Thursday, June 29, 2006

too honest?

This is an article I lifted from Peter Lublink's blog.

LARK NEWS — Brentwood Community Church’s congregation has asked its pastor to stop using the pulpit as his public confessional and to set boundaries on what he’s willing to share.

“Every week he confesses another personal weakness,” says one member. “You get twitchy wondering what’s next.”

The personal confession streak started after Pastor Greg Ott attended a pastors conference in Chicago. He returned and told the church he was embracing a “new vulnerability” with them.

“That sounded great until we realized it meant he would dump his dirty laundry on us every Sunday,” says one church member.

In the rhythm of his sermon, Ott’s confession usually comes a third of the way through, his people say. On a recent Sunday morning the congregation seemed to collectively cringe as he stepped around the pulpit and said, “Let me be real transparent with you …”

“I brace myself until he spits it out,” says Jocelyn Garnet. “It makes for a tense service.”
One week Ott admitted he was sometimes tempted to claim Starbucks food purchases as ministry-related tax deductions. Another time he said he “struggled with angry outbursts,” and occasionally “barked” at fast food drive-thru employees. He even said he sometimes walks “a little too slowly” by the Victoria’s Secret store in the mall.
Lay leaders decided to broach the matter with Ott because the church was getting a reputation as the home of the “TMI pastor,” (short for “too much information”).
Ott says he just wants to be real with his people.

“I struggle like they do,” he says. “It’s okay for them to know that.”
But many in his church disagree.

“I don’t stand in the foyer and announce my weekly failings,” says Robert Walker, 79. “I want to be uplifted at church. One hopes the pastor would lead by good example, not regale us with his peccadilloes.”

Honesty? Is there such thing as TMI?

I have to say that, as a part time worship leader, one of the most valuable things I learned from one of my own worship mentors was the value of being honest behind the mic. I was very uncomfortable with it at first. Jeff would get up there and share that his pride was out of control and that he was really focussed on looking cool that morning. And I would think, "oh mean Jeff, didn't anybody ever teach you that you're supposed to keep the congregation in the dark about those things?" But then I would watch as, not only Jeff's own struggle with sin would slip off of his shoulders, but as other people in the audience would let go of their own struggles and just worship.

I hope this pastor sticks to his guns. This sounds like an important lesson his church needs to learn. God bless him for being willing to stick his neck out to teach it to them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

my favorite sites

I consider myself to be fairly mediocre as far as my knowledge of the web and all of the cool sites it has to offer. Yet I’m constantly meeting people who don’t know even some of the simple basics that make surfing the web easier. And so, with that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to start a thread to share our favourite/most helpful sites. Please add your own! – I’m still meeting people who check blogs, one at a time, to see if they’ve been updated. Wow. That would take me a half hour just to check. Bloglines is a programme that allows you to enter all of the blogs that you read. You then simply log onto your bloglines account and it lets you know if any of them have been updated. There are quite a few other versions of this service, but bloglines is free and I like it best. – Lifehacker is a site that keeps you up to date on everything that is cool and helpful about the web. There are a lot of similar sites out there, but these guys truly seem to only post great tools rather than anything they happen to stumble upon. It’s updated all throughout the day so, if you miss a day, you’ll have a lot of new ideas and gadgets to catch up on. I’ve only discovered this site recently, but it has easily become my favourite site. – I’ve become a Skype geek. In the short time that I’ve been signed up on the service, I’ve managed to catch up with friends I’ve not spoken to in years. Skype allows you to make calls over the internet for free. It also allows you to make calls from your computer to a landline or mobile phone for a nominal fee. It also allows you to purchase a phone number, anywhere in the world where you have friends/family, so that they can call your computer for free. Not only does it keep a list of all your contacts but, like a chat service, also lets you know when they are available. And if you keep your computer on all day, it works just like any telephone in that, when your friends call you, your computer rings and you simply answer the call. I’m liking this service so much that I’m seriously considering getting rid of my landline phone all together. I could use it to make calls, purchase a U.S. number, a UK number, and still save hundreds of pounds a year on calls. I’ll let you know at the end of July.

Music – I use so many music sites that I couldn’t possibly write about each one. But here are the ones I use the most: Pandora,, napster (now a legal service), itunes (kill me), all tunes, mp3sugar,, rolling stone, and I’m currently checking out emusic. I’d also like to share a short excerpt on Y! Unlimited. Like Napster, Yahoo offers a music service called Y! Unlimited that allows you to purchase a monthly subscription and listen to any album for free. Napster’s subscription service costs $10 a month but Yahoo’s service only cost $5. In addition, while tracks on Napster and iTunes will cost you 99 cents, they’re only 79 cents on Yahoo. Yahoo’s service still has some glitches in it, but for checking out new music, it’s definitely the most affordable way to go. Many of you ask me how I listen to so much new music each month. This is how I do it. And, since I still have a U.S. credit card, I listen to the U.S. version of the service which is a bit cheaper than the UK version.

