Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What does "Missional" mean?

Greetings, Friends. Today I am writing from a tiny motel room in Cayucos. The price is right, the weather wonderful, and I am enjoying the time to think and write and yes, play a bit of golf. I played the course in Morro Bay yesterday. I will play once more before I go home on Friday. First, my review of worship last Sunday at the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, including the fashion worn by the pastors.

Two pastors participated in the service on Sunday at 11 a.m. Both wore jeans, tennis shoes, and plaid shirts. They did not wear Hawaiian shirts. Teaching pastor Dan Kimball has become a well known teacher and travels all over the world to teach about starting "missional" churches. Pastor Josh Fox is the stay at home administrator and giver of pastoral care. Both are young, in their 30s, and both seem to do their jobs very well. Sunday was a special day for them since they were sharing with the congregation of about 400 (almost all under 40) the plans made by the church leadership board for "Renovation." They put the word "Renovation" up on the screens in an attractive graphic. They are in process of raising money and gathering energy to fix up the old building of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Cruz. They have already changed an old social hall into a coffee shop, complete with baristas and pastries. They charge for the coffee and espresso drinks, but pass out coupons for free coffee to new people like me. The new colors make you feel like you are in an up to date facility.

As of January 2008 the Vintage Faith Church, which was started by Santa Cruz Bible Church, has merged with the First Presbyterian Church. This made it important for me to visit this place. Vintage Faith had been using the building of First Pres as a place to worship, and carrying on discussions with the leaders of the church about what they might do together. They came to realize that they had similar goals and were compatible in the way they worked. The members of Vintage Faith essentially became Presbyterian and the churches merged. The current pastor of First Pres became one of the staff of pastors, in charge of family ministry and pastoral care. The 9 a.m. service started out to be the more traditional one, and is the smallest. The 11 a.m. service seems to be filled with mostly young families with lots of children and pregnant women. They made a point of saying that in their planning they had to take into consideration that they have 18 women about to have babies and that their nursery would have to expand. The third service is at 7 p.m. and is full of college students. The total at all three services is over 600. The Presbyterian Church had shrunk to about 100 in worship before this merger.

The service began with with the old Gospel song, There's Power in the Blood, then a Country sounding praise song, and the Come Thou Font of Every Blessing. These songs were played by a praise team consisting of a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer who played a wooden box with his hands, and a vocalist. They were simple, but very talented. Their Groups and Fellowship Director gave announcements and encouraged people to "connect" with the projects of the church. Instead of a "moment for mayhem" like we have at Lemoore they have a "Mixer" time where they encourage the worshipers to spend about 5 minutes getting to know people around them that they do not know. I met two young families. The offering was received. The pastors spoke. (Normally only one would speak.) The service lasted about an hour and a half. Pastor Dan taught about the "missional" nature of the early church and what that means for things like the church facility.

What does "missional" mean? This is the major concentration of reading for me on this Sabbatical and my answer is not only what Dan spoke, but his sermon reflected what I have been thinking about. A missional church is a church that sees its purpose as being a missionary presence in its community. This is contrasted with what most churches actually do as we work to establish and maintain a religious institution. There was a day when people believed in institutions and joined them. People wanted to be members of churches and clubs. That day has passed. We can mourn its passing if we want, but it would be a waste of time to try to recapture the importance of the church as an institution. Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church is hard on us institutional types (like me) when he says that people these days are simply not interested in joining a religious club. They do not want to be a part of a group whose main purpose is to continue its own existence. From my own observations, I agree. We can figure out how to be the best religious club the universe has ever seen, and still go out of business in this post modern world.

Missional churches, like Vintage Faith, have a vision for putting their faith into action in the communities and world around them. Instead of inviting people into the club, they look for ways to be a Christian presence where ever they live and work. They are as likely to have a Bible Study in a restaurant as a home or room at the church. They talk about helping people to "connect" with service projects of the church, not join. When they think about their facilities they try to think of ways that they can use them to serve their community rather than protecting them from use. A Missional church tries to focus all its energies outward. It is, of course, impossible to focus all of the energy outward, as seen by the talk by Josh at Vintage Faith when he discussed the renovation projects ahead of them. However, the whole talk was about how these renovations would make service more possible.

