Category Archives: church

2 1/2 case studies in small world

i’m often amazed at how often, while on a trip overseas, i bump into someone i know. last time i was in london, i ran into andrew jones in the gift shop of the tate modern. i’ve chatted with todd hunter in the red carpet club at heathrow. i met john ortberg in the garden tomb, in jerusalem. i could go on.

on this trip to africa, i had two of these! and they are both just so stinking random.

it’s a small world case study #1
thursday morning, over a week ago, i woke up in lusaka, zambia and caught an early flight (an 18 seater!) to ndola, zambia. ndola is in the north central part of zambia. the airport is wonderfully hilarious – the “arrivals” area (which actually has a large metal sign that says “arrivals”) is a metal shed with openings on two sides that you walk through. the baggage handler brings out the checked luggage on a zambian equivilant of a radio-flyer wagon.

anyhow, it was still early in the morning, and our group hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. so our mini-bus took us about 10 or 15 minutes to a “lodge” for breakfast. there was another group of americans there, larger than ours. at first, i assumed they were a tour group, not a “missions group”. but i overheard a few phrases that made it clear they were a church group (you know the kind of phrases i mean). and i walked past a guy wearing a Michigan hat, and said “Go Blue!” to him (i grew up in michigan). then it dawned on me: my father had mentioned to me a few weeks back that he thought my brother-in-law’s brother (who was also one of my best friends in junior high) was going to be in zambia about the same time as me. so i asked one of the group members, “you don’t happen to have a chris dunlap in your group, do you?” “sure, he’s our group leader!” was the response.

i found chris, and we had breakfast together. we hadn’t seen each other in about 18 months, so it was fun to reconnect, and extremely surreal to do so over breakfast in a guest lodge in ndola, zambia.

1/2 story:
while having breakfast with chris (who was with a large group from his church in suburban detroit), the youth pastor of the church came up to us and introduced himself. he was shocked to meet us YS-folk (karla yaconelli and tic long were with me) in zambia, and blogged about it here, along with a photo. after breakfast, i saw that a bunch of the high-schoolers from the group (it was a multi-generational group) were loading up a mini-bus to head off somewhere, so i stuck my head in the window and cheered them on. three of the girls said, “hey, i know you from somewhere.” i figured they just had jet-lag.

“didn’t you speak at ‘spiritual emphasis week’ at southfield christian high school a couple years ago?” one asked. well, sure, i did.

it’s a small world case study #2
this past wednesday morning i woke up early in livingstone, zambia (at victoria falls), and got in a minivan at 6am to go to a game park in botswana for the day. we drove about an hour, crossed the zambezi river (into botswana) in a small boat, and drove another 1/2 hour before embarking on a 2 hour boat ride alongside the edge of the chobe national park. by being in a boat, we were able to see hundreds of hippos, as well as lots of crocs and other animals.

the boat dropped us off at the dock of a nice-ish guest lodge for a pre-arranged lunch, prior to taking a jeep-like vehicle into the national park. the eating area at the lodge was right alongside the river (beautiful setting). we were walking to a table, when we ran into thom and joannie schultz (along with their son, matt, and joannie’s parents). thom and joannie are the owners of group publishing, one of the major “competitors” (not the best word) of ys. we’ve known thom and joannie for years and have a warm relationship with them. they had just arrived and were staying at that lodge as part of a couple-week-long safari vacation.

so, sing along with the little round-headed animatronic children: it’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all…

80 baptisms

every quarter, my church heads down to mission bay (a man-made bay off the pacific ocean, just north of downtown san diego) for baptisms. this is something i love about my church. there’s nothing stodgy or passionless about it. it’s a freakin’ party.

about 400 or so were there today (i’m totally guessing), and by the time i got there, the area was already thick with barbecue smoke. everyone was in beach clothing, and had laid out blankets and beach chairs all over the place. a game of volleyball was in full swing, and little kids were running all over the place. at some point, a group with guitars started leading worship songs — it all feels wonderfully hippie at that point! but, hey, we’re on the beach, so it works. then, one of the pastors comes up and explains baptism (those being baptised have already met in the preceeding weeks — though it seems people can make the choice that day also).

