Sabbatical Reflections

My last post shared hopes and plans for our summer sabbatical. We are grateful to God, and to our congregations, for the gift of this time!

Sabbaticals are often called “renewal leaves.” And, this time was certainly important for our renewal both as pastors and as followers of Jesus!

During our sabbatical, our main goal was to REST, PLAY, and STUDY. Overall, we did pretty well in these areas. We got some rest (as much as we were able to with 7 and 9-year-old kids). We played a lot, and we were able to do some study, mainly reading some books and attending the Global Leadership Summit, which we have been doing for the last several years.

We also enjoyed worshiping together as a family in several different United Methodist congregations. We are grateful for these rare opportunities to worship together. They were also opportunities to observe and learn from other churches!

My primary learning during the sabbatical can be stated this way …

Create space for what matters most!

Actually, while this idea began forming at the beginning of the sabbatical, it wasn’t until the end of the sabbatical that I was able to put it into a short, simple phrase!

As a pastor, the activities that matter most to me are mainly Time With God, reading and personal growth, sermon prep, and visioning. Going forward, I want to create ample space for these critical tasks so that God can work in and through me more effectively! Of course, making more room for these things will also necessarily mean removing, or minimizing, some other things from my plate. I’ll have to figure that out as I go along!

In the near future, I plan to post some reviews and reflections on the books I read during sabbatical. As expected, I didn’t make it through all twelve books on my list, but I got through seven of them, and will continue reading the others!

Now that we’re back, we’re looking forward to the next leg of our journeys here. At Centre Grove, I’m especially looking forward to deepening our commitment to corporate prayer and being more intentional about our discipleship strategy, as well as focusing on our ongoing commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus!

Sabbatical Growth Plan

As I shared recently, Joleen and I are both taking a short-term sabbatical (one month, plus two weeks of vacation). We’re seeking physical and spiritual renewal and growth in ministry leadership.

Physical & Spiritual Renewal
Spiritual health is vitally important. Lance Witt, in his book, Replenish (see my post), argues, “We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.”

Witt writes, the …

Great Commission will not be fulfilled by human ingenuity or innovative thinking alone. This God-sized task will only be completed by Spirit-filled, spiritually healthy churches. And these churches will not be spiritually healthy unless their leaders are spiritually healthy.

My regular daily disciplines, including daily time with God (prayer, journal, Bible reading), exercise, rest, and sleep, will help with physical and spiritual renewal. The sabbatical will give us an opportunity to be more intentional about replenishing our bodies and souls!

Growth in Ministry Leadership
For growth, we’ll visit some vital churches, read some books and articles, and watch some videos. I have no idea how many books I will actually read (I’m not necessarily expecting to read twelve; I just couldn’t whittle the list down any further), but I have settled on the following list. I’ll simply start at the top and go as far as I can …

  1. Grave Robber (Mark Batterson)
  2. Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life (Tom Rath)
  3. inGenius (Tina Seelig)
  4. Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)
  5. Ways of the Word (Sally Brown/Luke Powery)
  6. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (John Maxwell)
  7. Praying Together (Megan Hill)
  8. Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God (David Platt)
  9. Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (Reggie McNeal)
  10. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Travis Bradberry)
  11. Leadership 2.0 (Travis Bradberry)
  12. When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box (John Ortberg)

We’re grateful for this opportunity to be replenished. We trust that God will renew us in body and soul, and that he will help us grow to be stronger, healthier leaders!

10 Years of One-Point Preaching

Ten years ago, I made a big change in my preaching approach, switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching. I did so in June 2006 after reading the first couple chapters in Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. In 2007, I wrote my post, One-Point Preaching, which is still the most-read post on the blog. In 2011, I reflected on 5 Years of One-Point Preaching.

Much of what I’ve said before is still true. I appreciate the emphasis on building an entire message around a single point. It brings greater focus and creativity, but it also helps me preach with fewer notes (if any).

