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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The spirituality of travel

Our group has begun its journey to South Korea. This year has been filled with travel and it occurs to me that I haven't really reflected on the travel experience itself, particularly the spirituality of it. And there is much!

There is the matter of hospitality. Moving through crowds of strangers and sharing close space, there is the need for "love of stranger." So far, there are many examples of hospitality - both from airport personnel and the people around us.

With sharing close space, there is the need for forgiveness! People have gotten up early. Schedules are out of whack. This is surely a recipe for the occasional violation of space. So here I ask my fellow travelers for forgiveness even as I forgive you.

One last note - the call for the spirit of generosity. Generous with our willingness to help each other, to support each other and to have each others backs.  We will be sharing time, meals, worship and more and there will be many opportunities for generosity.

The cabin doors are closed and we are on our way to Seoul. May the plane be rich in hospitality, forgiveness and generosity!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

And so it begins...

The trip to South Korea begins tomorrow morning - early! We're up to catch the 3 a.m. shuttle from Woburn into Logan, then a 5 a.m. flight to San Fran, then on to South Korea. We land at 3 p.m. SK time.

It has been a busy week so just now I'm getting a chance to slow down and think about the days ahead. Thursday and Friday I was in PA at a jurisdictional meeting making plans for a big leadership event in 2015 (more to come on that in the future!). Today was a quick trip to Maine to deliver our dog to my folks for the time we're away. Rushing back to NH, we have spent the afternoon ironing, packing, repacking, then repacking, then....well, you get it.

What an exciting thing - a privilege really - to go see the Church alive in another place on our amazing planet. Lori and I would love your prayers during this time - that in all things God would be glorified in all things, and that the Holy Spirit would speak in ways that enrich all of us participating in this pilgrimage, and then bring back something that would offer a spark of ENTHEOS (enthusiasm) to the churches of New England.

Grace and peace - see you on the other side


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

South Korea

Time to get this blog lit up again!!! This year has been one filled with many travels, many adventures - and a new one is around the corner. I'll post here pics and experiences of the journey to South Korea. Later this year, I'll share about the Taizé experience and why you should consider going in July 2015!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fresh Air

Wow! I just finished "Fresh Air" by Jack Levinson. If I was serving a local church, this would be the next study I offered - heck, it would be the next sermon series tied to a small group study!

The back cover carries accolades from some of the top voices in Biblical study, the likes of Phyllis Tickle and N.T. Wright, and for good reason. This book comes out of Jack's deep study of the scriptures - an academic peeling away of the stories of God through history - and written in a way that is both accessible and engaging. It is a fresh approach, pun intended, to the holy spirit (capitalization in harmony with Jack's).

One of the challenges with many of the resources on the holy spirit is that they typically lean toward one tradition over another - toward the more charismatic over the more staid or vice versa. In "Fresh Air," Jack challenges the church toward greater unity on the subject, and walks the reader/student through the spirit's activity in both the New and Old Testaments. Regardless your experience and background on the third person of the trinity, you will find new and enriching insights in this book.

Okay - enough for now - I've gotta start reading Jack's other books on the subject!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ripple Effect 2014

The planning team for this year's Ripple Effect (formerly known as the School of Congregational Development) is getting ready to launch registration for 2014! We're excited about how things are coming together and wanted to begin to get the news out there so you can begin planning.

First, the dates: November 14 - 15, 2014 at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. We'll have pre-conference intensives on the morning of the 14th and then the regular event beginning at 1 p.m. on Nov. 14th and continuing Nov. 15th. Friday night will include not just a lively, dynamic worship experience in the main sanctuary but a more contemplative option in the small chapel. More is better, yes?

As for workshops, we are narrowing the focus in order to deeper. When you register, you will register for one of the tracks (though you will be free to mix and match if that makes sense for you.) In each track there will be streams specifically designed for lay people and another stream for clergy. Here's what you can expect for tracks:

1) Worship - these workshops will explore various aspects of the worship experience, from design to preaching to music and more.

2) Discipleship/leadership - this topic is the core of the church. Our task to to help people grow in love and obedience to Christ. Workshops will help local churches design discipleship systems explore leadership development and create action plans that can be implemented locally.

3) Building relationships beyond the local church - these workshops will explore the various ways churches can connect with the non-religious and nominally religous in ways that make sense in the 21st century New England context. They will include how to do contextual analysis, connected with community leaders, making friends with neighbors, and more.

