Archive for January, 2010

January 26, 2010


One of my favorite parts of our Sunday morning gatherings is coffee hour. If you attend regularly or have ever attended Washington Plaza, you know that our coffee hour is more than coffee. It has morphed into a meal and even some weeks a very fancy meal!  And, even though plans are in the works to re-format this ministry to suit the needs of growing church, I am glad this is a tradition we are going to keep around for a while.

Sitting down for lunch  gives us all a chance to catch up with one another in a unrushed sort of way. It also gives visitors a chance to really get to know us in a way they wouldn’t if they just came into the service and left after the last Amen.

When I get downstairs, it is fun, as the pastor, to walk around and see new and not so new folks enjoying one another’s company.  Sometimes I get to hear pieces of conversation that encourage me about how lasting relationships are being build during Sunday lunch time.

This past week, I was walking over to greet a guest who was visiting with a child. I overheard one of our children talking to this mom and her son. The young Washington Plaza member said, “I like this church.”

“Well, why?” the visitor asked.

“I used to go to a big church. I don’t like big churches anymore. Their pastors are boring and don’t talk to people. Here, the pastor and the church is not boring. You should come here.”

Heartwarming moment for sure.

“Small churches” ARE good for strong fellowship and gaining friends who become a part of your extended family. And, I”m glad this “small church” pastor is not called boring.  At least for this week. . .

And, yes, I agree and tell guests also, “You should come here.  You’d like it too.”

January 22, 2010

Facebook, Twitter and All the Rest . . .

There is no doubt that our world is always changing through the blessings of technology.

When my older pastor friends tell me about the days without email, I just have a hard time believing how one could do my job without it.

The way we communicate with each other is quicker, frequent and often to the point. And, often impersonal. In the age of Skype and video conferencing, face-to-face meetings are rarer than ever.  

For example, when was in charge of the youth program at my previous congregation, calling the youth to tell them about an event was labeled “very uncool.” But, texting them or sending Facebook messages would the only way I could get a response sometimes– it the language of the kids and thus the langauge that they spoke back to me. And it is not just about “kids” anymore. Committee discussions, pastoral care, etc for adults all find a home online these days. Our church even has a Facebook fan page!

A couple weeks ago on my Facebook status, I posed the question: “Does social networking like Facebook and Twitter (and blogging for those of us who do) make you feel more connected to others? Or are we wasting our time anonymously peering into one another’s lives without real relationships?”

The response I got was mixed. While most said that they felt like social networking was a meaningful way of connecting to others that they might not otherwise talk to, no one deigned the fact that twitter updates, Facebook status and blog posts have all changed the ways which we relate to one another.

For example with one of my “friends” on Facebook, I can learn about his or her political or religious views, read postings from their friends I’ve never met, or look through their photo albums without them ever knowing what I was specifically looking at or the two of us talking about what I saw.

What I think occurs in this is a false sense of “knowing” another person, so that when real, face-to-face encounters happen, can I saw awkward? There are those who I met who might not have anything to say to me other than what I posted on twitter or Facebook the previous week. Very weird.

But, I don’t mean to say this is all bad. Nor, that I don’t find social networking an invaluable tool in my pastoring.

Twittering with community business leaders and prospective church members is a great way for message of our church to “get out there.” And, for those who need to most connect with the church body at large and might feel comfortable first getting to know me. Blogging is a great way for me to share dreams for the future and celebrations with a larger audience than just inside the church walls,  and also to continue the conversation about faith throughout the week for church members.

In the end, I enjoy being connected with others and others with me. And, I also don’t want to limit any opportunity in this online age to share the good news about what God is doing at Washington Plaza.

So, why do I Facebook, twitter, and the rest?

Is it wasting time? Well, sometimes it makes for a great procrastination tool . . . but usually it has a great purpose. I loved when a church member came up to me one Sunday recently and began a conversation about something I had tweeted about. I was like “Wow, someone is actually listening out there!”

Is it about peering anonymously in others lives without real relationships? If I never have face-to-face interaction with any of you Facebook friends or blog readers, it is. (And, kind of creepy I think, but the price I pay for wanting to get the word out about the church) But, if we pick up our offline conversation in person where our online conversation left off, real relationships are growing and life is springing forth.

