Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tips For Sharing Your Faith- Glorify, Testify and Apply

One of the more difficult aspects to following Christ for many is actually sharing our faith story.  Whether it's a cultural thing here in the US or the inability of the modern church to actually train people to share their faith, it's a thing.

So, here are a few easy tips to sharing your faith and pointing people to Christ.

1- Let people around you know you are a follower of Jesus Christ.  Your co-workers, classmates, family, friends (facebook friends/twitter followers) should know you are a Christian by your words and deeds.

2- Actually invite people to share their story with you.  It can be as simple as-
"Hey, tell me about where you grew up."
"What brought you here?"
"What are you doing this weekend?'

3- Listen, listen, listen.  Listening to other people share their story is a powerful experience if you really listen.  I've found that everyone has a pretty amazing life story if you just listen.  Listening means you care about someone enough to hear their story.

4- Share your problems with others- be honest and let people know how your faith has helped you.

5- Pass on some good reads to others like- "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan, "The Circle Maker" by Mark Batterson or "Heaven is For Real" by Todd Burpo.  Those are amazing books.

6- Speak well of your church and church leaders.  If you don't, it probably reflects more on your journey than your church.

7- Invite, invite, invite.  Most churches have several seeker friendly events throughout the year.  Some churches actually make worship a safe and friendly place as well.

8- If someone asks you a faith question you can't answer, set up a coffee with your pastor to talk about their question.

9- Start a Bible study and invite people to join.

10- Bring someone to Christmas or Easter services.

Finally, make sure that in all you do and say that you

Glorify God

That Your life is a living Testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

and

Your apply the teachings of God's word and Jesus Christ to your life.

If you do these things, your life will serve as a beacon to those who are far from God.  Your life will light the way in the darkest storms.

Go in peace and go with God.

p.s. It wouldn't hurt to share the facebook status of your pastor or church page and invite others to join your in worship.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Learnings From Bishop's Week 2013- Endangered Species- Young Clergy and Barbers?

About once a month I visit my local barber shop.  In my thirty some years on the planet, I've had two barbers.  A few others attempted cutting my dwindling hair, but I've basically had two barbers throughout my life.  In my hometown, my dad went to Jim the Barber, so I went to Jim.  After moving away from home to attend college and grad school, I continued to come back to Jim.  He is an excellent barber.  He offers great conversation and cuts my hair the way I like it.  About fifteen years ago, I slowed down on my pace of going home due to the weekend commitments (first appointment to the local church).  I searched and searched for a barber to cut my hair the way I like it.  I did so with little fruit.  I even tried a few of the "chain" hair places.  Finally, about nine years ago I met Bob, my current barber.  A great conversationalist from religion to the weather.  In one of our spirited and lively discussions, he confided that in a few years he might be retiring.  He is slowing down a bit, so much so, he has no desire to take new clients.  He likes things the way they are and when he retires, he will close his business.  A few years ago he believed he might sell his shop to some young guy starting out in the profession.  But alas, he feels today that "young men just don't want to be barbers anymore".  He then said that beautician schools were booming all over the place.  Times were changing, and he was rather indifferent as to whether the changes were bad or good.  We commiserated over the state of the world, and I was quickly dispatched as a few of the other regulars started to line up.


I've heard a few similar statements about seminary.  "No one wants to go to seminary anymore.  It's just too expensive, too long and does not train clergy to lead the church."
It is a fact that there are less young clergy today than in years past.  One of my good friends says it's because we don't have a military draft going on right now.  If we had a draft, the line to seminaries would be overflowing.  Maybe so.
But it seems that younger clergy might be an endangered species, as are young barbers.
Bishop Schnase said to us, "I can't send you someone you didn't send me first."  Too true.
With many churches dying, our pool of leadership is dwindling.  The traditional Sunday school hour is slowly fading from the menu of local church offerings.  The pipeline, as it were, has become rusty, which was the title of some gathering Bishop Huie attended in the 1980's.  The lack of younger clergy leaders and younger people in church is not a new phenomenon.  It's been going on for some time.  The  decline of attendance and members in the local church is not something new either.  But, right now, we are talking about it like never before because our Episcopal leadership has taken quite seriously the Call to Action report.  Their leadership, significantly and especially at SCJ Bishop's Week, should serve as an opportunity to start doing something about it.
If you remember the ecosystem reference a few blogs ago (read here), then you realize that the problem is systemic.  The ecosystem must be altered and changed by park rangers to allow for young clergy to survive and thrive.  We don't need General Conference legislation or permission.  There is no one thing to turn the tide.  This will not be easy.  A few possible easy ways to get the ball rolling might be:

1. Promote younger clergy into leadership positions so that when younger people enter the process, they encounter someone close to their age (DCOM/Mentors/BOOM)
2. Promote younger clergy into larger churches as Senior Pastor.
3. Develop opportunities for clergy of all ages to interact in learning groups so wisdom and innovation may be shared.