4) Engaging the community - many churches are doing good things, serving those in need. But how do you engage the community and meet needs while also developing partnerships and engaging others so that they want to join the church in mission? This will be the focus of these workshops.

You can go to to keep updated and to look at the updated registration fees. By the way, Super Early Bird registration will be available through MAY 1st! Now is the time to get your team organized!

Monday, January 13, 2014


When I run across a resource that I think will bless others, I try to pass it along. This weekend I got around to finishing a book that has been out a while and on my list for years. It's called "Tribes" by Seth Godin.

If you lead a non-profit and are looking to build a following, you should read this book.

If you are a pastor and want to build interest and momentum for the vision of the church, you should read this book.

If you lead a Sunday School class or small group and are looking to create a sense of identity and purpose, you should read this book.

If you are leading up a group that is serving a particular people group or neighborhood or network and want to widen your influence, you should read this book.

If you are leading anything or want to be a leader or need to be convinced how much your leadership is needed, you should read this book.

Speaking out of the Tribe of United Methodism, this book might be the thing to rally a local church together emphasizing how important it is that 1) they discover their common vision/purpose and 2) develop ways for the "tribe" to communicate around that purpose.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Leveling the serving field

I was asked a very simple and direct question today. The question came from a pastor of one of the UM churches in New England. He wanted to know: "How do we get the people who come to our food pantry and soup kitchen to become part of the church?"

My answer? You probably won't.

I probably wouldn't have answered him so directly nor quite in this way if it wasn't for the fact that I was part of a webinar (Beyond Backpacks - only good for another 30 days) the day before that dealt with just this issue. I do love when conversations overlap. I consider it to be a God-thing, or a "God-incidence" as my wife likes to call them. 

Anyway, there are many factors involved, but one of the big issues is that when someone is receiving help from another, there is a power dynamic in play. One is the service provider where the other is the service recipient. There may also be issues of shame/embarrassment on the part of those receiving help, and if so, they will rarely come to the church as a potential member if they are embarrassed by the fact that they need help.

Not that this is a new information, for me and likely for many of you. For a couple of years now when I work with local churches, I've been talking to them about the difference between missional gestures and missional engagement (thanks Phil Maynard!) Missional gestures are those things that we do, the food pantries, the soup kitchens, the collecting of clothes for the clothing ministry, the collecting of socks and other things for the homeless. These are all good things, all important things, but they don't bring us to the place of building relationship with those we serve. They are good things and they make us feel good. We feel good when we do good which makes us want to do more good things. But that's as far as it goes.

Missional engagement, on the other hand, is when we serve in ways that allow us to build relationships with those we serve. I often quote Father Greg Boyle here (Tattoos on the Heart) who says that "service is supposed to be the hallway to the ballroom." That is, too often we thing of service as the end - the point of all - the dance, if you will. However, service is only the vehicle that gets us to the place where we might develop relationship - begin to dance. The idea is that service is not meant to stay at the point where there is the service provider (church) and the service recipient (the person in need.) Instead, service is meant to bring us to a place where we might encounter another person/family and in the course of time, move to a place where there is mutuality - where the giver gives and the recipient receives but then over time the one who was receiving is also giving and the one who was the giver is now receiving.

So back to the conversation earlier today. I suggested to this pastor that if he and his church wanted to move people from simply receiving services to becoming a bigger part of the life of the church, they needed to find a way to help those people become givers. For example, if the church has a soup kitchen, they need to find ways to move people from simply showing up to get a meal to moving behind the counter so they can help prepare and serve the meal. If you watch the video, you'll see an example of a church that decided to take the meals into the neighborhood, to meet people where they are, to build relationship beyond the walls of the church, and then inviting those they meet to become part of what they are doing.

This is not about needing to add new activities to your busy schedule. It is about taking a look at what you already do and finding ways of including those you serve to become part of the activity. If you have a soup kitchen, starting inviting people who come for food to help prepare and/or serve food. If you have a food pantry, start enlisting people who come to get food to help get the food ready. If you typically collect clothing/socks, etc for the homeless, start holding collection events in neighborhoods where you can invite neighbors to help and begin new conversations with new people.

John 1:14 (The Message) reads: "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." That's the gospel - the incarnational love of God displayed through the church. Get in the neighborhood. Invite the neighbors to be part of what's going on. Make friends with those you serve by leveling the serving field. This will reveal the glory of God.