Relationships to grow from

If you ask almost any adult about the impact of church school on his or her growth, he or she will not tell you about books or curriculum or Bible stories or anything like that.  The central memory is of the teacher, learning is meeting.  This poses problems for the characteristically American way of thinking about education for competence even in the church.  Meeting never made anybody competent.  Surely we need competence, unless we mean to dismantle much of our made world.  But our business is not competence.  It is meeting.  We are learning slowly and late that education for competence without education as meeting promises us deadly values and scary options.  And anyway, one can’t become “competent” in morality.  But one can have life-changing meetings that open one to new kinds of existence.  And that surely is what church education must be about…                                          

from Living Toward A Vision by Walter Brueggemann

I wanted to share the quote above with you because it really spoke to me over the last few months after Teddy Ray sent it to me.


In a nutshell, Brueggemann says that the greatest gift we can give to one of our group members is a relationship.  Now, please don’t hear me saying we shouldn’t prepare and bring a quality lesson each week for that is important.  But the most important part of people being transformed is not the quality of the curriculum but the depth of the relationship.
As we begin a new season of Sunday School, I want to remind us all of a few vital aspects of building relationships.  Much of what I am about to say is already taking place within our classes, but I believe we all could stand to spend some time thinking through and maybe even freshening up our approach.
We need to create space for our class to build relationships.  I believe that we need to be getting together a minimum of 4-6 times per year outside of Sunday morning if we are to signicantly grow our relationships with each other.  Maybe that is a bi-monthly lunch, cook-out or dinner club?  Perhaps you choose to attend a ballgame or arts event?  I trust that you will know what works best for your class.  And I challenge us all to intentionally plan, or have a group within your class plan, 4-6 social gatherings each year.

Intentionally and regularly connecting with the members of our class is also important.  Whatever that looks like for you is fine.  I know that the Friendship class has a weekly email prayer list that has become a “must read” for class members and is a way to keep them involved in each other’s lives during the week.  Again, you will know what works best for your group but it is vital we have contact on a regular basis outside the Sunday morning time slot.  So often, regular attendance may only be 2 out of 4 Sundays each month.  How we keep these folks engaged while they are away is the key to keeping them engaged and attending when they are in town.

Making time to pray for our class by name is an act of servant leadership.  Maybe you take a picture of the class and use it as a reminder to pray for people by name?  Perhaps you make a list and rotate through the group on a quarterly basis?  My encouragement is to make praying for your group a regular part of your devotional time if it isn’t already for you.


Now, let me pull the curtain back and tell you why I’ve chosen these three aspects of relationship building to focus on.  They are the three I struggle with the most!  So it is part for accountability and part because I am probably not too alone in my struggle that I highlight these areas.  I know that we can together work toward creating a place where “neighbors become friends and friends become family.”  If we do that, this year will have been a huge success as I’m convinced we will make disciples of Jesus Christ as a result.
Thanks to Kevin Burney for this great quote and picture from the King Center in Atlanta, GA.

Coffee Prices On the Rise! So what…

For some of us, the price of high quality beans going up is signficant.  For others, we couldn’t care less.

And herein lies a fundamental truth for those in leadership.

Do not expect people to be energized by an idea or a project unless it is personal to them.  In fact, most folks won’t even get excited unless they were part of the idea generating meeting and some even won’t get excited unless it is THEIR idea.

I believe with all my heart that we must be as inclusive as possible and strive to build consensus at every turn.  The real problem comes when there is a need to do something/try something that will not be on the top of anyone’s list.  Consensus many times takes you to places of comfort and status quo instead of places of risk and growth.  When consensus is not likely to be reached then don’t expect folks to buy-in unless you have taken time to build their confidence by your past actions (and quite frankly successes).  It is in these situations we must continually ask for (and receive) feedback and give people a lot of space to wrestle with what is going on.