Some of these things have already been tried and met with some success in the Missouri Conference.  My hope and prayer is that we might set aside our institutional mindset of old school stair stepping into local church, district and conference leadership.  And maybe we could value a diversity of age on all teams, committees and boards.  Honestly, in Missouri, we are doing this as well.  In 2012 we put forth the youngest and most balanced slate of leadership in the last twenty years.  It was a huge victory for diversity and an amazing victory in Jesus Christ.  We are better when all voices are at the table
Go in peace and go with God.



Monday, July 8, 2013

Reflections from Bishop's Week 2013- Learned or Learning

In one of Bishop's Schnase's talks, he shared about Wesley and the Early Methodists.  He said:
Wesley and the Early Methodists
-Bold Originality
- Outward Focused and Future Oriented
- Creative and Experimental
- Risky and Countercultural
- Mission Driven

They were also not afraid to push back against a system of learned scholars and challenge many long held assumptions about church, religion, faith, community and evangelism.

Methodists pastors should be committed life long learners.  Always the student, walking together with others on a journey of discovery and faith.  Once out of seminary, it takes a great deal of drive, passion and courage to begin the learning process again.  There is a strange middle ground when you have achieved so much (graduating seminary, probationary membership, ordination) when you feel prepared to preach, lead, teach, care and serve.  Walk into any pastors office, there are probably books on the shelves, scattered about, some even on the floor.  That is the life long learner.  But, learning can only take you so far.  Like paint in a can, it must be applied.  Fruitful leaders apply the best teachings to their situations.  A life long learner knows that the more they know, the less they understand.

Fruitfulness is then born of a life completely devoted and souled out to God.  That life is shaped and formed daily by deep spiritual disciplines.  One of those disciplines, not often shared, is the desire and appetite to learn.  We grow by learning, listening, praying and seeking God daily.

To be bold, outwardly focused and relevant to those who seek God, we must become life long learners.  No longer are clergy seen most in the culture as the authority of much more than weddings and funerals.    So, we listen, we learn and we cast of the title of learned and become someone is always learning.

Go in peace and go with God.

Reflections from Bishop's Week 2013- A Culture of Call


How do young people find their way into ministry these days?  Is there a traditional route?  Is that route still viable?  Maybe there are multiple and diverse routes into ministry?  The Call to Action report pushed us all to dramatically reform clergy leadership development, deployment and evaluation.  We are suffering from a crisis of relevance as a church and in our clergy system.  More and more young people are choosing to find other ways to serve in ministry instead of the route of seminary, commissioning to ordination.  Each Conference at Bishop’s Week was asked to prepare a “Community of Practice” paper about how they develop fruitful clergy leaders from entrance to retirement, or exit.  These papers were similar, but also vastly different.  Similar in that most focused on the entrance of clergy.  Different in that some only focused on clergy entering their ministry and “residency in ministry” process.  
The Conferences that seemed to be really focused on excellence and fruitfulness found ways to celebrate success, equip and train anyone willing to learn and keep working to open the call process to a wider pool. Reading these papers brought me great joy in knowing that numerous Conferences are truly working to make things better in their respective forests.  On the other side, it looks like there is a lot of work to do for some.  
As we all think about how to develop a culture of call in our respective areas of ministry, a few thoughts come to mind.

1. To take the metaphor offered by Bishop Huie a bit farther, I wonder who the invitational park rangers in our ecosystem are and do we encourage them or even acknowledge them? 
To develop a culture of call means that we begin as early as confirmation classes, planting the seed that maybe someone in the in the class could one day become a pastor.  A continued focus in youth ministry and college aged ministries helping people discern their call, whether into ordained ministry or another avenue of service, is a vital part of this process.  We have some churches in Missouri that have produced numerous fruitful and effective leaders.  How?  They train, equip and resource them.  It is done with great intentionality.    We have several of those invitational park rangers in Missouri.  Some are clergy, some are laity.  You know them by their fruit.  

