Trinitarian Theology of Ministry

I am grateful for my time at Asbury Theological Seminary for the doctor of ministry program (2004-2008). It was certainly worthwhile … and formational.

One of the statements that has shaped me the most came out of one of the three required courses, “Theology of Ministry,” taught by Dr. Stephen Seamands (author of Wounds That Heal, among others).

Seamands taught the following statement (subsequently published in Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service) …

I have entered into the ministry of Jesus, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world.

It’s a great statement. It’s both humbling — it’s God’s ministry, ultimately — and motivating. It’s been a great reminder over the course of the last six years!

(Incidentally, I think the fact that this statement is so memorable/impacting, speaks to the importance of “sticky statements”; see One-Point Preaching for more on sticky statements.)

Education as Formation

Recently, I was reflecting on my journey, specifically as it relates to formal (ministry/leadership) education. A long time ago, I came to believe that the highest goal of education (for me, at least) was formation, not knowledge acquisition, or the diploma at the end of the program.

Formation is a goal of all personal growth (reading, seminars, etc.), of course, but a formal education setting offers an extra intensive personal growth environment.

This may not apply as well to more technical kinds of education, but the focus in ministry education isn’t just the content (Bible, ministry, and leadership); it’s also about being shaped/formed into the kind of person God can use for a lifetime in ministry. It’s more about character development and formation as a person than it is about attaining all the knowledge you’ll ever need (which isn’t really possible, anyway).

In my Master of Divinity program in the 1990s, the goal could not have been to learn everything about the Bible. In fact, I had only three specific Bible courses (Psalms, Ezekiel, and the Johannine Epistles) in addition to broader courses on the Old Testament and the New Testament.

While part of the goal was to learn as much as possible about the particular topics I got to focus on, the more important goal was to learn how to learn/study, so that after graduation, I can make the most of lifelong study of the Bible.

Now, it’s also possible that I came to this realization as a way to make me feel better about how little I actually remember from all those years of studying! Seriously, I know I remember some things, but I also know there’s simply no way to remember everything I learned. There *has* to be a higher goal! 🙂

Sleep Adjustments

It’s been a while since we’ve posted an update on how Sarah is adjusting (last two posts were Family Leave Report and Checking in on Sarah).

Sarah has been with us a little over four months now, and all along, we’ve been saying that she is adjusting really well. The two areas that were perhaps the most challenging were riding in the car seat and going to sleep at night. She’s doing a lot better in the car seat, although our lengthier trips are few.

Our biggest challenge in the past four months was getting Sarah to sleep at night. In the earliest days, Sarah would often cry (and sometimes scream) herself to sleep at night, up to 30-60 minutes. Nothing seemed to work. We’d usually hold her till she fell asleep, but as soon as we’d lay her in the crib (or even move toward it), she’d wake up, and not be happy about it.

The transition was similar for Ethan but, if we remember correctly, Ethan’s transition (i.e., going to sleep calmly at night) was much quicker. It has only been in recent weeks that Sarah has been doing well at night (she has long done well for morning and afternoon naps; nighttime was always the challenge).

For a while there, it seemed like it was taking forever to get her to this point, but in hindsight, three to four months isn’t really very long in the grand scheme of things, I suppose.

The current challenge with Ethan’s sleep is that he’s been getting up much earlier ever since we returned from Korea (6:30 am +/- an hour). They go to bed at the same time (7:30-8:00 pm), but Sarah sleeps much later (around 9:00 am or so). We’re hoping that the beginning of daylight saving times helps Ethan sleep a little later (we miss having more productive time before the kids get up in the morning)!

In spite of these challenges, though, we have been extremely blessed that both Sarah and Ethan normally sleep throughout the night! We’ll say it again, we are extremely blessed!

Aha!

Last fall, Leadership Network offered a free online leadership event called, The Nines (see my posts, The Nines Marathon and More on The Nines). Now, they are offering another online event called Aha!.

Aha!, which is expected to last about four hours, will focus on fresh ideas in the church coming from about 40 different presenters. The free event will take place Wednesday, March 3, 2010 beginning at noon Eastern.

According to the site, pre-registration is required. This time around, you can pay $20 for some extras, including full speaker notes (in advance).

It should be good.

