God and Paperwork

Have you ever found things bogging you down?

Sometimes, as a pastor of a small church, I find myself amazed by how much of my job is paperwork. Especially since most of it is created by myself. ACK! There’s the bulletin, my sermon outline (which I hate doing, because then I feel tied down to it), contracts (we also are landlords), meeting agenda, worker checklists, rules, regs, letters to tenants, letters to congregation members, newsletters, applications/registrations for all the junk I need to be at, grants, fundings, thankyous, checklists, calendars for myself, the congregation and the building use etc. Sometimes I think the only thing I don’t write down on a regular basis are my extemporaneous prayers.

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In an age of holding people accountable, and in a denomination where if its not written down it isn’t real (otherwise known as Presbyterian), I find that needing to do millions of paperworks exasperating, and “not-the-ministry-I-want-to-be-doing.”

So I find myself asking two questions: Can we do with less with paperwork, or even bureacracy in general…(note how many of the “What my mom thinks I do” memes actually end in paperwork, the ministry one I saw was def. like that)Image

What would service look if we did less bureacracy?

How about session/board meetings? (Not to mention Presbytery/Judicatory)

How about the entire “Call” Process?

How can we hold onto responsibility but lose some paperwork? How can we move with the Spirit and say Yes even as we follow protocol? What would this church look like??

I guess it would be faster, but it would also have to be more flexible. A greater trust would have to be had in staff (many of my paperworks are follow ups), out loud discussion would be even more greatly depended on (no more surveys), Leadership would have to be tighter and communication of goals, objectives and the order of things would have to be clearer and more precise (i.e. no agendas for meetings).

Alternatively (and knowing that God promises to make all things new, including paperwork) How does God work through our processes?
Had to say a quick prayer about this question…how does God work through paperwork? It slows us down, makes us double check things, it helps us to ponder and gives us an excuse to work through the stuff in our office (“our” being the staff of the church) at our own pace….It also allows for clearer accountability and gives us a security blanket to try new things (a new form of worship goes much easier if its on paper)….

What do you think? I’m really curious to know how we can both limit our paperwork, and yet use our paperwork as a form of ministry.

Our Mission, should we choose to accept it

Hey, I have an Idea about mission

If we are the church in mission, maybe we should be sending out missionaries.

What if congregations sent “missionaries” out into the community representing the church…

We could take pairs of people and send them out to the neighborhood associations, the school plays, the art shows, the craft shows, the protests, anywhere that needs a volunteer. We could sent them out with t-shirts and have them experience the community as representatives of the church….

Luke 10: 1After this the Lord(D) appointed seventy-two[a] others(E) and sent them two by two(F) ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.(G) He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.(H)

http://www.agnusday.org/comics/185/luke-101-11-16-20-2007

Of course we would have to train these people, but just think, once a month we could have mission meetings and have people come back to report what they learned about the community in the last month.

Then we’d have to be out in the community!

“A Family Church”

What does it mean to be a family church?

It means that we are a church that welcomes families (come please, especially if there are a lot of you…) No, wait I’m pretty sure that’s not it…

What it means is that we are a family that happens to be a church. Sure we have our wacky cousins, and the siblings squabble a lot, but we are committed to meeting and talking on a regular basis, because we consider one another family..

That is what we are called to do!

Christ keeps urging us to love one another–in fact he argues that his joy is based on us loving each other (really? God didn’t create us to bicker?)…

“As the Father has loved me,(A) so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands,(B) you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.(C) 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you

…so if this is our command, than to be a “Christian Family” is to love one another as Christ loved us…in fact, in verse 15 Jesus calls us Philo–friends, or if you like brothers and sisters. We have become family with God and we all know its not nice to hit your siblings….

In an age where we talk so much about valuing “Christian Families” we seem to be much more focused on the DO NOTS than the DOs. And it strikes me as being nit-picky, it is easy for us to tear each other down, but a true friend knows how to build one another up…

And as a mother of 3 children, I tend to read the Parenting magazines, blogs and articles, but sometimes all the negatively leaves a sad taste in my mouth. Let’s stop harping on what I should worry about (I feel like I can worry just fine all by myself thank you) and think, plan and move towards what we SHOULD be doing instead.

So Christian Families, what should they do together?

Rule no. 1 Eat together, as often as possible. Science shows it helps with discipline, squabbling, eating disorder, and Eating is FUN. Its a great way to build relationships, (all you visitors who sneak out during coffee hour don’t think I don’t know what your afraid of, its that eating together means your accepting our hospitality, it means that we’ve reached you, and you don’t want to commit yet).

Rule no.2 When there is a fight going on, make a covenant to stop and pray whenever ANYONE requests it (and I mean immediately, so far every time I’ve requested prayer, people have wanted to argue more and then pray….see anything wrong with this?)…Pray together, because prayer refocuses us on love and God instead of letting the argument devolve into personal vendettas

Rule no. 3 Be gracious with time, whenever possible give families and congregations time to just be together–and don’t forget to get your party on. My professor Kenda Dean at Princeton Seminary said that we should “Party People into the Kingdom” and I wholeheartedly agree. We should give people time to celebrate and celebrate with them. This means that if we are part of corporations, churches and companies we should enjoy those commitments made to each other and God in spectacular ways (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-coffee/maternity-leave_b_1518412.html?ref=parents where family is put before work, and support is the model.