2. Our Director of Pastoral Excellence works closely with the the Board of Ordained Ministry to equip, train and resource our Residents in Ministry Program.  She also works with every new certified candidate through our candidacy summits.  We also host two ministry inquiry events every year.  Finally, through our Seminary and College student internship programs, we are broadening the opportunity for young persons to explore ministry on site.  In transitioning our clergy process from one of pipeline/weed out/check list to a program of discernment and training has radically changed the conversation for exploring candidates.  

3. In developing our culture of call, innovation and experimentation must be valued.  A more open and welcoming attitude to churches that are seeking fruitfulness in new ways is foundational to changing how people come into leadership in the church.  As the culture and country become more global and multi-cultural, the pace of change in the church needs to be accelerated to adapt and better relate to the major shifts in expectations of candidates.  Leaders that demonstrate and desire and gifts toward risk taking, innovation, missional service, a sacrificial life, depth of spiritual life and invitational spirit must be moved through the apparent hoops quickly.  The great impediment to some younger people with a desire to enter ordained ministry are the massive amount of hoops and the length of the overall process.  Anything that a Conference, DCOM, BOOM, DS or Bishop can do to expedite the process will be greatly beneficial for candidates.  

An openness and willingness to discuss cultivating fruitful leaders before ordination, even before seminary needs to be part of our ongoing learning process.  Our Pastoral Leadership Development program is mostly playing catch up to the things that we should already be gifted and trained in.  

Changing a culture or an ecosystem does not happen overnight.  It also does not happen from the top down.  All these changes must come from the margins, as Bishop Schnase often says.  

Go in peace and go with God.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reflections on Bishop's Week 2013- From Pipeline to Ecosystem



This past week approximately 250 United Methodist's gathered in Southlake, Texas at White's Chapel UMC for Bishop's Week.  This was the first "Bishop's Week" in a few years.  Bishop's Week used to be a learning event for Bishops and their Cabinets.  A revisioned iteration exploded onto the scene this year in the South Central Jurisdiction.  Titled "Excellence in Ministry: Developing Fruitful Leaders", the event attempted to be a collaborative learning experience to help all our Conferences strengthen clergy and lay leadership.  Several of our longer serving Bishops called together the SCJ Bishops, Cabinets, Extended Cabinet and a few other leaders from the Conferences.  Other clergy and laity from outside the Jurisdiction also were in attendance.  The main goal of the two day event was to refocus our efforts on clergy leadership.  
The Missouri attendees included our Bishop, Cabinet and Extended Cabinet, Conference Lay Leader, Chair of BOOM, two younger members of BOOM, our Director of Hispanic Ministries, a few others and me (Chair of Conference Nominations).
The opening session was led by Bishop Janis Huie and was a brief history of our clergy credentialing system and some of the major shifts that need to take place.  A brilliant metaphor was shared early on that stayed with me throughout the event.  Her talk really hit home.  She shared that the traditional view of those entering clergy ministry was seen as a pipeline.  Sadly, the pipeline had become rusty at one point and time, and now all together is clogged up.  She proposed a shift from pipeline to Ecosystem.  The story below is my best notes and recollection of how this metaphor came into existence.
--
Yellowstone National Park
In 1988 Yellowstone National Park suffered a devastating fire that destroyed nearly 1/3 of the Park.  
Why?  Before then, the practice of beneficial and necessary burns was deemed to be outside the bounds of normal Park Service activities as many believed that we should try and fight fires instead of let them burn.

In 1996 Yellowstone was suffering in many ways.
Too many Elk, as many were dying from starvation.
Willows along the shores were being eaten by Elk.
Beavers had no willows to build dams with because of the Elk.
Fewer Beaver dams meant less fish as they were swept through the park by rushing rivers.

The response of the Park Rangers was to help try and balance the Ecosystem in two ways.

One- allow for beneficial burns.  And since 1988, the Park has not suffered another devastating fire.

Two- reintroduce the Gray Wolf to help lower the population of the Elk.  

In both cases, the Park Rangers believed that a healthy balance had been restored.  Both were ripe with controversy, as you can imagine.  Many were against the “beneficial burn” policy, and even more against the reintroduction of grey wolves.  

Was balance restored?  I don’t know.  But the stewards of the park believe so.  