then, we all head for the water’s edge. all the pastors of the church walk out into the water (when my daughter got baptized two years ago, they let me do it). and people just line up. today there were about 80 people. almost all of them are adults. since most of them have lead lives away from God for decades, they’ve had a great opportunity to really screw things up. so, when these people make a choice to follow the jesus-way, it’s a big change. and when they pop up from the water, it’s almost always accompanied by a face that radiates the joy of this moment in their lives, and the loud cheers and applause of family and friends on the shore.

the whole thing is a bit of a party-style frenzy. i cried about three times (well, got way choked up), watching…
-the newly-wet face of a woman who’d obviously been around the block a few too many times (and was wearing a bikini top — something i’ve never seen at any of the churches i worked in!), and the look of pure peace as she stood up out of the water. i could “see” that she was tangibly experiencing grace.
– the nervousness of the massive muscled guy with tattoos all over his shoulders and arms (um, and not celtic crosses, if you know what i mean). he walked out nervously, turned around nervously, nodded his head nervously in discussion with the pastor about to baptize him, folded his hands like a 5 year-old, and went under. then he lept up like a super-hero, with pumping fists in the air, shouting “YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!”. he had a whole crew of similar-looking friends on the shore, and they were all going crazy.
– the father and teenage daughter who walked out to get baptized simulataneously, and the tears of joy on both of their faces.

i could go on.

then, we all ambled back up the beach to the now-ready burgers and hotdogs and watermelon and cake. none of that potluck mystery casserole i grew up with at church functions! to finish it off, a friend and i beat our two new youth pastors in bocce ball.

theological worldview quiz

thanks to mike king for this link. an interesting quiz to test your theological leanings. of course, anyone can write a quiz that’s not accurate, but it’s still fun. i really struggled with some of the answers, while others were really simple.

here are my scores (kinda interesting for a kid who grew up steeped in evangelical presbyterianism)…

Emergent/Postmodern 82%
Neo orthodox 75%
Classical Liberal 50%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 50%
Modern Liberal 43%
Roman Catholic 39%
Charismatic/Pentecostal 39%
Reformed Evangelical 25%
Fundamentalist 11%

on getting fired

no, i haven’t been fired from ys (yet).

but i mentioned in my birthday post, yesterday, that i did get fired from a church once (and was asked to resign from another). and brian asked me to tell the story — so here it is. i used to think this experience was, at least, nominally unique. but since coming to ys and hearing youth workers stories every day, i’ve found this kind of story is hideously common (including stories way-worse than mine).


i got hired at a church in omaha, nebraska, as their first-ever junior high pastor. and it was my first full-time junior high pastor. and (surprise), it went fantastic. in many ways, as i look over my decade and a half of “professional” ministry to young teens, i often think of these three years as my glory days. i had larger ministries elsewhere. i certainly had bigger budgets and more support and more paid staff elsewhere. but this was the only time i was ONLY a junior high pastor. in subsequent churches, i was always “junior high +” (student minstries, or family ministries, or whatever). the ministry grew in every way — we developed a passionate and equipped volunteer team, a multi-level missions trip program (yes, for young teens), amazing connections with local public schools, and other great things.

but a parallel thread was developing…

three “power elders” were quietly building a case against me. this wasn’t a formal process for them — it was taking place in their minds. two of them really ran the church, and had done so for decades. they even had a by-law that stated that an elder could be elected for two terms (3 years each, or something like that), then had to take some time off before being eligible for re-election; unless that elder was part of the exec team (or whatever it was called — chair, vice-chair, recording secretary, treasurer) — those roles never had to take a year off: “to provide continuity”. all this meant that these guys had been in the roles of board chair, treasurer and secretary or vice-chair, for decades, literally. does anyone know how to spell dysfunctional? (sidebar: these same guys, the year after i got booted, convinced the rest of the board to pass a motion that all elders and pastors had to submit their completed tax return to the treasurer, so he could verify that they were giving 10% to the church; anyone not giving 10%, or not willing to submit their tax returns, was not considered fit for the role).

