Monday, November 30, 2009

Sustainable Pastoring, Sustainable Church?

One of the blogs I follow is by Todd Heistand. He is a tri-vocational pastor (not counting the additional two vocations of husband and father!) and his community is called The Well which is in Feasterville, PA. (Not to be confused with The Well in Orange County, CA that I have blogged about previously, which is a community intentionally transitioning into a network of cells.)

Todd recently posted a very open description of his weekly schedule and wondered aloud about it's sustainability long term.

In my mind, I think he's raising a broader question, not about the sustainability of pastoral life per se but about the sustainability of a congregational life that's built upon unsustainable leadership expectations. Maybe part of the problem is what we assume is required for congregational life, in particular, weekly large-group presentational worship services.

Here is how I presented the question to him:

Todd – I echo the comments above, grateful for your transparency.

I also wonder about sustainability, but from a different angle. If this is what it takes to provide leadership to a missional community, then is the model itself sustainable for the Church?

I’ve mulled this over quite a bit and my thinking has been strongly challenged by the simple/organic/house church expressions that I’ve encountered. It’s left me wondering if we’re encountering a stumbling block in our assumption that we have to offer a large group gathering every week. I do think people should be gathering weekly, but that could be in the home/small groups. But what if the larger community gathered, say, monthly for something more like a traditional worship service with sermon, liturgy, music etc.?

So my question to you is this: if your community went to a monthly gathering, would that make enough difference in the workload that your current tri-vocational + family lifestyle would be sustainable over the long haul?

If you're interested, you can follow that conversation on his blog though I'll probably cross post some of that here as well. But I'm interested in hearing from my readers.

What do you think about the sustainability issue, both pastoral and congregational, and my suggestion to have weekly small gatherings supported by a monthly larger service?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

If you'd like to share some ideas on ways to make Christmas more meaningful this year (and less stressful) click on over to this little blog I set up for my congregation and friends. There are links there to the main Advent Conspiracy site, as well as one to Rethinking Christmas. Good stuff!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Workers - Video

The confirmation students at my church presented The Workers in a dramatic version, and added impact by setting it into our contemporary context. They did a great job, as you can see in this video.

The Workers from Tim Thompson on Vimeo.

The Workers - Conclusion

As the line advanced, the workers became more and more angry. John felt deeply ashamed at the way they were treating the owner; grabbing the money out of his hand and making angry remarks. Finally, there were only three of them left to receive their wages. The first one stood before the owner defiantly with arms crossed. "So!" he said, "You think my work is no better than what you get from some bunch cripples and weaklings? You think a whole day in the sun by me is worth as much as an hour in the shade by some lazy beggar? Is that what you're trying to say with your lousy money?" Then he grabbed the money out of the owner's hand and said; "Let me tell you something. I'll take this money because I worked for it and I deserve it. But I'll rot in hell before I waste my time working for you again!" and he stormed off.

Then, the second man stepped up to the owner and stood before him. He calmly took the money out of the owner's hand, turned the coins over in his palm, and then let them fall between his fingers into the dust at the owner's feet. "I don't need your money." he said, looking him right in the eyes. "My pride is worth more than a lousy day's wages." "Oh?" said the owner softly, "And is it worth more than the hunger of your wife and children, who have no bread to eat?" The man's face flushed with rage and he stood there stiff before the owner. Then he spat on him, and walked away.

Now there was no one left but John, and the owner of the vineyard, and John's eyes were brimming with tears. "I don't know how they can say those things," he said, "when you've done nothing but good to them, and to all of us! You came into our town and offered us work when we were nearly starving. You gave us food and water while we were working, and time to rest. You even hired people who couldn't work the whole day, or could hardly work at all, and then gave every one of us a full day's pay! I... I just want to thank you." he said, taking his hand, "Thank you, for all you've done for us today." And then he turned, and brushing a tear away from his eye, he began to walk home.

But the owner said to him; "Wait!" And when John turned around, he saw him smiling with his hand outstretched, holding John's pay.

"You'll need this to buy bread for your family." he said.

John smiled and took the money, and then the owner of the vineyard said; "John, the harvest is great, but there aren't many workers. Come back again tomorrow. There will always be work for you here."

So John went home and shared the good news with his family. And from that day on he worked gladly in the vineyard, and he and his family were never hungry or thirsty again.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Workers - Part 3

When the call came to go back to work, John got right up. Rested and refreshed, he was eager to work, and his body felt strong again. As he was heading out into the fields, he thought he heard someone calling his name. He turned and looked, and in the distance he saw still more people coming from the town to work in the vineyard. And there near the front, calling and waving with his one good hand, was Philip. John smiled, and waved, and wiped gently at his eyes as he headed back to work.

For the rest of the day, John worked in one of the outer fields, and as he brought in his last load, he was again filled with amazement. He saw young children and old people working in the vineyard. He saw Philip harvesting with his one good hand, and even the poor beggar from town who couldn't walk had been given a job dipping water from the well for those who were thirsty. It was almost too much to believe. It looked like every man, woman and child in town had been given work to do.