How can we then bring health and vitality into our Ecosystem?  Over the two day event many ideas were offered, some of which I will share over the next few blogs.  Some acknowledgements to our current struggles with the 37 (yes there are 37) different routes into a form of clergy ministry.  Understanding that we all live amidst a complex set of relationships and diverse communities, must be apart of any discussion going forward.  Also, as a denomination, we are not reaching people in the U.S. as we once did.

An honest assessment of our old pipelines (Sunday School, UMYF, Camps, CCYM, Wesley Foundations) was given.  Basically, those have all but dried up.   Ultimately, we need to be willing to change the default setting from “acceptable” or “nothing bad” to “fruitful” (Bishop Schnase’s words).  
We live in a complex and complicated ecosystem of relationships and communities.  There is not one answer to the decline of the UMC or the decline of younger people going to seminary or seeking ordination.  Can it be fixed?  Should it?  Or, can we through a strong and collaborative effort turn the tide of exodus into new wineskins?  A path of fruitfulness and revitalization is possible.  In Missouri, we have seen our overall worship attendance grow these past few years, while most other Conferences have seen decline.  Through lifting up entrepreneurial leaders, balancing our leadership ecosystem with diversity (age, gender, race) and starting new churches/revitalizing congregations, we have seen a significant shift in our ecosystem.  

There is still lots of work to do, but Bishop’s Week helped many of us honestly name the problems before us and we continue the holy work of transforming the world in Jesus Christ.  

Go in peace and go with God.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tree Planting and All Church Picnic- this weekend!


Tree Planting Weekend- Saturday

Beginning 9 am Saturday

Colonial Nursery will be planting 50 trees and we will be applying mulch around them as well.  Please bring a wheel barrow if you have one, gloves, rakes and shovels.  

Other work available to do on Saturday will include: 
Planting Shrubs
Trimming Trees (please bring trimmers, etc)
Organizing the Church garage
Set Up for the All Church Potluck

It’s going to be a great day of working together and enjoying fellowship.
 

All Church Potluck Lunch- Sunday

Everyone is invited to our All Church Arbor Day Weekend Potluck Lunch.  Please bring a side dish and dessert.  Arvest Bank will provide Hotdogs and Hamburgers.

Our meal begins right after our last worship service around 11:30 am.  Tables and chairs will be set up in the gym.  

Forecast is for 76 degrees and sunny.  A beautiful day to enjoy time with your church family.


Schedule for the Weekend:

Saturday April 27th-

9 am- Plant trees, Mulch, Trim Trees, Plant Shrubs, organize the church garage and set up for the potluck.

Sunday April 28th- 

11:30-1145 am- Pray and enjoy a great meal together as a church family.  

Donate a Tree-

We are very close to reaching our goal of 50 trees.  If you have not donated a tree yet, please consider donating a tree for $200 in honor of memory of a loved one.

Thank you!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week Is Nearly Upon Us



Events and holidays sometimes seem to sneak up on us.  We are just living life, moving along and all the sudden we are two weeks from Christmas, someone's birthday or the church is about a week away from celebrating Easter again.
A few months ago (November) we opened our new sanctuary.  It's seems like forever ago, but it was not.  We celebrated our first Christmas Eve services and kicked off the new year as well.  Now we face Holy Week.
We begin with Palm Sunday.  There is much celebrating and eager anticipation for the kids waiting for candy and Easter egg hunts.  The children of Grace will march through the sanctuary waving palm branches in honor of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Then we turn toward the darker side of Holy Week.
Maundy Thursday- March 28
This year, we debut a brand new original drama called "Surely Not I!"
We will hear from key Apostles as they realize a betrayer is among them.
They first think they might betray Jesus, but then the accusations fly.  It will be a truly moving experience.  We will also celebrate Holy Communion that night.
Good Friday- March 29
On Good Friday we continue our sermon series "The Sent (rather than receiving) Christian" with
"It's Not About Me?"  Our choir will sing and our confirmation class will help with the service.

And then, the party begins!  We celebrate.

Easter Sunday- March 31
Join us this Easter as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Death was defeated and new life is available for all.  815, 915 and 1030 am.
Easter Egg Hunt for the kids during 915 and 1030 am services.


Go in peace and go with God.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shrove Tuesday- Fat Tuesday?

What is Shrove Tuesday?  I thought it was Fat Tuesday?  It's the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins our 46/40 day journey to Easter.  Our District Superintendent Reverend Cody Collier shared this recently.