it all started to spiral downhill the day i bought a jeep.

when they hired me, they expressed that they really didn’t want my wife to work. (ok, i’m embarrassed by this next part now) we didn’t have a problem with that, conceptually; but we couldn’t afford it on what they were offering, as we had a good bit of college debt. they “approved” jeannie working based on her income going to pay off our debt. most of it did — but we never understood this to be an “every penny after taxes” kind of thing. they did. after the jeep purchase (which they also considered a highly irresponsible vehicle for a youth pastor), i got called into a meeting. they accused me of violating our agreement. i was baffled. once we got our two perspectives cleared up, they demanded i provide an accounting of all my income and how i was spending it (a personal budget is what they actually said), as well as a plan for when the college debt would be paid off (so jeannie could stop working).

this is where i blew it. i was too young and naive to realize that i either needed to walk, or get political. instead, i did nothing. i thought their request was absurd, and pretended (to myself) that it would go away.

9 mos later i got called into an emergency meeting, and told to bring my personal budget. i quickly pulled one together that showed the basics of what they were asking for. it wasn’t enough, and it was way too late. suddenly, the problem was much bigger than the budget thing. they now had a list of character accusations about me, including: you are a liar, a manipulator, deceitful (and a bunch of other things).

two weeks of scrambling on both sides ensued. i sat in the senior pastor’s home and cried like a baby (heaving, can’t speak — you know the kind), begging for him to intervene. he never said he refused to do so, but in essence that’s what he did. at the end of those two weeks, they told me to clear out my office that night, not to show up at any junior high group functions (i was allowed to write a statement, which they read to the students and volunteers). and they said they would generously give me two weeks severance pay. geez. it was a good thing my wife was working, or we would have been jacked!

i asked a handful of older guys i trusted (actually, other elders at the church) to meet with me and pry into the character stuff. i wanted to know if there was any truth to the accusations. and i wanted someone else to tell me if i was still ok for ministry or not. their eventual stamp-of-approval was the green-light that began a tiny bit of restoring my soul and calling.

i’ve had a reasonably easy life. so this was one of the two most difficult things i’ve ever gone through (the second being yaconelli’s death 18 months ago). it left me extremely wounded for years (none of these people, including the senior pastor, ever followed up with me after the day i was let go).

i don’t share this now to ask for sympathy — this is really old stuff, and now seems very clearly a place god has taken evil and used it for good in my life. i wouldn’t trade that experience for anything — it is part of who i am today, and essential. i share this story for those of you in tough church situations. yours might be very different. but you’re not alone. there are those of us out here (many, many more than me!) who know. we understand.

12 minutes of rage

didn’t have even a tiny dot of rage this week, until 20 minutes into the closing session of the convention. it’s been such a perfect week for me, such a gift from god to end our run at the convention with a week like this. the last session has a surprisingly good turn-out, and the time of singing-worship (lead by troy and alex – i’m so proud of alex for how brilliant he was this week in every way) was great. i wasn’t thinking about running an event or the fact that we have to tear all this equipment down in an hour or the loneliness of the empty hotel tonite or any of that. i was just enjoying the breath of god on my face. beautiful jeanne stevens takes the stage to introduce brian, and asks us to turn and bless someone next to us by sharing a highlight of the week. i turned to the guy sitting next to me (didn’t know him), and said, “wow, that’s a big question — i have to think!” he said:

“while i have your ear for a minute, i would like to share with you that ‘we couldn’t find them’ is never an acceptable excuse when you don’t have 50% female speakers.”

what the…?