This is only a taste of what you can expect from this blog in the near future. If you want to look at the website for Vintage Faith Church you can go to www.vintagechurch.org and see what they are doing and how they are defining themselves.

Blessings to you all. I pray for you daily.


Thursday, May 1, 2008


On my fourth Sunday of Sabbatical I visited friends. Paul is pastor of an old Presbyterian Church in Burbank, CA. I was his youth leader when he was in high school in Eagle Rock (Los Angeles), officiated at his wedding to Carol, and preached at his ordination. They are important to me. I worshiped with them on April 27. Before I tell you about that experience I want to tell you a story told by Carol.

One morning after church someone in the church pointed out to Carol, a good pastor's wife, that there were two people standing in front of the church crying. She went to investigate and found a mother and son standing, hugging each other, weeping together. She asked if anything was wrong and the Mom looked up and smiled, "O no, these are tears of joy. We are so happy. This is our first Sunday worshiping here and we have finally found a worship service with the joy we have been looking for." On my Sunday there I sat across the aisle from this beautiful family.

These people found joy in the worship service. I think this may be among the very best things to be said about a time spent in worship. JOY! Joy is central to Jesus' message, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (John 15:11) I find that I, and other church leaders, tend to relegate joy to the role of by-product of good Reformed worship. We rest on the idea that if we put all the right elements in a worship service, as we have been taught, then people will be joyful as a result of having worshiped. It will be an interesting web study over the next few weeks to discover the purposes that lay behind the historic elements of worship, but for now I am challenged to discover how a worship service can bring joy to we who worship.

This fourth of the worship experiences of my Sabbatical, in an old Presbyterian Church on a corner in Burbank, was absolutely the wildest, most raucous, least traditional, most fun worship experience of my life, much less of this current time off. The praise band included 3 guitars and bass guitar, drums, and two vocalists. The graphics for song words and for transitions were fabulous, including several Scripture slides. The service was seamless, going from one element to another with ease. All of the major elements were present in the order, including sharing and prayer, confession and assurance of pardon. I sat next to an elderly couple who sang their hearts out, in back of a woman about my age, and across from a family with teenagers. When the children left for Sunday School part way through there were at least 50 of them up through teen years.

Do you remember the old Monkees song, "I'm A Believer?" Did you know that if you change one word so that the chorus reads, "Then I saw God's face, now I'm a believer." that the song becomes a great Christian message and celebration? We started the service with this song, well played and led. We went on to sing, to pray, to hear the Word in an excellent sermon, and have fun! When Paul began there as pastor 12 years ago 80 worshipers attended one service. Now 250 crowd into 2 services in a long, narrow inconvenient room that seats about 150. Somehow, with this spirit of fun, they also produced joy in the hearts of those who were present. By the way, Paul had on the new uniform for preachers. He was wearing blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and old tennis shoes.

There are some demographics that make this craziness work for this church. They are located near the Disney studios and other studios. Most of the people in the church work in the entertainment industry. They are artists and people who sew and take care of costumes and set up sets and engineer sound and lights. They are creative, slightly crazy, and are able to produce amazing work. For instance, every year on Academy Awards Sunday they have a special service in which each of the nominated best movies are skewered with cleverness and grace. It is all in who they are.

Every congregation has a unique clientele. I am not suggesting adding "Now I'm a Believer" to the musical repertoire of Lemoore Presbyterian Church. (I will let someone else do that.) I am suggesting that we find ways to have more fun and produce more JOY in our worship experiences. I know, we do have fun. We have lots of fun at times, but perhaps we can think of new ways to let more joy be expressed.

Before I leave this subject I want to admit something. The other worship that I enjoyed every bit as much as this raucous, joyfilled time in Burbank was the worship at the "Everthing Must Change Tour" in Seattle. The music of that worship was quiet, prayerful, thoughful, and spiritually challenging. The focus of much of the worship was on committment to working for Jesus in the world. We sang about hunger and poverty and about responding to such problems in Christ's name. We were introduced to new music written by Tracy Howe. You can find lyrics at the website: www.songsforarevolutionofhope.org I bought two CDs of this music and have been listening to them ever since. I love it. There is joy expressed in that music, also, as well as hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. To quote one of Tracy's lyrics, "Hey hey, ho ho, we have nothing if we don't have love."

