Un día en la vida (3-7)

A blog post on my Mexico adventures:


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Un día en la vida (1 y 2)

A blog post from my Mexico adventures.


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Unbinding the Gospel

Our bishop recommended that I read Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese.  It was a book about evangelism in churches in mainline denominations (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, etc.).

Over the past 5 decades, mainline American denominations have seen significant decline in membership, while non-denominational/fundamentalist and Roman Catholic churches have tended to see increases.  Reese performed a research project seeking out mainline churches that were “bucking the trends” to identify if there were some insights to learn from these growing mainline churches.

Churches that were considered met the following criteria:

  • They had to be outside of the Bible Belt South (the church culture in the Bible Belt is significantly different than in other regions of the US);
  • They had to be primarily Caucasian (mainline churches that primarily comprise ethnic minorities tend to have different cultural norms in place that affect their numbers);
  • They had to have 3 to 5 (or more) adult baptisms a year for at least 3 years;
  • Worship attendance had to be trending upwards (and not downwards)

Out of 30,000 potential congregations researched, only about 150 made the cut!! (That’s 1/2 of 1%, or .005%!).  From among these 150 congregations, they found out the following:

  • 60% of those who visited for the first time came because someone they knew invited them
  • 29-30% came because of a major life transition (birth, death, marriage, divorce, health scare, etc.)
  • Fewer than 9% chose a congregation because of its denominational “brand” (Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, etc.).

Why does this matter?  Because from this information we know that:

  • 60% of those who will join us in worship at Celebration will most likely come because someone invited them;
  • 30% will come because of a major life transition;
  • Fewer than 9% will come because the word “Lutheran” is on our website or street sign.

So, putting ads in the newspaper, “bandit signs” on the road, passing out water bottles at special events are nice, and good for public awareness, and may even have a secondary effect, but these things will not ultimately be what allows Celebration to grow as a vital, life-changing church that is transforming our community.  What will?  Our willingness to be the Invitation to others to “come and see” what God in Christ is doing in our lives and through the life of the church!

So, who will you be inviting to church this week?

+pax et bonum!

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Believing the Best…

In October 2009, members of our Ministry Team made our way to Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference— a large gathering of Christian leaders immersing themselves in worship, learning and creativity.  And what an experience it was!

During our time, we heard from so many amazing speakers:  Malcolm McDowell, Rob Bell, Tony Dungy, Matt Chandler, Josh Hamilton, Margaret Feinberg, Andy Stanley, and Francis Chan, Dave Ramsey, and many others.

We left with a strong sense of the Spirit moving among us.

During Pastor Andy Stanley’s final presentation, he taught us something that we as leaders brought back to Celebration, and it’s been a part of our congregational culture ever since.  We call it the “Believe the Best Rules.”


Every relationship has spoken (and unspoken) expectations.  And then there are the actual experiences within the relationship.   Sometimes the expectations and experiences match up, and sometimes they don’t.  When they don’t, it creates a gap:

According to Pastor Andy Stanley, we can choose to fill those gaps with one of two things:


Believing the Best is based on trust and goodwill
Assuming the Worst
is based on distrust and suspicion

It is ALWAYS better to fill the gap with Believing the Best.  Not only does it allow for trust and accountability to flow freely; it honors the Eight Commandment (“Do not bear false witness against your neighbor”).  Martin Luther reminds us that this Commandment means that we are to defend our neighbors, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything our neighbors do.  In other words, it’s Lutheran (and biblical) to Believe the Best!

At Celebration we will be a Believe the Best Community, and we will follow these “Rules”:

“Five Rules” for being a “Believe the Best” community:

  1. When there is a gap between what I expect and what I experience, I will BELIEVE the best.  (We will start with trust and goodwill).
  2. When other people assume the worst about you, I will come to your DEFENSE (Gossip is not permitted; we will put the best construction on what our neighbor does).
  3. If what I experience begins to erode my TRUST, I will come directly to you about it.  (We won’t let issues fester or be shared with others).
  4. When I’m convinced I will not be able to deliver on a promise, I will inform you AHEAD of time.  (We will keep our commitments to one another).
  5. When you confront me about the gaps I’ve created, I will tell you the TRUTH.  (We will be open to hearing others’ concerns, and respond to them with integrity).


So, how are you doing with practicing the Believe the Best culture?

  • Are you quick to jump to conclusions about others’ motives?
  • Are you slow to speak up- in love and honesty- when you are unable to fulfill a commitment that unintentionally lets others down?
  • When someone confront you about gaps you’ve created, are you humble in hearing the concerns and honest- with them and with yourself- about the gaps?
  • Do you defend others when someone assumes the worst about them?

Believe the Best.  It’s a good way to live as a servant-leader.

+To God be the Glory!



*These principles are a paraphrase of Pastor Andy Stanley’s presentation at the 2009 Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, based on the notes I took.  I give all credit to him for this wisdom!