momentarily, i thought of trying to explain to him, with a smile on my face, how i think he was misunderstanding the situation; that he was missing the fact that 3 of 4 general sessions here had a female speaker; that he was missing that exactly 50% of the learning community tour guides were female, and that the “lead” tour guide is female; that he was missing the fact that some large percentage (frankly, i haven’t stopped to do the math, but, then, it seems he hadn’t either) of the seminars were taught by female speakers; that he was missing the fact that the main-stage emcee (one of three) who had the clearest role in terms of spiritual leadership is female; and that he was missing the fact that we put a stake in the ground by having an 8-hour intensive focused on women in leadership, and a ys-paid-for lunch on the subject, and made space for an smaller gathering of influencers to discuss the subject; and that while we only had one female of the four practioners in the learning communities, and no female theologians, out of four of them, this only happened after inviting about two-dozen women to those roles (who all wanted to come, but were otherwise committed).

but i didn’t say that.

and i didn’t smile.

i said, “do you have any idea how inappropriate it is to say that to me in the middle of this time of worship?” i was almost crying, but i was a bit too angry to cry. i turned away. when i glanced back a minute later, he was gone.

the whole interchange took about 2 minutes, and it took me about 10 more to convince myself that a-holes are everywhere, and that i needed to get back to that “breath of god on my face” stuff that was intended for me (and everyone else, including that guy) during this closing session.

and the breath was still there, waiting for me.

EWLI/Mars Hill lunch

the dominant feature in my day yesterday, here at EC05, was a 3 1/2 hour invitation-only lunch and discussion hosted by mars hill graduate school and the emerging women’s leadership initiative (which, having known about for over a year, and have typed a hundred times in emails, was surprised to find is now being referred to phonetically as “you-ly” — or, maybe that should be “ewe-ly”). about 25 of us gathered to listen and dialogue, obstensibly around the idea of how we can encourage women leaders in the emerging church. i was pumped to be invited to this gathering, and have felt for some time now that YS has a mantle to both serve women youth pastors and be prophetic about this issue into the church.

let me get my frustration(s) out of the way first, then i’ll get to the good stuff:

– i only knew about 8 – 10 of the 25-ish people there, and there was absolutely no opportunity to even have introductions. i still have no idea who most of those other people were. it’s really hard for me to sit in a 3 1/2 hour meeting, with that few people, and not know who they are, what the context is for their comments.

– a bigger, and certainly more subjective, issue: Jen Lemen very wisely encouraged me a day earlier, when we were chatting about my “ys and women” stuff, not to create a ghetto for women. yesterday’s lunch wasn’t promoting a ghetto, but it felt like a cul-de-sac. it felt like the same questions and ideas (with a few exceptions, of course) that have been raised in every you-ly meeting so far (to be fair, i’ve not been part of these — and i’m only speaking here from 2nd-hand knowledge). but even the fact that my lunch-time discussion partner (we were asked to pair off — one female and one male — for the actual lunch 1/2-hour) was rachelle (one of the high-lights of my time, see below); and when we were asked to start our dialogue by sharing “what we used to think about women in ministry” and “what we think now about women in ministry”, she sighed a heavy sigh, and said she was so tired of this exercise, having done it so many times. all this to say, i’m not sure this is getting anywhere. the time was valuable for ME. but i think that’s only a portion of the goal. i really, really, really wish kara powell (theologian, professor, center director at fuller, small business owner, mother and wife, junior high ministry volunteer, author) and jeanne stevens (emergent convention planning team for two years, learning community lead tour guide, student ministries pastor at willow with multiple men under her leadership, wife and soon-to-be-mother) and karla yaconelli (active owner of youth specialties) had been there — three of the amazing women in leadership i know ((who are all here with very visible roles at the event) who have no time for being frustrated that men aren’t giving them power, because they’re too busy leading.

– while the time was “feminine” in it’s artistic elements, i was surprised by how controlled the “dialogue” was. luckily, i really came with the idea that i needed to listen, so wasn’t frustrated too much by this; just more surprised.

ok – but, there was really good stuff too:

– a simple one first. i’m not in very many meetings where i don’t have a significant role. it was really good to be in a 3 1/2 hour meeting where i only spoke about 4 – 6 sentences (other than my lunch chat with rachelle).