--
Shrove Tuesday (as in "to shrive," to absolve or do penance) marks the last hurrah before Lent begins. It's the same concept as the festivals of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or Carnival (farewell to the flesh, carne). In England and some European countries, it is called Pancake Day as the pantry gets cleaned out of extravagant, fatty, cake-like foods that would be a temptation during Lent—in favor of foods that were designated for a journey, such as unleavened bread.
--

Now that makes more sense.  So as we dine this day, we look toward a time of fasting.  What celebrate and dine if not for the fast?

At Grace, we always focus on two aspects of our Lenten journey.

The word Lent means (spring or forty days).  It denotes the forty six days (minus Sundays because we are not required to fast on Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

So,

What are you giving up (fasting) for Lent?


What are you taking on (service) for Lent?


Here are a few ideas.

Give up coffee, pop or soda, chocolate, eating out, Facebook or something else.

Take on serving a meal once a month at Ronald McDonald House, volunteer at Lee's Summit Social Services, volunteer to usher, clean your neighbors yard or just do something nice consistently for someone else.

Lent is a great time to work on your own spiritual life.  It's time to get healthy, think of others and pray for guidance.

So, what are you giving up and taking on for Lent?

And remember, once your receive the imposition of ashes on your forehead, your Lenten commitment is sealed.  Please come prepared to make that commitment.

Go in peace and go with God.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spiritual But Not Religious

This week at Grace we are moving through our sermon series "Second Chances".  The real idea behind the series is to take another look at something you missed.  Maybe we all can receive a second chance, and extend another second chance to others.

The phrase "Spiritual but not religious" has been around for a few years.  As a pastor I've heard people who don't want to attend worship regularly use this phrase.  I have friends and family who do not attend worship or who don't believe that Jesus is the son of God.

In the very beginning, religious practices were designed for us to move closer to God.  As many have experienced, church and religion do not always meet that criteria.  In fact, some churches and religions actually move us farther away from God.  Why?  Well, we are human and we sin.  Sin is anything that is contrary to the love of God.

When a group of Christians and a church do not extend the love of God to others, we fail.

When the church is more focused on a building than transforming the world, we fail.

When we judge others, we fail.

No wonder millions of people are claiming the status of "spiritual but not religious".

However, there is a thin line.  The thin line rests between:

I have a deep desire to know God but reject organized religion because of my personal experiences or the experiences of others.

AND

I'm too cynical to care about trying something new, so I use a phrase that does not really pertain to my life.

Not all churches are bad examples.  Just like people who aren't connected to church are not spiritual.

All sides of the of the spiritual crowds should be less judgmental of each other.  If you are looking for a deep relationship with God, your journey can be enhanced by gathering in community with others seeking that relationship too.  There are hundreds and thousands of churches making extraordinary differences in the lives of millions.

I'm asking for us all to listen a bit more to each others' stories and see where God might be calling us to gather.  And it might not always be in a church building on a Sunday morning.

The following will help us all be better informed on this topic.


NPR did a great series of stories and podcasts this last week on "The Nones", the spiritual, but not religious crowd.
You can find one of the blogs HERE



The three articles below will help you better understand what "spiritual, but not religious" people are seeking.  They will also help us all clear up many misconceptions about worship, religion and church.

Excellent Explanation of Misunderstanding Most Religions and Religious Practices


New Forms of Religious Worship- The Self and Stuff


What About Community?



Go in peace and go with God

Peace, Jeremy

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's and Second Chances

New Year's usually causes us to look back and look forward.  Looking back it was a year with ups and downs, hopefully more ups.

A few things happened this past year in the life of Grace that you might be interested in hearing.

-- We finished construction and opened our brand new sanctuary

-- Published our first Enhanced E book called "A Story of Grace"

-- We were featured in the Kansas City Star for our LEED Certification

-- Record Christmas Eve Crowd

-- $10,000 was spent on our Christmas Toy Drive

-- Expanded our ongoing Missional Events - LSSS, Boys Home, ReStart, Pro Deo and Jr High Backpack Program

-- Donated 140 chairs to Faithbridge UMC at the Lake for their worship service

-- Helped numerous families during the grieving process

-- Celebrated with numerous families at Weddings

-- Celebrated new births, new members and baptisms

-- Consulted with several other churches in the area of "contemporary worship"

-- Resourced with several other churches in the areas of leadership and finances

-- Hosted Pastoral Leadership Development for our new clergy in the Missouri Annual Conference

-- Paid our Apportionments in full

-- Free Weddings

-- Handed off full leadership of Renaissance Church

-- Sonshine Preschool continues to grow

So what does the future hold for Grace?  As we reflect on the events of this past year, I can't help but be excited about our future together.  We are healthy and vital congregation that continues to reach out in service and concern to the world.  We truly are a light in the darkness.