I have come to see that it is important to go with the flow of technology, but also at the same time not to let it control me entirely.

Because really what makes me smile the most as a pastor are invitations to afternoon coffee or folks who drop my office to chat. I’ll keep conversing with you online, but ultimately, I hope that we have a chance to meet face-to-face!

January 20, 2010

Beauty of the Church ed. 1

When people want to know why is it is that I spend my time proclaiming the message of what some all an archaic institution or the crutch of a religious life, what they normally want to hear are stats of how many attended worship or how many new members we have, etc.

But, what I want to keep drawing people’s attention to (and mine too) are the small moments that may not show up in the numbers but are life-changing nonetheless.

One of these moments happened on Sunday.

It was the birthday on Friday of our youngest members, Will. You may remember me speaking about his baptism back in October.

Will and his mom have been through a tough time recently. They have been living with friends and in shelters. They had a trip overseas during Christmas not turn out as planned. There wasn’t a traditional celebration of Christmas in their household. Nor, was there any funds to make sure that Will’s 12th birthday would be different.

But, enter the church-

Two members who have helped Will’s mom out with rides to church, learned of his upcoming birthday. These two women planned a surprise birthday party for Will during our coffee hour this week. The church office sent out an email requesting that members bring a small gift to services with them.

Sunday came and we had a cake. Will got his favorite to drink, lemonade. There were lots of cards and presents.

You should have seen the look on Will’s face, especially with glee as he said, “This was the most presents I’ve ever gotten in my life, and the best birthday ever!”

No, it is not what most 12-year-old boys would hope for: a party with their church. But, for Will it was just right.   He was reminded again of all the adults who love him and who are cheering him on.

I remember saying at Will’s baptism, to the congregation: “Here is your child.” It makes me proud seeing the family rally around this one and countless others who God has brought our way.

Surprise birthday parties like this one is the beauty of church!

Thanks be to God.

January 20, 2010

Can Anyone Preach?

Over the course of the December holidays had several opportunities to be in worship settings that I would not have attended if I knew what was going to be said . . .  

In these settings, I heard words come from the pulpit like:

Quoting Isaiah 9:6: “We hear that Jesus is the Counselor. Now this word comes from the word, counsel. Now this makes me think of a school counselor. What do you do with a school counselor? You go and talk about your problems. In the same way you can talk to Jesus about all your problems. . . .”

Or . . .

“Christmas is the time when we all should get saved and tell all our friends that they need to get saved too.”

Or . . .

“When the time came for Jesus to be born, the world should have known this. Condemn those who didn’t get on their knees and worship like the shepherds did.”

Being a listener in the pew, bearing through these words made me ponder once again the question of: “Can anyone preach?”

At its heart, preaching is testimony.

(And anyone can tell what God has done for them; anyone can have an experience with a text)

Preaching is proclaiming truth of the gospel.

(This is always up for debate about what truth actually based on our various theological bents)

It is a about a personal experience with a text, that hopefully is also informed by the tradition of church history and theological scholarship.

(This one requires a few more moments to pause and hopefully a background in theology– whether in seminary or through Christian education in the church)

So, yes, preaching is not always just for the pastor. I am a believer in the power of lay preaching and would love to have even more trained lay preachers at Washington Plaza to fill in if I was away unexpectedly.

But, the problem with the pulpits I most recently sat under was not who was preaching (for they were pastors), but the expectations placed on the preaching.

I could have been either of these preachers (who said the horrible things I just mentioned) because they were just talking it seemed out of a vocabulary of “canned phrases” that they had heard before or even taught. It was like they were making it up as they spoke from their well of the past.

Where was the scholarship? Where was the meaning? Where was the awe for the responsiblity of bringing a fresh word to God’s people?

Who am I to judge, though? I recognize I might be overstepping my bounds here.

But, coming from the perspective of someone who sat under the preaching and teaching of evangelical theology for most of my growing up years, now it is hard for me to be around it. The words that come out of this type of preaching just don’t make sense. And, to stick with the message of “get on board with Jesus theology which means= if you pray the sinner’s prayer you are in and if you don’t you are out and not going to heaven” real damage is done to the Christian story, I feel.  Is being a Christian all about going to heaven when you die? It is easy to think that this might be all there is to it . . .

