Abductive Columns

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Gift of Giving

My friend Bob Dozier just fronted my email client enough money for a six month subscription. This allows me to mail out the Abductibve Columns Newsletter.

Are you a subscriber? It's not the same material you read on this blog. Sort of a companion to it.

Scroll down, look in the column on the right. Why not sign up...it's free.

Thanks Bob!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

New Job Descriptions for the Emerging Church

This isn’t an easy time to lead a congregation. I have utmost sympathy for those who are having trouble making the transition to ministry in the emerging culture.

Once something sinks into the skull, it’s hard to get it out and embrace a contrary idea. New modes of worship come easier for some then others. This suggested list of “worship positions” in the emerging church is no doubt old hat to those of you who’ve been moving in this direction. But for some, it will be a stretch to transition current ministries and embrace these possibilities:
  • Ushers—an usher used to escort people to their seats, where they were enjoined to sit down, be still, and keep silent. But a true usher has the sacred role of ushering people into the presence of God. An usher is the name of every member of the worship design team. The “head usher” is who used to be called the worship leader, who’s now less a moderator of order or a human metronome keeping everybody together than a participant artist.

  • Curators—a new position which is already manifesting itself in what the English call alt.worship (alternate worship) circles. A curator is a servant of people who curates (not leads) worship by functioning as an “installer of art and creator of an environment that is conducive to experiencing God.”

  • Concierges—experts in the art of hospitality, replacing what use to be called the church host or hostess. George Hunter’s right when he says that the presence of church visitors is the “most misperceived signal in local churches today, and the church’s most neglected opportunity. But concierges need to be employed for members as well, resolving problems, handling complaints, and managing “moments of truth.”

  • Servers—people who put the service in the “worship service.” Instead of bringing people to the pews, servers bring coffee, artwork, and other instruments to the people seated at tables or other conducive seating arrangements that fit the worship experience. Servers build a service culture at every point of contact, and mentor others in service training.

  • Sommelier—more than a fancy name for “wine steward,” this is a person whose ministry is to know each member of the community intimately, and find creative and original ways to personalize the community’s ministries.
Forget “ministers,” “unpaid servants” or “volunteers.” Faith communities need a vocabulary of respect and nuance that names people’s ministries. adapted from an article by Leonard Sweet

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Honesty of Lament

We discussed the book of Joel this past Sunday; particularly suffering and repentance. I like how Eugene Peterson translates Joel 1:13

...you priests,

put on your robes and join the outcry.

You who lead people in worship,

lead them in lament.
I'm not sure we are as familiar with lament as God's people were in the first century.

Are we comfortable with tears (especially men)? If lament and mourning among God's people had been practiced as publicly as it was in Joel's day we would have established a tradition to replace the sackcloth tradition. We may not verbalize it but we see suffering as a blasphemous assault on a precariously maintained American spirituality of the pursuit of happiness. Western spirituality wants to avoid evidence that things are not right with the world as it--without Jesus, without love, without faith, without sacrifice. It is much easier to keep the American faith by not looking into the face of suffering; if we don't have to listen to our laments, if we don't have to deal with our tears.

Consider Jesus.

At every major turning point of his ministry, Jesus pours out his heart in lament--when he enters Jerusalem for the last time, when he experiences his final meal with the disciples, when he struggles with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, and most importantly when he endures the suffering of the cross.

Jesus understood the honesty represented in the life that knows how to lament.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Good Leadership is Team Building

I was in a restaurant this past Saturday with a former church member who confided in me about an event and the resulting pain caused in his family by specific leaders (he says he and his wife would like to come back but are afraid their return will cause family problems). It’s unfortunate that the same (leaders ?) names keep coming up.

But we’re sinners and quite frankly good leadership requires time, energy and amazing self-sacrifice for the good of community.

Good leadership demands more than community visibility and hand shaking

Good leadership develops a shared vision and lives with a commitment to community

Good leadership knows how to blend a diverse group into a team that works well together

Good leadership instills a "winning" attitude throughout the body

Good leadership recognizes and quickly reverses team-building problems such as jealousy, cynicism, and defensive behavior

Often leaders know more about alienation than casting a vision and leading a community.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Spiritual Formation

We live in a fast changing new world in which spiritual disciplines look very different. Harmoniously, human formation is being built around iPODs, streaming MPEG videos and CD-ROMs. With fewer practicing the spiritual disciplines at specific times or in particular settings the boundaries between the sacred and secular have morphed into a single continuum. They have become more holistic; of heart, mind, and body. Though the Bible is still at the center (not necessarily through print media) and the goal remains to bring people in closer relationship with Jesus the options are as varied as the species that inhabit the earth. Here are a few:

Holistic—Spiritual disciplines not only train the mind. They will integrate ones relationship with God, self, and intimate others. Spirituality and healthy living is interrelated. Physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being is the goal of discipline.

