Friday, November 14, 2008

New Wineskins Convocation V – Final Thoughs.

A few more dahlia pics before getting to the blog. These dahlias are from my 2008 garden. The dahlias in the order they appear are: Horse Feathers, Hot Number, Hy Debut and Insipic.

The New Wineskins Association of Churches Convocation V is in the history books and I am back at Evergreen Presbyterian Church getting into the daily pastoral grind. I have put off writing this “final thoughts” piece until I have had some time to give it the attention it deserves. So here goes…

Thought #1: The PCUSA made a HUGE mistake by blowing off the New Wineskins Convocation. To the best of my knowledge there was not a single PCUSA dignitary at the convocation. Our General Assembly moderator went to the Presbyterian Coalition meeting. He was even allowed to address the Coalition assembly. Hunter Farrell was at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship meeting. Where were those in leadership of the PCUSA? Fact: The majority of churches that are a part of the New Wineskins Association of Churches are faithful churches with the PCUSA!!!!! These churches do not like the direction that the denomination has been going and they are experiencing a sense of abandonment, betrayal and loss. So, where is their (our) denomination when these/our churches are hurting? I can tell you where they weren’t—they weren’t in Cleveland at the New Wineskins Convocation!! Shame, shame, on the leadership of the PCUSA. It is almost as though the denomination wants these churches to leave the denomination.

Thought #2: Worship was the central component of the Convocation. Worship services were held a various times during the day. The music was inspirational (see my one exception on a previous post). The pray was humbling. The preaching was inspirational.

Thought #3: Every component of the Convocation was surrounded with prayer. A team was praying every moment that the Convocation was in session. Individuals needing prayer could go to this prayer room to have people pray for them, their church, or what ever the prayer need might be. Those desiring to pray by themselves could pray in prayer room or out in the prayer garden. During worship services, people were encouraged to pray while seated, kneeling, laying prostrate before God or any other way that God was leading them. We had time to pray for those regions in the world where Christians are persecuted. We prayed for missionaries. We prayed. We prayed. We prayed.

Thought #4: Where were the news outlets of the PCUSA? Reporters from across the denomination were in Minneapolis for Covenant Network meeting. (New news article here and here) Why did these “news” outlets choose to skip the New Wineskins Convocation?

Thought #5: The New Wineskins Convocation was not a political meeting. Yes, the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC did hold their official meeting. However, I hold fast to my belief that the Convocation was not a political meeting. The Convocation was about local churches becoming “outward focused” (missional) in their ministries. There were no speeches about defeating the proposed amendment to the PCUSA constitution to remove G-6.0106b from the Book of Order. There were no speeches about leaving the PCUSA. There were no speeches about putting forth amendments to the Book of Order at the next meeting of the General Assembly of the PCUSA. The Convocation was about reaching the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thought #6: There was a spirit of solidarity that I have only experienced a couple of times in all of my 20+ years of ordained ministry in the PCUSA. Within the PCUSA and within our presbyteries, there are MANY beliefs about sins, salvation, Jesus, God, morals, the interpretation of scripture, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth, etc. There is no sense of solidarity within the PCUSA or my presbytery. The sense of solidarity at the Convocation was overwhelming. The only other times that I have felt this way are when I gather with a group of “like-minded” pastors in my presbytery. Over the past few months we have gotten together several times. The sense of solidarity we experience is rejuvenating and inspiring. It was tremendously refreshing to experience this sense of solidarity at the New Wineskins Convocation.

Thought #7: Next year, I will try to take more leaders from my church to the New Wineskins Convocation VI. I have tried to keep my church’s leadership at “arms-length” from the garbage that goes on at the national level of the denomination. The New Wineskins Convocation would be an excellent example of how the church should function locally, nationally and globally.

Thought #8: Get out of your office when writing your sermon!! For almost two years I have been writing my sermons at my favorite coffee shop. I arrive at The Oasis just after it opens and work for a couple of hours before heading to the office—it reminds me that the church needs to get out from behind its walls and be among the people of our community. One of our speakers confessed that he writes his sermons while at the food court of a local mall. He seeks to be among people who don’t know Christ when he is writing his sermons so that he is constantly reminded of those who need Jesus in their lives. It also serves as a reminder to use language that is understandable by everyone—not just church folks.

Well, that’s about it. Next week I will looking at Presbyterians for Renewal’s plan for how the PCUSA should move forward. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Wineskins Convocation V – November 11th

A few more dahlia pics before getting to the blog. These dahlias are from my 2008 garden. The dahlias in the order they appear are: Hamilton Lillian, Helen’s Carl, Hillcrest Fiesta and Hillcrest Liam.

