Category: Resources

Palm Sunday Service Idea

Designing worship for Palm Sunday has always been a challenge for me. Either we focused on the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with palms and singing and celebrating; or, we focused on the Passion of Christ — His crucifixion, death, and burial.

Last year, however, we combined both the joy of Palm Sunday, and the pathos of the Passion into one service. Below is a draft version of the bulletin we will use this Sunday.

As you can see, the service begins with joy. We have children distribute palm branches to the congregation during the prelude, the choir sings a rousing “Ride On, King Jesus,” and we read the triumphal entry story from Matthew 21:1-11. We top it off with the congregation singing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” a wonderful hymn of praise.

After the children’s message, we shift gears. The offertory hymn is “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” I have a brief reflection on the events from Palm Sunday through Good Friday. The change in tone continues as four readers read the Passion Story from the Gospel of Matthew. These are the revised common lectionary readings for this year. Between readings, the congregation sings an appropriate hymn for the passage just read.

Finally, we sing three verses of “Were You There?” and we conclude with the verse that asks, “Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” After a closing prayer, we depart in silence, reflecting on the sacrificial death of Christ.

Many of our members will not attend a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service. By covering the last week of Jesus’ life in one service, we remind the congregation that between the joy of Palm Sunday and the glory of Easter, the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus are events to which we must pay solemn attention.

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Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Probably Not

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 10.42.34 PMIn their newly-released book, Bonhoeffer The Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking, the authors Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel provide compelling evidence that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not participate in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

I had anticipated this book’s publication since reading an article in which one of the author’s, Mark Thiessen Nation, revealed the thesis of their research. Excited as I was by that article, this book is even more exciting as a new look at an old myth.

As to their thesis that Bonhoeffer maintained his pacifist stance in both word and deed, the authors assert confidently, “If by ‘activities’ we mean actions that contributed directly to attempts to kill Hitler, there is no evidence of any such actions on Bonhoeffer’s part.” (p. 87). By reviewing writings about Bonhoeffer, the writings and sermons of Bonhoeffer, and the testimonies of those who knew Bonhoeffer, Nation, Siegrist, and Umbel not only dispel the myth of Bonhoeffer’s alleged participation in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, they blow it up altogether.

Interestingly, Mark Thiessen nation offers his own understanding for decades of fascination with the story of the young pacifist theologian who turned to violence in the hot-light of Nazi atrocities. Nation writes, “Repeatedly I see writings about Bonhoeffer that imply that what truly sets him apart is that he was a theologian–a former pacifist and trainer of pastors–who then became involved in plots to kill Hitler.”(p. 229). This story fits our national psyche, our need to affirm that no one, not even a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, can adhere to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount in the real world in which we live. However, to believe this unchallenged theory, Nation argues, seriously distorts the legacy of Bonhoeffer.

This is an important book, a book that rewrites the story of Bonhoeffer — a book which asserts that the real transition Bonhoeffer made was not from naive idealist to mature realist, but from rationalizing nationalist to completely committed disciple of Jesus Christ. No biographer of Bonhoeffer’s will again be able to get away with the unfounded assumption of Bonhoeffer’s turn toward violence. Even critics of the authors’ conclusions and convictions will be unable to accept without question the heretofore unquestioned wisdom about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Read other books on Bonhoeffer, including his own work, but read this one as a credible corrective to a myth that was all too easy to believe.

Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of the book from Amazon and did not receive any inducement for this review.  -cw

My Dissertation Arrives

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Two bound copies of my dissertation arrived today. The title is The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry.

I lived with writing this for almost two years, so it is very gratifying to see it done, bound, and approved. Still waiting for my DMin degree to be posted and for my diploma to arrive.

The next project is converting the academic research into a more accessible form for publication. Two years to publication probably. Sisyphus redux.

“Filled Up, Poured Out” Overflows with Stories and Insights

I have waited far too long to spotlight Mark O. Wilson’s new book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.  Mark and I met as fellow-bloggers, and I have followed his blog, Revitalize Your Church for several years now. Mark is a warm-hearted, spirit-filled pastor who encourages and challenges all of us to be all that God has called us to be.

That’s exactly what Mark’s book does, too. In 13 concise chapters, Mark identifies for his readers the persistent problem that plagues ministry and ministers — running on empty, which Mark characterizes as “vacuus=empty, devoid of, free from.” He writes about empty pastors (chapter 1); empty churches (chapter 2); and, the solution to both (chapter 3).

In the next section of the book, headlined “repleo,” Mark talks about how to replenish the power of God in your life through “immersion, faith, contentment, enduement, and confluence.” In the final third of the book, Mark reveals how the filled up pastor allows God’s grace to flow out in compassion, blessing, righteousness, influence, and saturation.

