples are drawn from other non-profits (such as hospitals, museums, or the Girl Scouts), there's not a page of this book that pastors won't find valuable -- and provocative.

When it comes to money, for instance, Drucker points out that the bottom line in business really is the bottom line, i.e. the more money you have, the more successful you are. But more money in the bank may not be good news for a church -- not unless it uses that money to fulfill its mission.

Drucker's book is full of similar insights on everything from accountability ("no decision is made until someone is designated to carry it out") to training volunteers ("start slow -- not low"). The result is a book that every pastor should read.

Especially if you hate business books!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DIY: Preaching schedules

School's out, church and school budgets have both been approved, and Nominating Committee is just about done . . .

It's time for me to make up my preaching schedule for the next year.

And no, I'm not going to do this in December --not when it's all I can do to survive the holiday season.

And yes, if I followed a lectionary, then I wouldn't need to do this. Suffice it to say, I've been there, done that, and decided to move on.

So . . . I pull out a calendar -- one that runs from July 2009 to June 2010, and start jotting down:
  • Holidays (such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Spring Break). Lincoln City is a tourist town, so we'll get lots of visitors on these dates -- and that means I need to be here those Sabbaths, with stand-alone sermons that are not part of a series.
  • Conference business (such as Campmeeting, pastors' meetings, continuing education, and retreats). Either I'll miss a Sabbath because of these events, or I'll miss the time I use to prepare a sermon. Either way, I'll need some guest speakers.
  • Church celebrations (such as Easter, our high school's graduation weekend, Pathfinder Sabbath, Christmas musicals, baptisms, evangelistic series, or even our church's annual ski-trip to Mt. Bachelor). Some of these come with the guest speaker already supplied; others pretty much require me to preach on a given topic.
  • Vacations and family gatherings. Our family always does Spokane's Bloomsday Run in May -- and my eldest daughter graduates from Walla Walla University next June. Add time off, my 25th-wedding anniversary, and my parents' 60th-wedding anniversary . . . okay, I'm going to need a lot of guest speakers this year!
  • Communion services. Once a quarter -- but not on a Sabbath where we'll have lots of visitors. Hmmm . . . that rules out the Independence Day weekend -- and Spring Break could also be a problem. And since I always preach from Luke's gospel for the communion service, I don't need to do much more in the way of planning here.
That done, I'm left with 37 Sabbaths that still need a sermon topic. That's why I'll spend the next few weeks asking myself:
  • Is there a big book of the Bible that deserves a long series this year? I'm thinking it's time to preach on Isaiah -- maybe next Spring?
  • How about some of the historical books from Old Testament? It's been a long time since I preached on the Exodus; maybe I should do two or three sermons about the call of Moses? And what about Ruth as an example of God's love for the gentiles?
  • The psalms always make a nice break. They're especially good for stand-alone sermons that follow a long series.
  • Anything on prophecy? I've done a fairly recent series on Revelation -- but it's been awhile since I preached on Matthew 24f. Maybe I should check the parallel passages in the other synoptics, and see what they suggest? (But no, I'm still not ready to preach from Zechariah!)
  • Don't forget the gospels! I've been noodling around with Christ's parables on prayer; I think I might be ready to do a short series on them this Fall.
  • Any topics that need preaching? Can't think of any at this point . . . but maybe I will in the weeks ahead.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not that I've ever done this, of course

You know you've been in your church district too long when:
  • You begin referring to church members as "perps."
  • You start saving cardboard boxes "because we might need them for our next move."
  • You begin recycling old sermons -- and your church members comment on "how much your sermons have improved lately."
  • You know exactly how much your house is worth, the average time it takes a house to sell in your market, and the names of three good real estate agents.
  • You begin children's stories by saying, "Let me tell you something your parents did when they were your age . . . "
  • Instead of the benediction, you now say, "Whatever."
  • You keep a list of the things you'd like to say in your last sermon there in that district -- and right now, it has enough material for a five-part series.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Housekeeping

I've added sincerely squid to my list of links. It's a blog written by Tiffany -- an SDA who owns a children's store in Takoma Park, Maryland. She's a gifted writer (though I look forward to the day she begins using capital letters).

Since John McLarty seems to have stopped posting at MrAdventist, I've dropped that link and added a link to his blog at Liberal Adventist. (John is one of those people who makes me insanely jealous of his writing skills. Perhaps I could get him to stop using capital letters?)

And yes, I've also dropped a few links -- a process that always makes me think of Revelation 2:5.

Traffic was up this week, mainly due to a large number of visits from Prosser, Washington. (Am I getting some word-of-mouth advertising in the Yakima Valley, or what?) This put Washington in first place for visitors (again!), followed by Oregon, California, British Columbia . . . and a three-way tie for fifth-place between Virgina, Colorado, and Saskatchewan (a.k.a. "Manitoba's Evil Twin").