Thank you for all you have done and will do to make this a wonderful church.

Thank you our staff for their extraordinary work.

And thank God that we have a church to call home.

Don't forget to join us in January for our new sermon series Second Chances.  It might just change yoru life or the life of someone you know and love.

Go in peace and go with God.

Oh yeah, and BE THE LIGHT!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Story of Grace by Jeremy Vickers

This past month, I published an ebook exclusively through Apple's Ibooks.  It can be downloaded on either the IPad 2 or IPad 3.  Why only there?  Contained in the book are "enhancements".  At the beginning of each chapter, we added video introductions.  This is known as an "Enhanced" ebook.  When I began writing and building the ebook, Apple was the only company that supported these enhanced ebooks.  The Nook (Barnes and Noble) has just come on board as well.  There are rumors the Kindle will allow for Enhanced Ebooks, but currently there are no plans to allow embedded videos.
After a short three week quality assurance process, Ibooks published it directly to their website.

A Story of Grace shares with guests and visitors who we are and what we believe as a church.  Through six chapters, we discuss our local church history, who Jesus Christ is, how we define discipleship, what it means to be missional, and how people can connect here at Grace.  I hope that by doing this we are giving people another opportunity to connect with Grace.  For those who would like to dig beyond worship, our Facebook page or the Website, it gives them a chance to learn more about Grace.

I believe that technology and social media can help, not hinder, the ways in which we can share the story of Jesus.  Previously on this blog I have written extensively on social media and I pray that our churches will continue to strive toward relevance in their communities.

If you would like to take a look at the new book, here is the press release and a link to the book on Itunes.

Press Release

A Story of Grace by Jeremy Vickers
Enhanced Ebook
Available exclusively on the Ipad 2 and 3 on Apple’s Ibooks

Pastor Jeremy Vickers shares congregational insights in his new book.  

Jeremy Vickers, 38, has been lead pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Lee’s Summit for eight years.  In his new book, “A Story of Grace”, he shares a clear and concise vision how all churches should be a “light in the darkness”.  From humble beginnings as a new church start, through a time in the wilderness and now a healthy, vital and growing congregation again, Grace continues to be a relevant witness in their community.

Jeremy drew on his many experiences in rural, county seat and suburban churches to develop a missional and contextually relevant congregational witness.  “Grace has always been a faithful and strong church.  All they needed was a clear path to walk,” the author recently said.  

The book is written to anyone who is new to Grace and has a desire to know more about how the church functions and what they believe.  A unique feature in this book is the Enhanced video additions of the author sharing his personal views before each chapter.  It is truly a first for the Christian community, as Enhanced ebooks are not available yet on all Ebook platforms.   After seeing this book, many churches are surely to follow in a similar fashion for their guests and visitors by creating and developing their own Enhanced ebooks.  It is a new and advanced way of sharing the timeless message and story of Jesus Christ and His followers.  

Jeremy Vickers is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  He lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri with his wife, son and their golden retriever.  



Here is the link.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-story-of-grace/id561859204?ls=1





Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What's Next

Over the past few weeks some of us at Grace have been talking about the future.  As our new sanctuary continues under construction, we've opened ourselves up to ideas, questions and prayers for what's next.  Do we shift worship times?  Do we merge services?  Saturday night?  Sunday night?
Out of these discussions some questions have arisen to help guide our thoughts and prayers.  They have been framed this way.

What is best for my family?

What is best for this church?

What is best for those not yet here?

And the really tough one, what is God's will?


1. What is best for my family?
Some might here this question and immediately jump on it as a selfish question based on our own needs, wants and desires.  In addition, should this really be the first question we ask?
But in my humble opinion, it's a valid question.  Why?  How many times to we actually pray and think about this in our lives?  Much of life is running and doing.  If we actually sat down as a family and said,  "What is best for the spiritual journey of our family?", the answers might surprise us.

2. What is best for this church?
We are the body of Christ.  We have a church family made up of members, guests, new guests and staff, etc.  As we think about the future of Grace and where we might be in a few years, it's tough to answer "what is best?"  So, "what is best for our Grace church family, leadership, staff and pastors?" might be a better question.