John stood by, staring and lost in wonder at the scene until he realized that the steward had been ringing a bell to call the workers in to receive their pay. Now he was already lining them up, according to how long they had worked, with the ones hired last at the front of the line. John hurried over, but he ended up being the last one in line anyway. Everyone was pretty quiet after the day's work, but once the owner started handing out the pay, a commotion got started at the front of the line. The word spread like lightning. The owner was paying these people a full day's wages! And some of them had only worked for one hour. Now everyone was excited, and the people in front of John in line started to say; "Imagine how much we'll get if he's paying those others a full day's wages!" But as the line advanced, they found out that the owner was paying everyone a full day's wages, regardless of how long they had worked.

Now the workers near the end of the line, who had been in the vineyard all day, started scowling. Their mood grew dark, and they muttered, and some even cursed the owner under their breath. John could hear them in front of him and it bothered him. Something didn't seem right about them talking that way. After all, the owner wasn't cheating them! Why couldn't they be happy for the other people from the town?

One of them was saying he couldn't believe the owner wasn't going to pay them more than those other people. John replied cautiously; "But, didn't you agree to work for a regular day's pay?"

The man snapped back; "Oh! And I suppose you think it's funny that he's made fools of us all, working so hard when they get off so easy!"

John didn't say anything more after that.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Workers - Part 2

Near the center of town, there was a corner where the people who were looking for work would go, and if someone needed workers for the day, they could come there and find them. When John arrived, there were already several people standing there, and before long there was a small crowd. A few were being hired here and there, but with so many people out of work it looked like there might not be enough jobs to go around again today. But then a man came walking in on the east road, and he stood up on a step and said; "I am the owner of the vineyard to the east, beyond the river. The time has come for the harvest and I need workers. Any of you who want jobs can go now to my vineyard and the steward will give you work to do."

John was overjoyed! He could hardly believe it! All these people hired by this one man... could it really be true? He wasn't going to take any chances, so he was off like a shot, running down the east road. And as he ran, watching as the sky was beginning to brighten ahead of him, he laughed at himself, because he hadn't even thought to ask how much he would be paid.

When he got to the vineyard, his eyes opened wide and his mouth fell open. The vineyard was enormous! No wonder the owner had hired everyone in the marketplace, there was so much work to be done! He wished so much that he could send word back to Philip in town... maybe even he could get some kind of work here today. But he didn't have time. The steward was making job assignments, and John went right to work with a crew in one of the nearer fields.

After he had been working for quite a while, he paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, and he noticed that in the distance, another big group of people was coming from the town to the vineyard. "Well!" he thought, "This is certainly a great day for the hungry people in town! The owner is still hiring even though the morning is half over." He wondered if Philip might be in this group, and he wanted to go and see, but he had to let it go. He turned back to his work.

Midday finally came, and there was a break for lunch. John was feeling pretty weak by now, and as he walked towards the well by the owner's house, he couldn't help but think about the bread he had left at home that morning. "Maybe..." he thought, "one of the other workers will take pity on me and share his lunch with me." But when he got to the well, he couldn't believe his eyes! There was the steward of the vineyard handing out big loaves of bread and fish to anyone who wanted them! The owner of the vineyard was feeding all of the workers, and there was more than enough for all of them! John ate his fill for the first time in a long time, and rested under a shady tree.

Part 3

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Workers - Part 1

Somewhere back around 1991 I wrote a dramatic interpretation of Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) in which I added some extra characters to the story. I recently had the opportunity to share it with my current congregation and thought it might be something others would appreciate as well. I'll post it in for installments. Hope you like it & would love to hear comments.

The Workers - Part 1

It was dark, still an hour at least before dawn, and the air was cold and quiet when John woke up. He listened, searching the silent hour for the sounds of the approaching day. Outside, he heard distant marching as the Roman guards patrolled the streets. Inside his one room home, he heard his wife and children breathing deeply in their sleep, huddled together with him on the floor. John wished that he could go back to sleep, but his thoughts wouldn't let him rest. He knew what this day held for him: the desperate, desperate search for work ‑ any kind of work ‑ that went on day after day. Oh, how he ached to have a real job! He remembered the days when he had been working at the granary, together with his brother‑in‑law Philip. It was so wonderful to have a steady job, to be able to sleep securely, knowing that there would be food on the table. But then that day had come, when one of the grain carts collapsed, and crushed Philip's hand. The foreman blamed Philip for the accident and fired him, and when John tried to stick up for him... he lost his job too. Now they had to find work wherever they could, always living from one day to the next. And some people wouldn't hire John because they thought he was a troublemaker. And Philip... well, it's hard to get a job with only one good hand.

Although it was still dark outside, John was beginning to hear a few voices out on the street, so he got out of bed. His empty stomach growled, and he looked at the few pieces of bread they had left, but he decided not to eat any. "We're almost out of food again" he thought, and left the house to search for work.

