Saturday, July 23, 2005


Okay, okay I know this series of posts has taken longer than expected and I know I have not covered it with the depth I had hoped, but each one seems like it could be a solid Doctoral dissertation. So, for now, what I have will have to do. I realize that there is one topic I have yet to cover and I want to spend some time with it yet, but this week is camp and will take all my attention. the tough part of my writing for many of you, I'm, sure, is that I leave a lot of gaps in forming my thoughts and that leaves you to fill in the spaces.

So as the title says "be patient". I will get to it yet.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

250 persons and more

So what does a church do that is watching its membership base grow beyond 250 persons. Well, a few thoughts I have found to be of interest from others who have actually experienced this phenomenon (the churches I have been in have either not been there yet, or been well beyond this).
First, does the church have a vision? If so, how does the size of the membership fit with the vision?
e.g. A church has a vision to keep everyone involved in a small group, no matter how large the church.
-The community then has opportunity to expand Sunday School and Bible Study groups, as well as forming some additional covenant groups (4-6 members on up to about 15 for a short term study or accountability setting, designed to send the participants out at the end of the session to form new groups of similar making)
e.g. The church has a vision to be a homeless shelter in its area.
-With a certain size membership and facility this is an easy thing to carry out. But if the church has outgrown its space a decision looms to leave the old facility or rebuild. The homeless shelter needs to be evaluated in the process, to keep it there while the "Church" moves elsewhere to more space, to rebuild with specific facilities, or to maintain the model in place, with enough space for the growing congregation

Second, the people of the church need to be involved in the church at some level.
Church growth studies have shown that the size may remain the same, but the transitory nature of the church depends on the level of involvement that the church can reasonably provide for every person in the congregation. Otherwise, it gets too easy to "hide in a crowd" and then feel more and more lost and ignored.

Third, use the resources of the church wisely and find ways to utilize a minister for every 250 persons. Use something like a Stephen Ministry, a Retired Minister, Lay Speakers (a pastor has to leave the pulpit at some point to get away and take vacation).

Those are just a few of the thoughts I have seen put into practice with great success.

The last piece of "The Too Big Church" will be "Keeping the Pastor Fresh", dealing with vacations, retreat, spiritual and actual support of the pastor and keeping the pastor in the "real world" to avoid disconnection with the local congregation.



Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Accountability and the "Too Big Church"

At some point in size the pastor is not able to keep the congregation accountable, or the congregation the pastor, let alone the people of the congregation with one another. It just becomes too easy to hide in a large group.

I think of the seminary teaching about when to hire a second minister. The frame of reference was that a church would need a full-time pastor for each two hundred fifty (250) congregants. I never got clear whether that was 250 attendees, members or what exactly. For our purposes let's say every 250 persons who would be a part of the "mailing list" which includes, members and attendees and even some "others" (i.e. contributors, significant family members, etc). That means that a full-time pastor would be enough for 249 of those people, but once that list reaches 250 it is time to hire a second full-time pastor to care for the needs of the congregation.

Recently, at Annual Conference, Cal-Pac accepted a rules committee change that would equalize the laity with the clergy at Conference, by setting the bar for adding a second lay person to the delegation with 200 persons in membership of a church, from the former standard of 225. I think this speaks to the very piece I am speaking of, not just to the number of retired persons in the Connection.

The challenge is to be able to meet with each of those people and significantly care for them. One might say that an individual ought to be able to care for more than 250 persons and so the level could be raised, and I would be hard pressed to argue with that. What I would suggest is that I do not know a pastor who does not have some sort of significant interaction with others in the community at large, maybe just her parents, her in-laws, the grocery store bagger/clerk, or even the pizza delivery guy. If we accept the call as one that demands we "be in the world, but not of it" then hiding behind the walls of the church (or my computer) all day is never going to be putting the Kin(g)dom of God before others in a real and meaningful way, because the Pastor will be unable to relate to the issues facing the individuals who are living in an environment significantly removed from the "church life" to which the Pastor would have secluded away.

I guess that still leaves a lot, what should be done for the church that is growing beyond 250 persons...and the one topic that is forever in tension with Pastors - "How do I stay in touch with the 'real world'?"


Too Big, Part II

I started my inquiry about when a church might be too big thinking about the large "mega-church" model and connecting that to the religious communities that have a "Central Church".

The Four that come to mind most readily are The Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons), Judaism and Islam.

The Four "Temples" are The Vatican, The Mormon Tabernacle, The Temple (pre-70AD, when it was destroyed most recently), and Medinah that provide a gathering place for the faithful. This might serve as the outside definition of when a "church" is too large. If you can't count the people and the people have a difficult time getting to "safe space" because the "event" is so packed, then the "church" is too large. Please note that I use the term "church" to represent some things it was not meant to mean, like the Mosques in Medinah and the Temple in Jerusalem, as it would traditionally be an affront to the Jewish and Islamic faiths, but it is the term we are familiar with and the concept I am trying to develop.