Each chapter in the book overflows with stories, scripture, insights, and mind-pegs to get you thinking, praying, and dreaming about what God has for your ministry. With 13 chapters, the book’s format is perfect for small group Bible studies. Although the initial audience for the book is pastors, church leaders and members will benefit from Mark’s easy style, and memorable insights. Pastors, this book contains more sermon illustrations than you could come up with in hours of searching. Many of the stories are from Mark’s own ministry experiences.

I especially love the story about his trip to Africa. Asked to preach at a local village church on a Sunday morning, Mark was amazed to see over 3,000 people gathered for worship at 7:30 AM. The frame structure only held 1,000, but the other 2,000 worshippers surrounded the building, responding to every line in his sermon. After he preached, Mark recalls that the congregation began to sing. The local missionary explained to Mark that they were making up a new song from the points in his sermon, which was their way of remembering what they had learned that Sunday. A new song, Mark noted, flowed from their hearts. That story would resonate with any congregation which was seeking God. And, there are more just like that in Mark’s book.

Get this book. As you read, you’ll be blessed and encouraged, perhaps to the point of being “filled up” yourself, so you can be “poured out” for others. After all, that’s what pastors do, and Mark helps us remember that with joy and wonder.

15 Traits of Innovative Leaders

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership conference with Dr. Greg Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School, and Dr. John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. Next week, I’ll share Greg Jones’ thoughts on leadership, but today I thought you might like to hear what John Upton had to say.

Dr. Upton listed 15 characteristics of innovative church leaders, which he has observed in his global contact with Baptist leaders, and leaders from other Christian traditions. Dr. Upton said that these are not ranked by priority, but are observable in those leaders he has met in countries where the Church is thriving.

1. Leaders create opportunities. Dr. Upton remarked that leaders live in a context of discovery, exploration, and learning. Out of that inquisitive context, leaders open spaces for new things to happen.

2. Leaders say “I don’t know.” Acknowledging honestly that you as a leader do not have all the answers opens the way for others to explore, experiment, and discover things that even you as a leader might not have thought of. Dr. Upton contends that saying “I don’t know” gives permission to others to “figure it out” while the leader offers wisdom and supports those who are exploring new possibilities.

3.  Leaders are rarely the best performers, but rather are talent developers. Upton used the illustration of an orchestra and conductor. While the conductor may not be skilled enough to occupy the first chair of any section, she brings together all of the talent of those who do occupy the orchestral sections into a beautiful blend of harmony and energy.

4. Leaders cast the vision of hope. While “vision-casting” has come to mean the leader presents a program or concept all neatly tied up, Upton contends that great leaders like Churchill and FDR cast a vision of hope. From hope others rise to the occasion, innovate in their situations, and produce more and better results than one leader alone could hope to.

5. Leaders thrive on paradox. Great leaders are able to hold two opposing views in mind, and come up with a solution that considers all possibilities. A good resource is The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin.

6. Leaders love a mess. John Upton observed that good leaders always have a symbolic supply of duct tape handy, which I thought was a good metaphor for fixing things on the fly. Upton observed that leaders are “comfortable in the craziness,” which is not the same in my opinion as comfortable with lack of focus.

7. Leaders do and then they re-do. There is no absolute solution in any organization. Today’s solution may become tomorrow’s obstacle. Leaders recognize the need for revisiting and re-evaluating an organization’s goals and accomplishments, however those are measured.

8.  Leaders know when to wait. Timing can be just as important as vision. Learning to wait patiently for the right moment, the right atmosphere, the right people to be on-board with a project can be critical to the success of that project. Patience is a virtue, not just in theory, but in leading churches as well.

9.  Leaders are optimistic. Optimism means leaders “believe that this can be a better world, we can make a difference” according to Upton. Optimism is not blind disregard of reality, but a long-range attitude of hope.

10. Leaders convey a grand design, but attend to details. Grand schemes are great, and folks need an over-arching vision. But, as the architect Mies van der Rohe is alleged to have said, “God is in the details.” Apparently, this applies to churches as well as architecture.

11. Leaders make mistakes, but create blame-free cultures. “I’d rather reward a great failure, than a mediocre success,” Upton commented. Failure without blame is not a bad thing for organizations, and part of the learning curve of innovative cultures.

12. Leaders are talent fanatics. Great leaders, according to Jim Collins, surround themselves with highly-talented people, and exhibit personal humility when talking about their group’s accomplishments. Great leaders attract, nurture, mentor, and reward talent, according to Upton.

13. Leaders create networks for peer-learning. Really good leaders are not the only generators of ideas or information in their organizations. Peer-learning networks which connect across organizations, departments, or other organizational boundaries create a culture of curiosity and exploration.

