Category Archives: Blog Posts

Revisionist Ritual (Safiyah Fosua)

Times are a-changing!  From where I sit, the greater challenge in worship is not the change itself, but rather the rationale for change and the theology of emerging forms.  We do not contextualize worship for the sake of making ourselves appear more attractive to seekers, but change is needed when the old ways of saying, doing, singing, or communicating no longer convey the message to new (or existing) ears.

A time of liturgical renewal
We are living through several major shifts in worship.  One obvious shift has been the huge change in the music and worship styles of weekly worship.  Another, less obvious shift is in how and when we use liturgy and ritual forms.  Some regard liturgy as fragments of historical faith, transmitted to us alongside the Bible that we are obliged to use dutifully.  Others regard liturgy as dated artifacts of the faith of saints past to be abandoned.  Exceptions would include several songs that have attained universality, and certain service music – like the doxology – that, for some have become synonymous with Christian culture.

How could such a large body of tried and true liturgy fail to connect with twenty-first-century worshippers? Most frequently cited: “those people do not sound like us.”  And, there is some truth to this.  We no longer think, speak, write or sing in iambic pentameter. Vocabulary is shrinking in one area and expanding in another.  But, I would like to suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Perhaps we experience this disconnect with older liturgy because liturgy is often written from both theological perspective and social location.  So, while we might resonate with the universal theological needs of human nature found in centuries’-old liturgies, we are still left with the glaring spiritual needs created by a culture characterized by individuality, leisure time, affluenza, and other postmodern concerns.   My suggestion:  don’t just throw out the old!  Why not write new liturgy or rewrite existing rituals that are also mindful of the spiritual needs attendant to our present social location?

New rituals for new times
For more than a decade, notables like Dan Kimball, Sally Morgenthaler, Marsha McFee, Brad Berglund, Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro and others have been experimenting with new forms of liturgy, presented in recognizable and understandable forms that function to assist congregational approaches to God in corporate settings.  Hundreds of congregations have adopted this “new liturgy” for weekly worship.  Hundreds of pastors have found value in writing their own liturgy.

This is why I assign students in WSHP600 the task of writing a wedding liturgy without the benefit of their denominational handbooks, commercial publications or other assists. This requires that the student understand the function of the wedding ceremony in order to supply understandable forms — language, symbolic actions and gestures — that convey meaning and accomplish the task. The results have been encouraging.

One area of contextualization that I had always hoped students would examine is the traditional practice of giving away the bride.  To me, that portion of the traditional ceremony has always felt as irrelevant as an arranged marriage or the bride price.  Over the years I have seen students have both parents give the bride away, make provisions for a male relative in the absence of a father or father figure, or have the bride and groom walk down the aisle together.  This semester, however, I was delighted and surprised by a number of students who decided that both the bride and the groom should be given away, publicly, by their families, citing Matthew 19:4-6 (NRSV):

4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

What an excellent redemption of traditional liturgy!  In one new gesture accompanied by pastoral instruction and scripture, these emerging theologians have managed to reframe the traditional ritual of giving away the bride, by nuancing it toward leaving and cleaving for both parties–one of the first developmental tasks of the new couple!  Truly ears have not heard and eyes have not seen what God has in store for us liturgically.

Liturgy, simply defined, is the work of the people.  This includes the people in the pews and not just the people up front.  My prayer for you is that the winds of liturgical renewal will blow through your congregation.

Recommended Reading:
Berglund, B. (2006).  Reinventing worship:  Prayers, readings, special services, and more.  Valley Forge, PA:  Judson.

Claiborne, S., Wilson-Hartgrove, J., and Okoro, E. (2010).  Common prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.

Kimball, D.  (2004) Emerging worship: Creating new worship gatherings for emerging generations.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan.

McFee, M. (2002).  The worship workshop:  Creative ways to design worship together.  Nashville, TN:  Abingdon.

Bittersweet Ministry (Wayne Schmidt)

There are many ways to describe the life of a minister.  Having been blessed to serve as a pastor for over 30 years, and now to regularly interact with ministry leaders through the Seminary, one descriptor that comes to mind – “bittersweet.”

There are certainly times that are sweet – sweet fellowship (Psalm 55:14) with other believers and ministering from the sweet spot of passion and giftedness.  But other times are bitter – like Jeremiah the prophet, those in ministry may feel besieged and surrounded by it (Lamentations 3:5).

Being able to discern between the bitter and the sweet helps prevent a “woeful” life (Isaiah 5:20).  They are not always easy to distinguish, like the wounds of a friend and the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).  Not all that is bitter is bad, and not all that is sweet is good.

Ministers get wounded – it’s an occupational hazard.  We are in the people business, and people (even ministers) can be mean, petty and vengeful.  Thankfully, God’s abundant grace is a salve to the wounds.  The danger is missing the grace God has for us, bitterness taking root in us, and then rippling into the lives of others –

“Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” – Hebrews 12:14-15

Bitterness is the breeding ground of cynicism and negativism.  People are repelled by a bitter person and avoid that person whenever possible.   It contributes to an exit from ministry, if not actually at least emotionally

There is “bitterness blindness” – those around me can see it in me, and yet it’s a blind spot for me.  Being in denial about bitterness only deepens its roots and spreads its effects.

Many are familiar with the verses that begin Romans 12, but the ending of that great biblical chapter addresses difficult relationships.  These relationships leave us feeling persecuted, like we’ve met the enemy.  They ignite in us a compelling desire for revenge.

Wrestling with these verses has led me to a series of questions I ask myself to probe unresolved relational issues and check the soil of my heart for a root of bitterness:

____      Do I find myself unable to BLESS others (14)?
____      Am I preoccupied with REVENGE (17a, 19)?
____      Do I treat people differently depending on who is LOOKING (17b)?
____      Am I unwilling to do MY PART in resolving the conflict (18)?
____      Am I unwilling to meet another’s legitimate NEEDS (20)?
____      Am I becoming CONSUMED with evil rather than good (21)?

At times these questions have revealed a “root” issue of bitterness that was impacting my relationships.  That led me to a series of commitments for reconciling relationships and ways of demonstrating the willingness to overcome bitterness:

____      I focus on RIGHTEOUSNESS rather than revenge (17)
____      I do my part to create PEACE-FULL relationships (18)
____      I actively place my TRUST in God to bring justice (19)
____      I choose to OVERCOME evil with good (20-21)

Now I must admit that at times the motivation for loving my enemies is the anticipation of them facing God’s wrath (19).  But even when my mixed motives need to be purified, I’ve discover that my willingness to face and repent of bitterness gives God room to work in the other person’s life.  The bitterness that closes my heart may also lead me to behavior that closes their heart.

When I leave room for God to work in the lives of “enemies” – I leave God room to work in mine.

Immigration is an issue; immigrants are people. (David Drury)

“It was my first memory in life,” this 20-year-old continued, “being carried over and the current was smashing into my mother’s body and my legs. I was so very scared. My brother nearly died in that crossing.”

This young woman shared her story to me and a few other church leaders in Austin, Texas and the tears started to flow. She kept telling her story through the tears…

“From that moment on I’ve lived in America. It’s all I’ve ever known. Only when I tried to apply to go to college did I discover that I was undocumented. I realized that because of what my parents did way back when I had to be carried across, I didn’t really belong here or anywhere.” Up to this point I had thought of immigration concerns as a big political issue. But as she shared I was overwhelmed with heartache for her situation, and that of millions of others in a similar status.

“I just wanted to continue a normal life, better myself, and serve in my chosen field. But it turned out I was in limbo. I had nowhere to go with my life. It felt like my life was over as I learned that truth.”

Immigration is a hot issue. News channels blare out headlines, blogs rant and rave, politicians pick a lane and try to stick to it. In the midst of it a person who is an immigrant feels like a political football and it’s hard for the church to know what to think or do. We don’t want to be overly “political” but as Christians we also have compassion for people in need like this young woman I met in Texas.

This is why we have chosen a simple refrain to begin the conversation about this matter: “Immigration is an issue; immigrants are people.” Whatever we think about the issue of immigration we, as the Church, look at immigrants as people. We remind ourselves that these are people we are talking about, not merely issues.

For this reason The Wesleyan Church launched the Immigrant Connection ministry which is a grassroots network envisioning the Spirit of God bringing immigrants and churches together through awareness and action to cultivate relationships, share resources, and provide legal services. Churches who want to take bold action to care for and reach out to immigrants can launch an immigration legal ministry site right in their church. People sometimes say, “why don’t those people stand in line like everyone else?” Well, as those who know the system will tell you, the line barely exists for most, and would be 20 years long for people like this young woman in Austin (which is why her parents did what they did.) The beautiful think about our work is that we can actually create a line for people to do things legally, and that line leads right into your local church. This enables your church to become a part of the solution to the problem for people in your community.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) of the United States government has a provision to allow a representative guide someone through the complex and seemingly arbitrary immigration system. These can be set up in a church facility and there is no restriction on the ministry, including sharing your faith. This can have a transformative effect on a church and it’s ability to serve its community.

Immigrant Connection of The Wesleyan Church is partnering with Wesley Seminary and World Relief to support a class on church-based immigrant ministry held at the seminary in Marion, Indiana and one of our Immigrant Connection sites in Logansport, Indiana. This course provides understanding of the immigration system in the United States in preparation for taking the exam for BIA recognition and approval. It also provides the Biblical and theological foundations for Christian engagement with issues of immigration.

I would encourage you, whether you are a Wesley Seminary student, pastor, or just an active member of a local church that has a heart for immigrants, to consider engaging in this class to learn the tools that make it possible to see lives transformed in your community through this unique method of witness and service.

That young lady in Austin, Texas was able to get help from people that knew the immigration law like our Immigration Connection representatives in churches today. She found legal steps to go to school, study for the future, and contribute to her country—the only home she’s ever known. She praised God for how her life has been transformed because of it.

Head to www.Indwes.edu/CBIM for more information.

David Drury is the Chief of Staff at The Wesleyan Church Headquarters, Director of Immigrant Connection, and Co-chair of The Immigration Alliance.

THE GOD OF SORPRESAS (Joanne Solis Walker)

The verdict is still out on surprises. I love surprising but I’m just not sure how I feel about being surprised. I guess it depends on the person, the kind of surprise and how well they know me. I am also not easy to surprise. I am too much of a planner! So outside of my hubby Dan, not many people have managed to surprise me.

And then there is God! He sure does know how to throw a surprise! Sometimes I am thrilled by the unexpected but other times…well…¡Sorpresa!

I decided lent is a great time to reflect on the many ways God has  surprised me. As I prepared to write this post I thought particularly about the many wonderful surprises related to Seminario Wesley and IWU. Too many to share so here’s my short list:

  1. Surprised by how God arranged for me to be a part of Wesley Seminary. It’s such a great story. A divine appointment. Maybe I will blog about it next time or you can  ask me during residency.
  2. I never thought I would be involved with the launching of an online Spanish M.Div. with the distinctives of this program. ¡Sorpresa! Solo Dios.
  3. Surprised that last summer IWU acquired Universidad FLET, now known as GAP (Global Academic Programs). Through GAP, we offer in Spanish an A.A., B.A. and various M.A.’s which serve as feeders to the Spanish M.Div.

I have a history with FLET, so I was very excited to learn GAP was joining our IWU family. You can’t imagine how thrilled I am by the many opportunities this affords to GAP and Seminario Wesley. Together we will greatly influence the present and future of the Hispanic church in the U.S. and la Iglesia Latina in all of IberoAmerica. Mark my words! I look forward to sharing more of what we’ve been strategically planning together!

Recently Dr. Bob Brumley (Director of GAPS) and I were able spend a few hours strategizing and having a grand time. Do you know that feeling when you are in a meeting with someone who has the right heart and a kingdom focus and all the ideas that surface are like yes, yes, YES? It was awesome!

So I want to end this post by formally welcoming GAP to our IWU family. BIENVENIDOS, Bob and all of the Miami team. Estamos para servirles.

I love those kinds of surprises. They are God surprises and He has many more. As John Wesley once said, “the best is yet to come.”

Please join me and take time during lent to reflect on the many ways you’ve been surprised by the God of sorpresas.

Top Ten Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned (Ken Schenck)

By now most in the Seminary have heard that I am stepping down as Dean and going back to full-time teaching. I viewed becoming a Dean a calling and a ministry. It was also a great learning experience in leadership, gaining insights from the likes of Keith Drury, Wayne Schmidt, Russ Gunsalus, and colleagues like Bob Whitesel.

As I was recently reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned, I boiled them down to 10. All these leadership lessons are transferable to pastoring.

10. There isn’t just one type of leader.
Different situations call for different kinds of leaders, and individuals with different strengths can lead in different ways.

9. An effective leader leads from his or her strengths and manages weaknesses.
We tend to get preoccupied with our weaknesses and waste a lot of time trying to improve them. But our time would be much more effectively used developing our strengths and finding ways to manage our weaknesses (e.g., by delegating and surrounding ourselves with support systems whose strengths complement our weaknesses).

8. Without an adequate infrastructure, an organization won’t last, even if it starts on good ideas.
There is a certain glamour in American culture for the dreamer who has big ideas and the great speaker/entertainer. But like Whitefield and Wesley, it was the organizer Wesley whose followers are still with us today.

7. Over time, organizations gravitate toward the bureaucratic. Policies then tend to replace the common sense and competence of people.
I think IWU was coming dangerously close to this trajectory a few years ago. Thankfully, the situation has solidly changed directions, in my opinion. It’s important for an organization to remain flexible and open to new ideas.

6. Good leaders are attentive to people but don’t let what others think get them down.
Anyone in leadership is going to get criticism. You have to care about what people think, but there is also a need not to worry too much about what people think.

5. It’s best for an organization to have a variety of personalities and styles around.
If everyone thinks the same and has the same gifts, an organization will be very heavy in one set of weaknesses or blind spots.

4. It’s important for leaders to be transparent and genuine and yet to have wisdom on when to speak.
No one likes a sneaky leader. But a leader with a big mouth will inevitably turn off all sides and sabotage the strategic progress of an organization.

3.  Conflict isn’t bad if everyone wants the greater good and submits to the final decision.
I don’t like conflict and those who do are no fun to be around. But there is something to be said for conflicting perspectives being expressed with a genuine desire for the best outcome. But once a decision is made by the appropriate individual or group, it’s time to move on.

2. An organization needs something new to shake things up every couple years.
I can already see that my shift is bringing good reflection and I think the Seminary is going to be better than ever next year. It’s so easy to get into a rut.

1. A person’s greatest contribution to the kingdom may not be in the area they thought it would be.
I always thought my greatest contribution to the kingdom might be in biblical studies, but it will probably turn out to be my part in the starting of Wesley.

Break the Silence (Kwasi Kena)

I once lived in a condo community, which included the obligatory fees and membership in a home owners association (HOA). One day officers in the HOA sent a notice to all residents notifying us about a matter that required our vote. The first part of the notice contained the typical details one would expect to help owners vote intelligently on the matter. The last portion of the notice, however, contained an unexpected twist. It stated that “Any non-votes will be counted as ‘yes votes’ on this matter”. I couldn’t be believe it! If I did not vote, the HOA officers would consider that an affirmation of the proposed plan. Said differently, my silence was treated as if it were an action.

How Would You Fill in the Blank?
For several years I taught an oral communication course. In that class, we examined a communication phenomenon called “filtering and completing”. Here is a brief explanation of these two concepts. When we are bombarded by too much information, we make conscious and subconscious choices to filter out what appears to be extraneous information in order to make sense out of what we hear or see. Conversely, when some of the message is missing, we complete or fill in the blank to create what we think is the intended message. We complete the message based on our own perceptions, life experiences, biases and worldviews.

For example, if you heard “Mary had a little _____, its ___________________________”, you would be able to compete the sentence based on your previous knowledge of nursery rhymes. If, however, you heard the following phrase “When elephants fight ________________”, you may not have enough previous knowledge or experience to fill in the blank correctly. While a person living in West Africa would recognize the proverb “When elephants fight the grass suffers”. Without context, shared memory, or the intention of the speaker, we are clueless.

Silence in Multicultural Ministry: Friend or Foe?
When engaging in multicultural ministry, when should you speak and when should you keep silent? The answer perplexes many people. It is not unlike the feeling one gets when reading the book of Proverbs where one verse urges you not to answer a fool, while the next verse contradicts the previous advice and states that you should answer a fool (Proverbs 25:4-5). If you find yourself struggling with such a decision, remember in cross-cultural ministry, silence sends multiple messages.

I sometimes use the following scenario to illustrate the effect of silence when attempting to reach people from a different ethnic group. We are all familiar with churches whose neighborhoods have shifted from one dominant ethnic group to another. Members of “drive-in churches” who often want to open the church to everyone usually don’t understand why community members do not come and join their congregations. Perhaps this issue of silence holds a clue to the answer.

In the midst of your congregation attempting to become more multi-ethnic, suppose a major disturbance occurs in the ethnic community you want to reach. Perhaps the local news airs a special report noting that an absentee landlord failed to maintain his apartments causing the ethnic residents to suffer unnecessary illnesses due to poor heating and insulation. Or, what if you learned that community members live in a food desert and their children’s cognitive development is stunted due to malnutrition? Or, what about the recent 911 caller who reported that a twelve-year-old boy was playing with a gun that was “probably fake” resulting in Tamir Rice being shot and killed by a policeman four seconds after the squad car arrived? If some tragedy like this occurred in which members of the community were angry, hurt, distraught, and outraged—how would your congregation respond?

If your church responded to any of these incidents with silence, how might the ethnic community you wish to reach “fill in the blank”? How would your congregation’s reputation in the community inform the way outsiders complete the void left by your silence? If visitors came to church the Sunday following a tragic event, would they hear anything in the sermon or pastoral prayer or any portion of the service that addressed the sorrow experienced by the parties involved? Can your church afford the cultural baggage of a silent response?

Concluding with a Cherry on Top (Dr. Luchetti)

I recently enjoyed the four-course Festa Italiana at the Olive Garden with my wife and some friends. The meal included an appetizer, unlimited soup and breadsticks, an entrée (Smoked Mozzarella Chicken for me), and a dessert. All of this was only $14.99! A steal of a deal if you ask me. I tried to convince Amy, my wife, to get the same deal but she resisted. Oh well, her loss.

The Crispy Risotto Bites started the meal off with a bang. After an appetizer like that, my expectations for the entrée were high. I was not disappointed. The dining experience, up to this point, was delightful. Although my belly button was now flopping over the waste line of my jeans, I couldn’t wait to conclude with a delectable dessert. There’s always room for dessert, even when there’s not. The Festa Italiana included dessert and I didn’t want to be a bad steward of God’s money. I ordered the chocolate mousse which, in my estimation, is the ideal way to conclude an excellent dining experience.

Then it happened. The waiter brought to the table our desserts of choice. I thought it was a joke. My chocolate mousse came in this tiny, I don’t know, glass thing. That’s the best I can come up with since the “tiny glass thing” was too small to be called a bowl, dish, or cup. I finished the chocolate letdown in two bites. My wife, who resisted the Festa Italiana four-course “deal,” sat there gloating with her super-sized piece of Amaretto Tiramisu. My tip for the waiter was going to be “make the dessert better and bigger,” but I resisted and gave him money instead.

The joy of the first three courses was diminished by the disappointment of the final course, the dessert. I left the restaurant fairly full but with a taste of disappointment in my mouth. The conclusion soured me a bit toward the entire experience.

Preachers are sometimes guilty of doing to listeners what Olive Garden did to me. We leave a bad taste in the mouths of listeners during the conclusion of the sermonic meal. The introduction might be appetizing and the body a theologically substantive and contextually relevant entrée. But if we fail to finish of the meal with a delicious dessert, the entire meal will be diminished.

Let’s learn from Olive Garden’s mistake. Here are some things to keep in mind as you seek to finish the sermonic meal with a cherry on top:

-Avoid Summarizing: The goal of preaching is not merely to provide people with memorable information but transformational inspiration. If we preachers have done our job during the sermon, people will know more information about the Bible, to be sure. But when it comes to the dessert, the sermon’s conclusion, end with the sweetness of inspiration not merely the spinach of information. The American Church, as far as I can tell, seems well-informed but uninspired to apply what they already know. Try to overcome the advice given to the past few generations of preachers to, in the conclusion, “tell em what you told em.” No, tell em something that will inspire them to embody the Gospel. Summaries never inspire.

-Don’t Manipulate: Most of us have experienced the painfully extended altar call, the one that forces people out of their seats in hopes that the preacher will shut up and conclude the sermon. The long drawn out altar call is one form of manipulation that occurs during the conclusion. Here’ another. I call it the bait and switch. The preacher will say, “With heads bowed and eyes closed, just between you and God, raise your hand if this sermon applies to you.” The listener raises her hand thinking she made a private acknowledgement. The preacher led her to believe that. Here comes the switch. The preacher says, “Now, if you raised your hand, please come forward to the altar.” Listeners want to be challenged, not manipulated. Sometimes the line between the two is rather thin. If the preacher crosses it, the meal will be spoiled.

-Land the Plane: The conclusion will determine, to an extent, how the listener perceives the entire sermon. Think through the finish. Make it concise and compelling. Don’t wing it or you’ll end up hovering over the landing strip. I remember a bad experience flying into Chicago. I’m not sure why, but for some reason the plane hovered over the landing strip for about 20 minutes. Perhaps there were some issues on the ground. I was frustrated, angry even. When the preacher hovers, refusing to land the plane, listeners become frustrating and angry. The listener will be finished with the sermon, even as the preacher keeps flying. This puts a bad taste in the mouths of listeners. Unless your conclusion is crucial to driving home your focus and extremely engaging, land the plane quickly when the strip is in sight.

I will keep going to Olive Garden and hungry listeners will keep showing up on Sunday mornings to feast on a word from the Lord. When they do, we must carefully and creatively develop a powerful conclusion. A disappointing dessert can diminish a good meal. But a delicious dessert can improve a mediocre sermon.

Does Your Church Have a Sabbatical Leave Policy? (Charles Arn)

The role of pastor is extremely stressful. In effect he/she is never off duty. This long-term stress takes a toll emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Churches that want to keep their pastor for many years must provide him/her with a season of rest. I recommend that all full-time pastors and staff receive a three-month paid sabbatical every six or seven years.

The Battle Wounded …

Consider the following statistics[i]:

  • 23% of pastors have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% of pastors don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal issue.
  • 45% of pastors say that they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence.
  • 56% of pastors’ spouses say that they have no close friends.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

Time for Some R & R …

Universities and colleges have given professors sabbaticals for many years. Originally modeled on the biblical cycle of work and rest, professors receive a sabbatical for research, writing, travel, and rest every seven years.

Many churches today find that by providing a regular sabbatical for their pastors, they are able to keep them for a longer period of time. And, as I mentioned in an earlier article here, there is a direct relationship between pastoral longevity and church growth.

Two Examples …

A number of books, articles, and examples are available to help you avoid re-inventing the wheel in developing a policy. Google: “pastoral sabbatical policy” and you will find over 3,700 hits. Here are two examples of churches’ sabbatical policies:

Example #1

Personal development leave is for professional growth that will benefit our church.

  • Leave accrues at 1.5 weeks per year of service.
  • A pastor must serve a minimum of 2 years before scheduling a study leave.
  • All personal development leave must be scheduled and approved by the church Council. The Administrative Committee will make a recommendation based upon a review of all the pastor’s schedules and the purpose of the leave with the assurance that all ministries will be properly carried on.
  • A pastor will serve a minimum of 6 months following the use of any personal development leave.
  • Accrued personal development leave is forfeited when a pastor resigns. The church Council may waive this in the case of a tendered resignation.

Example #2

Sabbatical leave may be granted to full-time pastoral staff members for the pursuit of activities as approved by the Council of Elders. The following stipulations and requirements will apply:

  • Sabbaticals may be approved for six months at the culmination of each seven years of full-time ministry at the Church. Each staff member may apply vacation time earned to extend his/her leave to a maximum of one month.
  • Full salary and benefits will be paid during the leave.
  • A detailed proposal for use of a sabbatical leave will be presented to the Council of Elders at the time of application for leave. Applications should be presented six months prior to expected leave. The council has the right to deny leave for sabbaticals it feels does not meet its approval.
  • The intent of sabbatical leave is to further the ministry of our church.
  • Upon returning, the staff member taking a sabbatical leave will give a report to the Council of Elders on what was achieved during the leave.

 Conclusion

Each year your church should put aside an amount equivalent to one-twelfth of the pastor’s annual salary to cover the salary during the sabbatical leave. The seventh year of a pastor’s tenure is often one of mental and spiritual fatigue. By allowing the pastor to take a three-month sabbatical at this time the pastor’s life will be re-energized which will have a positive impact on the church’s ministry, as well.

 

[i] http://pastoralcareinc.com/WhyPastoralCare/Statistics.php; http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2049.htm.

Confessions of a Church-Hopping Pastor (Brannon Hancock)

My family’s transition to Marion, Indiana last summer afforded me an unprecedented opportunity. You see, I’m a Nazarene pastor’s kid who’s married to a Wesleyan pastor’s kid, and because God apparently has a sense of humor, my three kids are all pastor’s kids too. But all of this means that I’ve never been able to participate in one of American Christianity’s favorite pastimes: church-hopping.

I love the church. I am both a teacher and a student of the church and her worship. Every time I visit a new church I learn something. So I relish every opportunity to experience the inside of a new church building, participate in a new worship service, sit under the preaching of a new pastor, and hopefully make some new friends. I’ve visited lots of churches throughout my life, but only occasionally – a Sunday here and a Sunday there – and I always had a home church to return to. So it was strange and exciting to wake up each Sunday morning this fall and say to my wife, “well…where should we go to church today?”

Some might call it “church-shopping.” I’d rather think of it as “visiting,” since we decided early on to settle in at the local Nazarene church (a predictable choice, I’m told) after we made the rounds. Besides, that’s what we usually call folks who show up at our churches for the first time: visitors. (Although “guests” seems to be trending now.) But I knew that once we got involved at a local church, our chances to visit other churches in the area would be limited, so we decided to just “visit around” for awhile.

From August to December, we worshipped in more than a dozen different churches ranging in size from 50 to 1200, representing several denominations (Wesleyan, Methodist and Nazarene), most of which we only visited the one time. In the process, here’s what I discovered:

1. First Impressions matter – Unless we vigilantly guard against it, it is easy for churches to begin to operate as if regular attenders are their only focus. Evidence of a church’s internal or external focus appears in everything from greeters to information centers to signage to building maintenance. For a visitor, it’s easy to sense when a church is clearly not prepared to receive guests. This can make an already-anxious and uncomfortable person feel even more out-of-place.

We have three young children, so kids check-in procedures were a big part of our visitor experiences. It was obvious that some of these had not been designed with first-time visitors in mind. In some cases, the greeters at the front doors didn’t know where to direct us, or the signage was poor or misleading. In all but a few cases, the whole process took entirely too long – in one case, we arrived 10 minutes early, but by the time we were seated in the sanctuary, we were 12 minutes late. And some of the largest churches we visited had the most glaring issues! (Some smaller churches didn’t have a check-in or security process whatsoever, which is another problem – whatever your size, please create some type of security procedure for dropping off and picking up kids.)

Think through your “hospitality process” (that’s what it should be) from the perspective of a first-time guest. Train your greeters with a laser focus on visitors. Make your kids check-in process as streamlined as possible. Your need to get a family’s information is not more important than their need to have a smooth and easy journey between their car and the sanctuary. Everything they experience prior to the worship service sends a message (Andy Stanley calls it “the message before the message”), and sometimes those messages can make it harder or even impossible to hear the Good News they came to hear.

2. Congregations matter – this one has to do with the whole culture of the church, so it can’t be easily addressed in a committee meeting; but in all our church-hopping, it was undeniable that the “vibe” we got from the congregation made a huge difference in our experience. Some congregations were enthusiastic in worship, while others seemed disengaged and half-hearted. Some congregations were friendly and welcoming (without being weird or “pouncing” on us) while others seemed oblivious to our presence. Some you could just tell were really authentic and passionate about their faith (and their church), while others kind of left you to wonder why they bothered showing up. Which would you guess made us think, these are people I want to be around?

One other thing: for us, overly homogenous churches were a turn-off. Yes, it’s important to be able to connect with people at church who are at a similar place in life, or share common interests, but I don’t want to go to church with a bunch of people who are just like me (what a terrifying thought!). We were blessed to visit a few generationally and/or racially diverse churches, although they were the exception. I understand that having a specific focus or “target” audience can be part of an outreach or church growth strategy, but diverse churches better reflect what I believe Heaven will be like. It’s neat to get a glimpse of that in the here-and-now.

3. Pastors matter – this one hurts, but I have to say it: in a few cases our experience was absolutely made or broken by the pastor. And not just by the quality of the preaching, although that was certainly in the mix. At one church, the lead pastor was standing at the door alongside the greeter; he welcomed us, led us back to the children’s area to check our kids in, and then back to the sanctuary. At another church, an associate pastor did the same thing. This speaks volumes to a first time guest about the values and priorities of the church. On the other hand, at one church, the senior pastor noticed us in the lobby after the service, but just walked right past us without so much as a smile. I understand how drained pastors can be after preaching multiple services, but Sunday morning is game time until you drive off the property. You may not be up for a lengthy conversation, but a brief introduction and “thanks for coming today” may be more than enough to make someone feel welcome.

Granted, we’re pretty “churchy” folks. Try as I might, it’s unrealistic to think I can truly experience church through the eyes of an unchurched person, so take all of this with a grain of salt. Now that I’ve shared three things I think really matter, let me mention two elements that struck me as being far less significant than I might have expected.

1. Buildings – we visited some fantastic, slick, shiny new buildings, and some little, cruddy, poorly maintained buildings. But I don’t think there was a single one that we wouldn’t have gone back to because of anything to do with the building, nor one that we would have returned to solely because the building was so cool. Spaces do matter; maintain your buildings; be clean, safe, and intentional in your environments. But it turns out the cliché is true: the church really isn’t the building, it’s the people!

2. Music / “Style” – we experienced congregational worship that ran the gamut from ancient hymns to the latest modern worship songs, accompanied by everything from large, professional-quality worship teams, to churches that sang along to CD tracks. My wife and I are musicians and worship leaders, so you’d think this would be a big deal to us. But it just wasn’t. Much more important was the energy of the congregation as they engaged in worship. Show me a congregation doing what they can do with all the excellence they can muster – who is “owning” their worship with authenticity and passion – and THAT’S something attractive to anyone, churched or unchurched.

Those involved in full-time ministry – like many of our Wesley Seminary students – aren’t given many chances to be a first-time visitor. I hope you can learn vicariously through my church-hopping experience. While it was enriching, I’m glad it’s over. My family and I are ready for the community, the relationships, the support and the opportunities to serve that accompany commitment to the local church.

In closing, let me encourage not just pastors but all Christians to take every opportunity you might have to experience church as a visitor. Maybe it’s venturing out when you’re away on vacation, or just making an intentional decision once or twice a year (any more than that and your pastor might get mad at me!) to visit another church in your city. If more pastors in the pulpits and parishioners in the pews knew what it feels like to be a visitor, and would be mindful of those who may darken our doors for the first time, I believe it would radically transform and revitalize our churches.

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. But I had a good time surrounded by colleagues and Spanish students.

There is nothing wrong with caroling, gift exchanges, and Christmas parties and holiday music. Jesus loved parties, gave gifts, sang songs, and celebrated the holidays of his day. However, it is important as ministers and church people to be reminded and to remind others that the story of Christmas in the Gospels is about something else.

I love the way the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth and infancy. The story interweaves narrative and poetry to paint a beautiful and perplexing picture of the event. Through canticles, the characters of the story communicate the significance of Jesus’ life as the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people of Israel. One of these canticles is the song of Simeon, commonly known as Nunc Dimittis from the Latin translation of Luke 2:29.

The text tells us that the Holy Spirit orchestrated the meeting between Simeon, a righteous and devout man, and the parents of Jesus, who came to the temple to fulfill their covenantal obligations. Simeon awaited the “consolation of Israel,” perhaps referring to the deliverance of Israel from its oppressors. Upon holding the baby, Simeon erupts in praise:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32).

The old man can now rest in peace. He has seen salvation. He has seen light. He has seen glory. It sounds like a joyful Christmas song. The only problem is that, suddenly, the story turns somber. It’s as if the song modulated to a minor tonality (let the musicians understand). The proclamation of salvation, light, and glory cannot be divorced from the fact that Jesus will face opposition and those who love him most will encounter suffering.

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

Jesus is announced as a sign that will be opposed, a child who makes some fall and others rise, a man who exposes the hidden, and a son who breaks his mother’s heart. This Christmas carol is not the typical feel-good kind of song. This canticle is unsettling.

Jesus is not an innocent baby perpetually stuck in a manger. His mission is not to give us the spirit of Christmas. He is not a dove that flies amidst battlegrounds so that enemy armies can cease fire for a day to eat ham and rolls. Jesus doesn’t drive a Coca Cola Christmas truck. He does not hand out free toys. His blessings are not discounted during the holiday season. Jesus is a king and his agenda is to introduce a new world order…the kingdom of God.

We must celebrate, not only the birth of the king, but the fullness of his life and his work. He was at work before the manger and he is certainly at work today. It is interesting that two of the Gospel writers did not include stories about the birth of Christ. In a sense, they too remind us to fix our eyes on Jesus himself, and not just on the events surrounding his birth.