Simple Church 2.0

Picking up where we left off five months ago (due to parental leaves), our Covenant Groups resumed last night (see Simple Church 1.0).

Our Covenant Groups (a requirement of our ordination process) are discussing Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s book, Simple Church. Since we had only read chapter one for our September 2009 meeting, we basically started over and covered the first two chapters this time. At this rate, we should be able to get through the book by the time we’re ordained! 🙂 We meet every other month until ordination in June 2011.

The premise of the book (which grew out of an extensive research project) is that, “simple churches are growing and vibrant” (14).

Here are some quotes from the first two chapters that stand out to me …

To have a simple church, leaders must ensure that everything their church does fits together to produce life change. They must design a simple process that pulls everything together, a simple process that moves people toward spiritual maturity. (26)

To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. It must move people toward maturity. It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it. (26)

Chapter two presents case studies of two different churches — a simple church and a complicated church. As expected, the simple church was the growing church. We’re reading chapter three for our next meeting (in April), but because this book has huge implications for our current work work with Five Practices, especially Intentional Faith Development, I’m reading ahead — and there’s lots of good stuff, which I’ll write about later.

A few sections of the book can be read online at Google Books.

Radical Hospitality

Schnase defines Christian hospitality as “the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.”

It is active: that means we have to do something! It is offered to strangers, those we don’t know, those who may look different from you. Hospitality breaks down cultural barriers and nurtures a sense of equality. Hospitality in inviting, welcoming, receiving and caring: sees a need and meets it, is generous, going the extra mile, goes beyond a simple “Hello” to making someone feel at home. Lastly, we have found a “home” at West Side. We have found love and acceptance and freedom in Jesus Christ. We now offer that same gift to others.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15.7).

Questions for reflection and comment.

  1. What do you love about West Side? Why have you chosen to make it your spiritual home? If you were not “born into” the congregation, what was it like the very first time you attended?
  2. Have you ever invited someone who is not a part of a congregation to a service, ministry, or activity of West Side? If so, how did it feel? If not, what has restrained you?
  3. What are two or three behaviors that each of us at West Side could practice that would shape the culture of our congregation toward a hospitality that exceeds expectations?

Cultivating Fruitfulness

The theme this Lent at West Side UMC is based on Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, Extravagant Generosity.

The purpose of this study is to move toward greater fruitfulness for the glory of God. Schnase points out these five practices “are rooted in the formation of the church in the second chapter of Acts and in the reforming of the church in the days of John and Charles Wesley.” May this be a time of “focused reflection and learning” … leading “to greater clarity and commitment to the ministry of Christ.”

We are using Schnase’s daily devotional, Cultivating Fruitfulness, for personal devotion and Thursday morning devotion. And we are doing a 3-week study of each of the five practices on Sunday evenings, February 21 through June 6. It was suggested that we provide an online forum for discussion of each of the five practices during Lent, so this will provide a place to do that.

Each of the next five weeks, I will give a summary of the practice, offer some discussion questions, and you may post responses to the questions. You may also post helpful, supportive comments in response to others, generating a healthy online discussion. I will monitor and join in the conversation as well. The first summary on Radical Hospitality will appear shortly.

Pastor’s Hangover

There’s sort of a common joke among church leaders that pastors write many Monday morning letters of resignation. Along these lines, I once heard Rob Bell use the term “pastor’s hangover” in a sermon, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Perhaps it’s because I know what it feels like (although, mine are normally mild).

If I remember correctly, Bell stated that during a pastor’s hangover, the pastor wonders, “Did I really say that?”

The classic illustration for the pastor’s hangover is Elijah. After confronting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel and leading people toward tremendous transformation, he runs from Jezebel, hides in a cave, and prays that God will end his life.

Well, that’s a pretty extreme form of a pastor’s hangover. But then the transformation experienced among the people was pretty extreme, too.

Hangovers come after times of great boldness (boldness isn’t static). I think the areas where I feel the most bold are (1) praying, (2) writing, and (3) preaching. But it’s only after preaching that I sometimes experience a pastor’s hangover.

When I experience them, I can feel the boldness wearing off on Sunday afternoon/evening, especially if it was an extra-intense day, as yesterday was.