Today was the final day of the New Wineskins Convocation. Today’s most significant learning time for me was the time in the Church Planting seminar. The learning did not end when the seminar concluded. Following the seminar I had an extended conversation with Bill Meyer (Chairman of the Joint Commission of the New Wineskins and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church) on the topic of church planting. (Note: Thanks Bill—and I do have his permission to use his name)

The PCUSA (the denomination of which I am a part) has failed miserably in church planting (known as “new church development” in PCUSA lingo). We fail because we start so few churches. As dollars at the presbytery level shrink so does the church planting. Another reason for the failure has to do with the goal of the project. The goal should never be to “start a church.” As soon as the church has been “started” the goal has been reached. Too often, it is at that point where the focus of the new church turns inward—building a building, paying a huge mortgage, etc. The goal of church planting should be to “reach people for Jesus Christ.” This outward focus must be a part of the DNA of the new ministry that is being started.

Bill suggested that the church planter needs to forget everything they have learned about “being a church.” A church mentality says, “We need a youth program.” or “We need to start a Sunday school.” The small new ministry can not create these programs that can compete with churches that are already doing those things well in your area; besides, it is those who are already “churched” that are looking for these types of programs. Those who do not know Christ are not looking for a Sunday School or youth group program—they are not even on the person’s radar. Bill suggests that most energy and effort needs to be focused on looking outward—encouraging people to spend time with those who do not know Christ. These are the people that the church plant is seeking to reach.

The seminar pointed out that it is important for a church plant to be in a location where the community is growing (this is not to be confused with missions that are established in low income, high crime areas where the needs are so great). This new ministry must be formed with people who are “outward” focused. Most American Christians are not outward focused. One poll asked Christians a question that went something like this: “Should the church’s primary focus be to those who don’t go to church or to you and your family?” Eighty nine percent of the people said that the primary focus should be me and my family. What a tragic answer. It is no wonder that most Christian churches in the US are declining in size.

It is my belief that the PCUSA, the EPC and the New Wineskins Association need to be intentional in starting new churches. It is almost impossible to “turn around” a declining church. The resources and effort should be placed in starting new churches. The best way to form these new ministries is to have larger churches “birth” daughter churches. This process in involves a significant core group going to start the new ministry. They bring with them financial resources and enthusiasm.

Church planting MUST become a priority!

Check back tomorrow for my final thoughts on the Convocation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Wineskins Convocation V – November 10th.

A few more dahlia pics before getting to the blog. These dahlias are from my 2008 garden. The dahlias in the order they appear are: Gerrie Scott, Ginger Willo, Glenn Valley Cathy and Gloriosa.

Today was the second day of the New Wineskins Convocation V. We heard major presentations by:
• Rev. Marcelo Robles, Pastor, La Mision, Buenos Aires, Agentina.
• Rev. Dr. Eli Morris, Associate Pastor of Urban Ministries, Hope Presbyterian Church, Cordova, TN.
• Caroline Kurtz, Associate Director, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship.

In addition to these presentations there were workshops on the Westminster Confession, Church Property Issues and Developing Missional Leadership in the Local Church.

Key things that I learned about the missional church are:
1. The missional church is a suffering church—it lifts high the cross of Christ and suffers for it, it becomes a suffering church as soon as it focuses on serving Christ, the missional church leaves the place of safety and security and follows where Christ leads.
2. The missional church is a disciple making church—it listens to the Word, accepts it, puts it into practice, is transformed by the Word and then the new disciples share their faith with other people.
3. The missional church is a missional “fellowship” – it reverses the world’s values, empowers the weak and views the poor as its neighbors.

Eli challenged us with three main concepts:
1. The church should be a launching pad and not a landing strip—the landing strip model is where the person goes through the week and ends up just making it to the church on Sunday—the landing strip. In the launching pad model a person comes to worship and is launched into the week by the Holy Spirit.
2. The church should be the first place the mayor calls when he needs help—this can only happen when the church is so involved in the community that the community’s leaders know the church.
3. If your church was to close today, would the community miss the church and why? I was introduced to this challenge at the Purpose Driven Presbyterians meeting this year. It is still just as challenging!!

During the lunch break (it wasn’t really a break) we gathered in regional groups. I was in the group that represented Washington, Oregon and California. The first thing that I noticed was the discontent with the PCUSA that was rampant in the room. Several of the church had recently left the PCUSA and joined the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC. I was shocked to learn the Sunset Presbyterian Church, Portland, Oregon, was just released by their presbytery last week!! Sunset is a very large, evangelical church in Portland. A smaller church in their presbytery was also released at the same time. I became aware of another shocking development on the west coast but will refrain from blogging about it until I get additional details and make sure that that the info is public information. There was not a single church represented in that room that I would consider firmly with the PCUSA!