Back at the five-year mark, I noted that I had just started reading Resonate by Nancy Duarte. The book is great alongside Stanley’s book and I actually wrote a series of posts reflecting on the Duarte’s book (see “Resonate”: Bringing It All together).

As I begin a short-term sabbatical in a few days, and I plan to review both Communicating for a Change and Resonate, and also read Ways of the Word, which looks good. As I said in 2007 and 2011, and throughout my preaching journey, I’m very much a work in progress!

The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

In 2012, Centre Grove UMC’s church council read Winning on Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Edmund Kaiser. At the time, we were transitioning from a traditional United Methodist multi-committee structure to an alternative single-committee structure.

In the book, Kaiser shares Paul Borden’s somewhat humorous metaphor of the board, or council, as a group of tribal leaders …

Paul Borden, author of Hit the Bullseye, compares the board to a group of tribal leaders in the rain forest. The chief of the tribe climbs the tallest tree in order to direct the establishment of the village in a new location. From this high vantage point, the chief can see the big picture and call out where to build the huts, where to plant the crops, where to post lookouts, etc. At the base of the tree stands a circle of tribal elders with long pointed spears. If the chief tries to climb down and deny the village the benefit of the chief’s guidance, they point their spears upward to send the chief back to the high vantage point. If any tribespeople leave their work and try to pull the chief down, the elders turn their spears outward and send them back to their duties. That’s a picture of no-nonsense accountability and support. (113)

Years later, this description has stuck with us!

This is how healthy councils (or Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees) view their role and their working relationship with their pastors. Council (or SPRC) members hold the pastor accountable by encouraging them to focus on their primary leadership role. Kaiser describes the pastor’s leadership role in three key arenas: inspiring council, directing staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders), and teaching the congregation. Healthy committees also support and protect the pastor when others attempt to pull her or him down.

This metaphor still comes up from time to time at Centre Grove. I’m grateful for all those, past and present, who carry spears (metaphorically speaking!) on behalf of the ministry at Centre Grove!

Short-Term Sabbatical

United Methodist pastors are encouraged to take sabbaticals on a regular basis. Our conference allows for one-month sabbaticals once every four years (longer sabbaticals are available, a little less frequently). This will be our first sabbatical since beginning ministry in the UMC in 1998.

The appropriate committees from both Centre Grove UMC and West Side UMC, as well as the Bishop and District Superintendents of the Conference, approved a one-month sabbatical for each of us (plus, we’re adding two weeks of vacation). We trust this will be a time of growth and renewal, which will benefit us and also our congregations!

What is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is not a vacation. It’s a scheduled time of rest, reflection, and renewal for ministry. According to Alban Institute, a sabbatical should have a balance of four components: 1) spiritual renewal, 2) physical rest and refreshment, 3) emotional recharging, and 4) intellectual stimulation.

What will we do on sabbatical?
Our basic goals are to renew our relationship with God, to retool for pastoral leadership through engaging in study, to seek spiritual renewal, and to experience physical renewal through a focus on healthy living.

The sabbatical will include time for intentional study, focused prayer, conversations with mentors, time at a clergy retreat center and visiting vital churches. It will also include our annual attendance at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit.

It is said that healthy pastors build healthy churches. We pray this focused time will benefit our congregations as we return with renewed vision and passion for ministry!

We will do our best to “unplug” from phone, email, and social media, and will look forward to catching up with our congregations upon our return. We also hope this will be a time of renewal for our churches, as God’s Word is preached by different voices.

Please pray for us during this opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal. Pray for Centre Grove and West Side that God will continue to do great things in and through us!

Thoughts on General Conference 2016

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, met in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20. The top policy-making body of the UMC meets every four years. This year’s conference was made up of 864 delegates from around the world.

The UMC is becoming more and more of a global church!
Forty-two percent of General Conference delegates were from outside the U.S. (compared to only 20% in 2004), including 30% from Africa, where the church has grown 329% in the last ten years. Some seem to claim the growing global nature of the church is part of our problem. I disagree. The struggling church in the U.S. desperately needs the vital church in Africa and Asia. Our problems in the U.S. began long before we were a global church. I am grateful to be connected to what God is doing around the world!

