Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gates of Hell, Equipping the Saints & The Red Door Church in 2016


“The gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church, 
if it is the Church as Jesus defines the Church.

2015 was my first full calendar year as the Rector of Christ Church, Delavan. And I believe it was a year filled with some incredible accomplishments. Thanks be to God.

In my second Annual Rector’s Report I’d like to share both where we’ve been in 2015 and where I believe the Lord is leading us in 2016.

First, let’s celebrate 2015. Here a some highlights. In keeping with the 5 Purposes of the Church which we’ve focused on so much, we’ll do so purpose-by—purpose.

  • One of the greatest joys for me personally, and I think we’d all agree, is having the Red Door Kids serve on Third Sundays in the Sanctuary. They do such a great job and take such pride in serving the Lord. And I believe what we as the adults are communicating to them when they serve is “It’s your Church.” They are the future of the Christ Church Delavan. And theY’re an exciting and bright future indeed!
  • Another worship highlight this year was our shared Palm Sunday Procession with our brothers and sister at The River Church. What an amazing witness our worship together has had in Delavan. 

  • I think our greatest growth area in 2015 was Discipleship. 
  • One of the most significant pieces was the 1 Year Bible Reading Plan. This year the whole congregation read the entire Bible together cover-to-cover. Well done friends. 
  • We launched Adult Ed. Hour this year which offered Going Deeper Classes twice for Membership, Baptism & Confirmation preparation, spent 18 Weeks Studying the Biblical Feasts this summer and now we’re in the Sermon of the Mount. 
  • Women of Joy continues to offer a discipleship venue for our women. Thank you Susanne Nelson for your leadership.
  • In December we launched our Men’s Bible Study. Amazing things happening in this group. More on that in moment.

  • This Fall we launched The Red Door Coffee Meet & Greet. I believe this has made our Sunday morning experience, and our community, more “sticky”. It’s given visitors and regulars a reason, and a comfortable way to stick around after worship and hang out, talk and get to know one another. It also highlights our overseas Missions connection with Haiti. The Red Door Coffee Meet & Greet’s importance to the Mission of Christ Church is been tremendous and I’d like to thank the Eils and the Hoffmann’s for their leadership.

  • Our three Financial Peace University Class have helped 17 Households payoff $18,512 in debt and put $29,101 into savings…and that’s just during the 9 weeks they were in the class. That’s an average of $1,088.94 of debt paid of in 9 weeks and $1,711.82 put into savings in nine weeks…per household. Over half the households who attended this class are NOT members of Christ Church…yet.

  • On All Hallows Eve over 550 of our neighbors came through our Sanctuary. This year we moved the halloween decorations out of the Sanctuary and filled it with music, incense and vested prayer ministers so they could experience what it’s like when we worship on Sundays. And our prayer ministers prayed one-on-one with over 100 people. This is a great example of Christ Church taking something we’ve done for years and, with a little bit of tweaking, unleash even greater impact. 
  • One of our greatest victories last year is this: we had 20 individuals join, or go deeper, at Christ Church. We welcomed 12 new members into our congregation that included 5 Baptisms, 5 Recommitments to Jesus Christ, 3 Confirmed and 3 Received by our Bishop. And 4 regular attenders became Members. 

Everything I’ve just named is evidence that our reach is expanding. In addition to new Members, Baptisms and Confirmations we have people who spend time with us and are seeking us out as their Jesus Community. What do I mean?

  • We have one young man who faithfully attends the Men’s Bible Study every week. God is meeting him through it. So much so that he invited his friend.
  • Men from the neighborhood, non-attenders, have been volunteering at the Men’s Shelter with us.
  • A local Men’s Bible Study asked if they could use the Red Doors as a place to meet and started recently.
  • A group of young Moms reached out us to us seeking a place for their fitness class and have been with us for a few weeks.

What does this all communicate? At our Annual Meeting one year ago I shared my sense that in 2015 we needed to discern “what bridges we’re called to build between our congregation and our community.” I said that, “I believe that to reach people in the 21st century we have to be willing to push our faith outside of Sunday morning. Because Jesus never set out to make Church-attenders…he set out to make disciples. And where did Jesus primarily make disciples?” Outside of corporate worship services. I said “I believe this is the most important shift we’ll make in the years ahead…Because what you win people with is what you win them to.”  And if we win them to a relationship with Jesus, and ourselves, that has long-term sticking power.

