4 Talking Points about United Methodists

During one of the meals at the Bishop’s Retreat last week, each place setting included a 1-2-3-4 card which is intended to describe United Methodists.

The folded card is designed “to provide talking points about our church and its mission,” states …

We are the people of The United Methodist Church.

  1. We believe inβ€”
    making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  2. We live by two kinds of holiness.
    • Personal
    • Social
  3. We follow three simple rules.
    • Do no harm.
    • Do good.
    • Stay in love with God.
  4. We work in four areas of focus.
    • Developing leaders
    • Creating places for new people
    • Eliminating poverty
    • Improving health globally

I’m a huge proponent of vision-casting that’s clear and concise. The 1-2-3-4 card is a great way to understand and communicate who we are and what we’re about!

How well do you think it communicates the heart and mission of United Methodists?

Snow Piles Up!

The snow continues to pile up here in central PA. Ethan hasn’t played in the snow too much other than a day a earlier this month and yesterday.

It just keeps on piling up, giving Ethan more to play in …

How are you enjoying — or coping with — the weather? πŸ™‚

Watoto Children’s Choir

If you’ve had a chance to read my post about the World Help Children’s Choir, whom we heard and experienced in Tennessee last November, you’ll understand why I was thrilled when the opportunity availed itself to bring a similar choir to West Side UMC.

The Watoto Children’s Choir will perform a “Concert of Hope” at West Side on February 3 at 7:00 pm. And I made sure I put in for two little boys to stay at our home!

Watch this YouTube video of the Watoto Children’s Choir where they perform “I Am Not Forgotten” …

There are a number of other videos of the Choir on YouTube, including …

The Ministry of Watoto

The Choir performs “I Am Not Forgotten”

One of Africa’s Children

Joseph’s Story

Also, the choir sings with Chris Tomlin on a song called “Love” on his latest release, “Hello Love.” Here, Chris tells the story of how the song.

We’re looking forward to the concert next Tuesday. I pray that this choir impacts others the way I was impacted a few months ago!

World Help Children’s Choir

While visiting Randy’s family in Tennessee over Thanksgiving we had the privilege of hearing one of the World Help Children’s Choirs (YouTube Channel).

Randy’s family was also host to two of the girls from Uganda (Ritah and Juliet) and a chaperone. It was a wonderful experience. One of the things that touched me most was the choir singing a song with the theme of thanks called “All Creation”

We come to You with a heart of thanks, for your love
To be a living sacrifice, brought with love
We come to You with a heart of thanks, for Your love
An offering of all we are, brought with love

All creation, looks to You
All provision, comes from You
In every sunrise, hope shines through
For Your mercy, we thank You

We come to You with a song of praise, for Your love
The music of our soul’s delight, brought with love
We come to You with a song of praise, for Your love
Sounds of joy and gratefulness, brought with love

All creation looks to You
All provision comes from You
In every rhythm we thank You
(In every season we thank You)
For Your love

Many of these children are orphaned, and before the concert began their stories were told through a multimedia slideshow. I read about parents who were lost by AIDS or by car accident or one parent could not support their child so the parent traveled to this home to have their child stay where they were sure their child would be well cared for.

I read how much pain and hardship these children have experienced in their young lives and yet they sang exuberant praise to God and gave thanks. Their stories impacted and challenged me to live with a more grateful heart of praise.

Here are some photos from our time with Ritah and Juliet in Tennessee …


At the Bishop’s Retreat last week, I was reminded about a particular verse that’s held an important place in my heart since the beginning of my Christ-following journey.

When I was a junior in college, having just transferred to a Christian college to pursue training for my call to leadership in ministry, I remember the instructor discussing John 15.16 in a class called, “Introduction to Evangelism.” Here’s the part of the verse that challenges and encourages me …

You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last.

This statement by Jesus is a good reminder that the ministry to which I’ve been called isn’t about me. It’s not even my ministry, but God’s. It’s also a good reminder that God calls me to be fruitful.

As we begin our journey through the Five Practices, a focus on practices of *fruitful* congregations, this statement by Jesus takes on even greater significance for me. God has chosen us, and he sends us out to bear fruit, fruit that will last!

Shaping Culture Revisited

Between November 23, 2007 and February 2, 2008 (a few days before we flew to Korea to get Ethan), I wrote a series of 6 posts reflecting on and dreaming about the kind of culture we wanted to shape in our home, once we welcomed Ethan into our lives.

