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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prayer For Being Careful With Your Words.

Last Sunday, I gave a talk at imagine/Northampton called "Our Words Leave Marks On Others." The main idea centered on the  power of the tongue to speak life or death to other people. It can crush or liberate them using mere words. But as a counselor, much of my work has to do with people striving to help folks heal from those rascals. It is no small task for many. A word has the power to alter the trajectory of an entire life. Throwing them around like so much confetti is a fool's errand to say the least.

Of late, I've been composing Opening and Closing Prayers we say together in our worship. The prayers reflect the theme of the day helping us enter in and leave Sunday worship under the umbrella of a commonly- held idea. So I thought I'd share it with you in the hope you could use it to be more mindful of what you say.

Father of lights,

Fill my words this  week with grace and truth, wisdom and gentleness.
Set a guard, Oh Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Set a guard over my heart that I might not be careless, rash or irresponsible in anything I say. 
Let my words give life and liberty, not wounding or discouraging.
Let me hear clearly others words, and speak rightly such that nothing I say deceives, discourages or diminishes anyone.
Visit my thoughts with your Word that I might honor you in every conversation I have.

Make it so.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts From My Second Encounter With the Man and the Pigeons.

Just after sunrise early this fresh morning was the second time I've seen him. The first was with Tricia. He parks a newer pick-up truck in the eastern field adjacent to the 3-County Fairgrounds here in Northampton. When we prayerwalk, we often head there first to catch the new sun, luxuriate (and wake up!) in the fresh air, and warm up for the rest of the walk.

You should check it out at sunrise sometime. It's worth the trip.

This morning, he'd already opened the cages and the birds were flying as a flock in ever-expanding circles until they disappeared over the trees bordering I-91 to the east. As he was taking his last look to see if they were heading in the right direction - I'm assuming - I caught his eye and commented on the fact he was training the birds. I followed it with a question about where they they were heading. He said Brattleboro and explained he's also trained flocks to head from as far Cleveland, Ohio to Boston. He was friendly, and seemed to enjoy my interest in what he was up to.

I mentioned Tricia was born in Brooklyn, and was aware of people having homing pigeons on their roofs. His face lit up saying he'd been born in Brooklyn, and he'd had them on his roof there too. Small world.

Often on these prayerwalks I'm in a contemplative mindset, and notice intriguing spiritual connections in things I see as I walk. I just notice stuff which sparks thought. This morning as I was reflecting on watching the homing pigeons fly home or to their destination together, it struck me that God calls us to journey through life together and to help each other return to our true home with him. While certainly some of the journey is walked in solitary such as when we must face challenges and problems, and  rely solely on God to get us where only we can go, he has also summoned us to travel with companions of the heart. It's what communitas, fellowship, and spiritual family are about.

So as I watched the flock, I noticed at first, birds set to flight after the first group were out of sync with it, and had to work to catch up before heading to their destination together. The larger group would stay circling until every bird joined the synchrony. I don't know if that is the way it always goes, but from what I've seen from my two encounters, that's the way it's done. In reality, while each bird had to take to wing individually, they chose to journey with the flock..

So should we, if we understand God has supplied fellow pilgrims to join and help us make our way home. We must join the group, and the group should "wait up" until all who've taken to flight to make the trip are  accounted for. No one is forced to go, but the best way to head out is together. I know this isn't a pure analogy, often everybody seems to have a different pace, but I think the idea of extending grace to "stragglers," and folks who can't seem to keep it together much of the time so everyone has a chance to come along is a right view of the church.

I like that.

Sure, it's certainly easier said than done, what with people's penchant for "I've got a better flight plan thank you very much," or for wandering into spiritually dangerous territory from time to time, or "I don't like this flock's way of thinking or doing things," and on and on. And yes, it's messy as I suspect it is for those working with homing pigeons, but I think it's God's prescribed mode of pilgrimage to the destination for which we were made.

Nothing earth-shattering, I know, but a simple reminder from of God that we're meant to be in this thing together.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why We Have a Leadership Team Rather Than a Formal Pastorate.

Since imagine/Northampton started meeting as a church people have periodically asked me or Jim if either of us is its pastor. It's often assumed because we've played an upfront role on Sunday morning, and because I and Tricia work as full-time counselors and staff for imagine in the Northampton office.

Be that as it may, 5 years ago when we were getting a picture of what imagine would be, we were all convinced a collegial leadership team rather than a traditional pastor/laity model was the right one for the vision we were seeing. We didn't want a personality-driven or "I'm the boss; you're not" traditional model. It didn't fit at all. Our conviction was that no one person, no matter how gifted, equipped, or trained should carry the weight of the church, or be seen as having some special pedigree or spiritual status which set him or her apart from everyone else by virtue of formal position or title.

Sure, we recognize differing gifts, and equipping. We know there are leadership gifts which have certain qualities and distinctives. We take that all very seriously, especially in terms of the responsibilities involved. But, we do not want to create a church culture where a few determine everything for the many who function mostly as spiritual consumers, spectators, and occasional volunteers. We want people vitally involved in all aspects of imagine, caring the load for what God is doing in and through it, not merely showing up on Sunday and going along with the program from week to week.

So we have a Leadership Team, and we see it as a servant leadership team. There are now 5 of us: 2 men and 3 women. Two of the women have just joined us and are being discipled in the development of their leadership gifts with imagine. Our gifts economy makes it such that dispersed within the team are vision and creative gifts, teaching and preaching gifts, counseling and discipling gifts, administrative, planning and operations gifts. None of us see ourselves as the head honcho. We defer to one another, share responsibility and support each other individually. Our ages range from early 60'e to mid-20's. We're both married and single.

In the not-too-distant future, we desire to develop elders who will help care for, and guide the spiritual life of imagine/Northampton. God will raise up those people and they will be recognizable in our midst because of their Christ-likeness, particularly humility, wisdom, live and service. Some may be on the Leadership Team; some won't. However, they will, in tandem the Leadership Team, be dedicated to helping people discover and follow the God who is far more than they imagine.

In the next year, we're also hoping God will raise up the next Leadership Team to plant another imagine church. In one sense, it's an audacious thought in that we are small, but we have a big vision and an astoundingly resourceful God who summons his followers to step out into such bigness, given the magnificent reality that God " is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power that is [already] at work in us." (Eph.3:20)

So we have a Leadership Team rather than a formal pastorate. We think it will ultimately foster a culture of collaboration and interplay where power granted to lead is not ruling over people, but serving them so they might fulfill what God has called all of us to do together; gifts differing, but hearts united in the same direction. Each person is vital in God's design. No one has a higher stature based on position or title. Expectations are the same for all: follow Christ; incarnate his Kingdom in the world around you.

BTW: I need to say we feel neither superior nor wiser than Christians who lead and serve in Pastor-led churches. We are merely doing what seems right to us for such a time and place as this.

May God bless all who labor in his Kingdom!