To die for

What would you give your life for?  Perhaps a better question is “what would you give your time and energy toward?”  I believe that we need to ask ourselves why we are involved in something that we are not willing to give our time or energy toward.  To look at the protest pictures coming out of the Middle East right now reminds me what can be done when people’s passion is met with a channel to organize and focus it.  It is an understatement to say powerful results can follow.  It is a good reminder for me as a leader. Am I spending intentional time fanning the flames of the passionate people and unleashing them to change the world?  Am I providing a channel and a process for the passion to be organized? 

Oh me of little faith

We started a new worship and Sunday School hour about a month ago. I have to own a lot of fear over this. Will it hurt more than help? Who will come? Is this just an ego trip thing for me?

Our hope was to create more Sunday School attendance as well as open up some space for worship.

While we are far from ready to proclaim “mission accomplished”, early results are encouraging. Both worship and Sunday School attendance is up. In fact, today was a high water mark for Sunday School attendance.

My first observation is that our own folks have upped their committment level to attending both SS and worship.

Secondly, we have noticed many new faces at the 11 service. While this may be a function of people getting back into the New Years groove, I also believe that a message was sent to the neighborhood that something is happening at Andover.

Thirdly, I believe we are poised to reach out during the lent and Easter season like never before. New places for new people raises awareness across the entire congregation to invite people and make them feel at home.

So far so good. Much more to do to reach our community with the love of Christ. For that I am happy to be with a group of people who are determined to make a difference!

The more things seem to change…they don’t

Gates Says He Is Outraged by Arrest at Cambridge Home

A premier African-American scholar is arrested in a bazaar turn of events at his own home (see article above).  Reminds me of my favorite quote from Tom Peter’s about communication, “the greatest myth about communication is that is has taken place.”  Meaning that just because we think something happened doesn’t mean it actually did.

This is never more true than in race relations within the US.  As good as things seem to be getting, there is still much work to be done to right the wrong and level the playing field that has been skewed from centuries of racism.  I am not saying that any of these officers were racist and I know there is always two sides to every story.  But on the outside, this appears to be a case where one man was not given the benefit of doubt that is duly given to many.  While it appears that Dr. Gates exhibited anger toward the officer which is never a good way to address a situation, this is still an awful turn of events.  The police department has offered an apology which is most appropriate and also most telling.

Bottom line:  There is more to be done.  And it begins with each of us examining our own hearts.  It continues with each of us intentionally seeking relationships with those who do not look, or act or think like us.  Things are getting better, but this is no time to stop.

In Search of Dignity

Brooks from the NY Times gives an interesting account of how dignity in the public arena has changed over the course of our nation.

We have gone from a time in which stoicism (in terms of feelings) was valued to one where we are encouraged to live with our feelings upon our sleeve.  I am more toward the sharing your feelings end of the spectrum because I believe it is an authentic approach to life.  However, I can see the downside as pointed out in this article.   Do we really need to see all these public figures traipse in front of a TV and air all of their failures? Wouldn’t it be better to have them go away and get things figured out and show us their repentance by their actions instead of their emotional grandstands?

Count me as an undecided at this point…but something to think about.

What it is all about

These past two weeks have seen 7 life-altering events involving members or family members of First Church’s downtown and Andover campus.  It just reminded me once again how fragile life is and how quickly things can turn.  It also reminded me how important having a group of people who you can count on and call upon during these tough times.

I had been struggling with a sermon for most of last week entitled, “Liberty”.  It became obvious by Saturday that this was NOT what God had planned.  I have not been doing this “preacher” thing long, but long enough to know that if I can’t get comfortable, then it is on to another plan.  Not so much plan B, but rather plan A because I had obviously been struggling with plan B to start with!
What transpired was nothing short of a God-moment.  God knew who was coming and what WE ALL needed to hear.  Funny how things seem to work…
I realized afresh tonight my love for my calling to ministry and more importantly my growing love for the people God called me to serve.