Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preachers Walking the Tightrope

Preachers Need to Walk the Tightrope

Walking the tightrope for a pastor means preparing and preaching a new sermon every Sunday, rarely preaching a sermon a second time.  It may also mean preaching without notes of any kind.

Time for Three (TF3) is a trio of classically trained musicians whose eight years on the road together have earned them the sobriquet of "fervent travelers."  Over this period the trio has crisscrossed the world and crosscrissed musical styles.  They have listened to America and given a musical response. The liner notes from their album Fervent Travelers describes the opening song Wyoming 307, as  an "ode to the state and its singular area code", while the song Ecuador is "a travelogue in song that evokes the daily temperate highs and lows and manic modes of transport in a foreign land."

When we saw them perform on May 17 they put Beatles tunes to a classical arrangement.  I call this The Millennial Generation Rediscovers Classical Music.  Rather than swinging an electric guitar young women and men ages 30 to 10 will seek to emulate violinists Zach DePue and Nick Kendall.

The May 17 performance at the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis was amazing. I have never seen musicians  so loose and enjoy themselves so much on stage. They were relaxed without being distant or forgetful.  They were having a ball, living life this one day at a time.

The audience responded with repeated standing ovations, feeding off this energy and courage.  TF3 fed off the energy of the audience. You can see how the outcome could be somthing special with so much energy flowing back and forth.

During the performance Double bassist Ranaan Meyer related a conversation with folk singer Arlo Guthrie. TF3 and Arlo had performed together. After the show Arlo impressed upon Ranaan the need for musicians to "walk the tightrope." 

Walking the tightrope for a musician means taking calculated risks, performing music that,  while rehearsed, is played for the first time before a live audience.  The performer has to concentrate because this is not the umpteenth rendition, this is new and a little scary. Both musician and audience are rewarded for the boldness and courage.

Walking the tightrope for a pastor means preparing and preaching a new sermon every Sunday, rarely preaching a sermon a second time.  It may also mean preaching without notes of any kind.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith

Cities have gotten a bad rap. So says author Eric Jacobsen in his 2003 book Sidewalks in the Kingdom.  They got off to a bad start, reputation wise, at least as told in the Bible.  Enoch, Babel and Ramses are three discredited cities.  Some people today still hold to this view according to Jacobsen.  These city-haters view cities as corrupting.  The city-despisers seek instead an Eden-like existence in the suburbs.  Jacobsen points to Jerusalem as a city that is worth living in.  Most cities, like Jerusalem, are places that God is using for good.  In fact, he says, "to be a Christian means to be a city person."

I agree with Jacobsen.  Cities are places where diversity reigns.  Barriers are temporarily lowered as lawyers and bankers mingle on the sidewalks with beggars and buskers.  It is in cities that we interact more face to face, rather than grill to taillights.  Through this very human interaction we are daily reminded of God's image, reflected in speech and ambling and visage.  This country needs more pro-city policies that recognize that in a world of global competition countries will compete and be defined by the strength of their cities.  If you want to see a truly stupendous city visit Shangai.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Broken Promises, Sprawl and The American Experience

Eric Jacobsen has written a wonderful book entitled Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.  Chapter one, of this 2003 book, notes that Americans, that is us, are worshiping three false idols: independence, freedom and individualism.  Individualism without restraint results in monotonous suburbs.  Freedom to travel for some becomes isolation for others (think of youth and the elderly).  True self, says Jacobsen, emerges not in individual endeavor but by immersing oneself in community.  Government policy has encouraged sprawl by subsidizing roads, starving mass transit, and encouraging new home construction (FHA) rather than renovating existing homes.

What can church people do?  We can support MASS transit. Transit for the masses, rather than so much transit for individuals.  We can seek to change government policies that overvalue sprawl and undervalue density.  We can consider the needs of all citizens for mobility, rather than those who make the most noise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monument Circle: Another Reason To Be Proud of Indianapolis

Indianapolis is in the midst of a fall cleaning as it prepares to host the 2012 Super Bowl.  Sidewalks are being smoothed.  Blank canvas walls are now adorned with murals honoring Kurt Vonnegut and others.   Miles of streets have new asphalt.  And the bronze Victory stature, after a major restoration, has been returned to its pedestal atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Indianapolis will shine when it hosts the Super Bowl.