So, can anyone preach? Yes, of course. It is a free country. Thank God for our religious liberty.

But, should everyone preach? No.

The more I preach regularly, the more I realize what a holy privilege my work in the pulpit is. I know not to enter into the pulpit lightly. I know not to “wing it” by clinging to the faith that worked for me in childhood. It is a serious task that calls me each week to be serious in my study, in my quiet time to prepare, and in my pursuit of God that is always an unfinished work. It is through my preaching that I get to know the God to whom our faith clings better each week. And, then I get to share the word with the congregation, hoping it will be of some use to them as well.

My prayer for the preachers that made me cringe is that they too would be open to the experience of the newness of God in their life too. So maybe one day that well stated meaningless phrases will be no more, and the beauty of the messy walk of faith will spring forth from both the pulpit and the pew.

January 14, 2010

Time to Help Haiti

I know if you are like me, watching the images of the devastating after effects of the earthquake in Haiti causes your stomach to churn. It is so sad to see a country that was already dealing with an oppressive government and raging poverty, now facing such a loss without the infrastructure to deal with it.

You may be thinking, what can I do? What difference can my concern make?

Now, is our time, people of faith to put feet to our prayers and show solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering. Now is our time to remember that we are a global family and if nation is hurting, we are all hurting too. There just can’t be any other way.

While I am sure that there will be opportunities for relief trips in the future, much like those after Katrina which Washington Plaza folks participated in, now is the time to give to those who are equipped to help immediately.

I’d thought I’d gather a list of those connected to our Baptist family of faith who are seeking to help now and others as a resource guide for you. It is so easy to even give now online.

1. International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches USA.  This group has connection on the ground to the Haitian Baptist Convention and US service workers who will get aid in right away. To read more click here.

2. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. They are also working with ministry partners on the ground and are committed to a long term approach to relief and rebuilding. To read more, click here.

3. Church World Service, a ministry partner of the Alliance of Baptists is working to gathering funds for relief efforts. To read more, click here.

4. The Baptist World Alliance. This group is our global family of Baptists that has the fund, Baptist World Aid already set up for when crises like this occur. The fund has already committed grants of $10,000 to the Baptist Convention of Haiti and the Baptist Mission of Haiti. To join in the efforts, click here.

5.  And, of course, there is the Red Cross, a wonderful longstanding  relief organization who exists to help out countries at just a time as this. Donations can be made over the phone or by a simple text message. You can read more by clicking here.

Let us all do what we can this day to make a difference in the lives of those who need us more now that ever!

January 13, 2010

State of the Church Address

One of the new traditions that I began on Sunday was a yearly “State of the Church Address.” The idea being that it gave me a great opportunity to give pastoral voice to all the events that have occurred (or not occurred) in the life of our church over the past year. I felt it would be a great opportunity on the year anniversary of my time at the church (since it happens to fall in January) and to do so in a fun way (as it correlates to the “State of the Union” address we receive from our President).

The pastor of the church where I attended before seminary, Rev. Sarah Shelton, gives one of these each year at Baptist Church of the Covenant (where our former interim pastor, Jere Allen is a member now by the way). I remember thinking when I heard her give hers in 2003 that this would be something I would look forward to giving at my own church one day.

If you missed it, the audio file is posted here.  This is a sermon that all church leadership needs to hear!

I’d love to know how well you thought I did. Were their places where I got it right and/or missed the mark?

The idea is that visioning is never a one-sided discussion. What God seeks to do through us, comes not just from my ideas but from all of us banding together in prayerful discernment.

I look forward to hearing from you!

January 12, 2010

Life Together

We are a growing church. Growing is good. But, growing pains have come to some groups and ministries.

There are some folks looking around saying: “This is not what the way we used to do before” or “I’m not sure I can learn to work together. I’d rather just do things my way alone”  or “Being community is tougher than I thought– sometimes disagreements set in.”

But, I’m not afraid as I know it is only naturally a part of the progress of being a healthy and a life-giving church. With strong leadership, as I feel we have in place, we are going to get through this year being better off than we started it.

On Monday, January 25th, I will begin leading a new book study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work: Life Together.