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday's Odds & Ends


  • Even though it's technically summer, the weather here on the Oregon Coast continues to be cool, gray, and damp -- and right now, I would kill for the chance to pastor someplace that is warm and dry. (I think I'll go lie down until this feeling passes.)
  • Seems like a lot of small, special-interest campmeetings have been popping up lately. Myself, I've always wondered why more colleges and boarding academies don't do something like this, both as a money-maker and a recruiting tool.
  • And I'll close with this quote from Robert Anderson: "In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find (and continue to find) grounds for marriage."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This week's lesson: stewardship

Anytime somebody says, "It's not the money -- no, it's the principle of the thing . . . "

Guess what?

It's the money.

Take this week's Sabbath School lesson -- a lesson that quickly assures us stewardship is more than just a matter of money. No, it's a principle . . . one we can apply to our use of time, our care for the environment, and how often we floss our teeth.

All true -- but in the process, we've deftly managed to avoid all those hard and nasty texts that talk about money.
  • Like the Bible's laws forbidding usury -- laws that suggest God was extremely interested in the way we earn our money.
  • Then there's tithe -- a subject that suggests God was extremely interested in the way we spend our money.
  • And when you add the fact that the Biblical "Year of Jubilee" required God's people to routinely write-off any loans they'd made to the poor . . .
Then it's easy to understand why some of us would like to change the subject!

To be sure, the Bible does support old-fashioned capitalist values such as hard-work and thrift -- but it also values relationships more than riches, generosity more than getting ahead, and a healthy community more than personal gain.

So what does this mean to people who are picking a career? Buying a house? Or planning for retirement?

Well . . . at the very least, it suggests that maybe we should try to overcome our reluctance to talk about money.

Even if we'd rather talk about something else.

When it comes to stewardship, after all, our problem is not just the principle.

No, there's also a lack of interest.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: SPU lectures on-line

I love my iPod -- not least because of all the free lectures you can download for it.

And one of my favorite sources for this kind of continuing education is Seattle Pacific University -- a Free Methodist school with a strong interest in the arts. Over the years, it's brought in speakers such as N. T. Wright, Tony Campolo, Marva Dawn, and Brennan Manning.

And the lectures they gave at SPU are all free at iTunes U!

Right now, I'm enjoying SPU's lecture series on C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein . . .

And when that's done, there's always Stanford!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

DIY: children's baptisms

One of the best ways to get children thinking about baptism is to baptize another child -- in fact, every time I do this, I'll have another child come up afterward and ask if they can get baptized.

Three suggestions:

Make it special. One of my seminary professors once asked us to imagine what graduation ceremonies would be like if we conducted them the same way we do baptisms, i.e. a curtain would open, you'd see the graduates, you'd hand them their diplomas, and the curtain would close. "Special events," he'd conclude, "should be treated as though they are special." In our church, that means baptisms take place Sabbath afternoons at a nearby lake, with a song service (and maybe a potluck too.)

Make it clear what they're getting into. I use the simplified baptismal vows in Steve Case's baptismal guide -- and on the day of the baptism, I ask the child to bring with them a 3x5 card on which they've written the answer to question, "I want to get baptized because . . . " (And yes, I will read this card out loud to the audience just before the baptism.

Make it a lasting memory. After the baptism, my wife takes the 3x5 card I've just mentioned (as well as the signed copy of baptismal vows and any photos we have of the baptism), and she then "scrapbooks" it into the Bible we used in our baptismal class. Not only does this make a nice gift, "but in years to come," I tell the child, "you can look at this and remember why you chose to get baptized."

Monday, June 08, 2009

Summer Reading

I'd be interested in hearing what books you plan to read this summer. My list includes:
  • Ellis Peter's Brother Cadfael series. A mystery series set in the 12th-century; there's always a corpse, two thwarted lovers (one of whom will be charged with the crime), and the eponymous Welsh soldier-of-fortune turned Benedictine monk. If books are food for the soul, these are potato chips.
  • Ellen White's Education. I've been on SDA school boards for 12 years -- and taught high school religion classes for five -- but I've never read this book. (Sorry, but it wasn't in the curriculum for Theology majors.) Time to get my act together and do it.
So . . . what's on your list for the summer?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Housekeeping

Added "Prayer Pilgrimage" to my list of links. It's by Tom Steagald -- a Methodist pastor whose essay on "The Hallmark Cycle" of holy days should be tattooed on the forehead of everyone who teaches homiletics.

We'd a middling-to-average number of visitors this week -- lots from the State of Washington, with Oregon, California, British Columbia, North Carolina, and Texas all trailing behind. (And I got my first visitor from Romania!)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday's Odds & Ends

  • A thunderstorm, a waterspout just off the Coast from Lincoln City, and eighth-grade graduation -- Thursday was an interesting day.
  • Tim Kreider blogs in The New York Times that he was stabbed in the throat -- and it's one of the best things that ever happened to him. Myself, I think he would have gotten along well with the author of Ecclesiastes.
  • Speaking of death -- I'm told that one of the best things J.R.R. Tolkien ever wrote was an short story on that subject called Leaf by Niggle. Take a look, and tell me what you think.
  • So you've been reading Hauerwas, and you'd like to speak truth to power . . . but you're not sure what the empire's been up to lately? Three websites I've found helpful: Wired magazine's "Danger Room," Foreign Policy magazine's "Passport," and Stanford University's "Bellum."
  • And I'll close with this quote from Robert Fogel: "It is difficult to pursue one moral goal without compromising or sacrificing other moral goals."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

This week's lesson: discipleship

Jesus calls us to be "fishers of men."

