Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Non-Credal-Church Friendly Discipleship Resource

In some arms of the Christian movement there is a tremendous need for good resources for baptism preparation and/or confirmation.  For example, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), of which I am a part, there is no formal catechism, no creed, no official doctrinal statement to which individuals are required to subscribe.  Within the sole baseline of belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God there is a certain intentional vagueness.  Our tradition prides itself on both the freedom of believers to arrive at their own theological positions and the responsibility of believers to do so within the context of scripture, prayer, and the Christian community.  Creeds and official doctrinal statements are seen as divisive, but the need for theological training of the community remains.  This delicate balance of freedom and responsibility provides many potential benefits but it also creates some very distinct dilemmas.

One of those dilemmas occurs when the proposition of baptism preparation and/or confirmation comes up in the conversation.  In many traditions there is a catechism, or a process of learning which people must complete in order to join the church, become baptized, or be confirmed in the faith.  In such situations the official denominational catechisms, creeds, or doctrinal statements often serve as an outline for such instruction and preparation.  So what does a pastor do when those outlines do not exist?  Or, to more directly reference my own situation, what does a pastor do when a person who was baptized as an infant is now a part of your congregation that practices believers' baptism and wants to experience confirmation?  If you don't want to reject their prior baptism and want to affirm their commitment to discipleship but don't have a resource for that, where do you get it?

The answer for many of us is that we either borrow from other denominations or write our own.  And there are great benefits to these choices; they can force us to re-examine, each and every time, our own faith and our own commitment to Christ.  They can also help us practice the process of testimony by requiring us to carefully consider our message and our method of instructing new disciples.  But this process is quite labor-intensive.  And, if your church is anything like mine, things come up that distract our focus and take away our time.  If we're not careful, our process of instructing and preparing baptism candidates and confirmands can get less than our best effort.

Christopher W. Wilson has recognized this and composed a resource for congregations in such a situation.  Published in 2009 by Chalice Press, Passage Into Discipleship: Guide to Baptism provides an excellent model for non-credal churches.  While it is written within the context of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and relies on external resources like the Chalice Hymnal, it is flexible enough that other congregations both in and out of the Restoration Movement could easily adapt.  Wilson has structured the curriculum around six central themes: Confession, Contrition, Covenant, Community, Connection, and Church.  Each theme has two components, a classroom session and an experiential element.  The classroom sessions utilize scripture study and discussion while the experiential elements involve immersing (no pun intended) the learners in a situation or environment that will help them learn in a deeper way (and they are quite creative).  The book comes complete with reproducible handouts and leader outlines for each session.  Wilson also incorporates the utilization of adult members within the congregation as guides through the experience, as well as an orientation session with candidates and their parents as well as a closing retreat.  

The reason I am recommending this resource to you is not because Wilson has done all the work for you.  I am recommending it precisely because he has not.  While there are lesson plans, resources, and handouts, what Wilson has provided is a structural outline.  The questions provided in the lesson plans are not aimed at forcing a prescribed doctrinal answer.  Instead the questions provided are aimed at helping candidates and confirmands understand points of scripture and theology while thinking for themselves and simultaneously requiring the instructor to do the same.  While the resource is structured for baptism preparation it could easily be adapted for confirmation in a situation like the one aforementioned.  It is my humble opinion that Passage Into Discipleship: Guide To Baptism is designed well enough to help you guide your baptism candidates and/or confirmands towards deeper understanding of, and a deeper relationship with, Jesus Christ.  And it is flexible enough to be adapted to your particular church, and allow you to experience a deeper understanding of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ as well.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review Published in Call to Worship

My recent review of When Heaven Stands Open: Liturgical Elements for Reformed Worship, Year B, was published in Call to Worship magazine.  Call to Worship doesn't make their publications available online, so here's a link the review, posted here earlier.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Interview for The Christian Century

This week I was interviewed by Steve Thorngate of The Christian Century about my experience using Year D in worship this year.  Here's a link:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Catching Up

Sheesh!  I didn't realize how long it has been since I've updated anything here.  It's been a great summer, and that's probably the reason why.

First, I graduated from UDTS with my Doctor of Ministry degree!

During graduation weekend we took the kids to Galena, IL, one of my favorite places, and visited the Ulysses S. Grant home.  We also went to the Mines of Spain and hiked on the Mississippi River bluffs.

Then, I went on sabbatical!  I used some of my sabbatical leave earlier in March to go with my wife on a study trip to Scotland and the Netherlands.  So in July I headed down to Kansas to do some catching up with family.  It had been four years since I had been back to Wichita (It's a little hard to travel 8 hours when you work on weekends and the people you're visiting work on week days.)  While there I took the kids to the Sedgwick County Zoo.

They got to take a ride with Grandpa Cliff in one of his classic Ford Falcons.

And, to our great delight, a new KU store opened in Wichita!

I also spent some restful time at home, enjoying time with friends and family.  There was a little bit of catching up to do on the house work, too.  I built a new deck on the front of the house, painted the foundation and doors, installed trim on the basement windows, and built a swing set for my youngest's birthday.  And I did some gardening, too!

And finally, I capped it all off with a personal retreat at St. John's Abbey Guesthouse in Collegeville, MN.  I did some hiking around their lake and arboretum.

One day, as I was walking, I found myself sharing the space with some friendly deer.

And as I was leaving, I drove by this interesting sculpture just outside the St. John's University campus.  It's called Lean On Me.  Unfortunately, I can't remember the artist's name.