That was my sense of what we we called to do in 2015. So did we do it? I believe we’re off to an excellent start. Because throughout Delavan people see the Red Doors as “their Church.” These folks land in a different place in what they mean by that:  everything from being a Baptized or Confirmed Member to a Seeker in the Men’s Bible Study to the young couple who got married, completed Financial Peace University and are volunteering to serve our congregation with their time, to people who simply needed a place to meet and picked us for their Bible Studies and Fitness Classes. We’re “their Church.”

We’re connecting. And we connect outside of Sunday morning worship 5 or 6 times more than we do inside it. And I believe that’s exactly what God wants us to do. Not that I would ever minimize the power and joy of Holy Eucharist, God forbid. But God wants us to have multiple on-ramps to Christ Church. Let me repeat that…multiple on-ramps to Christ Church.  

These are all things to thank God for and to celebrate. And I want to thank you beloved Christ Church. You have created a place where these good things happen. And you’ve trusted my new leadership as we’ve done it together. Well done. And Thank You.

So where do I see us needing to head in 2016?

First, finalizing our Mission Statement. We’re sooooooooo…close. But it’s not something to rush. It’s like a fine wine. “If it ain’t ready. It ain’t ready.” So my hope is that we can do some finishing work together and launch it on Easter. Stay tuned.

Second, and importantly, we need to be willing to talk about the tough stuff together. This past year I’ve sat on our diocesan Committee on Mission & Development. One of our tasks includes working with the struggling congregations of our Diocese who need financial assistance and help them assess how to move from life-support to health. It’s been heart-breaking for me during only one year on COMD to discuss the possibility of multiple Churches closing. And what causes me concern is that these are Churches just like Christ Church: over a hundred years old, in the same culture and similar geographic locations. And so I believe responsible leadership requires naming the elephant in the room. Taking about the tough stuff together. I’d rather have a conversation about some difficult things in 2016 while we’re OK than not talking about it and then wondering in 2026 if we’re going to be able to stay open. God forbid. I love our Lord Jesus, His Church and this congregation too much to let that happen in Delavan. 

There are two things I want to share that are difficult. 

First, our demographics. As of today Christ Church has 85 Members (plus about 15 regular attenders). 59 of our Members are over 50. 26 of our Members are under 50. What does this mean? It means that if nothing changes in our membership (no one under 50 leaves the Church and we don’t get any new Members) then in 20 years we’ll have about 26 Members left. So we’ll have 26 people here on a typical Sunday in 20 years if nothing changes. Those are the difficult “people numbers” we have to confront.

Then there are the financial numbers. Now let me be clear, in no way is this an appeal for anyone to give more. I think that, for the most part, you all are incredibly faithful and sacrificial in your giving. [As an aside: My personal practice as a priest is to not know what people give. I know what is given. But I don’t know “who gives what”]. My point is simply to share facts you may be unaware of but need to know.

Each year we rely on our Endowment to fund roughly half of our Budget: about $85,000 dollars a year. Sometimes a little more. We have just over a million dollars in the Endowment. So the simple math is this: our Endowment is gone in about fifteen years if nothing changes.

So in 15 to 20 years Christ Church could possibly be 26 people on Sunday with no Endowment. And at that point we would have to close. Now, we might say, “Oh we’ve been OK for 170 years. We’ll be fine. God will pull us through. He always has.” I believe that’s true as well. But there are two things we must consider before we can say that.

We’re in a different era in American Church History. Church attendance conservatively speaking has declined 10% every decade since the sixties and the decline is accelerating. Every year 4,000 Churches close. Only 1,000 are new Churches are planted. I’m proud to say that Tammy and I planted one of those 1,000 Churches in 2010. In a recent survey of 18 to 22 year olds who self-identify as Bible-believing Christians the majority saw no reason to affiliate with a Christian congregation. We need to give them a reason. Because they will, or won’t, be Christ Church in 20 years.

These statistics are the first thing we have to consider. The second is that Churches just like ours are closing in our own diocese. And I’m sure somewhere along the line these good people said, “We’ve been OK for over 100 years. We’ll be fine. God will pull us through. He always has.” And yet they still closed. So what happened?

Our Lord Jesus said He would build His Church and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it [Matthew 16:18]. And I believe that is 100% true. [Obviously, Jesus said it!] So why do Churches not prevail? Why do they close? 

Because the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church as Jesus defines the Church

The gates of Hell can prevail against our own definition of the Church. The gates of Hell can prevail against Church the way we like it. The gates of Hell can prevail against Church the way we want it. And sometimes our definition of the Church and Jesus’ definition of the Church don’t line up. And when that happens, the gates of Hell can, and will, prevail against us. 