The local church didn’t get much attention at General Conference!
One of my prayers at the outset of General Conference was, “God, don’t let them mess up what we’re trying to do in the local church!” We say “our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and that local churches are primary places where this happens. However, I didn’t get the sense there was much discussion about the local church at General Conference. If this is true, there’s a real disconnect between what we say is important and what General Conference spent eleven days focusing on (at a cost of more than $1,338/minute)!

General Conference is energy draining!
Throughout the 11-day conference, I tried to follow news through media outlets and social media. I watched many of the Bishops’ sermons, and parts of a couple of legislative sessions. I wasn’t even there, and it was still energy draining. I can’t imagine what is was like to be there; in fact, I received an email toward the end of the conference from a delegate from another state, who said, “This process is very frustrating and not very effective for getting ANYTHING done.”

General Conference decided to make one last effort to avoid a split!
Ever since General Conference 2012, a heavy cloud has hung over the United Methodist Church. There has been talk of schism, primarily over the issue of homosexuality, and there seemed to be an expectation that the UMC would split at this conference. In the end, the church found a way to make one last attempt at saving the denomination. The Conference approved the proposal from the Council of Bishops to appoint a diverse commission to study human sexuality. They will make recommendations at a future conference, possibly a special session of General Conference in 2018 or 2019; however, I will be surprised if this commission is able to complete its task prior to the regularly-scheduled 2020 General Conference!

On Tuesday, May 17, Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops, made the following statement in an address to General Conference …

We have risked exploring what many would consider radical new ways to organize The United Methodist Church according to deeply held and differing values and convictions. Ideas brought to the attention of the Council by both more conservative and more progressive voices. We are not fearful of the level of vulnerability and humility required of anyone willing to engage new ideas.

I would like to have heard more about those “radical new ways” at this Conference. It’s hard to imagine a way forward where all parties will be happy, or even be able to coexist. It’s also hard to imagine a scenario where the denomination stays intact. But, it’s clear that something needs to happen, not just to settle this issue, but so that we can be a disciple-making, world-transforming movement again!

Unity appeared to be a strong theme at General Conference. Unity is important, but faithfulness to God and to God’s Word are even more important. In other words, our chief goal must be to be faithful to God’s Word (in a godly, grace-filled way), NOT just find a way to keep the denomination intact!

I keep thinking of John Wesley’s statement (incidentally, I mentioned this quote in a post after General Conference 2012) …

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

We must pray!
Please pray fervently and consistently for the United Methodist Church over the next few years, as the commission forms and studies our position on human sexuality and makes recommendations to the next General Conference. I recommend incorporating Jesus’ prayers: “I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22.42b, NLT), and “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10b, NLT).

We have to find a way to move beyond this battle, which is keeping us from focusing on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

A Prayer for the 2016 General Conference of the UMC

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church takes place May 10-20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. General Conference, which takes place every four years, is the top policy-making body in the UMC and is the only church entity that has authority to speak for the entire denomination. General Conference meets every four years to revise the Book of Discipline.

The 2016 General Conference consists of 864 delegates from around the world. Approximately 42% of the delegates are from outside the US, due to tremendous growth in other countries, particularly from Africa.

This is my prayer as General Conference gets underway …

O God, thank you for calling us to be part of this movement for such a time as this! Thank you for all who have gone before us and have spread scriptural holiness across many lands! Without them, we would not be here. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world, and for loving the world through us!

Thank you for your Word and your Spirit, which have guided and shaped us. Please forgive us for the ways we have missed the mark, and have failed to be an obedient Church. Forgive us for losing sight of your mission and call upon our lives. And, forgive us for the deep divisions that exist in this body!

Please pour out your Spirit upon your Church, and particularly upon General Conference! Your Church needs your wisdom, guidance, and intervention. Please protect all who gather in Portland. Speak to them and speak through them in the decisions they make!