However, Indianapolis shines everyday.  We have much to be proud of, including Monument Circle.  This year Monument Circle was named one of America's top ten Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association.
The APA notes that "places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow."
This is what they said about Monument Circle:
Since 1821 when Alexander Ralston laid out the state's capital in Indianapolis and located "Circle Street" in the middle of the mile square plat, Monument Circle has served as the literal and figurative center of Indianapolis. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, designed by Bruno Schmitz of Germany in an international competition, rests at the center of the Circle. Other features include bronze statuary of three former Indiana governors and a general, a grand staircase, and two water pools. There also are striking views of the state capitol building and the city from atop a 231-foot-tall observation tower.

Monument Circle looks its absolute best when viewed from above. The two reflecting pools are Caribbean beach blue.  The curved building facades compress activity and heighten drama.  So the birds get the best view.  But settling for a walking tour is fine.  This is a public space you want to explore, its proportions are right.  Indianapolis can be proud.  And soon there will be a new Presbyterian (PCUSA) church aforming in the mile square.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times, Vol. 1

A major challenge facing those starting new churches is finding an organizing pastor who can fulfill the call.  Often the presbytery settles for the person who wants the call rather than the person who has the skills and leadership traits to bring forth a viable new church.
Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times reports on research on the leadership traits of new church pastors from seven mainline denominations.  Edited by Dr. H. Stanley Wood, the contributors detail the leadership qualities of effective new church pastors.
The research findings are presented as Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 leadership competencies.  In the first seven years of the new church development Tier 1 competencies are: Catalytic Innovator, Vibrant Faith in God, and Visionary/vision caster.  Tier 2 functions are: Empowering leadership, Passion for people, Personal and relational health, Passion for faith sharing and Inspiring preaching and worship.  Tier 3 traits are Administrative skills and other categories.
A Catalytic Innovator is "somebody or something that makes a change happen or brings about an event, someone who introduces a new way of doing something."
Surrounding the Catalytic Innovator category are five subcategories: Self-Starter, Risk-Taker, Charismatic Leader, Flexible Adapter and Tenacious Perseverer.
The authors discuss in detail each category and subcategory.
What about the later stages of the new church development (years 8 through 20)?  The research found the leadership skills needed change in the later years.  In the later years the top Tier 1 trait is Ability to Change Leadership Styles.
This book offers much that can be of practical value to presbyteries as they start new churches.  Interview questions, for example, can be formulated based upon the key leadership traits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Some Denominations Decline

Worldliness, a state of low tension with the culture at large and low demands made on members are culprits that lead some denominations into decline.  Mainline denominations have been in decline since the country was founded.
By contrast, growing denominations make high demands on members, are otherworldly and live in high tension with culture.  In addition, these denominations are entrepreneurial and build thriving churches that respond to the religious marketplace in America.

Read more about how America has evolved from an unchurched country in 1776 to one where 62% are church members in Roger Finke's and Rodney Stark's book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conducting Primary Research by Going Door to Door

Churches need to be constantly asking the question, "who lives in our neighborhood and how can we reach out to them?" Secondary research, also known as desk research, will help you answer that question. Church leaders can consult data from the U.S. Census Bureau or a demographic provider such as MissionInsite. However, I recommend you push away from your desk and go out into your neighborhood to conduct primary research as well.

Primary research, also called field research, involves the collection of data that does not already exist. The Census Bureau, for example, does not ask questions about religious affiliation. You can gather that information from some households by going door to door around the church.

Bill Hybels is one of the best known practitioners of door to door research. Before launching Willow Creek Community Church he went door to door in South Barrington, IL. He asked residents one question, "what do you like least about the church?" He was frequently told "churches are always asking for money." As a result of this primary research Willow Creek does not pass the offering plate during the seeker services on Sunday.

Of course Pastor Hybel's learned more than just the answer to his one question. Church members volunteered where they already went to church. Some of the unchurched peppered him with questions, telling him what issues were foremost on the minds of the unchurched. Conversations at the door, even brief ones, can be very rich.

His perambulating had another benefit as well. He was able to announce the formation of a new church, one the unchurched might want to join. After all they had already met the pastor.

Casual Primary Research
You can also conduct casual or incidental primary research. Let's say you are sending out teams of two people to invite people to Easter service. Each team takes a stack of doorhangers. If someone is home they hand them the doorhanger and invite them to church. The resident might say thanks but I already attend a church, mentioning the name of the church. If no one is home, put a doorhanger on the door and move on to the next house.

Be sure to debrief the teams when they return to your church. What did they hear and learn? This casual primary research will be quite interesting and valuable.