This is why it is so important that we always emphasize the 5 Purposes of the Church which Jesus gave us. Worship. Discipleship. Fellowship. Ministry. Mission. [see Matthew 22:36-40 & 28: 18-20].  Because when a congregation is focused upon these 5 Purposes and gives each of them equal attention; then, and only then, are they a Church as Jesus defines the Church. And I believe the reason that Churches in America today, and in our own diocese, are on life-support is because they begin to not focus on these 5 Purposes, or they don’t keep them equally balanced. 

And I want to be clear and say that when our sisters’ and brothers’ Churches are struggling or even have to close, I am not making a moral judgement on that. I am not saying “they did something wrong.” I have noticed a common thread, which is that they lost a focus on these 5 purposes or began to only focus on one or tow. And losing that focus or becoming imbalanced leads to losing our alignment with Jesus’ definition of the Church, and this leads to struggle. 

In todays’s Gospel [Luke 4] Jesus goes from being praised after announcing His Mission to the crowd literally trying to toss him off a cliff. Whaaaat? Why? Because He said this, “The truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” Why did this make the crowd mad enough to kill Jesus? Because Jesus announces His Mission and then says that a Gentile widow and a Gentile leper military commander were the only two people God sent a prophet. Non-Jews. Outsiders. “Those people.” 

And if we want to fulfill the Mission of Jesus and have a future in Delavan we need to do the same. Welcome outsiders. Christ Church, and every Church, will live or die by how well we do this. 

There are two definitions  in Church of what it means to welcome outsiders. 

The first one is “You’re welcome to come to our place, and do what we do, with our stuff, the way we like it, as long as we approve.” Now none of us actually says that. But we sure do behave that way sometimes. When we say things like “That’s my pew.” Or “We’ve never done it that way.” Or roll our eyes at a crying baby. Or not show up to _______ if we think “they” will. Welcoming people we like to do stuff our way is not welcome. 

Welcome means, “We want to make room for you to make this your place, and do what you do, with your stuff, they way you like it along with us.” Now, that doesn’t mean we compromise our core values or the Jesus’ definition of the Church. And it doesn’t mean we completely give up things we love too. But it means we’re going to have to let go. We’re going to have to let go of some of our preferences, and opinions, and  our “we’ve always done it that way”.  

The ironic thing is that it’s not high-level stuff where this gets up in our business. It’s often “stupid little things” like color choices, name tags, this song-or-that-song, do we use powdered creamer or half-and-half, real or fake flowers…you get the idea. We don’t typically have anxiety over things like “Jesus is God” or “God is Trinity” or “The Bible is God Word.“ [Thank God!] But sometimes we’ll throw the Rector off a cliff over whether or not we sang all the verses in my favorite hymn. Really?! C’mon! 

Welcoming outsiders means sacrifice. And Christ Church will live or die by how well we welcome outsiders. We need to be ready and willing to sacrifice things like our preferences, our schedule, our stuff and our opinions for the sake of our non-members. 

And the beautiful thing is that Christ Church is doing it. We’re welcome entire outsider groups to use our space, to serve alongside us, to study the Scriptures with us and to worship with us. I want to applaud this and encourage you to stay the course. This is one of the most hopeful signs for our future.

The last thing I want to share is about where where I believe the Lord is leading us in 2016. A Scripture He continues to bring to me is Ephesians 4:11-14:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children…

The job of Christian leadership is not to do everything. The job of Christian leadership is to “equip the saints”. That means each of us, “for the work of ministry.” And it also means that Christian leadership is diverse. It’s not that there are priests and then “everyone else.” With the priest doing everything and the laity holding out their hand.  “We must no longer be children.” Christian leadership includes Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Those five ministries sound a lot like people who lead Worship. Discipleship. Fellowship. Ministry. and Mission. Don’t they? And there are people with leadership gifts like this here at Christ Church. I can’t do everything. You can’t do everything. But my job is to partner with the leadership of this Church to “equip you for the work of ministry” with the goal being that each of us reach “maturity…the full stature of Christ.” 

My emphasis this year is going to be developing our leadership over each of the 5 purposes here at Christ Church and providing opportunities for every member of Christ Church to “be equipped for the work of ministry.” 

The first of these opportunities which I hope you will all participate in is the School For The Lord’s Service during Sundays night in Lent.

The second is our Diocesan Leadership Day on February 27th. Dwight Zscheile will be talking about exactly the “tough stuff” I mentioned in this address:  how can we meet the culture as the Church in the 21st century? 

We have some challenges Christ Church. But they’re not unique to us. They’re challenges every Church is having to confront. But if we align our Mission, our Purposes and our definition of the Church with our Lord Jesus’ Mission, Purposes and definition of the Church, the gates of Hell will never prevail against us.