Unfortunately, he doesn't believe in catch-and-release.

I say "unfortunately," because nobody has ever figured out an easy way to disciple believers. It's like losing weight -- we keep hoping somebody will come up with a miracle-cure that lets us avoid the old, tiresome slog of "eat less and exercise more."

You know -- something that melts away the pounds while we watch TV.

Guess what?

It hasn't happened.

Likewise, nobody's ever figured out a way to grow spiritually -- not without Bible study, prayer, worship, and service to others.

And when you add the fact that all this generally involves a lot of one-on-one contact with people -- people who have all kinds of problems . . .

Well, it would be nice if we could avoid this -- if we could just stay home, watch TV, and write the occasional check to the nice man in the white suit whose show is spreading the gospel to all those people out there . . . somewhere.

But in the Great Commission, Jesus told us to:
. . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).
It's not enough just to be a fisher of men, in other words.

No, as my wife likes to say, "You catch 'em, you clean 'em."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Review: Ann Wroe's Pontius Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man

He was probably an equestrian -- not a member of the ruling class, but close enough to have ambitions that way.

He may have been a protege of Sejanus -- the commander of Rome's Praetorian Guard whose arrest and execution would make anyone fear the charge they were "no friend of Caesar."

And though he ordered the death of Jesus, it is easy to see him as a sympathetic figure -- so much so, that he is venerated in Ethiopia as a saint.

It's out of bits and pieces and scraps of information such as these that Ann Wroe has written a wonderful "biography" of Pontius Pilate . . . and if you're wondering why "biography" is in quotation marks, it's because we really don't know that much about him. But such as we have, Wroe develops into a fascinating picture of what it was like to be a Roman governor -- and an informed guess as to the motives behind Pilate's most infamous act.

Wroe's book is elegantly written, and well-researched -- the kind of book you could use for a study group, sermon preparation, or personal devotions.

And if Pilate emerges from this book as even more of a mystery than before . . .

It just proves that, whatever else he might have been, Pilate was human too.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

DIY: evaluating calls

Over the next few months, you'll probably get a call to pastor another church -- and if my experience is any guide, you'll notice two things:
  • As I noted in last Friday's post, every church always says it's looking for a pastor who is a committed Christian, an excellent speaker, and good with young people.
  • And without fail, every church will describe itself as friendly and hardworking, with a strong desire to reach missing members, as well as get more involved in the community.
So how do you find out what this church really wants in a pastor?
  • Ask the church to send you a bulletin, a newsletter, and its latest financial report. (And if they'll send you a copy of the minutes from the last Board Meeting, all the better!)
  • Give the search committee your email address, encourage its members to get in touch with you -- and with their permission (and only with their permission), post the emails on the Web so that everyone in the church can see them.
  • Call the pastor of a neighboring SDA church, and ask what the church who's calling you is like.
  • Do the same with the SDA school principal.
  • Call a non-SDA pastor, and ask what it's like to pastor in that area.
  • Ask the search committee, "Who's been your favorite pastor in the past -- and why?"
  • Ask the church members there to "name one problem your new pastor will need to address in the next year."
  • And don't forget to pray, pray, pray -- and pray some more!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Who we are: pastors in Oregon

Here's a quick snapshot of the 125+ pastors in the Oregon Conference:

Two-thirds of us are over the age of 50.
  • 10% of the pastors in this Conference are in their 20s.
  • 15% are in their 30s.
  • 12% are in their 40s.
  • 35% are in their 50s.
  • 20% are in their 60s.
  • 8% are 70 or older.
Almost three-fourths of us have been in our district less than six years.
  • 42% have been in our district less than three years.
  • 31% four to six years.
  • 18% seven to nine years.
  • 7% ten to twelve years.
  • 2% more than twelve years.
Almost two-thirds of us don't work with another pastor.
  • 5% of us are hospital chaplains.
  • 27% serve in a multi-church district with only one pastor.
  • 34% serve in a single-church district with only one pastor.
  • 34% serve in a single-church or a multi-church district with more than one pastor.
Almost three-fourths of us are Anglos.
  • 72% of us are Anglos.
  • 17% are Hispanic.
  • The other 11% are evenly divided between Asian, African-American, and Slavic pastors (with one Pacific Islander).
Almost all of us are men.
  • Though its been thirty years since the Oregon Conference hired its first woman pastor, we've only four women serving as such today -- two of whom are hospital chaplains.