I begin this class, with a five-week committment for those who choose to join, as a response to those of us who are seeking spiritual footing for being a local body that works together well.

My hope is for those who attend the class is that we may grow closer together in the process– learning to understand one another’s strengthens and weakness, learning to bear with one another in the days alone and the days together, learning how to speak helpful truth into one another’s lives so that our being together leads to productive growth.

If you’d like more information on this class or other opportunities to dialogue with me or others about how we can be more Biblically and spiritually focused on community life in the coming months, please email me.

I’m looking forward to what this study (and others like it, coming soon) will hold for all of us.

January 5, 2010

Prayer for the New Year

If you are a pastor or liturgist at your church and you don’t own the book: Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Seasons by Sharlande Sledge, you are really missing out. This is a wonderful book of thoughtful and thought provoking worship tools.

On Sunday morning, I shared this prayer, with the congregation as the pastoral blessing. I share it again here for those who might have missed it or want a copy of it. It’s a great way to to start off the New Year.


Go into this new year to be a beginning for others–

to be a singer to the songless, a storyteller to the wanderer;

to become a beginning of hope for the dispairing, of healing for the hurting,

of assurance for the doubting, of reconcilation for the divided.

Go forth believing in beginnings, making beginnings, being beginnings so that you may not just grow old but grow each day of this amazing life God calls us to live with each other.

In the name of God of ages past, who makes all things new, so that we can remember yesterday,

dream into tomorrow, and live in God’s love today.

Go in the peace of Christ.

January 5, 2010

Full-Time Pastor

It is a New Year and also a new day for pastoral ministry at Washington Plaza Baptist Church.

Beginning on January 1, 2010, Washington Plaza has employed a full-time pastor.

Faithful blog readers you may not have known (or even some loyal attendees of the church for that matter) that when I signed on to be pastor of Washington Plaza by call in November of 2008, I was only contracted for 30 hours a week.  This arrangement came about as part of the financial and membership situation of the church at the time of my call. The amount they could afford to pay a pastor was not equal to what would be fair for full-time work. So, the church and I took a step of faith together beginning at a point that neither of us wanted long-term, but a step that we hoped would get us both moving in the right direction.

And, this year has been a very good year of moving in the right direction.

Coming sooner than I actually thought, the personnel and finance committee decided that they wanted to re-extend my call  in 2010 to be congruent to full-time status including medical benefits (that I was not receiving last year).

Kevin and I are thrilled for this next step of faith we are taking together and not merely because of the financial details.

This is a HUGE moment for the church to celebrate. It is moment for us to see the faithfulness of God in our midst. It is a moment to remember that God has big plans for us and that we are on our way to meeting them together, even now. 

Not every church recognizes (as Washington Plaza has done) the importance of pastoral ministry in the growth of church life. It is a jewel to have found a church that seeks to take care of its pastor. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

So, several in the congregation have asked, “What will change now that you are ‘officially’ full-time?”

To which I and several members of the pastoral relations committee have answered: “Not much.”

You see, the fact is there really is no such thing as a “part-time pastor.” If I get a call that you or one of your loved ones is sick or in a crisis, I haven’t (nor I won’t) say: “I can’t talk to you right now” or “I won’t call you back today on my day off” because it is my calling to care for those entrusted to my care.  

Furthermore, I knew that when I took the position on that there would be MUCH work to do in so many areas. To grow a thriving community of faith, with an emphasis on membership and momentum, I would need to put in extra time and elbow grease to get the job down well.

The truth is that I have been working full-time all along. I just couldn’t help myself. I enjoy what I am doing and I love seeing the fruits of our work together.

So, what might change?

You might see me in the office longer on the days I’m in Reston (Sunday- Wednesday). You might see me teaching more Bible Studies and special classes. You might see me working on new special projects.

But, other than this, I’ll be plugging away just like last year. Hoping that if you need to find me, you’ll shoot me an email or call my cell phone so we can make a time to get together for some uninterrupted time (for we may not get this if you just drop by the office). Remember that my work is not always found in the church office. I’m out and about in the community being with people, representing you at functions and seeking to discern through study what God would have me to say to you on Sunday mornings.

I look forward to the New Year as your full-time pastor. God has been good and continues to exceed all my expectations of how much I enjoy being with you!

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