14. Leaders know themselves well. This may be one of the toughest qualities of leadership to master. Self-knowledge, coupled with self-regulation, separates the good from the best in leadership. Acknowledging that “I’m not in charge” of everything, which is the cousin of “I don’t know everything” enables others to succeed and communicates that the leader understands his or her own limitations.

15. Leaders take breaks. There are no rewards for pastors who say, “I never take a vacation.” Leaders need a break from the pressures of leadership in order to rest, recharge, and re-evaluate. Think of preventive maintenance for pastors, and you’ve got the idea. Great leaders step away, have other interests, pay attention to their relationships, and recognize their need for perspective.

Those are John Upton’s 15 characteristics of great leaders, based on his experience and observation. What other traits or practices would you add to this list? Or, how would you rank these in order of priority for your ministry setting?

6 Dramatic Trends Churches Are Ignoring

Despite the adoption of coffee bars, powerpoint presentations, and full-stage lighting, churches are seldom on the cutting edge when it comes to addressing demographic trends.  Here are six dramatic trends that are not being addressed adequately by local churches, church networks, or denominations.

If we continue to ignore these trends for another decade, churches will continue to see an erosion of members, attendance, and relevance in a rapidly changing American culture.

Gleaned from “Six Disruptive Demographic Trends: What Census 2010 Will Reveal” published by The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, these trends will impact churches as well as the U.S. economy.

1. The South has several new faces.

“…between 2000 and 2008, the South was the preferred destination for movers in nearly all of the major demographic groups, including blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, and the foreign born.”

While the Northeast and Midwest grew by 6.5 and 9.4 percent respectively, the South attracted over half (51.4%) of the 24.8 million increase in the United States population. The West garnered about one-third of the total U.S. growth, but was an net exporter of 2 out of the 4 groups mentioned.

Of course, the South isn’t called the Bible belt for nothing, but established churches in the South tend to be single race churches, white and black, with few examples of churches designed to address the issue of the South’s growing multiculturalism. Mark de Ymaz in Arkansas is doing it, and Soong-Chan Rah writes about it, but at the local church ministry level few are addressing this multicultural growth trend.

2.  The minority majority is coming.

In the 1980s when I first visited Fuller Seminary’s campus in Pasadena, I was told that there was no majority group in Pasadena – everyone was a minority. That trend is now a growing reality across America. The UNC report calls it the “browning of America,” which is a phrase I don’t like because it pits white against “browns,” and if not carefully stated becomes a pejorative description of those not-white.

But the fact remains that non-white population growth is outstripping white growth dramatically. Between 2000 and 2009, Asians increased by 31 percent; blacks by 10 percent; and, Hispanics by 36 percent, while non-Hispanic whites increased by only 2 percent. Immigration patterns and birth rates are the primary drivers of this coming minority majority. By 2050, the non-Hispanic white population will fall below 50 percent for the first time in our nation’s history. No group will be the majority population, and that holds both great challenge and great promise for churches in the next 40 years.

3.  Out-marriage is in.

Same gender marriage has grabbed the headlines, but cross-ethnic marriages are the quiet growing reality.

“Among newly married couples, the out-marriage rate was 14.6 percent in 2008, up from 6.7 percent in 1980,” according to the UNC report. In addition, those marrying outside their ethnic group tend to be more, not less, educated.

Churches in our community (rural, Southern Virginia) tend not to have interracial couples, although there are many in our community. As this out-marriage trend grows, churches will need to become more conscious and sensitive to these ethnically-blended families. Church literature and advertising will need to run images of cross-ethnic couples and families in order to indicate a church’s welcome to these blended marriages.

4. The baby boomers aren’t babies anymore.

“On January 1, 2011, the first baby boomer born in America turned 65 and set into motion what we refer to as the “silver tsunami.” Almost 80-million baby boomers will leave the U. S. workforce in the next 20 years.

Churches already skew older than the national population average, and this will only become more pronounced in the next two decades. Seeker-sensitive churches that sprang up to attract baby boomers in the 1980s will be impacted by the aging of this group.

While churches almost always want to attract young families, by default and intention there will be churches that focus primarily on senior adults. Senior adult ministry for and with older adults will not just be a sub-group of larger congregations. Entire churches will be senior-led, benefitting from the years of experience, education, skills, and resources this group possesses.

5. It’s no longer a man’s world.

According to the report, men “bore 80 percent of total U. S. job loss between 2007 and 2009” leading some to proclaim the “end of men” in the economic market. Out of ten college graduates over the past decade, 6 were women and 4 were men. Women own 40 percent of all U.S. businesses, and women hold 43 percent of all executive, administrative, and managerial positions in the U.S. economy.