– i’ve heard about rachelle mee-chapman for a couple years, and started reading her blog a while back, after she was recommended as a seminar leader for the EC, and she and i had e-dialogue about her being at both events. but i’d never met her face-to-face. so i asked if she would be my lunch partner. i really (truly) enjoyed hearing rachelle’s story. she strikes me as a very healthy and whole person, comfortable in her skin, and confident in her calling and abilities.

– i know hearing stories of struggle is important; but i most enjoyed hearing the story of a woman (dang, can’t remember her name! — she has the best hair at the entire event: white-blonde dreads, pulled back into a rasta-librarian thing) who is one of the pastors of a church in portland (i think it’s called bridge). there was ease in her story — not that it was easy; but it had room to breathe. it was, after all, a story of where we should/could be going.

– power was a theme throughout — maybe not for everyone else, but for me. this first came up in my time with rachelle, and i took strong notice of it, since it’s an issue we’ve been addressing at ys in the last 6 months. at ys, the power issue isn’t gender-related, it’s employer/employee, or heirarchical. we realized (duh!) about 6 months ago (thanks to a killer organizational psychograph of our company) that power was the biggest hurdle to us realizing the dream of the organization we’d like to become. when i mentioned to rachelle that we’re proactively thinking through how to “divest power”, she connected with this language, which was a good confirmation for me. but, i continued to ask myself, through the next few hours, “how can i actively divest power to women who can lead?”

– much of the group seemed to talk about power in terms of position (job) or role. in the outside ys world (as opposed to our staff), it seems that power is most clearly displayed in “platform time”. doing seminars, or even moreso, speaking at a general session, or being on our CORE team — those are the places of power (i’m saying this in a neutral way). but the reality is, ys moved beyond tokenism in having women in those “places of power” long ago. so, not that this is perfected by any stretch of the imagination, but i started wondering what the step after divesting power would be.

– oh, and on tokenism. i’m enjoyed hearing rachelle say she’s a fan of tokenism, as long as it’s chosen for a noble outcome (my words, not quite hers).

– one of the guys (a friend, but i’ll withhold his name as his comment was so personal) made a very interesting observation. in the discussion of power, he said (with great emotion), “it seems to me that many of you women are assuming that all of us men have spent our entire lives in places of power due to a patriarchal societal structure; but, i think you’re missing the fact that many of us — maybe even most of us — spent a significant portion of our lives, extremely formative years, under the power and control of a woman (our mothers). and for many, this is still the case. and this has implications to this dialogue.”

– i have a sense that ys is to play a role in doing two things in the specific area of women and youth ministry: first, we need to move forward in serving female youth ministers more specifically; and, second, we need to be more of a prophetic voice to the church about the validity of women in youth ministry.

books that didn’t make the 2004 bestseller list

the newest issue of The Wittenburg Door has a great sidebar called “books that didn’t quite make the 2004 best-seller list”. some highlights:

    – The Da Vinci Crossword, by Dan Brown
    – Chicken Soup for the Vegan Soul, edited by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson
    – The SUV-Driven Life, by Rick Warren
    – The Gospel According to Sex in the City, by Chris Seay (this one cracked me up!)
    – The Prayer of Jabez: Sudanese Language Edition
    – The Five People You Meet in Hell, by Jack Chick
    – An Unfortunate Series of Poorly Written Books #1: The Deadly Dull Dispensationalist, by Lemony Lahaye and Junky Jenkins

a few more to add, of my own design:

    – Actually Thinking About Youth Ministry (see, i’m afraid this wouldn’t be a bestseller)
    – The 101 Best Youth Ministry Game-Variations of the Egg-in-Armpit Relay
    – Stop Calling Us Emergent!, by Doug Pagitt
    – 101 New Names You Might Consider Calling Us Other Than Emergent, a companion book, by Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and a token female author
    – The REAL Reason YS Won’t Be Hosting the Emergent Convention After This Year: the unauthorized biography of mark oestreicher

wanna add any to the list??

quaker clearness committee vs. accountability

i just got back from meeting with my spiritual director. i was talking about this whole question of accountability and my group of guys i meet with annually. i mentioned that i’d settled on the idea that our process was more one of group spiritual discernment, or group spiritual direction. she agreed, but then went on to tell me how our first two steps were the same first two steps of a “quaker clearness committee”.

our process

    1. someone talks for however long they need (30 – 45 minutes) to identify the primary themes or problems or challenges or milestones of the past year and their current reality.