Rule no. 4 If you are worried about someone else’s relationships, its time to work on your own. To gossip about someone else is easy, to stand in confession about what we are aren’t good at ourselves is difficult. This is why we have to constantly confess the Good and the Bad about ourselves, owning our true selves, taking responsibility for our entire beings, and then turning that Complete self (the good and the bad) over to God. This is what confession is all about, and as we are not without sin, we would do well not only to avoid casting the first stone, but even worrying about other people’s sins. Let them stand in confession with God, and instead focus on our own relationships (and I’ll give you a hint, what bothers us about other people are often things that remind of our own faults, or what we could be on our not-so-good days).

Rule No. 5 Setting boundaries is a good thing. If you’ve ever dealt with a child you know that part of loving someone is setting up rules so that everyone stays safe (no hitting, no crossing the street by yourself etc.)…There is a whole sermon in here about the rationale of the 10 commandments but I cannot possibly address that here. However, it is important to know your limits, and to set reasonable boundaries with those you love about what you can and cannot do with them. Set limits, stick to them, and then offer up the ways you are available to love. Setting boundaries and keeping them are a good way to maintain a relationship (setting no boundaries is a good way to burn out, and dropping someone because you are unable to set limits sets up hurt). You can love someone and not allow victimization, triangulation or some other form of hurt by setting up good boundaries…

Last Rule (which is really the principle of the Rules in clever disguise) Love without Labels (see you never would have guessed that this is just saying Love one Another in a new way). I have heard the sentiment hate the sin love the sinner and I understand where it is coming from, but to me it is a human attempt at graciousness. One where we love someone, but are constantly seeing their sin as a label on their forehead. I love so and so EVEN THOUGH they are a…There is no even thoughs for Christ. Christ doesn’t say love one another even though you drive each other crazy–Christ doesn’t love us Even Though we are human, Jesus loves us for and because of who we are. None of us are complete on our own, and it takes love to connect us to the people who complete us. (We are like puzzle pieces, trying to fill each other’s holes, so that, as Christ says, our joy can be complete)

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If we followed this rules in our immediate family, and then did so with our congregation. What else can we do to be a Christian Family? How can we upbuild and maintain our relationships with one another???

Pastor with a Sense of Humor

It seems to me every church wants a pastor with a sense of humor….What does that mean? Do they want someone who is able laugh at themselves? Someone who can tell good jokes? Is it about entertainment? Good-naturedness? What is it about the sense of humor that makes it a prerequisite for being a minister of God.

As for me, I’m a person who makes it a point to laugh a lot. In fact, I have been told, on occasion, that my laughter can be overkill at times.

Personally I know that my ability, commitment to laughter is historic. Wayyyy back in Junior High, I got so depressed that I wasn’t even talking anymore (one particular pair of boys had decided to tell me to shut up every time I spoke). It was when I realized that I was afraid to laugh that I, well actually I laughed at myself. I realized the ridiculousness of the situation. What is the point of living if one is afraid to laugh…so from that moment on I trained myself. I acknowledged that I liked laughing, and that I found things funny (Particularly I am fond of ironic/wry humor read Patricia C. Wrede’s Dragon series..it was my first encounter with the fun art)….anyway I decided I would laugh every time I found something funny– and I also acknowledged to myself at that moment that I find a lot of things funny; I crack myself up on a regular basis, I had just been too afraid to laugh out loud (this was when LOL was just starting to be a part of internet-speak).

So, now I laugh, I laugh a lot. And its gone on for about 15yrs now so that its fairly uncontrollable.

However, I will never undervalue laughter. And it makes me think that Jesus probably laughed a lot too–not maliciously, but probably wryly, ironically, and wholeheartedly. I don’t know if he giggled, snickered, guffawed or just plain laugh, but I’m sure he had the right kind of laughter.

After all God invented the sense of humor….

Jonah, before the Whale–Growing Pains of Mainstream religion

Why did Jonah run away?

To me, this is the question of change that the church forever faces.

Item 1: Jonah was called by God (scary enough right?)

Item 2: Jonah was called to give bad news….

Item 3: Jonah was called to give bad news to people he didn’t like, and they probably didn’t like him either

Item 4: Jonah was asked to tell the truth/be a prophet.

Prophecy is a very scary gift, most of us run away from prophecy. Why? Because prophecy is foreseeing the future both as is and as it could be. Prophecy is envisioning the world from both our and God’s perspective and then giving the leaders/movers/matriarchs and patriarchs a choice.

And the choice, now the choice is the issue.

So often the religious message comes across as conform or die,……
or maybe its change or die…

Funny isn’t it? The choice which once seemed so certain is suddenly difficult. Who want to conform–who wouldn’t rather be Spiritual but not Religious, after all what is religion if it isn’t another way to conform…another way of predicting who is “in” and who is “out”…its all about getting saved after all isn’t it

On the other hand, who wants to change. Hasn’t what we’ve been doing good enough…and even if it hasn’t been, we are used to it; better the devil we know and all that…..

Except neither of these are what faith is about. Later Jonah says that he ran away because he knew that God would show mercy and he basically didn’t want God to have mercy on his enemies–why should he bother.

In a time when religion is viewed as primarily judgmental, I have to ask what is it the church is running away from today? What are we Christians afraid of…

Is it conformity?

Is it change?

Or is it God’s grace and mercy? Is it that God’s plan for us requires flexibility and grace (an ability to dance through life so to speak)—flexibility and grace which are neither choice to conform or to change, but rather the ever-dance in between.

PS: Notice that to run away from one’s call is to run away from God!!!

(Note: all italics are sarcastic)