Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Decidedly Non-Christian Generation

There was much wringing of hands this month as The Pew Research Center released a survey regarding the religious temperature of America. The statistics show between a 7% and 9% increase in among those who hold no faith in particular and similar decreases among those who self identify as Christian. Mainline protestants were received some of the largest losses. Collectively religious leader’s anxieties turned to teens and twentysomethings, a demographic that has seen great losses. There is worry that the church is dying and that the next generation is not willing to carry the torch of Christendom. However, I specialize in working with this demographic. I do not seek to be a Pollyanna about these loses but I would like to ease some troubled hearts.

  1. The church is not dying: Pews continue to empty and it is easy to think this might be the end of the line for Christianity. However, the truth is that the collection of believing people seeking to follow after Jesus known as the church is healthy. It is only in our own demographic, historically white traditionally western mainline denominations, where we are seeing decline. South America, Africa, and China are more than picking up the slack. There is no end in sight for the Church universal.

  1. We are rising to the challenge. Even in the faith traditions in decline we find that some of the most exciting and innovative movements of the Holy Spirit. As traditional protestants are removed from the privilege of the majority we are also freed to re-imagine how our understanding of the mission of God is expressed in our time. The Pacific Northwest is a perfect example of this. Seattle is one of the least religious areas in our country yet hundreds of churches are being planted. To learn more on this I would encourage you to look at the PhD level research done on the NPR featured website

  1. No church does not mean no faith: It is not always fun to self identify as a Christian. Many people try to avoid of the stereotypes associated with Christianity: self righteousness, small mindedness, judgmental-ism. Younger people, who already have problems committing to titles, would rather not say they are Christian while still going to church, volunteering, and maintaining an all around healthy spiritual life. Religious interest is down but those wanting to find spiritual significance in their life is healthy.

  1. Let us never forget God is at the helm: I think part of the anxiety is based in the belief that we have done something to cause this decline or that we have to do something to get out of this decline. We make this issue about us. But in truth this an issue about God. We must be willing to acknowledge that God is powerful enough to bring people to himself and that he will when the time is right. Our job is not to save the world. It is to be faithful in our own lives to our God regardless of the statistics.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The God of Legacies

I am very proud of this sermon. I thought I would post it again for those who missed it the first time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Confessions of a Part Time "Pastor"

I am a part time "pastor." I use the quotes because I am not an ordained pastor. Technically, I am a director. But the line between the two occupations is blurry. I hold a masters degree. I preach regularly. I teach adult discipleship classes. I lead youth on mission trips. I am expected to hold regular office hours. As an ordained ruling elder, I even help serve communion. But I am not a pastor. I have no vote or voice at session. When big decisions about the direction of the church are considered, I am left out of the conversation. I do not get health insurance. I do not get retirement benefits. But I am expected to look and behave like a pastor.

"Tent Making is the wave of the future." I hear that phrase batted around a lot in the church. Let me tell you. If this is the wave of the future we need to back up our bags and go to a better beach.

One of the hardest parts about being in a 25 hour a week roll at church is that I need two other jobs to keep my wages at the minimum for living in my city. So I am a delivery boy for 20 hours a week and a handyman for another 10. I do not mind working 50 hour weeks. I knew getting into the ministry that it was a vocation that required a lot of work. The problem arises when three jobs are competing for the SAME hours. I can only be in one place at 3:00 pm on a Wednesday. All three jobs expect that I place my priority for them at 3:00 pm on a Wednesday.

Another hardship is that despite the fact I put my heart and soul into my ministry it doesn't count on a resume for being "as good" as full time. The perception of the quality of my work is diminished when looking for full time jobs. When a hiring committee sees one resume with three years of part time experience and another resume with eighteen months full time experience they tend to favor the latter. Because of this perception, it is hard to get out of the part time role.