Glory to God. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Benedict Option

Before launching into this post a little background...
This is my original blog which I launched during my first year in seminary on April 26, 2007...eight years ago.  It's been dormant for quite some time. But I have thoughts I'd like to share and  don't want to clutter up the Red Door Diary, which is meant to be just that.  So this is where I have, and will resume; posting articles, sermons, prayers, book reviews, thoughts on culture, the Faith, coffee, beer, Wisconsin, whatever.

The oldest blogposts have lots of sweet stories about the Mancub when he was little. It's fun to read them and reminisce.

The title Gathering Life For Eternity comes from Fr. Alexander Schmemann's words here.

+ + +

I've been increasingly fascinated by "the Benedict Option" lately. Author Rod Dreher suggests that American culture is in a similar condition as the Roman Empire was in the 6th century:   crumbling from enculturaed narcissism and which had also crept into the Church. Benedict of Nursia created a way of being Church that withstood the cultural narcissism and preserved not only Christian Faith but things like farming and the arts as well. Scholars say that The Rule of St. Benedict is the greatest piece of Western literature after the Bible and that the 37,000 Benedictine monasteries throughout Europe are what saved and recovered European culture from the Dark Ages...so Benedict's kind of a big deal. Dreher suggests that we need a "new Benedict." I could go on explaining but you should hear it from the horse's mouth. Here's two talks by Dreher I've recently watched that I recommend if you're interested...

19 Minute Talk

1 Hour & 15 Minute Talk

Some of My Favorite Books

This list could be huge so I'm going to limit myself to twelve which have either impacted me the most or to which I frequently return (the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are givens). In no particular order...

  • Surprised By Hope by N.T. Wright
    • The bodily Resurrection of Jesus is at the center of everything in our Faith. The goal when we die is NOT to go to heaven. It is to be bodily resurrected and live in the new heavens and earth as a royal priest. Is your mind blown? Good. Read this book. 
  • A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman
    • Effective leaders are self-differentiated. Don't know what that means? That's why you should read this. Relationships are the name of the game. The best book on leadership and relationships I've ever read. I was introduced to this by then-Dean of Nashotah House, Bishop Ed Salmon, who invited our Senior Class to meet him at the local pub on Wednesday nights to discuss this and he'd buy the first round. Now how can you pass that up?
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    • The chapter titled the Grand Inquisitor is my favorite piece of literature. Dostoyevsky summarizes human sin, world history, politics, religion, greed, freedom-and-slavery all in one mythical conversation which is an exposition of Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness. It's one thing to write compelling theology. It's masterful to turn that into great literature. 
  • Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey
    • A new favorite. I loathe what I call "Hallmark Card Christianity." A Christianity that is divorced from the culture in the which the Scriptures were written with its idioms, languages, religious and political systems, and values; and instead anachronistically imposes its own familiar culture onto what the Bible says. Centuries of heretical theology, not to mention bad art and music, have dominated much of Christianity because we impose our culture onto the Scriptures instead reading it in its own cultural setting. 
    • Kenneth E. Bailey spent 40 years in the Middle East, mastering its languages, living among people who share the culture of the Bible (such as Bedouin shepherds) and studying the Judaism and early Christian Faith that are still alive and practiced the same way today in that part of the world. 
    • He dispels many myths and paints a rich, truthful picture of the world of the Bible and what its content means. Reading the Bible in light of his wisdom is like the difference between watching the Andy Griffith Show in color instead of black-and-white. You've always known who Opie was, but how could you have gone all that time and not know he had red hair?
  • The Ecclesiastical History of the Church of England by the Venerable Bede
    • The Venerable Bede was an 8th century monk in England writing about "recent events." He describes how the Mission of the Church arrived and expanded throughout England. I especially love the account of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne: such a wonderful example for believers of how to be an Evangelist & Leader.  It's filled with colorful accounts of saints, miracles, preaching, healings, kings, sabotage, betrayal and the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in England. As a Church-planter, I've often said "Everything you need to know about Anglican Church-planting can be found in the Gospels and Acts, the Book of Common Prayer and Bede's History."
    • For The Life Of The World by Alexander Schmemann
      • (The book, not the recent film series). Father Alexander Schmemann, memory eternal, was a Russian Orthodox priest, author and dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York. This book covers issues such as the secular vs. sacred, human-kind's vocation as royal priests, and the seamless relationship between the liturgical worship of Church within her sanctuary and her mission outside of it in the world. My entire theology of worship, liturgy and mission is informed by this book. 
    • The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren
      • Every Christian congregation exists to fulfill the Mission of Jesus through five purposes: Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry and Mission. If a congregation is 1) not balanced in all five and 2) does not order it's life with, and on, purpose it will die on the vine. While I'm obviously not a Baptist / "Seeker-Church" guy, the biblical leadership principles and structures Warren lays out are universal and excellent. If you're congregation is struggling with health and/or growth, read this.
      • Before I ever read this the principles in it are something Bishop William Godfrey, the Missionary Bishop of Peru, taught me. In 17 years he grew the Anglican Church of Peru from one congegration into four dioceses.  How? He balanced the purposes of the Church and he did it on purpose. Where did he find this? Not Rick Warren, but as he's said, "It's all right there in the Scriptures, the Canons and the Prayer Book." Bishop Godfrey is one of my greatest living heroes.
    • The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
      • I love all of Tolkien's work for the rich languages and cultures he creates as well as the themes of the most unlikely, weakest candidate being the one chosen to vanquish evil. I especially love the last few chapters of this book. After throwing the Ring into Mt. Doom, Frodo and Sam have a discussion about what it means to return home and how once you leave home you can never really return, because it's no longer the place it was when you left it. As someone who has lived in four different places and cultural settings in my adult life, this chapter has been a great comfort in different seasons. 
    • The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware
      • The best brief overview of the Christian Faith I've read (and I've pored over many as a pastor trying to find one great, brief volume). Deep yet accessible. He's writing from an Orthodox Christian perspective, obviously, but presents the universal truths of the Faith beautifully with a particular bent towards the development of one's interior life and prayer. His chapter on "God As Trinity" is the best explanation of the Trinity I've read.
    • The Rule of St. Benedict by Benedict of Nursia
      • Bishop Godfrey of Peru, whom I'm honored to call friend and grateful to call a mentor, says "Everything you need to know about pastoring can be found in The Rule." The first time he said this I wasn't sure I believed him. But once I spent some time actually pastoring I realized how right he is. I keep a copy in my choir stall in the Sanctuary now to read a chapter when I pray the Office. If you want to lead others like Jesus, study The Rule.
    • Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger
      • I'm fascinated by organizsations that have become legendary doing only one thing well.  Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans makes one thing:  beignets. Apple makes one phone, one desktop and (essentially) one laptop. In 'N' Out only makes burgers.
      • Simple Church talks about being focused, simple and clear about what your Mission is and then aligning everything you do around that. I think this is one of the most effective ways to lead an organization. 
      • Know and articulate the singular reason you exist, align everything you do with that and get rid of the rest, and then measure if you're actually doing it or not on a regular basis.