Part 2

Friday, November 13, 2009

SOAP Journaling: A Resource for Biblical Reflection

Early in 2003 I encountered a simple devotional resource that I've been using ever since. Created by Wane Cordeiro of New Hope Christian Fellowship, it's called the Life Journal, but I always think of it as my SOAP journal because of the acronym it works with:
S - Scripture
O - Observation
A - Application
P - Prayer
Simple enough. On the blank pages of the journal, you write down a verse or passage of scripture that hits you in some way. Make a few observations about it - maybe the context of the verse, or questions it raises - whatever you'll need later to recall what was going on and why it caught your attention. Then you write about how this applies to your life. That's the kicker... it keeps you mindful that you're not just reading to read, but to be changed. This is underscored (literally) by the phrase printed lightly at the bottom of each page of the journal;

"How will I be different today because of what I have just read?"

You finish up with the P for prayer, writing a prayer that relates to your entry.

Then comes my favorite part. There are pages at the front for you to create a Table of Contents of your journal, recording date, text, title of your entry and keywords. Over time, you generate your own library of biblical reflections that you can return to and rediscover through the index you generate.

One other thing I love to mention about the Life Journal is the daily reading plan it includes. There's certainly no shortage of reading plans out there, but Cordeiro has structured this one to present the Old Testament narrative chronologically. For example, you read the sections of Kings and Chronicles that deal with the same incidents on the same day, rather than reading all the way through Kings and then some weeks later going back over those events in the Chronicles version.

This has several benefits. It makes the sense of following a story much clearer. It also lets you see how the different authors sometimes bring strikingly different perspectives to things. (For the most glaring example I know of, compare 1 Samuel 24:1 to 1 Chronicles 21:1.) The narrativizing of the readings also allows Cordeiro to sprinkle the Psalms throughout and this often makes them easier to understand as well. Similarly, he's placed the prophetic books in their narrative context vis-a-vis the historical books. The New Testament readings are also re-sequenced somewhat, though I confess I haven't caught all the logic at work behind his arrangement there. Reading about four chapters a day, the plan takes you through the OT once and NT twice in a year.

Plus they're cheap - $6.50 each, less in bulk.

It's a good tool. I highly recommend it.

Home-Based Faith Formation

An interesting conversation has been taking place on Facebook that I wanted to share with you. Here are some excerpts:

Chris: I'm amazed at how many congregations are challenging parents to invest in their kid's faith formation. Almost viral actually!

Melissa: Why are you amazed? That's a good thing, right?

Chris: It's a GREAT thing!

Tim: (That's me) I think it's great too. Sadly, somewhere along the line we got into a mode culturally in the church of "outsourcing" faith formation from the home to the sanctuary.

Melissa: That's what I thought! I am so happy to be teaching my children & husband about FAITH.

Susan: And watch how parent's faith will grow expotentially as they teach their children:)

Lisa: And maybe the parents will start investing in their own faith formation as well.

Tim: Being forced to teach is one of the most effective ways to learn. So home-based faith formation will absolutely be the best thing for both kids and parents. Clergy (and congregation) can then serve in the "equipping the saints for ministry" mode ( See Ephesians 4). Also, HBFF sets you up for both "vertical" and "horizontal" transmission as in viral infections. Vertical is from one generation directly to the next. Horizontal is among peers: imagine couples sharing ideas & issues with each other about how to raise their kids. In the peer-to-peer conversations all kinds of ideas, values and beliefs can get transmitted.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Catalyzing new communities? Thinking about it?

Those of you who are looking for kindred spirits to connect with as you plant or dream of planing new missional communities may want to check our TransFORM. It's a newly forming Ning-based social network. Here's a chunk from their About page. If you join, I'd be delighted to connect with you there.

TransFORM is an international, trans-denominational missional community formation network:
  • international — primarily focusing on the United States context, where the majority of our members/partners live and work, but intentionally involving international partners, as well
  • trans-denominational — working across denominational lines, in partnership with existing denominations, as well as with independent non-denominational groups
  • missional — participating with God in God’s holistic mission to restore all of creation
  • formational — contributing to the formation of vibrant communities of practice that in turn contribute to the formation of robust disciples of Jesus Christ
The purpose of TransFORM is to bring together men and women who are on the verge of starting new communities (i.e., community catalysts) or are already cultivating new communities and to give them the encouragement and resources they need to get started and be sustainable:
  • by providing training in missional community development, practical start-up issues, and theological engagement
  • by connecting community catalysts with potential support structures
  • by helping community catalysts negotiate complicated and challenging support structure relationships and hurdles
  • to link community catalysts with mentors/spiritual directors
  • Organize regional gatherings to bring together missional practitioners with those interested in forming new missional communities
  • Partner with denominations/networks/groups to put on these regional gatherings and provide other resources and connections for community catalysts
  • Develop other resources to encourage missional community formation
  • Build and sustain momentum, share best practices and other learnings, provide mutual encouragement and exchange of ideas, and develop emerging leaders