I have also worshiped now at two cathedrals built to our National Pastime, in Seattle and in L.A. I was able to take photos of the cathedral in San Diego, but there was no service going on at the time. Ten runs scored by the Dodgers in the first inning is an ispiration matched by few other experiences. The last four runs were the result of a grand slam home run hit by Matt Kemp. It filled me with joy.

God bless you all.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


When last I wrote I was a the northern tip of Washington where it was snowing. Now I am home in Lemoore, CA and I am much warmer. It took a few days to get here. I spent two nights in Portland on the way. There are at least three great discount golf shops there that grabbed my attention last Saturday. I ended up buying a new Cobra driver, a new Ping putter, and a set of Nike irons. Weather was lousy in Portland, too.

After worshiping at the Imago Dei Community in Portalnd on Sunday I headed south to Brookings, hoping that the weather might allow a round of golf at the Salmon Run Golf Course there. It did not. However, on the way to Brookings I took some time to see placed near Coos Bay that I used to visit often when we lived there. Shore Acres State Park and Cape Arago are beautiful and while there I experienced the best sunny weather I had found in days. The morning brought much moisture in the air and no opportunity for golf, so I headed south to Gridley.

Gridley, CA is the site of a congregation I formerly served as pastor. We spent 10 happy years there. Sarah was born while we were there. I stayed with friends who have now left that congregation and are active members and leaders in the neighboring congregation at Marysville. There was a split in the Gridley congregation two pastors after me. It was over the "Worship Wars," though issues are never quite that simple. I regret any splits when there are winners and losers, but as splits go this one has had some good results. Those who left Gridley went as a group to Marysville in search of a more traditional worship style. One of those who left took on the position of organist at Marysville. She is a virtuoso performer and deserves to play on the exceptional organ in the Marysville church. The others moved into the church and almost immediately began filling leadership roles and bringing new energy to that congregation. The Gridley congregation has not yet recovered from the loss of people, but they have been able to establish their new style, continue to employ a youth director, begin to attract young families, and get ready for their next pastor to lead them into the future.

One of the major themes of this Sabbatical is worship. I have been and am determined to avoid the "Worship Wars" that split the Gridley congregation. I have been worshiping in congregations that do things differently than the Lemoore Presbyterian Church. All three are far less formal, though not necessarily more warm and open, than the Lemoore congregation. Informality seems to be about clothing more than anything else. The new uniform for preachers seems to be blue jeans, a Hawaiian print shirt, and tennis shoes. (I could make this sacrifice. What do you think?) The group playing music is usually dressed the same.

My first worship experience on this trip was at the Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco. This is a New Church Development (NCD) of the Presbytery of San Francisco of the PCUSA. The warehouse room was arranged with seats around coffee shop tables and some couches. There was a music stand used by the pastor and the music team was behind this. They made excellent use of the media screens, including a sort of countdown on the screen. The beginning of the service was precisely on time. The music was well done, the pastor led the service effectively and preached well. This particular worship service included the opportunity to engage in artistic expression having to do with the Scripture text, Genesis 1. Some paiinted a mural, others wrote poetry, some wrote in a journal, and I made a flower out of pink and yellow pipe cleaners and gave it to Jeanne. The service was very enjoyable. I hope to have longer to talk with Pastor Bruce in the future.

The second worship experience was at the "Everything Must Change Tour" which I attended in Seattle. The worship at the conference was deeply spiritual and prayerful and very much to my liking. The music was new, a combination of upbeat and ancient. There were many opportunities for quiet contemplation and for interaction with other worshipers. I bought CDs of music.

The second Sunday of my trip found me following the suggestion of Pastor Bruce and worshiping with the Quest Church of Seattle. This is an NCD of the Evangelical Covenant Church and is led by Pastor Eugene Cho. This service was the most like ours in Lemoore. The music was completely contemporary but all the familiar parts of the worship were there. Pastor Cho is a good preacher and delivered an excellent message from Acts 6, about leadership in the church. The people of this church were very warm and welcoming. I was immediately greeted and made to feel at home.