Give the delegates of General Conference hearts for you, for one another, for your Church, and for the world you love. Help the delegates to be faithful to your Word and to the leading of your Spirit. May they honor you through their actions and attitudes, as well as their decisions!

Please squash all personal agendas and plans that hinder the mission of your Church. Please help the delegates to hear your voice and sense your leading at this critical time in the life of the UMC!

I pray not so much that you will preserve this Church, but that you will empower and equip us to fulfill your mission. I pray that we will, as Wesley pleaded, “hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” As Jesus prayed, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10, NLT).

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us” (Ephesians 3.20, CEB). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer! Amen.

“Autopsy of a Deceased Church”

Thom Rainer’s book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” (2014), grew out of a popular blog post he wrote in 2013. In the book, Rainer looks at ten common traits of dying churches based on his research of deceased churches.

Rainer estimates, “As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death” (7). He estimates that only approximately 10% of churches in America are healthy, while 40% have symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying (86).

Slow Erosion
Rainer talks about slow erosion, which “is the worst type of decline for churches, because the members have no sense of urgency or change … decline is everywhere in the church, but many don’t see it” (13).

The Past is the Hero
Rainer writes, “The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as the hero” (18). He adds, “Yes, we respect the past. At times we revere the past. But we can’t live in the past” (21).

The Church Refused to Look Like the Community
“When a church ceases to to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death” (28).

The Budget Moved Inwardly
“In dying churches the last expenditures to be reduced are those that keep the members comfortable” (33).

The money … was symptomatic of a heart problem. The church cared more for its own needs than the community and the world. And no church can sustain such an inward focus indefinitely. It will eventually die of heart failure. (36)

The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission
When Rainer looked at dying churches, he noticed “Obedience to the Great Commission faded; it usually faded gradually” (42). He notes these churches “chose not to remember what to do” (43).

Members of the dying church weren’t willing to go into the community to reach and minister to people. They weren’t willing to invite their unchurched friends and relatives. They weren’t willing to expend the funds necessary for a vibrant outreach. They just wanted it to happen. Without prayer. Without sacrifice. Without hard work. (44)

The Preference-Driven Church
“A church cannot survive long-term where members are focused on their own preferences” (49).

Pastoral Tenure Decreases
“The problem is that many good leaders are leaving churches before they reach their prime leadership years at a church” (55).

The Church Rarely Prayed Together
“Not coincidentally, prayer and the health of the church went hand in hand. When the church is engaged in meaningful prayer, it becomes both the cause and the result of greater church health” (66).

The Church Had No Clear Purpose
Rainer notes, “the dying churches, at some point in their history, forgot their purpose” (75).

The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities
“A number of the fourteen churches became focused on memorials” (79). Rainer adds, “Dying churches, more often than not, experience severe battles over facility obsession before their demise” (80). This is certainly not to say that facilities are unimportant. Rainer contends, “Being a good steward of those material things that God has given our churches is good. Becoming obsessed with any one item to the neglect of his mission is idolatry.” (80)

At the end of the book, Rainer offers twelve responses that may help churches that have symptoms of sickness, are very sick, or dying. The book is helpful for churches in any stage. For healthier churches, it’s a good reminder to stay alert and to avoid some of the pitfalls and slow erosion that can happen in the life of the church!

How I Set Up Facebook Lists

I’m not a fan of Facebook’s News Feed and Pages Feed, which have their own ways of delivering content to you. I prefer to see the content I want to see and I want to see it chronologically!

So, I set up lists.

To set up Friends Lists …

  1. Go to facebook.com/bookmarks/lists to set up lists of Friends, either using the predefined lists or by creating your own.
  2. Go to each individual custom list page to add Friends in the “Add friends to this list” box. You can also scroll over the Friends button (for that particular Friend) and click on “Add to another list” in the dropdown menu, which is what I do each time I add a new Friend.

To set up Interests Lists …

  1. Go facebook.com/bookmarks/interests and create lists for Pages (I have “UMC Pages,” “Leadership,” etc.).
  2. Go to each individual Interest page to add Pages in the “Add to this list” box.

