Monday, September 12, 2016

Fall trip to Guam and Micronesia

Speaking in chapel on the Guam campus
In spite of being sick most of the time, I consider my fall trip to Guam and Micronesia to be a major success. I met with all of my students (except one who was preoccupied with his wife's labor pain and the birth of their baby) and some potential students both on Guam and Pohnpei. These people live in some of the most isolated and beautiful spots on the planet. But as the world turns, islanders are some of the most invisible and powerless of all people.

So, I consider that my discipling-from-a distance teaching relationship with islanders is significant from God's perspective. It is a major privilege to serve Christ in this way. Thank you all for your support, encouragement, and patience.

I've been serving through Pacific Islands University since 2005 -- including the three years that Cheryl and I lived on Guam. Much of what I do these days is through online interaction. That's why my periodic face-to-face trips are so important. About 25% of my working hours are given over to this ministry. This semester I'm teaching three online classes -- spiritual formation, church planting, and the grad level evangelism and discipleship.

All the German and American faculty and staff are missionaries who raise their own support to live on or travel to the Islands. So, I'm not paid by the school. But I rely on the generosity of friends from around the world who channel gifts through MasterPiece Church. If you contribute to the church for this work, please make sure that you clearly designate it "Guam Fund." Thank you for helping to make this important work happen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

11 Practical Ps of Street Level Ministry

Per request, this is the “executive summary” of my talk at the Pacific Islands University Equipping for Ministry Conference held in Barrigada, Guam, November 6-8, 2014. I was asked to talk about “taking theology to the streets.” This talk was given during three sessions that included a lot of discussion and interaction.

11 Practical Ps of Street Level Ministry
“Executive Summary”

The people on the streets are those who literally or figuratively are on the margins of society -- often those who are homeless, abused, enslaved, jobless, and hungry.

If we start by serving the rich we only end up serving the poor in token ways. We never get to serve the streets in a significant life changing Jesus-transforming way. We need to start in the right place.

#1. Patient Persistence
Think of your congregation as a crock pot slow cooking with lots of local ingredients. Sometimes the Holy Spirit quick cooks the church but crock pot meals are more normal -- if not more healthy for the long-term. This is not just true for the ministries but also for the vision of the congregation. Don't expect that you're going to create some kind of instant vision. If we are open to it God will over time reveal his vision for us.

I’ve come to the conclusion after 30 years of pastoral ministry that -- the faster you go and the harder you have to press, the less of significance you accomplish.

The tortoise always wins the race.

#2. People Over Programs
Programs are good but only if they build relationships.

The homeless are often not so much looking for food as they are for food and someone to eat with them.

Somewhere along the way we’ve picked the idea that ministry occurs primarily through programs sponsored by a congregation or a parachurch organization.

We haven’t intentional said that. But the very existence and prevalence of the programs inadvertently tend to communicate that ministry occurs primarily through a well organized program with a supportive staff and budget line. But I’d suggest that ministry is primarily about relationships and sometimes we add programs to support the relational ministry. Success is measured through life change rather than our ability to sustain programs.

We can actually minister to people without waiting for a committee or a staff member to develop programming

#3 Peculiarity
When we are not taking all cues from the culture we will be different -- unique -- outstanding -- peculiar. Embrace that!

Peculiarity by itself is no guarantee of impact -- but there is no significant impact without peculiarity.

And as church leaders God is calling you to model peculiarity for the church -- as a matter of fact -- that’s how you become real leaders. You don’t even need an official position or title to exercise leadership in this way.

As a Christian leader you need to model the idea of peculiarity -- to see where God might take it.

  • 90% of leadership is modeling what you want people to do
  • 4% is explaining it
  • 4% is holding their hands while they do it
  • 2% is filling out any required paperwork along the way

#4. Puny 
Be willing to start and go small. Ministry can start with an individual or a small group of people.

Jesus didn't pop from Mary full grown -- or even fully mature -- or fully aware. The incarnation is characterized by a small beginning.

#5. Pathetic
Start on the margins. Jesus started his public ministry with pathetic marginalized people. He did not go right to Jerusalem and the powerful. Be willing to embrace pathetic people.

Following Jesus means that you will have pathetic broken messy people in your life. And sometimes the level of brokenness and dysfunction in the lives of people is overwhelming. If you are a disciple of Jesus -- following him -- you will acquire a serious kind streak -- which means a heart for those literally and figuratively on the street -- the pathetics.