These "gathering places of the faith" will often time hold people in the tens of thousands. But, they are a model that it can be done, especially for special religious occasions, like we saw with the recent passing of Pope John Paul II and installation of Pope Benedict XVI, or with the "Pilgrimmage" to Medinah required of faithful Muslims, and Yom Kippur and Passover in Jerusalem. In recognizing these gatherings we also realize that they are special events, and not a weekly or monthly gathering of the faithful for worship, encouragement, support and community development, which I think are the hallmarks of "church".

So these are the foremost "mega-churches" in my mind. They are religious communities that have come together to worship and increase the faith. I think an integral part of "church" needs to be accountability. This is the next topic I will cover.

Monday, July 18, 2005

When is a church too big?

Beware, this post may take several days. Be patient.

I have been thinking about this question for a long time. I have been watching my blog peers post after post trying to form their own ideology of this same topic. I have spun back to the concept of the local church, and intertwined that with the Jewish, Catholic and Muslim thought of a central Church. That then spurs the reality that the UMC has a central church, we call it General Conference and has a different kind of "location".

For now, take some time to ponder on your own thoughts of when a church is too big. Is there such a thing? What about too powerful?

Just to give you an idea of what has pushed me into this frame of thought, here are a couple of articles.
The Lark News is a Comedy Christian Paper and has no bearing in reality, but does make some interesting kinds of points with sardonic humor.
Today's blog from Wesley Blog brought the topic into better focus for me.

Now, I will have to bring it together in my own thoughts better before I write the next post.

I hope you'll be back.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Slick Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 15, 2005

Sermon Prep

Somehow it always comes down to Friday and Saturday and I am left trying to determine the full force of my sermons. I constantly look over the text, review articles, and form thoughts about what to preach and how to preach it.
I know there are other preachers out there who are struggling with the same thing. We've shared those conversations enough. The thing I constantly am searching for is the "right" resource. I'll be honest, it isn't the same place each week. That may have something to do with the idea for preaching that my Seminary Professor taught us "Preach what is saving you each week". I would love to be able to subsist on my favorite preaching quote, "Preach the Word daily, use words if necessary." That one is attributed to St. Francis. This might have worked for St. Francis as he went into the neighborhoods and cared for the gardens, the animals and the people, all the time wearing his monk's robe. The folks on Sunday morning might revolt, no, they would revolt, if my version of the sermon was to walk out the door, start planting a garden in the field space we have the church, finding food for the gophers that dig up the yard and just going to "sit" with those who are sick at the hospital or mourning at the funeral parlors in town.
So, back to the resources.
Favorites are: Textweek, Desperate Preacher, eSermons, Sermon Central, General Board of Discipleship| Worship, and many of those old forwards I got in my unix email box so many years ago. Don't delete that forward so quickly next time, set it aside and see when it might fit the next sermon you need to write...or public speech.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


A couple of years ago during Annual Conference in an effort to find ways to resolve our more "contentious issues", the leadership of the Conference devised legislative sections. These sections were places to divide the various resolutions of the Conference and put them before smaller bodies that had more time to discuss the resolution before it went to the whole Conference, with a statement of "concurrence", "non-concurrence", with or without amendments and even undecided.
These legislative sections have even been used to discuss particular concerns of the Conference that did not have a resolution before the Conference, in the interest of developing conversation and understanding.

So why did I tell you all of that? Because a friend and fellow blogger, Gavin Richardson, has invited all who are interested in being a part of just such a conversation. Click on his name to go to his blog.

Additionally, I would refer you to a few other commentators who have raised pieces of the conversation in their blogs...and you can click on their names to read their blogs. Shane at Wesley Blog, Jay on Methocast #10, and Jonathan at St. Phransus.

I hope you will join the conversation too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Summer Camp

Summer Camp is coming. For most of my life I have made time to do camp at least once during the summer, and sometimes during other parts of the year. This year I have been asked to serve on the staff of the Riverside District of the UMC Jr High staff.
For me this means going back to the cabins. I took a year off from that last year as I was the camp dean for the Santa Barbara District with a dear friend and colleague, Amy Aitken. I have been the cabin counselor for many years, but I can honestly say that as I have gotten older (mind you I am still only 31) I have enjoyed the comfort of having my own time to manage as the camp dean. Now, I have to manage the time of the youth in my cabin, and my time...less sleep for me.
The truth of the matter is this. I believe that camp changes everyone involved, from the cooks on-site to the campers and most especially the counselors. It is intentional community, where we have a chance to "try out" our faith and personhood in a safe environment (fewer external pressures, and the additional freedom of others "trying on" their own ideas about who and what they should be). That is exciting.
Camp holds a particular place in my heart as it is through camp that I have come to understand who I am in ministry. I started down the road to ministry at camp, when as a 6 or 7 year old camper I so enjoyed camp, and felt the community of God at work, that I realized that I was being called to care for others through this kind of ministry. I have since added the call to Baptise, and serve the Lord's Supper to that of preaching, rounding out my call a little bit more.
Camp still holds a special place in my heart. I have done camp for every year of my life except one. I have done all kinds of camp programs, from summer day camps, to elementary, Jr High and Sr High camp, to weekend retreat camps, and work camps like Sierra Service Project and Mountain TOP. Each time I am reminded that the environment of Christian care and community, where people have to work through their issues, God is heightened in the awareness of the individual and the group, faith is challenged and built, and people are better able to find themselves is what the church can be. Which brings me to the real excitement of my call to bring that intentionality to the local church, and the experience of worship from the local church into the camp environment, along with the long-term connection of the church.
Thanks to the counselors who have made significant differences in my life (Marie, Les, Floyd, Jackie, Tom, John, Sue, Amy, Jen, Matt and so many others). Thanks to the counselors who give their time and energy to serve the children, youth and adults of our world to help them become more fully themselves. You all are a blessing to the world around you.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Awe and wonder

