“The Astronaut Farmer” and Creativity

Movie inspires viewers to keep dreaming!

Last week, we watched The Astronaut Farmer. The movie made me think about dreams and creativity.

A few years ago, I read John Maxwell’s Thinking for a Change, which includes a sad survey on the state of our creativity. The survey reveals that as we age, we become less creative. According to the survey, 2% of men/women in their 40s were found to be highly creative. As they continued their study, they also found that 2% of 35-year-olds were highly creative. This proved to be true all the down until they reached 7-year-olds. 10% of them were determined to be highly creative. However, as researchers continued, they discovered that 90% of 5-year-olds were highly creative!

These results cause me to wonder what happens between ages 5 and 7 that causes us to lose our creativity. Maybe Dr. Suess was right, “Adults are obsolete children.” 🙂

The Astronaut Farmer is about a middle-aged man’s dream to go into space. In the process of building a rocket in his barn, he encounters a lot of skepticism and ridicule from small minded people who don’t understand his dream. Charley Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton), when asked by reporter why he was building a rocket and planning to launch said, “It’s always been my dream.”

The movie takes place in a small town. At one point, Farmer’s friend, Arnie, said:

I’m your friend first and a banker second, all right? Now, folks around here, they think you’re crazy. I happen to think you’re a genius. You got bad credit, but you got great character, and uh, that rocket ship of yours is amazing. But as a friend, I have to look you in the eye and say that I think it’s time you give it a rest.

Later, after serving Farmer a 30-day notice of foreclosure on Farmer’s property, Arnie says:

You got 30 days, so you gotta open your eyes. Look at this as a wake-up call, because the dream is over. It’s gotta stop now, before you lose everything.

Because Farmer throws a brick through the banker’s window, he must see another childhood friend, Nurse Goode, for a psychiatric evaluation. She tells him, “The rocket is not going to bring you a happy childhood. We all just have to grow up and just take responsibility.”

These statements remind me of what I heard Ed Young Jr. say at a seminar in early 2006: “Little people with little vision will go after awesome people with awesome vision.”

My favorite quote in the movie comes at the mid-way point. Farmer, standing before the FAA committee to determine whether or not he would be permitted to launch his rocket, said:

You see, when I was a kid, they use to tell me I could be anything I wanted to be. No matter what. And maybe I am insane, I don’t know, but I still believe that. I believe it with all my heart. Somewhere along the line we stopped believing we could do anything. And if we don’t have our dreams, we have nothing.

We must guard our dreams. Bobb Biehl says, “Dreams are like soap bubbles floating close to jagged rocks on a windy day.” Isn’t that a great picture of the fragility of dreams? Guard your dreams. Don’t let anyone cause you to doubt God’s ability to accomplish great things through you!

Creativity is something we’re thinking about as we prepare to be parents. Part of the key, it seems, is simply not killing creativity. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


Yesterday I received my copy of the March/April 2007 issue of Interpreter Magazine (a publication of the United Methodist Church) in the mail. The cover story caught my attention: "Changing Communities, Changing Churches."

There are some great stories about United Methodist churches that, faced with the challenge of changing communities, chose to make the changes that are necessary to be effective in ministry in the 21st century.

I love Bishop John R. Schol’s comments about "healthy disruption":

Church people tend to shy away from disruption.

"We want everybody in the church to be happy," a church member once said to me. This is shocking, because Jesus was one of the most disruptive people who ever lived. He turned the religious world upside down. His disruption caused Him to wind up on a cross. We fail to make the connection between healthy disruption and the life of Jesus.

Yes! That reminds me of a message I shared last year on the difference between peacekeepers and peacemakers. Peacekeepers want to make everyone happy. But peacemakers, who know "healthy disruption" is required, want to make everyone healthy!

A sobering statement from the feature article …

Some congregations embrace change as an exciting challenge; others wish it would just go away. Behind it all stands one big question: Will churches reach out to new neighbors, or will they shrink and die?

"The potential exists for a large number of church closings in the coming years," says the Rev. Sam Dixon, who leads the evangelization and church growth staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.