Nearly a year into our parenting journey, here are some early reflections on several important areas …

God-Centered Culture
We’re shaping a God-centered culture by reading Scripture and praying together, mostly during a devotional time each night before bed. A few months ago, Ethan learned, without any prompting from us, to clasp his hands together and bow his head for prayer (which was usually followed by a sigh if he was waiting to eat!). I’m sure that as Ethan grows and we’re able to have conversations, we’ll find ways to “do theology” together.

Learning Culture
It’s been fun to watch Ethan develop and learn new things. He’s extremely observant; nothing seems to get by him. In December, we wrote about Signing. Yesterday, I asked Ethan if he was ready for his bath. Immediately, Ethan put down his sippy cup of water, and did the bath sign. That surprised us, because that’s the newest sign we’ve taught him and it’s probably been a couple weeks since we’ve even tried using it! Anyway, Ethan seems to be a good learner; that’s a skill/passion we want to encourage. We’ve never been in a hurry (or pushy) about teaching Ethan new things; we simply want to provide an atmosphere where Ethan can learn and grow, naturally.

High AQ culture
A couple things here: 1) We try not to overreact to adversity/problems ourselves (which isn’t always easy), and 2) We try to help Ethan not over-react to the adversity he experiences. Funny thing is, in the High AQ post, I wrote, “We want to raise a climber.” I didn’t really mean that literally, but Ethan is definitely a climber!

Leadership Culture
I’m not sure this is an area that really gets developed/exercised during a child’s first couple years of life. Although, I will say, that Ethan has definitely had a lot of experience leading us this year! πŸ˜†

Servant Culture
This is another area that will be largely developed later, I think. For now, it mainly needs to be something that we model for him and involve him when we can.

Trustee culture
Similarly, this is an area where we need to model good practices for now, which will hopefully make it easier to teach him good practices later.

Well, we knew culture shaping would be a real challenge, and it certainly is. We’re only a year into it, and I’m sure it gets more and more challenging along the way. But hopefully, putting down the best foundation possible (though it’ll never be perfect because we’re not perfect!), will help us down the road.

What kind of culture are you trying to shape in your home? What are you learning along the way?

Formed by Our Practices

At the Bishop’s Retreat this week, Tex Sample talked about how we are formed by our practices (see other learnings here). Because of that, we need to choose good practices.

I think this is one reason why habits, disciplines, systems and routines are important to me. It’s not just about finding an easier, faster way to do stuff, it’s that the things I do literally shape/form me, so I want to use the best practices I can.

This also makes me think about the Five Practices journey we’re beginning at Centre Grove (see the “getting started” post here), based on Bishop Schnase’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. This discussion will focus on our practices as a community, with a heart for developing practices that will honor God and bear fruit for God’s kingdom. The practices we do consistently, will shape us and our ministry in the world.

I think this could also be one reason why John Wesley was so big on practicing the “means of grace” (i.e., the sacraments and spiritual disciplines). He knew that we are formed by our practices. And what better way to be formed than by those practices through which God chooses to work in our lives.

Wesley also highlighted the importance of “works of piety” (spiritual disciplines) and “works of mercy” (acts of ministry and service) knowing that we need to be formed by both kinds of practices.

I blogged recently along these lines (before I was reminded of Tex’s language of being formed by our practices). See What Stirs Your Passion? for some of the practices that have tended to form me (as well as stirring my passion).

What practices have formed (and/or, are forming) you? What changes (old practices to get rid of or new practices to begin) do you need to make?

Bishop’s Retreat Learnings

At the beginning of this week, we arrived at the Bishop’s Retreat at the Willow Valley Resort in Lancaster, PA. While there, we witnessed the history-making inauguration as a group by way of the TV. And we also experienced some great teaching by Tex Sample, focusing on telling the Story.

Here are some quotes and/or phrases that I wrote down. Some may or may not be exact quotes, and some may be quotes of others. Either way, they’re some of the statements that impacted me …

We are formed by our practices. Tex also talked about this in a message at our 2007 Annual Conference; the statement impacted me then as well, and this was a good reminder. In fact, now that we’re parents, the statement takes on new meaning and importance for us. More on that in a later post.

Perform the biblical text. I just like this phrase. Tex talked a good deal about the importance of the role of living the story in our telling of our stories.

Books. Tex Sample recommended a number of books, including The Fear of Beggars by Kelly S. Johnson, which he recommended that pastors read before preaching their next stewardship series (I just may do that; I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist). A number of other books were also mentioned.