A friend of mine from seminary, Jay Voorhees, writes a blog called "Only Wonder Understands". The title is fantastic and I have been feeling filled with wonder recently. I dare say I am awed. Of course much of this has to do with Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Cycling Team and their assault on the Tour de France. The amount of work these men do on the roads of France and Germany is simply awe inspiring. Of course some of my awe may have to do with the ridiculous hours I have to get up to watch this great event. It starts at 5:30AM on the West Coast. Yesterday, Sunday, it started at 3:30AM. My awe may simply be a matter of sleep deprivation. However, I admire the work ethic and have to say I was as stunned as everyone else that David Zabriskie, also an American, beat Lance in the opening Time Trial, and held the jersey until the team time trial, where he crashed in the last 1500 meters. He has since dropped out of the race and I hurt for him.
Awe is that overwhelming feeling of admiration and wonder that realizes there is something greater in this world. For me, the first thing that produces that kind of feeling is God, and I am overwhelmed with awe when I think of God's enduring love and desire to have a relationship with me. That is particularly heightened when I look out across the spectrum of people and see people like Lance Armstrong, David Zabriskie and Jay Voorhees who seem to have so many gifts to offer the world and inspire people time and time again, with great acts of personal accomplishment, wise works of understanding and the ability to cut through all the other stuff to find the relevant information. I think that God has all those "other options" for people to look after and care about, and God still wants to be with me. That is definitely awe inspiring. I hope you know that God wants to know you in the same way. May you be awed by the same feelings of overwhelming love and care.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Farmer Dave

Yes, seeds. This simple little product that carries the food for growth in the shell. I have long been fascinated by seeds.
I can remember pulling up the garden in Arcadia as a child, checking out the pea pods, stalks of corn and other seed bearing products. I have to say I was really good at pulling the seeds then, not so sure I did anything to help plant the beautiful nutrient bearers. I think I mostly left that to Mom and Dad.
I also remember looking at seeds in some various forms, like the seeds we put in clear cups and watched sprout and grow. That was awesome! The mustard seed, so small and capable of producing such a great plant continues to amaze me. I love pumpkin seeds. I so look forward to Halloween time and the chance to pull all the sticky seeds from the center of that gourd, cook them up in the oven, salt them with various good seasonings, and munch away.
And this morning I am reminded of my call to ministry. The scripture passage for the Lectionary today is Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. The sower goes into the field and the seeds are scattered across so many varieties of soil, the rocky soil, the shallow soil and the good soil. The tendency is to read this passage and relate to the soil, as either rocky, shallow or good. That is all well and good, but as I do with so many parables and stories of scripture I find myself looking at the other parts of the story and thinking about what it is like to be the other characters, like the sower and the seeds themselves. I said seeds remind me of my call, because most often I think of myself as the sower in this story. I plant seeds of faith, strewing the seeds across all kinds of soil, trusting that some of them will make it in any location (think about the seeds you have seen take hold in the craggy rocks you've seen out in the mountains, or the seeds that may have withered in the shallow soil only to come back in the cool of the next shift of weather).
The challenge I have is to remember to care for the soil and the seeds after the sowing, and to be the seeds and the soil at the same time as planting other seeds (I told you all I was a walking paradox - this just shows the first little bits).
May you find some growth of your own in faith today and throughout the week.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


I have been doing a lot of reading lately. Mostly I keep up with a few lists and a number of blogs. At least that is the web reading. Then there is much more other reading. Such regular reads are the LA Times, Sports Illustrated, The Interpreter, and A Taste of Home. All of that is filler between books, and recent reads there are Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Series, John Grisham's "The Broker", Patricia Cornwell's "Trace" and others. I intend to keep you all posted as time goes on with recent and current reading material.

With all that reading I have also been trying to determine the best way to enter into the world of Blogging and have to tip my hat to some friends who helped get me going, Gavin Richardson, and Jay Voorhees, and the folks over at the WOT ML (Wheel of Time Mailing List) who gave me that final push to get going.

So today I get started. The days will keep ticking and some days will definitely be better reads than others, and I hope that this is the first step of many to help get the Church I serve, Del Rosa UMC on track and up to speed with web pages and such.


Me and My Camel Posted by Picasa