    2. the group probes with questions for another 30 – 60 minutes. the process of questionning, in itself, becomes an act of spiritual discernment, as the answers lead to new questions, and the group begins to zero in on new or clarified issues.

    3. finally, the group (in most cases — last week, in six of eight) gets a bit prescriptive in some action(s) we collectively sense need to be taken or considered.

quaker clearness committee

    1. & 2. same thing

    3. someone has been recording the process (a written record), and gives it to the subject for further reflection and listening.

in other words, the clearness committee doesn’t get prescriptive.

intriguing stuff to me. plus, i think “clearness committee” or “quaker clearness committee” would be a cool band name.

loaves and fishes, or, i’m proud of my church right now

background item #1: three years ago, ys partnered with world vision to create a program called one life revolution. we did this because we’d come accross a study that had shown evangelical christians as the least-likely segment of the american population that would be willing to “give $2 to help an AIDS orphan.” we were disgusted and embarrassed. but we knew teenagers would not stand by, like their parents were, if they knew what was going on. over the last three years, OLR has mobilized 7000 north american youth groups to raise around $2 million for AIDS orphans and widows in Zambia.

background item #2: six years ago, my wife and i started attending a church in san diego (after moving here to work at ys), after searching for almost a year. there are times when we love our church, and times when that’s difficult (mostly over theological issues). but we have felt compelled to stay.

background item #3: young teens (junior highers / middle schoolers) are my life calling. yes, i do lots of other stuff now. but i absolutely love working with young teens, and expect i always will. so, now that my employment is not in a church, as a junior high pastor, my wife and i are both volunteers in the middle school ministry of our church.

the story: this year, our middle school ministry has really caught a vision for one life revolution. and, i really had almost nothing to do with it, which is cool. a few leaders got pumped at the ys convention last fall, and their excitement was contageous with the kids. so, we set this goal to raise $3200 to build one house for a family of AIDS orphans. normally an optimist, i thought it was a large goal for our fledgling middle school ministry. then, the idea was surfaced to do a variety show (acts put on by the middle schoolers) for the whole church, holding it in the main worship center, as a fundraiser. again i was not so sure this would “work”.

long story short: the church got behind this effort more strongly than i’ve ever seen them get behind anything in the youth ministry. we got prime exposure in “big church”, and it was clear that several of the pastors who have nothing to do with youth ministry were jazzed and planning on attending and talking about it to their circles. the students had been giving for about two months, and had already raised over $1000 dollars (their loaves and fishes!). they went into the variety show saturday night really believing that something amazing was going to happen.

result: the variety show was fantastic. over 500 people attended (enough to make the worship center not feel empty at all). there was a palpable level of energy. the acts were — to be honest — quite a bit better than i would have expected! i talked to the crowd early in the show, and mentioned that we were already past our goal, and were at $5400. we knew we could adjust and shoot for $6400 to build two houses instead of one, but we thought it might be cool to hope for $10,000, so we could donate a clean-water well to a community that only had contaminated water (the students were really “pumped” about this idea). we ended the night with $20,350. the church asked us to set up a table in the lobby one more time sunday morning, so they could talk about the variety show and give people one more chance to give. after sunday morning, we ended with $24,000.

we’re blown away. god took the middle schoolers’ (and a few leaders’) little loaves and fish (about $1000 and participation in the variety show), and turned it into 24-grand. now, we don’t know whether to give two wells and a house, or 1/2 of a school, or…