I imagine it’s a much more intense experience for those who battle depression. “Hall of Fame” preacher, Charles Spurgeon, battled depression, I believe. I remember reading a story about him where he once prayed that he would break a leg so that he would not have to preach at a particular place. And that was *before* the sermon!

Fortunately, my hangovers are generally mild and short-lived. Sleep does a lot of good. Normally, I’m ready to dive back in by Monday morning. And I haven’t written any Monday morning letters of resignation, so far. 🙂

But this underscores why pastors — people who are called to transform people and shape culture through the preaching of God’s Word in the “life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels” (Ephesians 6.12, MSG) — need prayer. See Praying for Pastors for a good prayer guide.

Well, your comments are always welcome. I especially invite preachers to share their experiences of pastor’s hangovers.

Lenten Growth Plan

I have had a sense (or at least a hope) that Lent 2010 will be an especially transformational time in my life, in my home, and in my church. Knowing that we have to be intentional about our own spiritual growth, I’ve been thinking specifically about my growth plan for Lent (this continues the thinking from my recent posts: Personal Growth Plan and Daily Must-Dos).

I didn’t do so well with last year’s attempt at Reading Eugene Peterson for Lent, but that was because we hit a major crunch time in finishing up some work for our commissioning/ordination process. I’m hoping to do better this year!

Here’s the list of books I plan to read this Lenten season (in order) …

Off-Road Disciplines (Earl Creps)

Eat This Book (Eugene Peterson)

Raising an Emotionally-Intelligent Child (John Gottman)

Secrets from the Treadmill (Pete Briscoe and Patricia Hickman)

Hearing God (Dallas Willard)

Emotionally-Healthy Spirituality (Pete Scazzarro)

Cadences of Home (Walter Brueggemann)

Leadership Gold (John Maxwell)

A Resilient Life (Gordan MacDonald)

When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (John Ortberg)

Some of these books have been on our list for a long time, including the Reading Pile 2.5 years ago. I’m just now recovering from the doctor of ministry program we completed in 2008! 🙂

Observations …
In this list, I’ve tried to include mostly spiritual formation/development types of books along with one leadership book, one preaching book, and one parenting book. Normally, I read mostly leadership books, with a few of the others thrown in occasionally.

Two of the books, including the parenting book, deal with emotional health. I also wanted to include something by Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, and Walter Brueggemann, and I settled on these particular ones.

I wanted to include at least one preaching book. I’ve been thinking recently that, while I really don’t usually read a lot of books on preaching, that I should occasionally. Since it’s something that I do virtually every week, it’s an axe I need to continually sharpen. I just finished reviewing Communicating for a Change (Andy Stanley and Lanes Jones) in the last few days, after having read it twice (and I almost never read books more than once!) a few years ago (see my One Point Preaching post for more on that). I’m planning a couple posts on preaching next week.

I always enjoy reading John Ortberg, whose books have great titles (e.g., If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat and Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them). I’ve also been greatly influenced by John Maxwell over the last two decades through his books, monthly audio clubs, and conferences.

Well, I will probably blog some learnings along the way. I’m looking forward to it!

Lent 2010 Begins

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. This morning, I was finishing up reading through Ezra and his prayer toward the end of the book sounded like a good prayer for the beginning of Lent.

Ezra, who has returned to Jerusalem with a group of Israelites that were in captivity in Babylon, heard that the people had sinned. Ezra says, “This news made me so angry that I ripped my clothes and tore hair from my head and beard. Then I just sat in shock until time for the evening sacrifice.” (That’s a pretty intense response to sin!)

Then Ezra prayed …

I am much too ashamed to face you, LORD God. Our sins and our guilt have swept over us like a flood that reaches up to the heavens. Since the time of our ancestors, all of us have sinned. That’s why we, our kings, and our priests have often been defeated by other kings. They have killed some of us and made slaves of others; they have taken our possessions and made us ashamed, just as we are today.

But for now, LORD God, you have shown great kindness to us. You made us truly happy by letting some of us settle in this sacred place and by helping us in our time of slavery. We are slaves, but you have never turned your back on us. You love us, and because of you, the kings of Persia have helped us. It’s as though you have given us new life! (Ezra 9.6-9; read the whole prayer in Ezra 9.)

As we turn toward God, and away from sin, may this Lenten season be an especially transformational experience for all of us!