So, that's my summer.  Now it's back to work!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Help me finish this article - Church Medicine

A while back I was scanning through blogs and I noticed something I hadn't seen before on Tony Jones' site.  He refers to himself as "an ecclesiologist — that’s like a proctologist for the church."  While Tony's reference to himself as one who explores the dirty little secrets of the church is intended a bit humorously, it did strike somewhat of a chord with me.  Paul referred to the Church as the Body of Christ, having many members that function as different parts.  And Tony made the allegorical jump to comparing a field of church-related work to a field of medicine.  That got me thinking about what other fields of medicine might be related to other fields of medicine.  This week I'll be receiving my Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, and I've also been asking myself, "What sort of doctor might I be for the church?"  So I've begun constructing a chart to do some comparative analysis.  Once I'm complete I'll be turning it into an article.  But for now, I need some help completing this.

As you look at this chart you'll see some things you agree with and you'll probably also see some things you disagree with.  The intent here is not to offend, but to start the conversation.  So if something strikes a chord with you, either positively or negatively, please leave a comment.  You'll also see some blanks.  You might think to yourself, "Duh! How could he not get that?"  Well, at this particular moment I'm drawing a blank on that and would appreciate some insight.  And if something is missing, or you think something should switch categories, please leave a comment.  Thanks in advance for your help.

Medical Field / Specialty
Church Related Work
“Dirty” little secrets
Worship Leader
Mental/Emotional Health

Digestive/Dietary Health
Teachers/Bible Study Leaders
Surgical Healing
Conflict Resolution Specialist
General Medicine
Everyday Health
Child/Adolescent Development
Youthworkers/Teachers/Parents/Nursery workers
Cosmetic Surgeon
Outward Appearance
Geriatric Medicine
Church Historians
Pathologist/Diagnostic Medicine
Health Assessment/Disease Diagnosis
Musculoskeletal system/Strength
Cancer Treatment
Christ Jesus
Church Planter
Inducing Sleep
Boring preachers/Nominal Christians
Disease Prevention

Speech Therapist
Message Communication

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review - When Heaven Stands Open - Year B

Pastors regularly clamor after books intended to help with the formation of liturgy.  The weekly grind of writing sermons, calls to worship, invocations, prayers, benedictions, calls to confessions, and words of assurance is never-ending.  On a week with a funeral, a wedding, and numerous pastoral crises to deal with the task of composing all these words for worship can be a bit daunting.  And so the occasion arises, for some quite often, that outside help is sought.  However, it seems that when we pick up those books or go to those websites and scan through the liturgical elements offered for the day they fit within our contexts of worship as well as square pegs fit in round holes.  

Slemmons’ latest release is not just another book of pre-written prayers and worship resources.  It is much more.  For in these pages Slemmons has penned the best of many years of pastoral practice with faithful attention given to the scriptures.  What’s more, should you choose to use all of the elements for a particular Sunday, you’ll find that careful consideration has been given to ALL of the lectionary texts for each week, rather than just the one that is most convenient for the writer.  Additionally, Slemmons has carefully chosen his words.  The prayers are lyrical, yet substantive.  The communal resources are easily read aloud by a congregation yet have a certain depth of Christian spiritual reflection.

My only critique of When Heaven Stands Open: Liturgical Elements for Reformed Worship, Year B, is that pesky word in the subtitle - Reformed.  Should the title be interpreted so as to mean this text is only intended for, or only of value to, pastors and faith communities within the “Reformed” tradition, then use of the word is a egregious limitation.  However, should it be interpreted more broadly to imply that it is intended for pastors and faith communities that are in process of being reformed (as all who faithfully seek to be obedient to Christ will continually be) then the term has been appropriately ascribed.  Truly, Slemmons has composed a symphony of liturgical resources that provoke deep, meaningful, scriptural, transformative, soul-reforming worship of God.

It’s too bad that we are not yet at our transition to Year B, because I am looking forward eagerly to incorporating these elements into my own faith community’s worship.  Here’s looking forward to the release of other years, too!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

10 Things I Learned This Weekend...hiatus edition

Ok, so I've been away from the blog for a while.  Get used to it.  I'm going to be away for another while, too, while my wife and I take a trip to Scotland and the Netherlands.  Before I go, I thought I'd resurrect my favorite series.  Here's 10 things:

10.  My latest pair of glasses has a weaker prescription than my prior two.  And I can see better.  It matches a prescription I got a few years ago.  So either my eyes are getting better (doubtful), or someone really wanted to sell me new glasses every year.

9.  The only thing shorter than the reign of Pope Benedict XVI (and his official twitter account) is the length of time the newest department store stayed open in Spencer.  Peebles closes in March.

8.  JC Penney is so desperate to reverse their spiral towards financial oblivion that they're willing to team up with Martha Stewart, (because her stuff sold SO well at Kmart).  Stewart, who served a prison sentence for insider trading, now finds herself in the midst of a lawsuit with Macy's.  Apparently, when they signed an "exclusive deal" with her, they expected her to honor the agreement.

7.  If a Postal worker accidentally delivers your mail to the wrong address or wrong box, and the sender didn't purchase delivery notification or insurance, you have absolutely no recourse.  (Unless the person who received your mail actually opens it up and cashes your check...in which case they are in trouble, but not the person who delivered it to them.

6. The best burgers in the world are made at The Burger Stand (at the Casbah) in Lawrence, KS. 

5. When a pre-teen girl cries and she says she doesn't know why she's crying, she really may actually have no idea why she's crying.

4. I have a friend who talks in their sleep.

3. Regardless of what their teachers may say, when given a computer and time to "study" a sixth grade boy will inevitably wind up Google-ing something that has to do with farts.

2. Regardless of what they may tell you, when given a computer and free time most middle-aged men will wind up Google-ing something that has to do with farts. 

1. And finally, if I have learned anything from being surrounded by so many Iowa State fans it is this: Don't feed the trolls.