Sunday, June 28, 2009

Impressed with NPH and House

While I'm at it (and since I'm suffering from jet lag), let me go on and say that I'm also impressed with Nazarene Publishing House and The House Studio.
Here's why.
1. NPH is kind of a traditional denominational publishing house. They tend to publish a lot of the kind of stuff you might expect from a denominational publishing house, mostly Bible studies, program materials, and tip books for how to do the same stuff a little better. I was impressed with their launch a few years back of Barefoot Ministries, a pretty cool in-house yet vogue youth ministries resource group.
However, NPH recently did something which strikes me as completely radical. They launched a new publishing house (in a house across the street) called The House Studio. The idea is simple yet shocking. People want some non-institutional resources. These can't be produced in a big institution (and even if they could be, the people who want them wouldn't buy them).
So NPH put up some cold hard cash and set up three quality young leaders in The House Studio and turned them loose. No oversight. No control. No rules. They just said, "The world needs you, and the world needs you to be free. Go forth and make good stuff."
This is incredibly unselfish, uninstitutional, and very-very-very Kingdom-like. I love it. This is a beautiful example of dying to live, of actually living out the truth that it's not all about us and our group and our success. In a time when NPH is working hard to keep their own house afloat, I can hardly believe that they put up the seed cash to start something new with no direct benefit to themselves. Way to go NPH. You just earned some trust in my book.
2. The House Studio's first offering is a beautiful little book for small groups called The Kingdom Experiment. Between yesterday and this morning, I have already read it cover to cover. It's a group study-experiment on the beatitudes. The basic idea is that each beatitude gets a 1 page explanation. Then, the group talks about two well-formed questions. Next, each person in the group chooses one of eight experiments to try sometime during the week to actually live out that beatitude. When the group meets the next week, they talk about their experiments and repeat the cycle.
I bought a copy, and I hope that some of the small groups at our church will give it a try. Maybe it will even make it into a church wide sermon series and book study next year.
I'm pretty impressed with The House Studio's staff and their plans for publishing the conversations about renovation in the Church. I look forward to seeing where God leads them.

Impressed by NTS

I am here in Orlando, Florida at the 27th General Assembly for the Church of the Nazarene. Yesterday, I attended two workshops hosted by Nazarene Theological Seminary. N.T.S. recently won a US$ 500,000 grant to completely revision the entire seminary to become more thoroughly missional.

This impresses me for two reasons.

1) It takes great courage to revision EVERYTHING. Doing some curriculum review is normal for academic institutions, but NTS is putting everything on the table. They are saying, "We need to do everything differently. We aren't holding anything back. We need to be open to complete change and revision." This kind of innovation takes courage and deep seeded confidence. Such risk-taking is not common in large institutions, much less among academic or theological institutions (some of the most conservative folks out there).

2. This is exactly what N.T.S. needs to do. My good friend, David Brush, repeatedly says to me that the university/seminary as we now know it is a dying species. Centralized, entrenched, isolated education is quickly fading. According to Dave, the education of the future will be embedded in ministry and professional contexts. The academic side of lectures, evaluations, and dialog with the traditional centers of education will happen via the internet, short-term classes, professional mentors (acting as adjunct profs), and/or mobile professors (with the traditional academic qualifications). If Dave is right, and I think he probably is, then N.T.S. is right on track with this revisioning process. Also, they have the guts to take action internally on what many Christian leaders are seeing is happening in a handful of cutting edge churches who are faithfully responding to our radically changing culture. It was just beautiful to hear the leaders of NTS talk about what they are doing to make themselves more accessible to students (a.k.a. ministers) and more accountable (to themselves and to others). They are doing all they can to decentralize themselves, to get out of the way so that we can all learn together how to follow Christ more faithfully together. Beautiful!