Lifestyle Based—Spiritual disciplines are oriented around life experiences as opposed to a curriculum. They not only adjust lifestyle but shape one’s lifestyle. Demographics, race, gender, martial status, age, attitude, and music customize individual disciplines.

Culture Customization—Spiritual disciplines never seek to fortify the will to resist the temptation of culture. Conversely, they shape an intuition that perceives God in, and through, culture. Ethnic orientation and cross-cultural ideas, practices and behavior make spiritual formation contextual and indigenous. Culture has become a vehicle, not a barrier, to the infinite.

Symbol, Metaphor, and Mantra—Spiritual disciplines are not the practice of a principle but seek to live out a metaphor. Spiritual disciplines are not about defending a theological perspective but about elaborating variations on a theme. Spiritual formation resembles jazz improvisation, not a Gregorian chant. Images and objects remove abstractions and dogmatic propositions as the focus of our mediations.

Jesus Was a Troublemaker

1) Born of a virgin (what a way to start)

2) Ran away at age twelve

3) Turned a illegal market place on its head

4) Subverted religious leadership

5) Last will be first and the first will be last (wonder how that went over?)

6) He told people that he came with a sword not peace

7) He said it was a sin to think and look too deeply on a pretty woman

Saturday, December 10, 2005


One in five of us has already been hit by “identity theft,” a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of information such as Social Security and driver's license numbers and uses such data for their own personal gain. To 21st century house thieves, the TV and DVD player are less valuable than personal information from bank statements and other documents. Strategies for stealing your identity range from low tech (lost post, shoulder surfing, dumpster diving) to high tech (phishing, pharming, keylogging, social engineering). But no matter what method is employed, “identity theft” is one of the worst nightmares of your life, resulting in financial loss, bad credit rating, and untold hours of phone calls undoing the damage done to your records and reputation.

Our spiritual identity is stolen by the same means. Does scripture not teach that the evil one comes like a thief in the night . . . to steal, pillage and plunder our identity as sons and daughters of God? In fact, a key indicator of identity theft in postmodern culture is the prevalence of the psychiatric diagnosis of “borderline personality,” which covers a multitude of symptoms that have one thing in common: people are in desperate straits trying to compose a coherent and compelling narrative for “who am I?” There are so many choices, so many options, that one’s identity gets scattered and fragmented. The borderline personality, and its surging cousin, multiple personality disorder (MPD), are psychological signposts of postmodern culture. My story isn’t working for me anymore, so let’s try another one. But I don’t want to totally let go of the one that isn’t working, so I’ll simply add on other one.

The whole of “celebrity culture” can be seen as a narrative vehicle for people who are looking for a rewrite, for potted narratives, or a copy editor (internal or external) to give them a bigger and better storyline. From the standpoint of the celebrity, however, it’s a Faustian deal, not with the devil but with vampires. For the price of becoming a “celebrity” is the loss of self. Your very “self” is sucked out of you to become a public possession. The notion of a “self” disappears since everything about you—-your authenticity, your integrity, your selfhood----becomes a transaction with the public.

Jesus in the copy editor of human life.
from the book “The Three Hardest Words in the World to Get Right" by Leonard Sweet; release date: March 2006

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sign of the Times

It was disappointing to learn that the Center for Christian Education (formerly Preston School of Preaching) closed its doors in July after a long ministry of preacher training going back to the early 1960s. They join another school, Whites Ferry Road School of Preaching which closed a few years ago. from Lifeline a publication of Sunset International Bible Institute
The demise of the preaching school will be painful for many. Deans, teachers, prospective students and supporters will scrape and beg to keep the doors open but in the end the preaching school (as we’ve known it) will give way to a new era. Transitions are always painful. Yet, God’s work will continue via a relevant venue. Most likely what we have called ‘preaching’ will be reinvented. Nevertheless the change will leave many paid preachers treading in the wake of a new era as fewer and fewer churches support those who stand front and center discoursing before a passive audience.
Ron Martoia writes... "We are closing 9,000 churches a year in this country, and only 2 percent of this nation's churches are growing; others are growing only by the migration from the churches that are closing." Martoia is one of many warning about the bleak future of the church unless things change soon.