I write to this as a warning and a consideration for lay people. Be nice to your part time people. Also, realize, this is not the way of the future. Very few people can lead a life like mine. Part time work is a luxury. Frankly, if I were to get married and have a kid, at this point I would have to find another profession. We as the American church can't rest on "tent making" to solve church employment issues. We still need to come up with an exhaustive plan about how to fund the pastors that we want and need.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Three Reasons We Should Get Rid of “Young Adults” in the Church

I have a lot of experience working with “young adults.” I work at a church. My position title is Director of Youth and Young Adults. I am the leader at one of those rare small churches in the presbytery that has a healthy discipleship program geared specifically toward people in their 20s and 30s.  In my free time I am the moderator of a denominational wide community focused on equipping “Young PCUSA Leaders.” It is from this position of authority that I beg you:

Please stop using the descriptor Young Adults.

  1. The definition is vague. What is a young adult? The median age of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is 61. For every worshiper between the ages of 15 and 25 there are more than six worshipers over the age of 65.  Today to be a “young adult” basically means “Not near retirement.” The majority (65 and over) consider anyone younger than their age group as a “young adult.” In my travels I have heard of people wanting to extend the descriptor of to those people in their 50s. The title of “young adult” is so broad is is void of any meaning.

  1. No one self-identifies as a young adult. If you ask a teenager they will tell you they are a teen or a teenager. College age students are just that “college aged.” People in their 20s and 30s feel comfortable talking about their generation (Millennials) or maybe they will say “I’m in my twenties/thirties.” But NO ONE uses the term “young adult.” Even in literary circles, fiction designed for “young adults” is now described as “teen fiction.”  I lead a bible study of “young adults.” However, when I tell them we are “young adults” they are mildly offended. One woman told me “I’ve been married for 8 years and I have a three year old son, can I just be a regular adult?”

  1. It underscores a larger problem in the church: Ageism. I believe one of the largest hurdles the church has to overcome in the next 50 years is the discrimination of people based on their age. The phrase “young adult” puts those between that ages of 13-39 into an unlikely church quarantine. “Young adult” is an offensive term to many because it suggest inexperience and immaturity. It is a disqualifying descriptor. No wonder people want to avoid it.

We ask, “Why are there not more ‘young adults’ in the church?” Perhaps the first step in answering that question is to listen to how they wish define themselves.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

March 2015 Reading List

I'm a little out of practice when it comes to keeping my book list up to date. So here is a list of everything I can remember reading since my last update. There is more but it would be too hard to hunt them all down.

The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James
A life changing book that I recommend to anyone who has lost a loved one. Incredibly healing for me in a season of life marred by death and change.

I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path To Jesus by Don Evert and Doug Shcaupp
I love being among those who are turning their hearts toward Jesus for the first time. But the process is far more complicated than I had expected. This book lays out a beautiful path that all follow on their way to becoming a christian. The hard news, it requires people of faith to actually invest in friends and family AND for these faithful people to live lives that reflect their belief in God.

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
The church can be filled with unhealthy people that have unhealthy boundaries. This book was nice to help me understand where I begin and another person ends. And also, how to identify people who want to take over my life and personality.

Furious Longing for God by Brennan Manning
It is hard to not like a Manning book. This was just another in the set of satisfying books.

Abbas Child By Brennan Manning
Brennan's reflections of "The Impostor" are revolutionary and I could not appreciate them more.

Iron John by Richard Ferrone
I read this at the urging of a clergy friend of mine. It was not very good. Ferrone is too quick to generalize motifs across ancient regional tribes. Instead of uncovering some ancient truth he is wrapping his own philosophy with antiquity in order to grant it legitimacy.

The United States and the Middle East: 1914-9/11 by Salim Yaqub
A long lecture series that was fairly dry.

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Recommended to me by a parent of a child with autism. It is a great first hand account about what it is like living with autism.

The World of Byzantium by Prof. Kenneth W. Harl
This era is overlooked by Western Christians but it is historically fascinating to see how the church thrived in the east.

Leading Change by John P. Kotter
I wanted to know more about transitioning congregations into contextually appropriate ministry formats. This was mildly useful.