So my props go out in a big way to the folks of N.T.S. This makes me glad to be Nazarene.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Adoption Update

We are running into a brick wall with our plans to adopt.
We had planned to adopt from Russia. We had even been assigned to a particular region in Russia.
However, we took a few steps back to pay off our school loans. (We've got the money now. We're just waiting for the exchange rate to go down a bit more. Yeahhh!!!)
In the meantime, Russia has tightened up their adoption rules. In addition to adding several hoops which adopting parents must jump through, it seems like we no longer qualify to adopt from Russia because we don't live in the country of our citizenship (USA).
In fact, this is a big problem for us for other countries as well (including Korea). Sarah and our adoption agencies are currently considering our options in a few other countries. We have a friend who is researching some things in Kazakhstan.
So, unfortunately, we've come to a wall. We are looking for some ways around this wall. Maybe there will be a way around. Maybe not. We might just have to wait, and we might have to wait a long time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

POST #300!: Did You Know?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Circles of Leadership

Over the past few months, I have been getting many questions about my new role as a full-time pastor. How do you like? What do you do with all your new time? How is the church going now? What difference does it make?
I usually answer that I love being full-time because now I can give my full attention to my calling and passions. Sometimes, I say that I'm sure glad I'm full-time now because I don't want to imagine doing this semester while being bivocational. Lately, I've been saying that one of the best things is that being full-time gives me the opportunity to move beyond maintenance issues (keeping things running) toward thinking into the future about how to make things better and how to do new things.
I am beginning to think that my primary job is to focus on developing circles of leadership. There are three basic circles of leadership under my care (with satellite circles working off of them): the pastoral staff, the Advisory Council, and the Circle of Leadership.
This semester we have made two changes as a pastoral team. We have reworked our staff meetings to once a month coffee with reports, sharing, and prayers for each other. We have also added tri-annual reviews. Every four months, we all conduct answer questions about whether we met our goals for that period, our goals for the next period, and other topics. I am hoping that these two changes will be the core of strengthen our leadership as a pastoral staff.
I am currently reading a book called Transforming Church Boards. It is built on the premise that board meetings tend to be tedious, tiring, and divisive, but that boards can change into life-giving, inspiring, and leadership-building communities. I am excited to think about how we can improve our Advisory Council, a key structure of our church's leadership.
The Circle of Leadership is a budding group. Right now we have only had a meeting of a few key leaders who are setting the structure for how to involve others. We envision this as a community of people who are either called to ministry or studying ministry, and we hope it will empower them as leaders who are learning, growing, and practicing. I am hoping that we can start meeting with a pilot group this fall. We have high hopes that this group will not only help the participants but also increase the quantity and quality of leadership within our church.

So as I said, lately, I'm feeling like the best thing I can do as a pastor is to invest in these circles of leadership. If I can help these circles flourish in the life-giving power of the Spirit, then our church and our world will never be the same!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prayer - Review

I borrowed this book from our church's prayer team leader, Anne, during our Lenten series on prayer, but I've just now finished it. Granted, I've done quite a lot of reading on the side, personal reading and work related, but still I often felt like I would never finish.
Sometimes I loved the book, particularly the moving stories of people's struggles and experiences with prayer. But other times, I just trudged on. As Yancey often returned to the same themes again and again, I felt like the book could have been shortened by a third without losing much.
On the other hand, I love Yancey's approach to prayer. He is humble and honest about the difficulties of consistent and meaningful prayer. When his own experience is limited, he pulls on the writings and advices of others, and explains how he has tried to apply those teachings in his own life with mixed success.
This is a very good book on prayer. It's just a bit too long. Rating: jjjj.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Searching for God Knows What - Review