This happens when an aging church is unable to replenish its rolls with newcomers, perhaps out of fear of a changing neighborhood, and its finances and hopes decline, Dixon says. In many instances, clergy members of past generations were trained for pastoral care, focusing on their flocks, rather than as outward-looking evangelists and community organizers.

It’s our choice. We can view the need for change as something to be avoided, or we can view it as an opportunity and challenge to be excited about. Not only must churches change the way they do church, pastors also must change the way they lead. Pastors who minister primarily to members must learn to lead and equip  their churches to do ministry in the world.

There are some great stories of United Methodist churches that chose to change in this edition of Interpreter. I encourage you to check them out. The reality is, we are never immune to the need for change. We either change or we die!

Leadership in a “Fishers of People” Context

Recently, Rev. Dr. Tom Salsgiver, wrote an editorial for our conference publication called, “Keepers of the Aquarium or Fishers of People.” The article got my leadership juices flowing and I started thinking specifically about pastoral leadership in a “fishers of people” context.

Pastoral Leadership In a “Fishers of People” Context
By Randy Willis

Tom Salsgiver recently wrote an article challenging congregations to evaluate themselves to determine whether they are “keepers of the aquarium” or “fishers of people.”

Keepers of the aquarium “care more about their members than those outside the church” while fishers of people understand that their mission is “to bring in those who are unchurched.” There is a world of difference between these two sets of values. “How you answer that question,” Tom concludes, “will determine whether you live – or die” as a congregation. I believe we must be a “fishers of people” community!

The article has caused me to reflect on what pastoral leadership might look like in a “fishers of people” context. Tom notes that expectation of pastoral leadership is very different in the two types of congregations. In keepers of the aquarium settings, pastors are expected to be “personal chaplains for their members,” taking care of the members. In “fishers of people” settings, pastors are free to lead the church to transform their communities for Christ.

How might a leader in a “fishers of people” context use his or her time? I believe leaders must prioritize their time, giving primary attention to the following areas …

  • Cultivating one’s own spiritual growth and development. Leaders cannot be catalysts for spiritual transformation in others if they are not being spiritually transformed themselves!
  • Developing one’s own leadership gifts. Leaders must be learners!
  • Investing adequate time in sermon prep for sermons that are transformational, not just informational. Life change is a core value for transformational leaders!
  • Growing a leadership culture in the local church. Transformational leaders don’t lead alone; they know it takes a crew to complete a mission!

These four areas should ideally comprise most of the pastor’s time. Remaining time may be used for various ministry projects, administrative tasks, meetings, emergency pastoral care (routine visitation would take place as able with the majority of visitation being handled by members), as well as involvement beyond the local church (community, district, conference, etc.).

The Church is God’s means to bring God’s hope and transformation to the world. In order for that to happen, leaders must lead their congregations to be “fishers of people”!

Scouting Report

Tonight was our “information sharing” meeting where our Exploratory Team (“scouts”) presented their report after months of prayer, discussion, and data gathering. Essentially, they are recommending that our three churches unite as one congregation.

The presentation came together at the last minute (though we’ve been working on it for a while). Our scouts did an excellent job leading, interacting, and responding to questions and comments, which were sometimes very negative. I am proud of them!

I will post one bit of our devotion from this evening. This was a litany that I wrote this morning that included a part for each team member to read, parts for all the scouts to read together, and parts for the congregation. You may notice that it flows out of the story that we have been encountering in recent weeks (or more accurately, the story that has been encountering us!).

Scouts – At your call, O God, we have gone ahead to check out the land that you are sending us to inhabit. Thank you for entrusting us with this task, and thank you for being with us throughout these many days.

Mary – And now, we return to share what we have discovered and what we believe God is calling us to do. We pray that God will give clear guidance as we share this report with our tribes and as we consider this recommendation in the next week.

Mary – Our tribes, while we indeed see the obstacles ahead of us, we also see God’s power at work and we believe that the Lord is with us. We can go and fulfill the task to which God is calling us!