You can also add multiple Friends or Pages at a time by clicking on “See All” next to “On This List” at the top of the right hand sidebar on each page, and then choose Friends or Pages from the dropdown menu. It also looks like you can intermingle Friends and Pages now; I’m not sure that was doable when I first created my lists.

Next, I add the lists to my Favorites and arrange them in the order I want in the Facebook menu by clicking on the gear icon beside the list name.

That’s it. When I go to Facebook, I go through my lists and avoid the News Feed and Pages Feed, altogether. All posts appear chronologically, not just the ones Facebook wants me to see. That’s the good news. The bad news is you see everything so you still have to be intentional to make the best use of your time. It’s just that I want to be in control of what I see, and not rely on Facebook to do it for me!

One other nice thing about lists is that you can direct a post to a specific list of Friends. For example, if I want to limit a post to my Centre Grove Church Friends or my Susquehanna Conference Friends, I can do so.

Of course, this will need to be adapted if or when Facebook in the future. But, I hope this helps. It may sound more complicated than it really is. Let me know if you have any questions, or if you have other ways for managing your Facebook feeds!

“Simplify”

Bill Hybels’ book, Simplify, offers “ten practices to unclutter your soul,” in the following titles …

  1. From exhausted to energized
  2. From overscheduled to organized
  3. From overwhelmed to in control
  4. From restless to fulfilled
  5. From wounded to whole
  6. From anxious to peaceful
  7. From isolated to connected
  8. From drifting to focused
  9. From stuck to moving on
  10. From meaningless to satisfied

Hybels says …

Simplified living is about more than doing less. It’s being who God called us to be, with a wholehearted, single-minded focus. It’s walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we’ve been called and for which we’ve been created. (2)

There are dangers in not living simplified lives.

If we don’t change how we live, our overcomplicated world will begin to feel frighteningly normal. We will become accustomed to life at a frantic pace, no longer able to discriminate between the important and the unessential. And that’s the danger: When we fritter away our one and only life doing things that don’t really matter, we sacrifice the things that do matter. (3)

Hybels says the downside of our busyness is that we will be depleted.

Depletion harms the people around me, and it damages my soul. When you decide that you never want to live on empty again, you start paying more attention to the replenishment side of the equation. If you choose to live with more energy reserves in your life, you will disappoint some people. Trust me, you have to fight to keep your life replenished. No one else can keep your tank full. It’s up to you to protect your energy reserves and priorities. (11)

Hybels suggests “five bucket-filling streams”
1. Connecting with God
2. Family
3. Satisfying work
4. Recreation
5. Exercise (and diet)

I read a lot about exercise, so I was especially interested in what Hybels had to say. He notes …

Exercise and proper rest patterns give about a 20 percent energy increase in an average day, average week, average month. … If you’re not motivated to exercise for the purpose of physical health, do so as a simple, effective way to increase your energy.” (24-25)

One of my favorite sections is on managing the calendar. Hybels says, “A runaway calendar will keep you from simplifying your life” (30). “A simplified life begins with well-invested hours each day” (31). He says, “My schedule is far less about what I want to get done and far more about who I want to become” (35).

Hybels laments …

It’s too easy to fill our schedules with things that don’t matter—and neglect things that do. Simplified living requires purposeful stewardship of each day. (52)

Every chapter is worth reading. Throughout the book, Hybels talks about having a life verse. He concludes the book with a chapter on choosing a life verse.

A life verse should include some key traits: call to action, personalized, short and sweet, and hope-filled. After offering some guidance in finding a verse (for a lifetime or for a season), he concludes the book with a 13-page catalog of possible life verses. I have never chosen a life verse, but will give it some thought after reading the book.

In the last chapter, Hybels writes …

But simplifying is not merely intended to make your life easier—like uncluttering a drawer or closet might. You simplify your life for reasons that matter for eternity: to give clarity, purpose, and power to the things that matter most in this world. (281)

Good stuff!