3. What is best for those not yet here?
Grace has access to numerous amounts of research and data about the non-churched in our community. We also have research throughout the United States from Barna and other sources.  One of those other sources lifted up that most young families in the US would like to attend a worship service on Sunday morning between 9-930 am.  In addition, traditional or blended services are most well attended between 10-1030 am (especially locally).  Some churches have a Sunday school hour, but many churches have canceled Sunday school.  Now some of you are reading this saying stuff like
"That can't be true".
"The statistics are wrong"
And my favorite is "that has not been my experience".
But, do we really know the thoughts of the "non-churched".  Much work has been done in this area by numerous organizations.  This data is useful, but should not be our only guide.

4. What is the will of God...for my family, this church, those not yet here?
To love God and neighbor means that we set aside our own personal wants and desires.  We open our heart, soul, strength and mind to His leading and teaching.  If we are here to truly make disciples, that would mean a) grow the disciples here b) reach new disciples

Everything we do should be focused through our understanding of God's will, revealed in Jesus Christ, and shared to us through the Word of God, the Church, our own experiences and our accumulated knowledge.

Please think pray about these questions and you look toward the future here at Grace.  The church, the world and our relationship with God is ever changing.  Be open to the Holy Spirit.

And ultimately, the questions should be read in reverse order.

Go in peace and go with God.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There Are No Lines

Prevailing wisdom and philosophies do not cover all of a generation.  No, it is sadly and usually the loudest that are heard.  So in the following, this is not all inclusive or encompassing.  It is an attempt to explain why things, for some, are very confusing.  I know members of all these generations who get it.  I know some who don't.  All that matters is LOVE.  If you struggle understanding why Twitter is so popular, the following will help.


Color Inside the Lines (silent generation)

When I was in kindergarten, I remember Miss Mapes teaching us all "color inside the lines".  We sat at our desks (divided tables) working diligently to make sure that not one bit of color went outside the lines.  At the time of course, we were only given one coloring sheet so if we messed up, no second chance, no extra credit, you failed.  It was an exercise in discipline and framed the standards of the education we would receive from then on.  And that phrase continued to meet me in my work, personal and educational life.  The very tired phrase of "we've never done it that way before" comes to mind with this mindset.
That teaching, philosophy and learning carries many people through much of their life.  Just keep your head down, go along to get along, and don't rock the boat.  In a world with much certainty, jobs that lasted at the same company until retirement, families that didn't move 4-5 times while the kids were growing up, and a deep sense of community and trust developed over time, that worldview worked and help together the fabric of society.  It was the prevailing wisdom of the Silent generation.  Interestingly, no member of the Silent generation was ever elected President, and many of them have faded from the social and political world.

Color Outside the Lines (boomer generation)

In the late 1990's, while I was in grad school, a new phrase began to emerge.  That phrase was "color outside the lines".  There are several books that claim the phrase in their title, but I remember hearing professors use it frequently.  It was touted as the next great philosophy.  Bend the rules.  Live in the gray of the world.  The words both/and were lifted up as well.  This idea took hold and many pushed a can't we agree to disagree view.  Not only that, but it lifted up a kind of dualism of attempting to live in both worlds of two arguments.
This view comes from the Boomer generation.  Boomers grew up in a time of significant change in society.  Worldviews were shifting and changing with each new protest and dramatic political decision made in the 1960's.  There were several deaths of prominent leaders in the US that caused many boomers to question authority, purpose, meaning and the stability of the world.  They are known as the protest generation, although many of that generation moderated with age and became more like the previous generation in regard to work.
For many, "color outside the lines" was a revolutionary statement made from the Boomers to the next few generations.

There Are No Lines (Gen X and beyond)
In what appears to be an evolution of thought, which has been built upon the work of others, I would postulate something different.  How about, "there are no lines".  In a world that attempts to be bound by rules and control, there are no lines.  What kept us apart for many years is long since gone.
In a world of deep interconnectedness through the web, new connections and ideas can be assimilated and adapted immediately.  The edges are now all soft.
Generation X grew up in a very similar time as the Boomers, but with significant adaptation of new technologies.
Things are blending together so quickly, that there is not enough time to define it, other than to say, there are no lines.  And this new world, it is for sure and definitely NOT FLAT!
Stop trying to find the lines, follow the lines or color over the lines.
There are no lines.  Once you recognize this, you will finally discover the lines you see were self imposed.  Only try and realize the truth.
There are no lines.
The world is an empty canvass.  Make of it what you will.