“Women are close to surpassing men as the numerical majority in the paid U.S. workforce.” In addition, in “married couple households, women now account for 47 percent of household income”, and 63.3 percent of mothers were the primary or co-breadwinner, up from 27.7 percent in 1967.

The implication for churches is obvious in several areas. Ministries to men and women need to recognize these new workplace realities. Ozzie and Harriett are dead, and churches need to deal with gender issues like it was 2012, not 1952.

6. Grandparents are the new parents.

“In 2010, 4.9 million American children lived in grandparent-headed households.” This is an increase of 26 percent versus a 4 percent increase for children living in all other type households.

Increasingly, these grandparent-led households also include one or more adult children who are parents of the grandchildren. And, 40 percent of children were living in home headed by a grandmother only.

This increasing family-type challenges the traditional church idea of what it means to be a family, and provides opportunity for churches to meet the unique needs of grandparent-led households. That these households tend to be non-white and economically-stressed provides additional challenges for church ministry.

Each one of these trends challenges the traditional church’s idea of its community, its membership, its inclusivity, and its understanding of gender and race issues. Small churches will face unique challenges, but also unique opportunities in addressing these trends.

However, if denominations, churches, and church networks continue to ignore these society-shaping developments, we will miss the great opportunities for growth, outreach, and church revitalization in the 21st century.

Wright Offers A Compelling and Coherent Vision In ‘Simply Jesus’

It goes without saying that N. T. Wright, recently called the J. K. Rowling of the evangelical world, is a prolific writer.  The author of more than 30 books by one count, Wright cranks out multi-hundred page volumes like others do tweets.  But the difference is that Wright also packs substance and soft-edged provocation into each of his texts.  As you might expect, Wright has done it again with his latest volume titled, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why It Matters.

In Simply Jesus, Wright gives his non-academic audience an imminently readable portal into Wright’s own framework for studying and understanding the life of Jesus.  This is not another Jesus Seminar attempt to get “behind” the Gospels to find the “real” Jesus.  Wright contends that what we need to do is get “inside them, to discover the Jesus they’ve been telling us about all along, but whom we had managed to screen out.”

We have screened out Jesus, Wright argues, by ripping Jesus out of the first-century, second-Temple milieu in which his ministry occurs, and transforming Jesus into a 21st century reflection of our own culture.  Wright critiques the popular evangelical assumption that Jesus has come to take us all to heaven, stressing that the story of God and Israel is at the heart of what God did and continues to do through Jesus.

Wright masterfully weaves together the converging perfect storm of Roman Empire domination, Jewish anxiety, and Jesus’ Kingdom ministry to explain why Jesus said what he did, and why he encountered the opposition of almost everyone who heard him.

Wright’s point in all of this is that Jesus announced that God was in charge, which is Wright’s shorthand for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus not only announced it, he acted himself as if he really was in charge by taking on the religious and cultural establishment through his teaching, miracles, and self-sacrifice.  But, Wright contends, what they, and we, want is not a king, but a religious leader.  And even if we want a king, we certainly don’t want one like Jesus who redefined divine kingship.

Most importantly, Wright makes sense of the Jesus story in a way that no one else has.  If you have read Wright’s magnum opus in three volumes (Christian Origins and the Question of God), particularly Jesus and the Victory of God, you will recognize Wright’s argument stripped down to its essentials.  Wright discredits the reduction of the Gospel into a “4 Spiritual Laws” parody.  He explains how the Exodus experience became the symbolic and actual story of Israel; and, how Jesus reinterpreted that story in his own life.

Wright sees the biblical narrative as one piece, and sees Old Testament fulfillment in Jesus’ New Testament life.  This is no longer the “Jesus came to take us to heaven” story; it is now the “Jesus came to be King of all creation” story, and all that implies.

Wright will not please everyone with his approach, and he acknowledges that himself.  But what Wright does do is to offer both a compelling and coherent vision of who Jesus is, “what he did, and why it matters.” Or to put is another way, the conversation about what God is up to in the world doesn’t start with man’s sin, but with God’s grand purpose for creation. Others have hinted around the edges of this, but Wright walks through the Bible blazing a trail that makes one ask, “Why didn’t I see this before?”

Wright’s Simply Jesus should be at the top of your reading list.  Small groups, Sunday School classes, and others interested in understanding the story of the Bible, and where Jesus fits in, will benefit from reading and discussing this book.  This book has the potential to be a game-changer, and others are already picking up the idea of Jesus as king and what that means.  Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel, is a case in point.  And, Wright is coming out with his own take on the Gospel in March, 2012, with his next book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.  This approach isn’t going away, and Wright is its most prolific spokesman.

Disclaimer: I purchased Simply Jesus as a Kindle book from Amazon at my own expense, and received no compensation for this review.