My biggest criticism of the Convocation has to do with worship. It is quite obvious that the people planning worship are from very liturgical churches. There have been HUGE choirs, small ensemble groups, a harp, and of course, the pipe organ. The couple of times they “dabbled” in contemporary worship were pathetic. Our little church of 100 people has a worship team that truly leads the congregation in worship and could have done a better job. Why they have not tried to present the best of liturgical worship and the best of contemporary worship is beyond me. Their half-hearted attempt at contemporary worship is embarrassing.

All-in-all, day two at the convocation was very good. I look forward to day three.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

New Wineskins Convocation V – November 9th

A few more dahlia pics before getting to the blog. These are all dahlias that I grew this past summer. The dahlias in the order they appear are: Fuzzy Wuzzy, Formby Gold, Fleurel and Fire Mountain.

The New Wineskins Convocation V began tonight just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Worship and prayer are going to be major components of the convocation. Worship included time to pray for those countries and Christians where oppression is a way of life. My small prayer group was able to pray for my daughter’s ministry to Muslim women in an “undisclosed” Muslim country.

Dean Weaver, one of the founders of New Wineskins, gave a presentation that was designed to bring “newcomers” up to speed on the history of New Wineskins and to set the stage for the next two days. He summed things up by saying, “It’s not about leaving; it’s not about staying; it’s about realigning to reach the world for Christ.”

The New Wineskins Association of Church is composed of 176 congregations. Some of the congregations are in the PCUSA. Some of the congregations are in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). And, it sounds like there are some congregations that are not a part of the two mentioned denominations. The realignment transcends denominational ties. The realignment is about congregations joining with other congregation that hold the same essential tenants (that are actually spelled out—how revolutionary!) and ethical imparities (also spelled out) in ministry and mission.

One may ask, “Why is there a need for realignment?” All one has to do is attend one of these gathering and the answer to that question become apparent. These is something powerful about joining with like minded followers of Christ, worshipping together, praying together, working together, ministering together and holding one another accountable. It is unlike any other Presbyterian gathering that I have been a part of.

Another question you may be asking is, ‘Why is Pastor Lance at the New Wineskins Convocation?” First, the congregation I serve is not a member of the New Wineskins Association of Churches. Evergreen Presbyterian Church would have no problem with the essential tenants or ethical imperatives of New Wineskins. Joining New Wineskins has not been a priority over the past couple of years—we have had more pressing issues to deal with. Second, Evergreen Presbyterian Church did not pay for me to attend this convocation—I am paying for it myself. I was going to take “vacation” for this trip but the session wanted me to use some of my study leave. Third, I do not know how long I will be in the PCUSA. Actions of the 218th General Assembly have serious affected my future with this denomination. One possible option for me is to stay in the PCUSA but to align with a group (such as New Wineskins) for ministry and mission. I want to see how pastors and congregations live this option out. Another possible option would be to stay within the PCUSA “if” the Presbyterians for Renewal can get their new “synod” model passed. I will talk about this in a future post. Another option for me is to leave the PCUSA and join the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC. I want to see how pastors and churches have made this transition. Fourth, I want to see how the area networks (the main backbone of New Wineskins) actually work. I want to see what the leadership of New Wineskins has to say about their future dreams and plans.

Check back each day for my impressions of the New Wineskins Association of Churches Convocation V.

Five "sola" statement final post

A few more dahlia pics before getting to the blog. The dahlias in the order they appear are: Fern Ridge Magi, Fascination, Fairway Pilot, and Devon Blaze.

Five statements that have shaped the church came out of the Reformation. These statements have been referred to as “the five solas.” These five statements sum up the major issues of the Protestant Reformation. The five statements are:
• Sola scriptura
• Sola fide
• Sola gratia
• Solus Christus
• Soli Deo gloria

It is my belief that many (if not all) of the former “mainline” denominations are at the beginning stages of a new reformation. The five “sola” statements are central to those reformations. Today, we will continue our examination of these “sola” statements.

Soli Deo gloia is the Latin phrase for “Glory to God alone.” All of life (for the follower of Christ) is to be lived for God’s glory. It would seem as though this would not be an issue within the Presbyterian Church. Well, think again. The Possibilities Task Force of our Presbytery could not even agree on the nature of God. They can’t even agree on God’s nature!!

The PCUSA needs a Reformation for today! We must return to the five “sola” statements of the first Reformation if we are to have a future together.