That’s it for me. How about you?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

and they'll know we are Christians by our love...

MOSCOW, Russia -- Police and religious protesters forcefully prevented Russian gay and lesbian rights activists from rallying in Moscow, where they had hoped to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then gather in a square opposite of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s office.

"We are conducting a peaceful action. We want to show that we have the same rights as other citizens," the main organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told a news conference a few hours before the rally was to have begun.

But police had closed the entrance to the garden where the tomb is located, and as the first half-dozen activists arrived carrying flowers, they were set upon by about 100 religious and nationalist extremists dressed in black who kicked and punched them.
"Moscow is not Sodom!" they shouted. Women held up religious icons while men stood by.

As a Green member of Germany's Bundestag, Volker Beck, was giving an interview before TV cameras, about 20 nationalist youths surrounded him and pummeled him, bloodying his nose.

"This is a perverts' parade," said one protester holding an icon of the Madonna, a woman who gave only her first name, Irina. "This is filth, which is forbidden by God. We have to cleanse the world of this filth."

I took this photo in a men’s room in Camden. What you can’t tell from the photo is that the posters hanging over the latrines are there to encourage women to become firefighters. Talk about needing to know your audience.

Even the Bible extols us to love our enemies and, in this way, it will be like heaping burning coals on their head (Romans 12:20). Now, there are many different translations of this verse, but they all point to love.

People don’t need to be told their need for God, that knowledge comes from the Spirit. What they need to be told is that God loves them. This is the one piece of information that comes best from us and, sadly, the one piece of information that we don’t seem to understand ourselves.

Know your audience.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

my most embarrassing moment

So how many of us has this happened to. You’re at a party, or Sunday school, and somebody decides that we should go around the group and share our most embarrassing moment. I’ve been in this situation numerous times and, every single time, have never been able to think of anything embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong, God makes a regular habit of humbling me on a monthly basis. And I’ve come to accept that. But I can never remember the specifics of those events when the time comes to share. And so, having been reminded yesterday of my absolute most embarrassing moment, I now share with the group. Hopefully somebody can remind me of this the next time I’m asked.

I was in my late teens/early twenties and had stopped for gas. Incidentally, for you OKC dwellers, this happened at the gas station located on 44th, just behind Grace Christian Academy. It has a really stupid name, but I can’t seem to remember it right now. Anyway, I had stopped for gas and, while my car filled up, I ran inside to pay. I think I must have been in a hurry because, upon paying, I ran out, got into my car, and drove away…with the hose still attached to my car. Ripped that sucker right out of the pump. The attendant immediately came running out, shut the pump off, and then just looked at me with one of those looks that can only mean one thing…dumb a**.

What do you say? I’m sorry? It wasn’t me? I really am a dumb a**? Outside of, “I’ll pay for the damages.”, there’s nothing you really can say to save face and, being extremely short on funds during that time of my life (unlike now where I get rich working for the Salvation Army), paying for the damages just wasn’t something I could offer. So I apologized, got into my car, and drove away thoroughly embarrassed.

To this day, that is still my most embarrassing moment.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

short term vision

I could have entitled this post, Another Corps Bites the Dust, and for my non-Salvationists friends, I apologize in advance for a post that will probably leave you scratching your head (then again, maybe most of my posts leave people scratching their heads).

We do a lot of weird things in the Army, many of which I find very destructive to our mission. But, after seven years of working and worshipping with the Army, I’ve come to believe that the most destructive thing we do is the practice of moving our officers (ministers) from one Corps to another, on an average of about four or five years. We could name a lot of destructive things here, but I believe that this practice directly relates to all of those other things.

Many reports have been done over the years concerning growth and the lack thereof within the Salvation Army. And in every one I’ve ever seen, one conclusion is always drawn: The Corps that have experienced the largest amount of growth (in numbers) and the most sustainable amount of growth, are those Corps in which the officers have been in place the longest. In my own Corps, we have gone from ultra traditional to contemporary, drawing in even those who are the most frustrated with church hierarchy. We’ve seen the Corps go from a place only Salvationists would attend, to one attended by over 30 different nationalities, very few of whom are Salvationists. And we’ve seen the power and work force shifted from officer to lay people. And do you know how long our officers have been in place? Fourteen years. And we’re still growing and trying to figure things out. And here’s the thing that puzzles me the most. In the seven years I’ve been with the Salvation Army, nobody has ever been able to answer the question of why in the world we move our officers so much. I mean, part of it is obvious. Some get moved to headquarters where they’ll have more influence and (so the thought goes) where they’ll be able to rub off on local officers. But many just get moved from Corps to Corps. And here’s how I see that going.

First of all, discipleship takes a long time, no matter how you do it. As a youth worker, my first instinct is to build a congregation from the youth up. But even in my own local ministry here in London, we didn’t start with older teenagers, we started with the youngest, understanding the idea that in a few years, they’ll be our leaders. And the same holds true with any congregation, with a few exceptions. But no matter how you do it, whether starting with young people, or starting with adults, it takes time to disciple somebody. Time that, in too many cases, Officers never get.