Janet – Friends, just like our spiritual ancestors, Joshua and Caleb, the land we explored is a wonderful land! And if we obey the Lord, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us.

Jill – The land God is calling us to, is a rich and fruitful land, and God will give it to us! Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the obstacles. They are only helpless prey to us! The Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of anything!

Sam – Seven times — twice at the end of Moses’ leadership and five times at the beginning of Joshua’s leadership — they used the phrase, “Be strong and courageous!” Today, we believe that’s what God is saying to us: “Be strong and courageous!”

Joyce – Be strong and courageous as you seek God tonight and in the next week, asking that God’s will be done, and that God will bless you with clear discernment.

Denny – Be strong and courageous as you consider new ways of worshiping God and being engaged in ministry in our community. Be strong and courageous as you take the next faithful step!

Bonnie – Be strong and courageous as you draw closer to God, being more dependent on him than ever before. Be strong and courageous as you follow with reckless abandon wherever Jesus leads!

Scouts – Sisters and brothers — members of our tribes — we respectfully and humbly submit for your thoughtful and prayerful consideration what we believe God is calling us to be and do. We believe that God is calling us to be a community of authentic Christ-followers to transform this community by making disciples of Jesus Christ!

All – O God, as we sang last Sunday, “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts. Let us not lift our souls to another … O God, let us be a generation that seeks — seeks your face, O God of Jacob!”

Gordie – And as another song says, “If you ask me to leap out of my boat on the crashing waves. If you ask me to go preach to a lost world that Jesus saves, I’ll go but I cannot go alone ’cause I know I’m nothing on my own. But the power of Christ in me makes me strong!”

Scouts – O God, we are aware of how helpless and powerless we are. But it is only in this state of helplessness and powerlessness that we sense the need to humble ourselves before you. God, in this sacred and scary moment, we yield ourselves fully for your use. Use us in ways that honor and please you most!

All – “Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.”

May God’s will be done, and may we hear and respond to God’s leading!

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 107.1)

I want to take a moment to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving holiday this week, especially since I did not have an opportunity to do that this morning in worship. I trust you will take time to give God thanks for his many blessings!

I spent the weekend at the “Great Escape” (a Conference youth event). It was a great weekend — good speakers, workshops, and lot of good, loud, praise and worship music! You can read a more detailed account at Joleen’s sermon blog.

I also want to take a moment to share some things I’m grateful for, at this time of the year. I’m grateful to God for all of his blessings on Joleen and me. I’m grateful to God for his call (and his hand) on our lives. Surely, “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1.17).

I’m also grateful to God for all of you. I’m grateful for the process we are engaged in, together. God is with us, leading us to new places. Even though it’s very consuming for us, I believe it will be worth all of our effort!

And, now that dates have been set for information sharing and voting on recommendations regarding our future, I’m especially grateful that we are nearing the end of the exploratory phase, and are preparing to transition ourselves more fully to be the people God has called us to be.

On that note, I’d like to share a few things I wrote recently to the Exploratory Team. I hope this will convey my thoughts and feelings on what God is doing among us.

Occasionally, I catch myself taking this process a bit TOO seriously. Now, don’t misunderstand. This process is VERY important; we have life-changing decisions to make. That’s a BIG deal!

But I woke up this morning being reminded of Jesus’ words: “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16.18).

That’s wonderful news! I hope you hear it.

God’s Spirit IS leading us, speaking to us, speaking through us. In the last 2-3 weeks, I’ve been saying, “God will do amazing things!” That’s not just nice encouragement from a pastor. I REALLY believe that God will continue to do amazing things in, through, and among us. Now, what God actually does may or may not be exactly what I expect, but God WILL do amazing things!

God once spoke an interesting word to Zerubbabel (through the prophet Zechariah): “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will flatten out before him!” (Zechariah 4.6)

I believe that. God’s will won’t be realized by OUR strength or force alone. … It is by God’s Spirit that God’s plan will ultimately take place here!

Well, as we continue to engage in this process, I’m excited about beginning our Advent journey this Sunday. I am really excited about what God is going to do in us over the next few weeks as we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming!