New York Times gets Senate prayer wrong

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Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, our government is at a budget impasse and everyone is mad as hell. Senate Chaplain Rev. Barry Black, a retired Navy rear admiral, gave a Senate prayer that the  New York Times reported as “scolding”:

The disapproval comes from angry constituents, baffled party elders and colleagues on the other side of the Capitol. But nowhere have senators found criticism more personal or immediate than right inside their own chamber every morning when the chaplain delivers the opening prayer.

The New York Times entitled the article, “Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding” – written by Jeremy W. Peters – highlighted Rev. Black’s prayer as some sort of religious finger shaking.  When you read and watch the prayer, one immediately can connect to the honesty of the situation:

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I gave up fantasy football for my family

Way back in 2003, I was an unmarried rabid fantasy football and baseball fan. I spent anywhere between 10-20 hours a week tracking, reading, and researching statistics to build the ultimate fantasy football team. Sometimes, I would manage 3 or 4 teams at once. I’d read and research on my smartphone, computer, and read the newspaper for all the inside tips.

The more time I put into fantasy football, the more my teams won.

The pursuit of fantasy football success and points for my players was almost an addiction.  It was exciting going head to head with other fantasy teams each week. Trash talking friends and strangers about how good my team was and how much their team sucked was fun. I almost never played fantasy leagues that charged money. It was about the winning and bragging rights. Managing a fantasy football team was a 7 day a week job and it was enjoyable.

But, was it?

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Don’t forget about associate pastors

 

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Last week I spoke to a group of associate pastors at a continuing education program with the  American Baptist Churches of New Jersey. This group of associates was very diverse demographically, but they all shared the same challenges.

I started on the topics of identity, calling, and roll of the associate pastor. Then, several folks brought up other associates books, “Leading from the Second Chair” or “Second Chair, Not Second Best”. Though I’m pretty enamored with “The Work of the Associate Pastor“,  I spoke about how those other books fail to see one thing: the power dynamic in the analogy of “second chair” is fundamentally flawed.

As I shared with this group of associate pastors that the power dynamics of #1 verse #2 pastor is not helpful. Ordering pastors with numbers frustrates associates into seeing themselves as lesser instead of seeing themselves into a different calling than their senior pastors. The relationship between the senior and associate pastor should be one of mutuality. Obviously, there is a supervisory role that the senior pastor must take, but that doesn’t mean that pastors cannot treat one another as equals.

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It’s official: the term ‘Mainline’ Christian sucks

It is well established that mainline Christian denominations are shrinking. According to several prominent Christian practitioners and thinkers, the term “Mainline Christian” officially… well, sucks. That is my interpretation.

The indelible Carol Howard Merritt  is one of the growing movement of folks who want to drop the  “mainline” term. She writes in her Christian Century column that she refuses to use the term “mainline”.  The term “mainline” truly reflect a society with specific racial, class, and cultural marks. Carol explains why would should ditch “mainline”:

It was not a term that denominational leaders came up with, but we have embraced it for many years. Now, it’s a good time to discard it. Why? It white-washes our influences… Even though we often look to the male European Reformers for much of our theology, even though a quick browse through the theology departments of most seminaries will reveal an overwhelming number of older, white men, we also know our thought for more than hundred years has been challenged by those working in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, with the civil rights movement, from subjugated women, and in the midst of immigrants’ struggles.

Perhaps what is the striking is that most new growth in established mainline denominations comes not from hipster churches, but from ethnically diverse immigrant communities. Carol rightly points out that continuing the mainline label ultimately hinders the future of churches:

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Social media atonement and confession?

Would you ever tweet, blog, or Facebook your sins? Is social media the place for confession and atonement?

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews, occurred last week. Yom Kippur is the day of repentance for past sins, to seek forgiveness, and to make amends. NPR featured a fascinating twist on this holy day. A synagogue in Miramar, Florida invited congregants to use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to share their wrongs. Cantor Debbi Ballard explains how social media can connect her congregation to confession and restoration:

…let’s use the technology and have it enhance our atonement today by tweeting or texting our sins away, and looking at those sins on a big movie screen. And then letting them roll past us so that we can let them go, so that we can live a more powerful life this year. I think that’s what Yom Kippur and atonement is about.

It may seem odd for some to share their “sins” on social media. Who wants to leave their confession in a world that caches and stores your information for the world to see? Ballard explains the value of interactive and communal confession: [Read more...]

Blogging… I quit

It’s that time of the year where I usually say, “I’m done. I’m done blogging. I quit.” It’s summer and my focus on blogging usually takes a dive. My children are out of school and the lake calls to me to swim. Then, I question if I want to continue to write blogs. I’ve been doing it for over 4 years now.

After 414 blog posts, I ask, “Is it time to end it? To quit?”

It is time to end it, for now…

One thing I learned writing my Judson Press book, “The Work of the Associate Pastor” (My mom thinks it is a great book and you should buy it) is that you cannot blog and write a manuscript at the same time. You just can’t…well, you can but it is really difficult. Blogging requires regular rest and sabbath.

I’m working on my second book this summer. My goal is to have the introduction and two chapters written. What’s the topic? Well, I can’t give everything away. I will tell you that it is on Baptist life. So far, the introduction is written and I keep telling myself that I’m going to have fun writing this book. Writing a book is a labor. If you don’t have fun with writing it becomes an obligation. Obligations are no fun.

So there it is. I quit.

I’m done writing blog posts this summer. Other quest contributors may post on my website, but I’m taking off July and August.

See you in September!

 

Baptists and BBQ in Kansas City

I’m here in Kansas City for the American Baptist Church USA Mission Summit Biennial. That’s a mouthful. American Baptists get together every two years for meetings, worship, share resources, and attend to the needs of the denomination (elections, motions, etc…).  You can read about the last biennial info here and here.

I’m also here for the famous Kansas City BBQ… well, that’s just a bonus. I’m also here for meetings as a Board of General Ministry director. For the last few days we met to attend to the business of the denomination and also met collectively with the boards of Home Mission, International Ministries, and Ministers and Mission Benefit Board.

We spent some time getting out of the meeting room and visited several American Baptist supported ministries.  Our breakout group went to Bethel Neighborhood City in the Kansas City Area. This 100-year-old ministry is a vibrant American Baptist ministry that has helped thousands of people find community, learn job skills, and find meaning in life. As a Board, it was very helpful to see our efforts and historic support working for the Kingdom of God. We met folks who started in the program as children and then went on to become staff and board members.

On Thursday the second American Baptist Theologians conference at Central Seminary. Break out sessions and papers were presented. My friend and fellow board member Jonathan Malone present a paper on denominational life. It was exciting to see so many American Baptists talking about the future of the church, theology, and ABC life.

Check back for more updates on Baptists and BBQ!

Also, please follow me on Twitter for updates @alanrud and use the hash tag #missionsummit2013

The stress of the movable Sabbath

Someone at church once asked me, “When is your day off?”  I replied, “Friday.”

“Wow.” He said. “I wish I could have Friday’s off. Must be nice.”

“Well, I don’t many Sundays off. That must be nice to have a Sunday or a full weekend off.”

The reality for most ministers is that Sundays are a true “work day” – we labor. Leading worship, preaching, greeting, teaching Sunday School, marriage counseling, Bible studies, and church meetings occupy most of my Sundays (as well as my weekdays).  And why not? That is what pastors do, right? Sure. It’s what we are supposed to do.

But, it is not always easy.

As the only full-time ordained pastor on staff, it’s hard to get away for a weekend. Most families enjoy graduations weekends, beach or lake weekends, reunions, weekend family celebrations, camping weekends, friends weekends, or even that ultra cheap last-minute fight to Miami for the weekend.  I hardly ever do those things. For me, I have to plan weeks and months in advance to take a Sunday off.

Sunday is the Sabbath Day for most Christians but for ministers, we need more true Sabbaths. A weekend with a Sunday of rest from our labor, which is ministry. A weekend where we are not counseling, preaching on Sunday, visiting people in the hospital on Friday, attending a meeting Saturday morning, officiating a wedding or funeral on Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, that Sabbath Day for me is Saturday. Other times it is Monday.

As a pastor, I have a movable Sabbath.

A movable Sabbath is convenient but it is stressful. Having a day insures a type of rest but not knowing when that day will be makes my family life unpredictable. Sometimes, I don’t get a Sabbath let alone a weekend. Daily staffing needs, counseling, trouble shooting urgent demands, congregant frustrations and mediating conflict every day of the week are typical requirements. It’s a constant crescendo of events. It’s exhausting. My labor comes home with me everyday. It never turns off. My wife, children, and even some friends, have a connection to my labor at church.

I covet and miss the freedom to block a weekend for my family and my friends on short notice. Sure, there is the vacation week, but I miss a lot of important family and friend events on weekends because Sunday is a fixed ministry labor day. The stress and demands and fulfilling so many expectations leaves me drained. When I come home for my day off, I have nothing left to give my immediate family.

In posting about this stress on Facebook, a few friends had some responses to Sabbath and stress. My friend and mentor, Charlie Updike posted:

One of the things I’m aware of at the end of the journey is that I wish I had taken a Sabbath approach to the Sunday work and take a Sunday off every seven weeks…that is still preparing and preaching 45 Sundays a year.

Another minister, Liz Lemery Joy posted,

I began taking a hard look at that beginning last February. I creatively had to cut back a little. It’s hard to do in ministry… I schedule set times for rest in my calendar now. I believe we need to incorporate the Sabbath rest- in order for God to be able to minister to us, get refreshed and energized

A member at my last church had the best advice (Thanks Scott!):

Tickets to the Washington Nationals…….road trip, hot dogs, cold beer…..come back refreshed and ready to save some souls!

This year I decided to do something different. I took advantage of some family gatherings clustered togeter. I’ve told my church leadership that I need this time. It is stress reliving and very fulfilling. We leaders and ministers need to plan for the sustaining practice of intention fixed Sabbath weekend rest.

I’m moderating #chsocm tonight

I’m moderating #chsocm on Twitter tonight @ 9:00 p.m. If you are a church-ie social media type, just join in on Twitter with the search and hashtag #chsocm.

A lot of you are wondering, “What the heck is #chsom?” It’s Church social media. #ChSocM (ch-sock-em) is a weekly Twitter-based chat about using social media to build church and faith. Welcoming, informative, ecumenical. Tuesdays, 9PM, ET. Commentary, interviews, transcripts, and fun stuff on the blog.

My good Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest friend Meredith Gould started the Twitter chat topic/community about 2 years ago. Since then, it has grown into a weekly meet up for lay people, pastors, seminarians, and social media church geeks (that includes me).

Don’t be a non-participate observer! Join in! (I loath the word “Lurker” or “lurking” for social media listening. It’s too creep-stalker-ish. See you tonight on #chsocm!

Church uses vandalism for social media message

What do church leaders usually do when someone vandalizes the side of a church with graffiti? Cover it up, repaint, or remove the vandalism. A church in Randolph, New York was recently vandalized with the words, “Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?” The church responded in a remarkable and unconventional way.

Grace Episcopal Church allowed the vandalism to stay, but the church added their own reply:

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The above picture circulated around Facebook and Twitter with folks generating a conversation about spirituality and community.

Elizabeth Drescher at Religion Dispatches covered the story and found out why the church responded in this way and how it relates to modern religious expression:

Rather than approaching the tagging as a criminal act, however, church leaders decided to take the graffiti seriously as an expression of something spiritually meaningful—a cry for help.. They approached it relationally, using the church building itself as a social media platform, and responding with their own message of hope.

It’s the story of a fairly traditional church actively recognizing that religious doubt, religious critique, and all manner of theological questioning that once would have been seen as belonging squarely within the clapboard walls of a village church unfold in a much wider, much more broadly networked universe.

What started as a process to respond to church vandalism turned into a broader conversation on social media. With hundreds of shares, likes, and comments on Facebook and Twitter, this church’s vandalism response sparked mostly positive reaction. Some of the replies on the church’s Facebook post tell of the conversation around suicide, religion, and young people:

“As a pastor who has lost a young adult son to suicide, let me add that the forum is 100% appropriate and the response is as well. Song lyrics or no, any indication that an individual might be contemplating suicide needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.”

“I’m not of this faith, but I really respect and admire this response. It goes beyond religion for me. It comes down to basic, good old-fashioned human kindness, which, sometimes, is the one thing a desperate person needs.”

“This is what I got from this message (go ahead and kill yourself God loves you) should have been worded differently indeed! And so as long as I ask for forgives before I kill myself its all good right.”

“I think the response was great — people in that much pain need to know that not only does the Church love them, but that God loves them. Who knows, this might be just the turning point that this person needs to know that people and God cares”

“my experience working with suicidal people is that the thing that might encourage someone to get help is the sense that someone has heard them. We also don’t know if the person who painted the original message is suicidal or whether the are in profound grief after someone else’s suicide… or if something completely different is going on. You can’t really counsel an anonymous message written on a wall – sounds like the parish is doing the best they could have done under the circumstances”

This story is a lesson in leadership. Rather than react with, “Who would dare do this!?!” The church was proactive and asked, “Why is this person hurting so much to do this? What can we do to reach out in an equal response?” Many Christians and churches are quick to judge, but we must find creative responses to brokenness – as Jesus did.