• Here comes Pastor with his Notebook

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    I was in a meeting last week and Pastor James Armentrout of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Roanoke, Virginia who shared a story about his desire to create a culture of gratitude at St. Mark. I thought James had a simple and helpful way of saying “Thank You”, so I asked him to write about it. Here is what James had to say and an example of what his “Thank You” space looks like.

    As a pastor new to my current congregation I have worked very deliberately to develop a culture of gratitude. One of the first things I did after I arrived was to create dedicated “Thank You” space at the end of the weekly worship bulletin. Here I list, by name, every person who has been involved in some facet of congregational mission or ministry that week. The list includes the folks who folded bulletins or the newsletter, helped with the food pantry or clothes closet, those who came and read to or prepared lunch for the children in our preschool, prepared a meal after a funeral, etc. I keep a notepad handy at all times so that when some individual or group is doing something mission/ministry related I can write their names down. I’ve done this enough in my five months at St. Mark that now when ministry coordinators see me coming with my notepad they know right away what I’m doing and make sure I haven’t missed any names. In the bulletin I list everyone alphabetically with their names in bold type. At times, I do miss a name, but we simply acknowledge the mistake and print the name the next Sunday. Not surprisingly, people respond well when you express your gratitude publicly.

    Thank You

  • Outlive Your Life

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    In his book Outlive Your Life, Max Lucado proposes that as children of God we are called to reach beyond ourselves and share God’s compassion and love with the world. He provides a helpful theological framework and a scriptural foundation for this assertion using the book of Acts and draws connections to real world ways in which people are living out their faith. Lucado explores the areas of need that exist in the world and the impact that one individual or a faith community can make in the world. His book is a call to let the light of Christ shine in the world. He challenges people of faith to view their neighbor through glasses tinted with compassion and the love of Christ and he makes it clear that in his mind “the sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Compassion does not save them — or us. Salvation is the work of Christ. Compassion is the consequence of salvation”(pg. 169).

    Since sharing compassion is a core element of our ministry, I am going to pull together a few of my favorite excerpts from the book and give them to our congregational leadership. I think Outlive Your Life will provide helpful language for us to continue our discussion of the ways in which our service is a response to God’s love. If you are interested in the connection between faith and service, then I think you will find Outlive Your Life to be a helpful addition to your toolbox.

  • Repeat the Phrase Often

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    As my wife and I sat eating dinner with several other couples, I talked to one person who was on the congregational council, the governing body, of his church. He told me about the planning retreat that the council was having and concluded by saying, “We are really good at planning.” Then he paused for a moment and added, “But nothing much ever happens with the plans.” I nodded my head in agreement and said, “I understand. I really understand.”

    I led councils on about ten planning retreats before I realized we were making a crucial mistake. I led with the assumption that the purpose was developing a plan. The results each time were very disappointing because most years nothing really happened during the next 11 months until we reached the next January and planned again. We became very good at planning.

    I finally realized that I needed to change my approach. The purpose of planning should be action. Expectations make a difference. Planning is not an end goal but an intermediate step toward ministry happening in the congregation. When we changed the emphasis from planning to action, new ministries began to take shape as the plans became reality.

    I am working with a congregation in March on planning but we are not going to call it a planning event. We are calling it a “Congregational Action Event.” We will be doing planning but the expectation is that action will happen in ministry to make a difference for Christ in our community.

    Repeat the phrase often, the purpose of planning is action.

  • Crowd Accelerated Faithfulness

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    In an article entitled, “Film School” Chris Anderson proposes that the rate of change in society is being accelerated by the ability of millions of people to view and respond to online videos. In the past, an idea may have been limited to a small circle of people, but now millions of people with differing resources, perspectives and experiences can witness, analyze and improve upon the idea. Anderson believes that innovation has always been a group activity. He says “most innovation is the result of long hours, building on the input of others. Ideas spawn from earlier ideas, bouncing from person to person and being reshaped as the go . . . . Throughout history, the best creativity has happened when groups of artist, reformers, writers, or scientists connected regularly with one another.” Anderson refers to this process as Crowd Accelerated Innovation.

