More Than Toys, by Luigi Peñaranda

I love Christmas music. I realize a lot of the popular songs that fall under the category of “Christmas music” have nothing to do with the nativity of Jesus, but I still like them. I like listening to “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” “Santa Claus is coming to town,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Mi burrito Sabanero.” I particularly enjoy listening to the Christmas albums by Michael Bublé, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Josh Groban. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining Dr. Graciela Boruszko and her husband Samuel for a night of Villancicos (Latin-American Christmas Carols) at an event organized by the Division of Modern Languages at Indiana Wesleyan University. I must admit, I did not know most of the songs and, similar to what I mentioned about the genre of Christmas music, many of them were bad examples of what Christmas really means.

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Advent Reflections, by Safiyah Fosua

These familiar words signal the beginning of the Advent season. What started as a season of fasting and prayer and preparation has degenerated into a combination of a buying season and block party!  Originally it was not so. Advent’s history begins somewhere between 460 and 490 AD. It was one of two penitential seasons of the Church and lasted six weeks. The original date for the beginning of Advent was November 11. Over time, members of the church became weary of two seasons of fasting that were so close together and the season was shortened from six weeks to four. During the Medieval period, those four Sundays were used to remind the faithful of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. How would you like to have hell as the preaching theme the Sunday before Christmas? The four last things of the medieval period have been replaced with

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The Church – Hospice or Health? (Wayne Schmidt)

Over the past several months Wesley Seminary has been in the “pilot phase” of a new certificate in Church Revitalization.  Helping existing churches achieve greater health and missional vitality has been ranked as a high-priority means of “signature service” to the Church. It’s been a privilege during this developmental phase to talk with pastors, lay leaders, district and denominational officials as well as researchers.  Most of these individuals recognize that permeating North America with the good news of Jesus Christ will involve both the multiplication of new churches and sites as well as the revitalization of existing churches. Some denominations have initiated ways for churches to assess their vitality and create pathways of greater health.  One example is The Evangelical Covenant Church, which has a “Congregational Vitality” department devoted to this endeavor (www.covchurch.org/vitality/pulse).  They recognize that churches come in all sizes, ethnicities, locations and styles, but have identified four types

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The Integration Paper

Although improvements to our Seminary curriculum have inevitably resulted in some shuffling, Week 14 of each semester has often been the week where MDIV students take all the research they have done throughout the semester and written a position paper on a pastoral issue, bringing Bible, theology, and church history to bear on the topic. The task of speaking to the issues of our contexts is both amazingly simple and immensely complex. For the prophet, it is amazingly simple. God gives you a word and you share it. Amos had no theological education. He was a businessman doing some business when he got the word from God. Oh that it was always that simple! Many more of us are not prophets. We just think we are. We stand up in the pulpit or on Facebook and present our words from the Lord. But all we need to is bring in

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How to Improve Your Welcome (Charles Arn)

Some time ago my family and I moved to a new house and neighborhood, and in the process visited a number of churches in search of a new place to worship. The experience reminded me of how other newcomers must feel in visiting a church for the first time. New faces…new places …new spaces. The truth is, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience! Here are a few simple ways you can increase the warmth of your church’s welcome; and, as a result, increase the number of first-time visitors who return…and stay. For Starters… Don’t call them “visitors.” According to Webster, a visitor is “…a person who resides temporarily; one who goes or comes to inspect; one who makes a short stay at a place for a particular purpose.” May I suggest you instead use the word guest, defined as: “a person welcomed into one’s house; a person to whom hospitality is

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Cultural Brokers: Prerequisites for Cross Cultural Ministry (Dr. Kwasi Kena)

In 1995, my wife and I spent five months in missionary training prior to our departure to Ghana, West Africa, where we served as overseas missionaries four years. During our training, we took a missiology course at a local seminary, underwent group counseling to discover our strengths and weaknesses related to inter-cultural encounters, and participated in weekly lectures and discussions with educators and missionaries about ways to effectively engage people from other cultures. Of all the information presented, a single term remains embedded in my mind as most helpful—the cultural broker. Various disciplines recognize the value of cultural brokers “anthropology and ethnohistory, health education…education, [and] business” (Michiel, 2003).  The term’s origin dates back to the mid-1900s in the field of anthropology (Michiel, 2003). The cultural broker functions as a go between or an intermediary. In his article, The role of culture brokers in intercultural science education: A research proposal, Michael

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Lessons From a Pile of Rocks

There was a huge rock across the street from my grandmother Wilson’s front yard. As kids the cousins would gather at the rock to play, dream, and conquer. Climbing on top of the rock was a challenge but finding new stories to make up about the rock was an even bigger challenge. That rock was our space ship, home base, bank, and haunted house. Whenever the cousins get together today we inevitably talk about “the rock” and laugh at how small the rock became over the years! For kids rocks are great to climb and spur the imagination and stones are fun to collect and classify, but as adults we don’t typically have a whole lot of use for them other than decorative or to keep unwanted guests out. Joshua 4 gives a great illustration to the value in a pile of rocks and provides a wonderful story of faithfulness,

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Monasticism for Ministers: You Can Learn a lot from a Monk

30 Wesley Seminary students joined me recently for a course I designed called Spiritual Retreat for the Leader. The location for the course was a monastery in Kentucky. Shortly after my return I tweeted, “If I didn’t love my family, job, and ESPN so much, I would join a monastery and become a monk.” I think I actually meant it. The monastic life is appealing to me. I have taken several 3-4 day retreats at the monastery over the past 8 years. I miss my family so much it hurts every time I retreat. There is, though, a small part of me that wants to stay behind at the monastery forever. But God has not called me to be a monk. I am compelled, instead, to incorporate into my everyday “normal” life those monastic practices that most cultivate the soil of my soul for God, the gardener, to grow me.

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Worshipping God, or Ourselves?; or, Why Tradition Keeps Us Faithful (Brannon Hancock)

For 7 years prior to joining the faculty of Wesley Seminary, I gave oversight to music and technology in a church whose worship “style” is decisively “contemporary.” Congregational singing is accompanied by a guitar-driven “praise band” (drums, bass, guitars, piano/keyboard) and augmented by a choir and praise team (3-4 vocalists on individual mics; 25-30 in the choir). At the front of the sanctuary hang two large screens onto which are projected lyrics, scripture readings, videos (for announcements and illustrations), images and graphics intended to reinforce the sermon theme or other elements of the service. The majority of the congregational songs have been published within the past decade, and we add new songs regularly (about one per month). Although many in the congregation may not realize it, our services also incorporated many aspects of traditional or historic Christian worship. As a staff, we identified some “essential elements” of worship that we felt were important

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CHANGE Myths & a Myth Busting Solution (Bob Whitesel)

One of my favorite management magazines, Fast Company, devoted the March 2005 issue to the topic “Change or Die” (Alan Deutschman http://www.fastcompany.com/52717/change-or-die).  It is an important topic for firms to address, as well as for churches (as I hope you have seen from my book “Inside the Organic Church”).  The article “busts some myths” about change.  Here are two and an implication for bringing about change in your leadership collage. Myth 1:  Crisis is a powerful impetus for change:  Alan Deutschman, senior writer for Fast Company, found that “90 percent of the patients who’ve had coronary bypasses don’t sustain changes in the unhealthy lifestyles that worsen their severe heart disease and greatly threaten their lives” (p. 55).  The article points out that people just give up.  They say “what’s the use?” and prepare to give in.  So the import of this research is that a crisis will not “scare” 90% of

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