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On the Feast Day of Oscar Romero, Martyr

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”  -Oscar Romero

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A Little Less Conversation…

“It is genuinely hard to change one’s behaviors by merely getting new ideas, as behaviors are deeply entrenched in us via our ingrained habits, upbringing, cultural norms, erroneous thinking, etc.  Even though gaining knowledge is essential to transformation, we soon discover that it’s going to take a whole lot more than new thinking to transform us.  Anyone who has struggled with an addiction knows this…  The way we do this, indeed the way Jesus did it, is to act our way into a new way of thinking.”  –The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch

“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers…”  James 1

Today, while having lunch with our Minister of Missional and Worship Life (Big Mike as we call him), we were talking about an idea that’s been percolating between us for the past 3 years, something we’ve been dreaming about since our experience at the Catalyst Conference in 2009.

And that’s the thing:  We’ve talked about it.  We’ve discussed it.  We’ve visioned. We’ve chatted.  We’ve discerned.  We’ve  prayed… And …  And …  that’s it.

Nothing has come from it, except this nagging, piercing, pestering of a God who won’t let it (or us) go!

It makes me realize something about the Church, specifically the Lutheran Church:  We like to talk a lot.  This was reinforced in a recent Facebook conversation on the ELCA Clergy page, where I found out that our national church organization has an “Addressing Social Concerns Review Task Force” and a “Communal Discernment Task Force.” And what they do, I suspect, is talk a lot.

I believe we want to take steps to grow, to reach out, to make a difference, to change the world… but only after we have all the facts and all the answers.  Plus, as we all know, talk is easy.  Action is the hard part.  So, let’s talk about it a little more.

But that’s the point- we can’t always have all the answers before moving forward.  The talk has to stop some time.  This is where faith comes in.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Conversation and deliberation are important, essential even.  It’s that we get it wrong when we let the conversation and deliberation become “the work of the people” instead of actually loving neighbors, serving the poor, and blessing the community.

As it seems to me, Jesus acted and then reflected.  He sent his disciples out on mission; then they came back and discussed what transpired.  Perhaps we’ve got it backwards.  Perhaps it’s time for us to do first, then debrief…  and learn.  Do; then talk.  Hmmm…

Or as Elvis reminds us, “A little less conversation, a little more action please!”

+To God be the glory!+


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Journalists, not Historians

“Journalists take us to places they’ve already visited. They uncover stories beneath the stories and inform us of what’s going on…   Missional leaders experience what God is doing and then tell others about it.  In this way, they act as journalists to help us experience it, too.  This means they spend time with God in prayer, asking him to show them what he is doing.  This usually crafts a very different agenda for them than just doing what clamors for attention in their inbox.  And it means they immerse themselves in life.  They journey out of the citadel into the streets…  You will not be around such leaders long without learning that their heart is being shaped by their encounters.”  Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance.

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done.”   Luke 9 (cf. Matthew 10 and Mark 6)

As leaders in the church, are we caught up with “running the church” or “being the church?”

Over the past 5 years, leaders at Celebration have had the opportunity to read together McNeal’s Missional Renaissance and the predecessor book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church.  Some of us have had the privilege of hearing Reggie speak at Catalyst and Exponential Conferences.

Members of my congregation are used to me saying “we’ve got to move away from just counting butts in the pews and pennies in the coffers.”  They hear me talk often about “changing the scorecard”  and how we have been “blessed to be a blessing.”  They’ve heard me teach about measuring our success as a church by lives being changed beyond the 50 minutes on Sunday, knowing that people can be in worship once a week and yet not be maturing into passionate followers of Jesus.  All of these tidbits I learned from Reggie McNeal.

I have come to a place in my life and ministry where I no longer believe being successful as a church is about having really busy calendars, offerings tons of classes and small groups and VBSes, or offering 20 varieties of worship styles, or having grand fellowship events and social hours, or even about the number of people in worship on a Sunday morning.   Being busy and having lots of people doesn’t automatically mean quality (though, it doesn’t not mean it, either).

Rather, I have come to believe that church success is based in relationships— the relationship God has chosen to have with us through Jesus Christ, the relationship we have with Christ and each other, and the relationship we ultimately have with the community (and the world) around us.

Here’s the question:  Are we being more successful when we have 300 in worship on Sunday morning, but none who are taking the next step into a deeper relationship with Jesus and the world he loves?  Or when we have 60 committed folks, worshiping and praying together, and serving in the world together in order to bless it the way they’ve been blessed?

I love the metaphor of worship being similar to Jesus’ sending out the disciples.  As Lutherans, we end worship with “Go in peace, serve the Lord.”  And then, we go out into the world to drive out the demons of our time, and to heal the broken, and to love the loveless and to proclaim the kingdom of God.  And just like those early disciples, we come back each week to Jesus to report and celebrate all that we did in his name…  In this way of looking at it, Church is not where we go on Sunday mornings, Church is who we are during the week as we bless and serve the world in Jesus’ name.

We are  journalists, not historians!  Our job is not tell people about what Jesus did 2000 years ago.  Our job is to seek out and report on what Jesus is doing in our lives and in the world around us today!

+ To God be the glory! +

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