#6. Problems
We’ve come to expect that our primary calling is to eliminate the problems in life. But Jesus gravitated toward the problems rather than running from them. If we are following him we will, too.

Quit thinking that there is something wrong with your church just because it is full of problems that make you uncomfortable.

If you’re going to church thinking that you’re going to get away from the problems in life you’re not following Jesus. You are not a disciple -- at least at that point.

The world is broken and full of problems -- of messiness. And if you are a neat freak you will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to keep everything neat and tiddy.

Now, I’m not saying that we’re called to be the source of problems -- although that might be true when you consider the economy of God’s kingdom -- but at the very least we shouldn't be surprised by the problematic nature of ministry -- the messiness in our lives -- in our churches.

We’re not just called to embrace people with problems but we have to realize that doing so will create problems. IOW, if you've got these kinds of problems you’re doing something right -- at least from a kingdom perspective.

#7. Personal Peace
We need to find a sweet spot where we are leading without angst. Once we realize we have nothing to prove we can relax and embrace God’s call. The fact is that I don’t feel very successful most of the time. That’s okay because I don’t operate on the premise that success will feed me. I have to function out of a different space in my life. And I’d suggest that it’s about a personal peace -- knowledge -- trust that God is at work -- no matter what. I’m just going along for the ride. So I’ve set out to live an intentionally unhurried peaceful life.

#8. Partnerships
God is already at work fulfilling his purposes and we are partnering up with him.

To minister at this level we have to be willing to partner with other people and groups. It’s okay if we don’t fly OUR church flag over everything we do.

In this changing era we’re going to have to work together, creating financial partnerships, to fund ministry.

#9. Poor
I’m not poor in the overall scheme of things but I’m not rich relative to my colleagues and many of the people in the community. There are advantages to being relatively poor. You better identify with those on the margins and you trust God more for daily bread.

Being poor also means living without status or recognition.

#10. Provision
In his grace God always provides in one way or another. We need to relax in this truth. I’ve come to see it as a part of the adventure. I live in anticipation -- with eagerness to see how God will provide.

#11. Purpose
Love God, love neighbors, make disciples. This needs to be understood holistically. It is our call. And when we know our call we move forward confidently.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spiritual Formation and Online Learning

Good discussion. Too often this topic gravitates into the either/or category. Could it be that online learning could actually facilitate more embodied face-to-face interaction? How do we do that on a large scale? Or does it work best on a small scale?

I struggle with this because I teach spiritual formation classes online. I'm fortunate, though, because my classes are so small that I can give students a lot more personal attention -- at least if they allow it. I also travel to the Pacific Islands University campus on Guam to hang-out and have face-to-face conversations. The last time I was on campus I had a student from a previous semester seek me out just to continue a discussion we had started online months before. The online and the face-to-face worked together.

Unfortunately, I don't currently have the resources to travel to all the places where my students live. I'd need to go to Indonesia, Palau, and Micronesia -- in addition to Guam. But I'm currently scheming a way to get to Indonesia. I'll be in Guam again in November.

I've also been trying to recruit and form groups of students from immigrant church leaders in the US to do the South African Theological Seminary online programs. I'd function as an outside tutor and mentor for the groups. So far, though, I've been unsuccessful in getting the groups off the starting block. But it's still a goal.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Ministry with the South Sudanese

Since we left Turlock in 2006 I've done a good job of avoiding funeral detail. But Mary Nyayual Dhor, the deaconess in our South Sudanese partner congregation in Phoenix, died last week. And the lay pastor was pretty insistent that I officiate at her service. Well, just before the service began this afternoon, Elder Peter Lual, a prominent Presbyterian pastor showed up. He had driven over from San Diego. So the lay pastor and I adjusted the service some and included him. And it still flowed well.

When working cross culturally, flexibility is name of the game. I've actually come to enjoy that aspect of ministry -- a lot. And through it I got to meet Peter -- a great man. (Peter and I took this picture at the cemetery).

During the committal service Pastor Peter suggested that we ask a visiting Episcopal priest to sing a song in his Dinka language. (Peter, like most everyone in our South Sudanese congregation is Neur.) And the Neur people responded to the music with enthusiasm. What a great moment of Christian hospitality. If we put these guys in charge, the Dinka-Neur conflict that has torn apart South Sudan would quickly become history. Could it be that a broader hope is born from a funeral? I mean, we were talking a lot about resurrection.

Brad's blog, updated almost daily, can be found here.