My third Sunday worship experience was in a service that was very different from what I am used to, but somehow very moving. I worshiped with the Imago Dei Community in Portland. (Great website!) They meet in the auditorium of a high school in South East Portland. There are three services at 9, 10:30, and 12 noon. I attended the one at 9 a.m. with probably about 300 others. The service was simple: two songs, taking the offering, the sermon, two more songs while Communion was served. The worshipers were mostly, but not entirely, younger than me. The sermon from Pastor Rick was excellent, from II Samuel 6 in a series he calls, "A Rugged Spirituality: the Life of David." I liked it so much that I think some of the ideas from it will show up in Lemoore some day.

I particularly enjoyed the service of Communion. Stations with baskets of pieces of bread and two cups (one of wine, the other of grape juice) were set up across the front of the stage on the level with the congregations. We went forward as we desired to partake and serve ourselves. What I observed was that people would go up as couples or groups of friends and serve each other. Some, like me, went alone, but never felt rushed to finish our prayer so others could take the spot. I was inspired by the beauty of young couples serving the bread and wine of our Lord to each other. What a wonderful thing.

Also at Imago Dei was a hallway full of mission opportunities. Booths were set up with information about how to connect with some way of serving God and following Christ. This was excellent!

That is enough for now. I continue to look for, and find, worship opportunities. God is good.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

First News

Ok, now what? Am I blogging? One of my goals for the Sabbatical time I am taking is that I will learn how to blog. I am learning right now. I have already lost my first attempt at posting an entry, but I am back.

This is a first post to friends about my progress on Sabbatical, but I think I should offer a little background in case you came to this sight and are for some reason reading this and you don't have any idea who I am or why I am taking a three month Sabbatical. I am a pastor, and pastors sometimes get extended time off. Theoretically we are supposed to get some time every 7 years or so, but I have been a pastor for 33 years and this is my first Sabbatical. I capitalize "Sabbatical" because it is a form of the word "Sabbath" which is a special day celebrated by Jews, some Christians, and Moslems. It's in the Bible, the Ten Commandments, which can be found in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5.

I am two and a half weeks into a 13 week Sabbatical. So far I have managed to sleep in till 7 a.m. at least twice, played 4 rounds of golf, attended two conferences, and traveled to Oregon and Washington to see friends and family. I also drove by fields of tulips in the Skagit Valley and took some photos even though it was freezing cold and raining. It is colder than normal up here, and that is just too cold for this California boy. I am heading south tomorrow.

I came to Seattle to attend the "Everything Must Change Tour" of Bryan McLaren and "Deep Shift." Bryan is a well known Christian author and Deep Shift is a consulting/coaching group for churches. Some of the material in the seminar reminded me of the kind of things that Saul Alinsky used to write about in books like Reveille for Radicals. It is good stuff about community organizing for justice and sustainability. Bryan makes the point that our current usage of natural resources is simply not sustainable and that we need change our way of living, producing, and buying. You can read his book, Everything Must Change. It is challenging, inspiring, and offers practical insight for living a more sustainable lifestyle.

We can get into trouble if we do not pay attention to sustainability. For instance, on the way up the California coast I passed through the town of Scotia, home of the Pacific Lumber Company. This company was family owned and operated from 1882 until it went public in 1975. The Murphy family held considerable acreage of redwoods which they cut and milled at a sustainable rate. They did not cut more than they could replace. They employed about 1,000 workers. In 1986 Pacific Lumber was the victim of a hostile takeover by the Maxaam Corporation of Texas. This company changed policy, cut as much redwood as they could, were sued and tied up in court, and currently employ about 300 workers. There is more to the story, but the point is that sustainable use of our resources guarantees more jobs than do the alternatives.

The "Everything Must Change Tour" gave me much to think about. More will rise to the surface as the Sabbatical continues. I am currently in Port Townsend, Washington with friends who understand the habits of a student and traveler. Yesterday I visited my nephew and his family in Bellingham, Washington. He is a great father and a good man. It is a pleasure to see my sister's son all grown up.

That's enough blogging for now.