    Crowd Accelerated Innovation, Anderson points out, is not new, and certainly we can see its impact in the history of the Christian movement. Look at how the disciples solved the problem of the widows who weren’t getting fed or the work produced the the various early church Councils or the impact of the group of people surrounding Luther during the Reformation. Throughout Christian history we have seen numerous examples of the crowd – the body of Christ – developing new and powerful ways to go and make disciples of all nations.

    In today’s world, Christianity faces a number of challenges, problems and opportunities. I know there are wonderfully talented people in various corners of the church working in these areas, but it seems to me that the best way forward for the Christian movement is to tap into the variety of gifts which make up the body of Christ – to take advantage of the “crowd” God has gathered together and allow the body to innovate, problem solve and lead. Crowd Accelerated Faithfulness lacks the control that top-down solutions might offer, but think of what we might accomplish if we use the resources which exist in today’s world to connect huge segments of the body of Christ and invite them to work together to build up the whole community. Moving in this direction will require leaders to relinquish a certain amount of control, will require us to embrace new and emerging technologies and may require us to modify the way we have always done things, but to me the potential of Crowd Accelerated Faithfulness is simply too powerful to ignore.

  • A Ministry of Encouragement

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    I saw the following idea in the January Newsletter from Trinity Lutheran Church in Pulaski, VA. Pastor Terrie Sternberg suggests that a “ministry of encouragement is rather key to sharing the light of Christ.” In the coming year, Trinity is inviting members of the congregation to “make use of a new pew card, called the ‘Barnabas Card,’ with which you can recognize a person or a group for the work they do in the kingdom of God and share a word of appreciation and encouragement. Barnabas was the new name for one who was generous in supporting the work of the early church, so we will use his name to thank one another. If you think of someone you want to thank for their kingdom work, just send them a Barnabas Card!”

    I really like the ‘Barnabas Card’ idea because it encourages people to support one another in their ministry and it invites people to recognize the various ways that we use our gifts to proclaim God’s love in the world.

  • Becoming a Missional Church

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    I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to participate in a webinar presented by The City with Reggie McNeal, author of books like The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. The webinar was entitled, “Changing the Scorecard for Church.” I was extremely impressed by what Reggie had to say. He emphasized the need to be a misssional church, the need to be faced outward in mission and his belief that we need to stop measuring program participation and start measuring the impact our ministry is making.

    Here are my notes of a couple of the questions that were asked and his answers.

    If historically we have been church centric, what are the shifts in thinking in the local church that need to take place to be a missional church?

    1st Shift – move from internal thinking to external thinking. For example, how much of the spending plan is consumed by “putting on Sunday worship.” Congregations need to begin to believe that our core activity is to be turned outside – to bless the community. Our call is to bless everyone who is not part of us – to bless the rest of the world.

    2nd Shift – move from a program driven model to a people development agenda. (Most difficult in his opinion) We have been very good at manufacturing programs. Pastors have been good at producing sermons. The metrics by which we measure our progress and success are tied to program participation. If we switch to a people development agenda, then we begin to ask questions like “How are the people?” “How are their lives growing and improving?”, instead of asking how many people showed up for the program. McNeal says several times that he is not against programs, he is more interested in what the point is – what the goal is than what the program is.

    3rd Shift – move from church centric program leaders to leaders of a movement. Requires a shift to a community orientation. We have been really good at inside the building stuff, but in today’s world we need to because missional leaders in the community, not simply in our congregations.

    Changing the scorecard. How do you decide what to measure and how do your measure it?

    The metric needs to grow out of the soil where you are planted, the context and what you believe God is calling you to do. Work your metrics backwards from the results you are trying to achieve. You may not be able to measure the long-term outcome, but you can figure out how to measure progress and engagement.