Strategic planning doesn’t work in oral cultures. This was new information for me, so I’ll have to chew on it for a while to consider the implications. I think Tex was talking about the corporate type of strategic planning that is understood as a management type of activity which is viewed with suspicion by the workers. Story was highlighted as a good approach, particularly in those settings. I’d suggest, though, that story is a good approach in any setting. That’s where an approach like appreciative inquiry (which we’ve written about before) can be very helpful.

Formation of a people/culture — long process of handing down and shaping its key practices. This statement caught my attention because my doctoral dissertation dealt with shaping culture. It’s a reminder that change and shaping (church) culture doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a long process. But it’s a process of handing down and shaping key practices. Transformational leadership, the kind of leadership that leads change, begins with being a catalyst for change in people lives by shaping the everyday practices of people.

Well, it was a good, though fast, couple of days. It was a good retreat, although Ethan certainly changed the dynamic of “retreat” for us. He was in child care for the four sessions, but the last three times, he cried (30 seconds, 20 minutes, and 5 minutes; that’s quite a range) when we (or Joleen) dropped him off with people he didn’t really know in a strange room. Nights were okay (although Ethan was much fussier than normal at bedtime and went to bed late each night). Tonight, our first night back at home, though, Ethan went to bed/sleep perfectly.

We’re grateful for our experience and the opportunity for growth at this year’s Bishop’s Retreat!

One Small Step, One Giant Leap

Today is an important day in the history of the United States. It’s not about politics, Democrats, Republicans, or Independents (things we don’t generally blog about πŸ™‚ ). But it’s about history.

Today, we’re at the Bishop’s Retreat in Lancaster, PA, and we actually concluded the morning session a bit early so we could watch the inauguration during lunch. It was a moving experience, watching history be made.

We had the afternoon off, and Joleen, Ethan, and I got to take a nap. When I woke up, I was thinking about the tumultuous decade of the 1960s (I was born toward the end of the decade). I thought about President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation in 1961 to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade, a vision that was fulfilled on July 20, 1969. After stepping onto the moon, Neil Armstrong said …

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

The 1960s are also known, of course, for the civil rights struggle. On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader and preacher, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, TN.

Today, just over four decades later, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.

On one hand, it was a small step. Someone was sworn in as president. It happens every four years. But history was made as the first African-American was sworn in to lead the nation.

That might be one small step for one American, but it’s a giant leap for America!

Arriving at the Bishop’s Retreat

After church services on Sunday, we ate lunch and hurriedly packed for our trip to the Willow Valley Resort, the location of the Bishop’s Retreat (an annual gathering for clergy families from our conference).

This is our first time attending the Bishop’s Retreat. Tex Sample is the guest speaker this year; he was also the guest speaker at the 2007 Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference. We’ve been looking forward to this event. Tex is a great storyteller and communicator!

It had snowed Saturday night and was still snowing Sunday when we left Clearfield around 2:00 pm. Once we got out of the area, though, we outpaced the snow and made good time. It actually snowed in this part of the state today (apparently, it was a surprise), which caused many serious traffic problems for today’s travelers!

After we arrived in Lancaster, PA and checked in to the Willow Valley Resort, we ate dinner, then returned to the room to pick up the AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers won and are headed to the Super Bowl.

With the game on past Ethan’s bedtime (even with the volume extremely low), and because we were in a strange place, Ethan didn’t go to sleep very well on the first night here. He did much better tonight, though! He also did very well in tonight’s first session in child care where he spent about two hours, part of which went past his bedtime.

Since the Bishop’s Retreat began late in the afternoon, we took part of the day to do some shopping here in Lancaster. I wanted to go to the Apple Store at the Park City Center — I had never been to an Apple Store; it was pretty awesome!

After lunch at the mall, Ethan played in the huge kids’ play area. On the drive to the Lenox Store where Joleen wanted to go, Ethan fell asleep, so he and I both took naps while Mommy went into the Lenox Store (thanks, Ethan! πŸ˜‰ ).

We had our first session of the Bishops’ Retreat tonight. Tomorrow, there’s a morning session followed an early lunch, and then some of us will watch the Inauguration as a group (it’s optional). We’ll get the afternoon off, then we’ll be back for an evening session. The Bishop’s Retreat will finish up with a final session Wednesday morning.

I’ll try to post some thoughts on the things that are impacting me here, particularly through Tex Sample’s talks.