Second, unless you’re Rob Bell or any of the other handful of gifted preachers/teachers who can draw people in with their sheer presence, even the best of church growth plans take a while. Between accumulating a pool of people from whom you can raise up and disciple leaders from, to actually raising up and discipling those leaders to head up your various areas of church programming, it takes five years before your congregation is even in a place to start effectively welcoming in and discipling new members. And that’s if you know what you’re doing and actually have a gift for it. And, sadly, most people don’t.

Thirdly is the fact that, like it or not, people follow leaders. I know it’s bad and we’d all like to judge each other for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. Look at the Jews who’s ultimate leader was God speaking through various prophets. It just wasn’t enough. They wanted a king to rally around. And so God gave them one. And that hasn’t changed. People find leaders they can believe in, and then they rally around them. And when those leaders leave, if the people have not been effectively discipled yet, the people leave too. Almost every time. And so these people, whom the church has invested in, and were depending on in the long term, are now gone, leaving only the most loyal Salvationists, many of which are often too tired to lead/work anymore. And so another Corps dies.

And fourthly, (and this may be the toughest part of all), when a Corps remains small and ineffective (again, as a direct result of no sustainable leadership or discipleship), you obviously have a smaller pool to draw new ministers from. Which leads to our current problem; small seminary classes and even fewer capable leaders graduating from those seminary classes.

I could pause here to comment on the percentage of good leaders we’re actually cranking out of these ministry classes, but I’ll leave that discussion for somebody else.

And so we’re a witness to this ever growing decline we like to call an Army.

Is there anybody, outside of certain offices spread throughout the world, who doesn’t see this?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

the life of a pear

In the past two years (give or take) of writing this blog, I’ve been willing to ask the questions that we’re not supposed to ask and say the things that we’re not supposed to say. So in that spirit, I’d like to proclaim the following.

I would be happier if I were Richer and Thinner. That’s correct. I know what everybody says, and I know why they say it, but I’m still pretty sure that I would be happier with more money and less fat.

I went clothes shopping today. And, to make matters worse, I did it in London. Now, in case you’re not familiar with what it’s like to shop for clothes in London, think America, only twice as expensive and half the size. That’s right. Not only are the women in this country shaped like waifs, the men are as well, and so the clothes are made to match.

I knew that when I moved to this country and so, in light of it, I dropped about forty pounds. But I’ve run into two problems since moving here. Number one, despite what the British would like to believe, the food here is much worse for you. You can watch all the Supersize Me documentaries that you want, fact is, a chicken kabab is ten times worse for you than a Big Mac and fries (read that in a report the other day) and a chicken kabab is about the healthiest fast food that the British offer (pause here to debate the fact that the kabab is usually cooked and served by people who aren’t British but, believe me, it’s a dish that was created for the British market). Add to that the fact that the British love to serve everything in a pastry. The British claim to have invented the sandwich (and pizza, and colonization), but it’s clear to me that they quickly moved on from the bread and figured that pastry would be a much better choice. So, everywhere you go, stuff is being served like a pie. Even the fish is unhealthy as it’s coated in…fried, or whatever you call that stuff. And so, if you’re going to eat out here, you have to face the fact that you will not be eating well. (for the record, the reason Americans are fatter is because we serve/eat three times the helpings and we drive everywhere thereby getting zero exercise). My second problem is that I’ve recently become a father and there’s just no time for anything healthy. At all. And so, here I sit, having gained back a good twenty of the previously dropped forty pounds. Which brings me to today and the deep depression that I’ve fallen into.

I am shaped like a pear. It’s true. I’d like to go on nurturing the idea that I’m probably this cool, rock star shaped guy, hiding behind a blog. But the truth is, I’m this cool, devilishly handsome but, pear shaped guy, hiding behind a blog. And it’s depressing. And, when you spend an afternoon on Oxford street, walking around with all of the McJagger shaped people who only want to know if this shirt comes in an XS, it makes you want to either blow your brains out (which, incidently, is nearly impossible to do in this country with its strict gun laws…one more thing) or move back to American where you’re one of the average to small shaped people.

Sigh. I hate thin people and their stupid big dogs!

So here’s the thing. No matter what people say, I truly believe that I would be happier if I were richer and thinner. Think about it, confidence is everything. With confidence, you can deal with most of life’s problems. And I would be a lot more confident if I were thinner and had more money. Seriously. These are the two things I stress about the most (I am an unbelievably selfish/vain person) and I truly believe that I could deal with the rest of life if it were not for these two things. Loved one is in the hospital? That sucks. But at least I don’t have to worry about whether my shirt is showing off my love handles as I sit beside their hospital bed. Friend is getting a divorce? Oh man. But at least I don’t have to wonder if the airline is going to accept my credit card when I try to fly down to see him.

See what I mean?

Having said all of this, I do still have my hair. So at least there’s that.