I picked up this book out of the Owens Building mini-library (a collection of books deposited by KNU profs). It's a fun read, pretty much continuing and sometimes rehashing Donald Miller's earlier name-making book Blue Like Jazz.
This 233 page book summarizes easily: The gospel is not a formula. It's a relationship. What God wants from us and promises to us cannot be defined in neat categories or lists of truths. The truth inherent in the gospel is necessarily embedded in the stories of the people who understand and experience the gospel (especially the first ones to do so).
Donald Miller is king of off-the-wall-yet-strangely-appropriate extended metaphors, and this book is packed with them. The earth is an overfilled lifeboat with the inhabitants taking sides and waging wars of value assessment like people on Survivor trying not to get kicked off the island. Original sin is like the fallout from Chernobyl. Getting an outside perspective is like sitting down with an alien to watch an NBA game. We're all in a big circus act trying to do something to win cheers from the crowd to prove our worth. The moment when we we see that our religious system isn't enough anymore is like the moment when we see the department store Santa taking a leak in the men's restroom.
Great images. Great stories. Same basic thoughts as Blue Like Jazz. Rating: jjjj.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Emerging Nazarenes "White Paper" to General Superintendants

I just read this "White Paper" to the Church of the Nazarene General Superintendents. It is written by a group of Emerging Nazarenes with the purpose of helping Nazarene leaders understand and appreciate the emerging church and those within the Church of the Nazarene who are also "emerging."
I highly recommend it for anyone interested in theology and church stuff.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

House and Neruda

Two quick reviews.

1) House M.D. Season 4: We have enjoyed watching House over the past year or two. It is smart and funny, and each episode is like a Sherlock Holmes story. But the dysfunctionality of the characters is getting painfully predictable. Near the end of season 4, just when one of the characters was starting to show some positive change out of dysfunction, they killed off the catalyst. Argghh. The show seems to revolve around House's mantra that people don't change. That's getting a little frustrating, but not so much as to ruin the whole show. We tried to start season 5 last night, but couldn't get it to load.
Also, the writers did a surprisingly good job of incorporating the new set of characters into the story line.
However, here's a big downer. The show seemed to get a little more soap-opera-like. In one scene - in which House really jumped the shark for us - all of House's team gets paged to find their patient passed out in a hallway. It's so melodramatic. If the nurses saw that the patient had fallen and took the time to page House's team, why didn't they attend to the patient instead of waiting for Houses team to come running from various ends of the hospital???
Over all rating: jjj.
(If anyone has recomendations for good TV shows, Sarah and I are in the market for a new series. Korean shows are also welcome.)

2) Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda. (Thanks to my friend Sarah Gu for this loaner.) This is a short little book of love poems packed with images from nature. I'm not sure if they are all about the same woman or not, but poor Pablo seems to have his heart broken again and again. They are alternatingly beautifully sensual and oddly confusing. Sometimes I couldn't quite tell what he was talking about - possibly because they are translated from Spanish. Neruda is Chilean and won a Nobel Prize for his writings in 1971. Even though some of the poetry soared and raced, the confusing parts take it back to a basic rating of: jjj.
(I enjoyed reading poetry for a change, so if anyone has a good book of poetry, I'd be happy to make your shelf lighter for a month or so.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two Great Speeches

Yesterday and today, I read two great speeches by Barack Obama.
The first was given at Notre Dame amid a great flurry of conflict and protest regarding abortion.
The second was given in Cairo amid great interest in what Obama would say to the Muslim world.
Both are interesting and inspiring calls to multicultural community and common commitment to improve our world together. Please take the time to read them.

God Is an Atheist

-- This sermon is part of the ONE PRAYER SERIES. --

(( Before the sermon, we will watch this video.))

I am an atheist. Don't look so shocked! You are an atheist, too. So is God. We are all atheists.
If you don't believe in God, you are an atheist. If you do believe in God, you are atheist.

The early Christians were called atheists because they rejected the gods of Rome. They had the audacity to say that Rome's long-honored gods were false and that there was only one true God. So people called them atheists – people who don't believe in the gods.
Good Christians are still atheists in this sense today. Stan Martin was a professor here several years ago. He was fond of saying, “So you're an atheist … OK, tell me about the God you don't believe in. I probably don't believe in him either.” ...

To continue reading this sermon, CLICK HERE.