Ironically, while church attendance continues to drop, there is a rising interest among the U. S. population in matters of spirituality. Martoia continues...

"There is tremendous cultural interest in spirituality, but the church has been unable to tap into it. This is the first time in recorded history this type of growth has been outside the church... We have to learn to do church differently. We're arguing about the color of carpet or if we can have drums or pipe organs (in my tribe instrumental accompainment or not), but people aren't coming anyway. When you get married to the model, that's a problem."

To better be an agent for this change nationally, Martoia recently resigned from his home church (Westwinds Church in Jackson MI). He hopes, among other things to be instrumental in a group that would like to start a new type of seminary.

"We are not out to shut seminaries down, but obviously they aren't working, with 90 percent of our churches having flat or declining attendance... The pipeline (of pastors) needs to be altered, because we are graduating eggheads. I'm a seminary graduate, and I teach at one, so I can say that. We need to create church leaders who are culture savvy" Martoia says.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Order of Worship

Frederick the Wise is remembered as the man who saved Martin Luther from the fury of the Catholic Church.

Most likely you have never heard the name Frederick the Wise. Yet this man was most responsible for the Reformation movement. Not Luther, not Calvin, not Zwingli but Frederick the Wise.

Frederick the Wise commanded the largest army in Europe and was angry because he had not been made Pope. A dangerous combination. In Saxony (one of sixteen states in Germany) where Frederick ruled, there was a beer drinking Germany monk who taught theology at the University of Wittenberg. While Luther’s writings were reprehensible to the Roman Catholic Church Frederick took a liking to Luther and protected him.

Frederick the Wise said, “Let this man say what he has to say, nobody’s to touch him.” And no one had an army big enough to challenge Frederick the Wise.

The key to the Reformation wasn’t so much a spiritual revival as it was the military might of Frederick the Wise.

The state of Saxony removed Catholicism as the official state religion. To fill this vacuum Luther was given free rein to establish a new state religion.

Luther was left with a nation of empty church buildings. He sent out his followers to take over the buildings and began promulgating his teachings.

Over time Catholic priests began leaving the Catholic Church, they read Luther’s writings, married, and joined the Reformation. Luther produced an ecclesiastical structure, a hymn book, and a Protestant Bible which he translated, published and distributed. These former priests began serving as Protestant ministers to the churches throughout the Saxony region.

Up until this time there was no “pastoral role” known in the Protestant world.

The pastor distinction began in Wittenberg, Germany.

So did the following:
1) High up on one of the pillars of the church was a pulpit which the Catholic priest climbed up to by means of a circular staircase to read the weekly announcements to the assembly. Luther took that idea and ripped out the altar replacing it with a pulpit front and center in its place. The birth of the pulpit.

2) Luther preached every Sunday morning at the same time Catholic mass had been scheduled. Because Luther enjoyed staying up late to go to the tavern, talk and drink beer getting up early on Sunday was difficult. So worship began at the saner hour of 9:00 AM. But the older he got, the longer he talked and the more he drank. This forced him to move the morning gathering to 11:00 AM. The birth of the Sunday morning 11:00 AM worship.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

March of the Penguin

March of the Penguin is a metaphor for life. The penguins display a dogged determination as they waddle seventy miles through some of the harshest difficulties life can present. Their parental dedication rises above the severest of weather and the predators who seek food for their own life.

Rent or buy this move.

Friday, December 02, 2005

To Just Be

I just returned from a two-week vacation in Florida. It was time I needed away from the office and the daily routine. It was time I needed with my wife and family.

For a few years now I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. Before I left West Virginia for Florida I was drained. I think I’m going to take a break from this blog. Maybe for a few weeks, maybe for a few months, I haven't decided. Part of my plan is to not plan so much, to not worry about the future, to just enjoy the present and experience it. I'm calling it my blog sabbatical. I may post to this site a lot, but I may not post at all. I'm going to read and go running with my dog and take pictures and spend more time with my wife. And sleep. And just be.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


When I was younger, I believed the strength and endurance God had blessed me with would overcome, even protect me, from the pain of criticism. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to admit how much this stuff hurts. I wish I could become a “non-anxious presence,” but criticism has been very unsettling for me of late. When criticized, I am subject to a variety of emotions.

I’m a lightning rod for the highly charged readers who find grievance with my post-Christian theology. (I concluded long ago that my style invites confrontation and criticism. It’s the nature of my calling.) Yet the question on my radar screen is, “…how do I protect myself from the gigawatts of negative energy without become a causality of ecclesiastical electrocution?”