Sadly many do not understand this and use rules and regulations to abuse those who disagree.  Many will attempt to understand, but try and merge a misguided and well- meaning version.  It won't work.

We are predisposed to repeat the past, unless we choose to change it.

Do we wonder why Gen X and the Millenials have slowly faded from church?  This is why.

Seek the abiding and magnificent love of God.  Receive it.  Share it.  Live it.  And please reject the rules based religions that bind you up, and keeps you from true peace and happiness.

Embrace the full love of God in Jesus Christ.

Go in peace and go with God.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

General Conference 2012- Final Thoughts- Disheartened, but Hopeful

What Happened?
It came.  It went.  Little changed.  With 8 million dollars spent on a global gathering of United Methodists, some interesting stuff happened.
The worship services and preaching were excellent.  The United Methodist Church is a global church.
We are growing in Africa, so much that resources are scarce.  It might be the best investment the UMC can make, and yet, I feel we did not do enough.
Most every change that was made has already, or will soon be, challenged and sent to the Judicial Council.

The big initiatives that would really help us
Set Aside Bishop- did not pass
Structure Change- passed, but ruled unconstitutional by Judicial Council
Lower Budget 5%- passed, but how will it work now with the Structural changes ruled unconstitutional?
Guaranteed Appointments- passed, but challenged
Annual Conference structure changes- passed, but will probably be challenged.

Personal Reflections

After watching the first week and half of GC, I became disheartened.  Not about the UMC, the future of the UMC, the church I serve or the Christians I know.

I was disheartened by the legislative swamp and bureaucratic mess that unfolded as a small group of people seemed to filibuster and challenge anything and everything.  Some people have become good at the wrong things.  That is one of my biggest fears in ministry.  I pray I never become good at meaningless and trivial things that do not bring about transformational change in the church.

We have a wealth of talented and gifted leaders in the UMC.  A small number of Conferences in the United States grow every year.  Some others are on the path to growth.  Most have been in decline for years and show no chance of growing.

Can a gathering of 1000 people agree on anything?  The United States House of Representatives is only 435, the Senate 100, speaking for 300+ million.

Suggestions

Roberts Rules of Order should be tossed out as a guiding document for how function in legislative session.  I have no idea what to replace it with, but we need to do something.

One thousand is too large a group.  Why not limit it to 500?

With Plan A, B and UMC, we still could not figure out how to move toward change.  Can someone come up with something that can pass a Constitutional challenge?

Do we have too many seminaries?  Many are in decline.  How about 72 hours for an MDIV (I will keep pushing this as long as I live)

Do our General Agencies do what they were designed to do?  Are they still relevant to making disciples?

Final Thoughts

We have a great need for transformational leadership at General Conference and in the Episcopal Office.  My prayer for all delegations is that when they vote for Bishops they would seriously consider the following-

Will this person help the church make disciples?
Will this person refocus the efforts of the Conference toward leadership and discipleship?
What is this person's track-record for making disciples and leadership?

Great and faithful leadership will help turn around the church.  We cannot continue to go in the direction we are headed, because within fifty years we will be no more.

Does the Methodist church still have something to say?  Is our expression of Christianity relevant?  I honestly and truly believe we have something relevant to say.  We have growing churches in Missouri. We continue to plant new congregations.  The United Methodist Church grew in Missouri last year.  It has not been easy, but it is possible with the right leadership in place and a well charted course.

I thank God I serve in Missouri.

Go in peace and go with God.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

General Conference 2012: Wesley Covenant and Guaranteed Appointments

With the many changes, discussions and legislation passed this General Conference 2012, I am reminded of the relevance of Wesley's prayer.



I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.


Emphasis above is mine.

As stated on an earlier post HERE, I am rather indifferent to the change.  Or at least I was, until I started to see hundreds of comments from all kinds of clergy and laity.  I know there was a great deal of time and effort put into studying the change.  But, I wonder if we looked at how this would actually be lived out in each Conference.  How do we define effectiveness?  Does each Conference get to choose?  Does the Cabinet and Bishop define?  Maybe each Annual Conference can define.  What happens the first time that one person is held to one standard, and another person held to another standard?   Are there really safeguards?

Again, my hope and prayer is that I am, and will continue to be fruitful and effective in ministry.  And the day that I feel I can no longer be effective as an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I will walk away.  No animosity or anger.  Just peace that I did all I could when I had the opportunity.

Go in peace and go with God.