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Dostoevsky gets me blogging again

    So, here's my first post in well over a year...
    Back in September of 2008 my wife presented me with a cool old copy of Fyodor Dostoevsky's the Brothers Karamazov that she found at a garage sale. A decade earlier I had seen the film starring Yul Brynner and became captivated by the story. So fast-forward a decade to September 2008 and on my fist clergy retreat I began reading the Brothers Karamazov. And so I've reading it on and off the last couple years. It's amazing what a good story can do for the soul. And I've found the following lines from Dostoevsky so compelling I had to share them, so good it forced me to get back into the blogosphere(!). This is advise that one of the superiors of the monastery, Fr. Paissy, gives to the protagonist, the young monk, Alyosha:
    "Remember young man, constantly" Father Paissy began without preface, "that the science of this world, which has become a great power, has, especially in the last century, analysed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis, the learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred of old. But they have only analysed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is astounding. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not stilll a living, a moving power in the individual soul and among the masses of the people? It dwells as unshakably as before in the souls of the very atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and rebel against it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardour of their hearts has been able to create a higher image of man and of virtue than the image manifested by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque."
    Amazingly profound insight into the human condition. We keep trying to create a more exalted version of humankind; through medicine, science, education, politics, consumerism, philanthropy...and none of them change the human condition. We keep trying to sanitize the soul out of individuals and out of the masses. Political correctness requires it. But sanitizing the soul out of people leaves us with only a few dead-end options: "spirituality", consumerism or philanthropy. Spirituality without Christ is nothing more than "finding myself", and fankly I'd much rather actualize Jesus in my life than Joel, He's far better. Consumerism is merely shoving stuff into the same God-shaped hole. Or, full of good intentions we strive to serve others through our philanthropy. But even that, sans Christ, is bogus because philanthropy for its own sake seems to be 1) because it "makes me feel better about myself" and 2) has an aire of looking down one's nose at "those poor pitiful people" who need me to save them. Call me cynical, but in the American Suburbs I see exactly what Dostoevsky was talking about over 100 years ago here. When we try to invent an image an virtue of humankind without Jesus Christ the result is grotesque.