Prayer Idiosyncrasies

I’ve really enjoyed reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson (see “The Circle Maker” 1.0, “The Circle Maker” 2.0, as well as Spiritual Priming and Shaping Culture).

In the book, Batterson talks about idiosyncrasies. He begins by listing some of his own, and even some of Jesus’, including how “he loved to pray early in the morning” (130), usually in the wilderness.

In my own reading about great preachers and spiritual leaders from the past, I have discovered many idiosyncrasies. Many preachers got up at ridiculous hours to spend extensive time in prayer and reading Scripture. I remember reading about one person who commonly read the Bible while kneeling.

This challenges me to think about my own prayer idiosyncrasies.

Batterson writes …

One important dimension of prayer is finding your own ritual, your own routines. Just like Daniel, you need to find your open window toward Jerusalem. (131)

Daniel prayed three times a day. An open window facing Jerusalem was significant for him. Peter had an encounter with God that altered the course of his life while praying on a rooftop. Batterson’s book is based on the legend of Honi the circle maker, who had his own idiosyncrasies. Honi marked out a circle on the ground during a drought and praying inside the circle until God answered his prayer for rain.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to prayer (or any of the spiritual disciplines, for that matter). Everyone has to find their own rhythm. Batterson leads me to believe our practices should be unique, even if a little odd.

One of the prayer idiosyncrasies I’ve developed in recent weeks, perhaps inspired by The Circle Maker, is praying seven laps around the worship space at Centre Grove UMC.

A few times a week, I pray laps around the church’s worship area. Expanding on the acronym, P.R.A.Y. (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield), I pray Scripture on the first lap (Psalms, so far), then a use a lap for Praise, a lap for Repent, two laps for Ask (one of which using my own desperate preacher’s prayer guide), a lap for Yield, and the final lap in silence. For at least a couple of the laps, I also carry around funnel, related to one of the 5 Takeaways from the Preach Better Sermons online event.

Praying seven laps around the worship space is an idiosyncrasy. It’s also a visual reminder of the importance of circling our ministry in prayer!

What are some of your prayer idiosyncrasies?

The Slippery Slope From Marginal to Mainstream

I am not a historian or an anthropologist. But I think there’s a common tendency to begin at the margins of society and move toward the mainstream.

At the cultural level, one generation rebels against the previous generation. But, eventually, the actions of the younger generation become mainstream, and the cycle continues when the next generation than rebels.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were on the margins of society, going from small, nomadic family to large family to slavery to freedom. Then the outcast people wanted a king like all the other nations. They wanted to be mainstream.

Jesus spent most of his time at the margins of society, eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus was so marginal, he was called a “drunk and a glutton.”

After the resurrection of Jesus, the church continued to serve people at the margins of society with a small group of 120 people. Much of the church’s earliest beginnings were among people at the margins. Then, within a few centuries, the church went mainstream.

Fast forward to recent centuries, Methodism began at the margins of society. John Wesley, who got nowhere in his efforts to reform the Church of England, began ministering among the people at the margins. But, sure enough, over the course of time, Methodists became more and more mainstream, to the point of being called “mainline.” (Incidentally, Scott Kisker discusses how this process developed in his book, Mainline or Methodist?, and argues that we should be Methodist, not mainline.)

One of the problems with the move from marginal to mainstream, is that once you get to the mainstream, you feel like you’ve arrived, so you begin to you coast. When the mission is complete, the purpose switches from mission to maintenance.

So, what’s the answer? Part of the answer is to refocus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Disciple-making is messy work. For people who are committed to being mainstream (well-accepted), disciple-making is unappealing.

This is why the need for transformational leaders is so great in the church right now. Transformational leaders change the focus from maintenance to mission.

When we forsake the mainstream and go back to the margins, we give up our need to be accepted and well-liked, and we become more courageous, so that the least, the lost, the last, and the lonely can experience the saving message of Jesus Christ.

Let’s go back to the margins!

5 Ways Leaders Help Others Avoid Stagnation

Yesterday, I wrote 5 Ways Leaders Avoid Stagnation. It was a post about self-leadership, which can be some of the most challenging leadership of all!

But that got to me thinking about how leaders, and particularly, pastors, help others from becoming stagnant.

Here are 5 ways leaders help others avoid stagnation …

1. Model discipleship and growth.
I’ve heard John Maxwell say, “We teach what we know; we reproduce what we are.” If we’re not growing as disciples, and in our gifts and strengths, then those we lead won’t either. On the other hand, when we model personal and spiritual growth, others will be motivated to grow as well.

2. Pray.
Praying for others is vitally important. The work of the church is done in the context of spiritual battle. This spiritual battle cannot be won without prayer. One of the enemy’s primary strategies against the church is apathy and comfort with the status quo. Prayer helps keep leaders and followers alert and ready for battle. It keeps us awake!

3. Cast vision.
Vision inspires. It also leaks, which is why leaders must cast, and re-cast, vision over and over. Years ago, I came to terms with the fact that part of leadership is being “a broken record.”

4. Release ministry to others.
When people get involved in ministry—in sharing their faith and serving others—their faith is stretched. When your faith is stretched, you avoid becoming stagnant. You are challenged to grow.

5. Equip others for ministry.
To maintain passion in ministry, you have to keep growing. So, leaders must constantly equip people for ministry. God calls spiritual leaders “to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4.12, CEB). When leaders live out this call, people grow.

What’s missing? How do you to help others avoid stagnation?

5 Ways Leaders Avoid Stagnation

Several years ago, in a class led by Dr. Russell West at Asbury, I shared my fear of becoming stagnant and losing my passion to keep growing. Because of the human tendency to settle, preventing this fear from becoming reality requires intentionality and constant awareness.

Here are five ways leaders avoid stagnation …

1. Follow Jesus.
If you follow Jesus faithfully and obediently, there will be no stagnation. The life of following of Jesus is an ongoing, lifelong process called discipleship—becoming more and more like Jesus, our Master. Disciples are learners, apprentices. If we are growing as disciples of Jesus, we will not become stagnant.

2. Develop your gifts.
Next to the spiritual disciplines (practices of disciples), nothing motivates me like reading (or listening/watching to audio/visual resources). Leaders are learners. They constantly work on developing their gifts. Developing gifts includes learning new and/or better ways of doing things. The challenge, though, is to carve out enough time for it. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to keep growing and to avoid stagnation.

3. Engage and disengage.
Leaders must practice a healthy rhythm of engaging and disengaging (work and sabbath). My guess is that leaders who become stagnant and burn out do too much engaging and not enough disengaging. Disengaging involves daily, weekly, and annual breaks as well as things like getting enough sleep, and doing things for fun.

4. Prioritize relationships.
Life isn’t just about work. Relationships matter, especially family relationships for those who are married and/or have children. Cultivating relationships helps leaders stay healthy and avoid stagnation.

5. Shake things up.
Shake things up, periodically, by changing your routine. In weight lifting, it’s called the “confusion principle”—after a period of time, your muscles become resistant to your routine. To spark growth, you have to change your routine. And always look for better ways of doing what you do. Never settle for the status quo or for what’s comfortable.

What’s missing? What helps you avoid stagnation?

This Site Is Getting a New Look With Headway 3

Last November, I wrote a post on Building a Church Website With WordPress. In that post, I discussed the basic steps for setting up a church website using WordPress.org’s software. I also talked about using Headway Themes, a theme framework that uses an innovative “visual editor” to build and design websites with WordPress.

As I mentioned then, just days after that post, Headway 3.0 was released. However, because 3.0 was completely rewritten, users of the previous theme version were not able to upgrade. While Headway Themes has been promising that there will eventually be an upgrade path, I decided to go ahead and rebuild this site in 3.0 (and partly because I’m not convinced they’ll release an upgrade path).

I mention this for a couple reasons: (1) You may notice some of the ongoing changes/tweaks to the site in the days ahead, and also, (2) to ask you to let me know if you find something on the site that isn’t working; I may have broken something in the process!

Last November, I said I was excited about the release of Headway 3.0. Now that I finally got to use it, it seems that the learning curve went up dramatically. Part of the learning curve is simply that the visual editor was completely redone. It’s a major upgrade from the previous version, but unless I’m missing something (I’m still learning, of course), some basic elements aren’t quite as easy to customize as before (I’ve had to use a lot of custom CSS, which because I’m not a real web designer, means lots of research and trial-and-error, and little sleep).

I still recommend Headway Themes, but only if you’re willing to tackle the learning curve!

United Methodists Prepare for General Conference 2012

Every four years, United Methodists from around the world gather for General Conference, the UMC’s top legislative body. The next gathering will take place in Tampa, Florida, April 24-May 4, 2012. This year, General Conference will consist of 988 delegates (half clergy, half laity), as elected in each conference.

The UMC has a site set up for General Conference 2012. The Methblog has a GC2012 page setup as well. You can also sign up for a daily news digest from Ministry Matters and Circuit Rider magazine, where you can also sign up for a 30-day devotional, written by Bishop Robert Schnase (beginning March 26). There’s also a mobile app for General Conference. And finally, the 50 Days of Prayer emphasis has already begun by The Upper Room.

GC2012.umc.org will feature live streaming of plenary sessions and worship services (the mobile app will live stream as well). Incidentally, our bishop, Jane Allen Middleton, is scheduled to preach in the Memorial Service on Wednesday, May 2 (see worship schedule).

General Conference will consider many petitions, and many of them significant. Perhaps none are more significant that the UMC’s Call to Action. My somewhat limited understanding is that the Call to Action focuses on helping the denomination create more “vital congregations.” From the Call to Action site

We see a new church, a church that is clear about its mission and confident about its future, a church that is relevant, reaching out, inviting, alive, agile, and resilient. We see a church that is hopeful, passionate, nimble, called by God, outward-focused, courageous.

Sensing the importance of General Conference action, Rev. Adam Hamilton wrote An Open Letter to the Delegates of the 2012 General Conference (also see this United Methodist News Service article). As of this post, there are 341 signatures (I’m number 121 and Joleen is number 122). It’s an awesome letter that implores delegates “to have courage” and “to not let fear keep us from the change we desperately need.”

I am excited, and hopeful, about the focus on Jesus’ mission and the courageous, transformational leadership that is needed to become a missional movement again!

Desperate Preacher’s Prayer Guide 5.0

I continue to revise my preaching-related prayer guide, which I started a couple of years ago (see 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0).

It has remained pretty steady for a while, but I’ve been revising it again in the last couple of weeks. My purpose isn’t really to perfect it, but to reflect whatever I’m emphasizing at any given time. So, here’s the latest version.

Desperate Preacher’s Prayer Guide
“I have entered into the ministry of Jesus Christ, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world!”

I humble / surrender / yield myself to you! I am available / dependent / desperate! Sanctify me. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. God, give me a heart like yours! Break my heart for what breaks yours!

Pour out your Spirit on me. Prepare me. Speak to me. Transform me. Let my heart be “good soil,” receptive and teachable. Anoint me be a Truth-teller, Pot-stirrer, and Seed-planter.

Dress me in your armor. Set me on fire. Fill me with boldness, urgency, power, passion, and courage!

Help me to be in tune with you. Send me out with a preacher’s burden. Help me to be clear, focused, and concise. Help me to say what you want me to say—nothing more, nothing less!

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19.14). God, you write the words! Help me to internalize the message so that it will be fire in my bones!

May the preaching of your Word make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! “Lord … enable your servant to speak your word with complete confidence” (Acts 4.29).

Saturate, consume, and overwhelm us with your presence. May your Spirit work among us and breathe new life into us!

Amen.

Task Management App: 2do

I’ve written about my long-time search for a better way to manage time and tasks: Task Management, Task Management 2.0, and Time Management. My latest stop on this journey is the iPad app, 2do.

As I’ve stated before, my journey started with a Franklin Day Planner when I was in college. Over the years, I’ve used paper planners primarily, and mostly formats I created on my own. I tried a PDA about a decade ago, and in recent years, I tried an online service. But I always returned to a paper format because I want to see everything at a glance.

In recent months, I’ve spent a number of hours researching iPad apps. I tried out a number of free apps to get a feel for what I like, but I usually gave up on them, often within minutes (if not seconds) of trying them. Because I didn’t want to waste any money, I did a lot of research on paid apps like Todo, Toodledo, Pocket Informant, among others, including Things and OmniFocus, which are both expensive, cluttered, and possibly overkill for my needs.

Of course, everyone’s needs are different. Some features I do not need include the ability to sync to an online service to access on other devices (although 2do does sync with the online service, Toodledo), an integrated calendar (I use the iPad’s Calendar to sync with our Google calendars), or extensive project management (2do handles basic lists and projects).

I was looking for something fairly intuitive but with extensive options to create my own system. After a long search, I am very happy with the one app I paid for: 2do (currently, $9.99; it was $6.99 when I purchased it).

I’ve been using it for several weeks now. While I can’t compare it with other paid apps, it has all of the features I’m looking for.

Here’s my system …

  • I have three “categories” (or “tabs”): “Big Rocks” (important daily/weekly disciplines), “Home”, and “Work.” Default tabs include “All”, “Today,” and “Starred.””
  • At the beginning of each week, I star the tasks I plan to do in the coming week (Monday through Sunday). All of the starred tasks appear in the “Starred” tab, which I use as a weekly list. “All” is the master list.
  • Then I assign a due date for each task to do on the day I plan to do it. On any given day, I can use the “Today” tab to view my tasks for the current day.
  • As the week progresses, I can move things around by changing the due dates. It’s easy to “defer” tasks to another day, or to change the due date.

I probably use due dates differently than most. I don’t think of them as “deadlines,” but simply the days I plan to work on them. So, as I go through the week, I can see my tasks sorted by date/day of the week.

With 2do, I can create subtasks and repeating tasks, two must-have features. I also like the ability to backup to a free Dropbox account.

One other thing that mattered to me is the look of the app. I want the app that I’m going to be using on a daily basis to look great!

There’s a lot of potential for personal customization with 2do. I’m sure there are features I haven’t learned yet as well as some features I won’t use, but I’m glad it does what I want it to do. So far, I couldn’t be more pleased!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Also, I’d love to hear about how manage your time and tasks!

5 Takeaways from Preach Better Sermons

Last month, I mentioned the free online preaching conference, Peach Better Sermons. I watched most of the 3.5-hour event last Thursday (The Christian Post wrote an article about the event).

It was a great event. The speakers included Perry Noble, Jud Wilhite, Vanable Moody, Andy Stanley, Dr. Charles Stanley, Louie Giglio, Jeff Foxworthy, and Dan Cathy. While there was a lot of great content, I came away with a few tremendous takeaways.

1. Define clear next steps.
This concept wasn’t new, but I like the language. I generally think of it as application. Nancy Duarte calls it a call to action. Jud Wilhite talked about having one, sometimes two, clear next steps.

2. You need to have a target audience in mind.
I’m very familiar with Andy Stanley and his approach (see One-Point Preaching, by far the most popular post on this blog). Stanley talked about having a particular target audience in mind as you prepare your sermon.

3. Create tension in the first five minutes of the sermon.
Stanley addresses this in his book, Communicating for a Change, but after hearing him talk about the importance of tension, this is an area I want to ramp up. The basic idea is, if you don’t raise a question people want answered in the first few minutes, you’ll spend the rest of the message answering a question no one is asking.

4. Pray.
I enjoyed hearing Dr. Charles Stanley. His most impacting statement (and one of the most tweeted quotes from the event) was, “A man can preach no better than he prays” (it applies to women as well).

5. Let God do a work in you through the text.
It’s easy to approach the Bible as a source for sermons rather than as God’s Word. Louie Giglio used a funnel as an illustration of how God’s Word pours into us and works on us so that a meaningful, focused message comes out. I posted on Twitter, “After listening to @louiegiglio … I’m going to pray and study w/ a funnel by my side!” It’s a great reminder that I must be transformed by the message that I hope will transform others.

I enjoyed Preach Better Sermons. It was a kick-off event for Preaching Rocket, a new, innovative 12-month coaching network for preachers.

The Spread of Spiritual Fire

Last week, I heard our bishop note that “the early Methodists were on fire for Jesus Christ.” I thought about that during a time of prayer a couple of days ago, and as I thought about it, I remembered something I learned way back in a physics class.

In physics, I learned that heat travels from hot to cold.

The way I’ve always remembered that is if you open the front door in the winter, you are not letting cold air in, you’re letting warm air out. Another way to think about it is that if you touch a hot stove, heat travels from the hot stove to your cooler hand.

But I’ve been thinking about this in the context of the church, especially long-established churches in need of spiritual transformation and renewal, that tend to have a larger amount of people who have grown comfortable in their walk with God; that is, they’re lukewarm or even cold. In those settings, it’s easy for people who are on fire for God to become discouraged.

But this law of physics, or the spiritual law that mirrors it, encourages me. Heat travels from those who are on fire for Jesus Christ to people around them. Fire spreads. Passion is contagious.

The problem is that as the heat travels to colder surroundings, the heat dissipates. In the church, those who are lukewarm can simply drain the heat of those who are on fire for God to the point where everyone is the same (less than hot) temperature.

So, those who are on fire for God must stay close to the source—the “consuming fire”—as they continue to live among the cold and lukewarm so that they don’t lose their fire!

That’s the challenge of the spiritual life—to stay close to God and to impact others. We can, and must, do both!