Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Amazon Account

It's great reading weather here: another cool, gray, rainy day in southeast Texas. I'm impatiently waiting for my next delivery from because I just finished my last "new" book. I've always been one of those people who reads several books at once. Recently I found that I tend to have one history, one novel, one "comedy" book, and one book that fits into the "religion" category. Here's what will be on my bedstand when the next shipment arrives (hopefully today!):
And no, the religion book isn't another Paul Borden opus or anything from the emergent/missional church moment. I need a break from all that. ~Drumroll, please~ it's--
What's in your next book shipment?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Requirement for Mission?

Yesterday's post drew such a variety of good comments and discussion that I'm going to throw out another idea for discussion from the retreat that I've been pondering.

Borden emphasizes the importance of tying increase in number of new disciples into the job expectations for pastors, staff and lay leaders. One of the examples he gave was the church that decided to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project and set up the requirement that church members had to bring an "unchurched" person (apologies to those of you who aren't comfortable with that word) along with them in order to work on the project.

How would a requirement like that work in your church? Would it discourage people from becoming involved in the mission or motivate them to reach out and involve someone who was not yet a disciple of Jesus Christ? Should mission be used in this way for evangelism?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Prayer Requests in Worship

It's been more than a week since our retreat led by Dr. Paul Borden, but I'm still puzzling over some of the things he said. One of the examples he gave to illustrate his point about churches thinking too small was the practice of sharing prayer concerns during worship.

He was referring to a time in a worship service when members of the congregation are invited to speak out and ask for prayers for people or circumstances they are concerned about. Sometimes this includes praise to God for recovery from illness or other good things that happen in their lives. When I've seen this done it seemed to me that it emphasized the Christian fellowship and connectedness of the congregation as well as encouraging their Christian witness, and that would be a good thing and probably appealing to visitors.

Not so, says Borden. He thinks that this type of practice makes visitors feel uncomfortable and excluded from an intimate time of sharing between those who have relationships with each other. The more I thought about it, the more I thought he has a point when he says that this type of personal prayer request is better made in small groups or to an organized prayer ministry of the church. Yet on the other hand, it is hard to imagine a church eliminating this from their worship service without a giant kerfuffle ensuing.

This is just one example of the difficulty congregations will encounter if they really try to make the people who are not members (or do not attend) their priority rather than those who do. Today I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

New Blogger--A Suckhole for Time

Blogger finally let me switch QG over to the "New" Blogger. Every other time I tried to switch I got a "Not Yet" message.

Fortunately today is Saturday and I needed to stay home anyway. But I didn't mean to spend the whole day playing with all the features, changing the template and trying to figure out a way to get a picture on my header.

I'm not satisfied with the way the header looks, so I'll be tinkering with it some more. I think I'll have to learn how to do the widget thingies if I want the picture to fill the header. Any advice is welcome!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

QG the Erudite

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Honourable Lady Quotidian Grace the Erudite of Lardle St Earache
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

St. Earache? There's a St. Earache??? Hat tip to more RevGals than can be humanly linked!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tough Enough To Change?

As promised, today I'm posting some selective reflections on the time our presbytery leadership spent last week on retreat with Dr. Paul Borden.

Borden is an American Baptist pastor who serves as the leader of one of that denomination's regional judicatories. We read his book Hit the Bullseye as background for his presentation. Since the retreat was for our presbytery leadership, he focused on ways to develop the presbytery staff as consultants to plant healthy churches and transform existing congregations. These strategies can be (and have been) easily adapted for church leaders wanting to grow a healthy congregation. I recommend the book to those of you who are interested--it is a compelling and easy read. Dr. Borden has a good record of success transforming churches which gives his ideas credibility.

Borden is a proponent of tough love. His position is that making disciples must be the first priority -- it is more important than worship, education, fellowship or denominational principles. When he talks about growth, he is not talking about increase in number of members--what El Jefe calls "exchanging hostages" (receiving new members who were already Christians in another church)--but making disciples out of those who were previously not Christians. When Dr. Borden talks numbers, he is referring to worship attendance rather than membership. He believes that the Great Commission is the foremost obligation of the church.

Borden said many things that I have always thought, but never heard anyone else say:
  • Too many churches are designed and structured to remain small and ineffective. We think too small.
  • Too often peace is a higher value than mission, or anything else.
  • Most pastors don't know how to effect transformation because they've never been trained to do it.
  • Fellowship and shepherding must be programmed because making friends is far more important than being friendly.
  • Congregations that are declining will not change until they become focused outward.
  • If a church wants to grow it must staff and behave as if it were larger than it is
Borden also said a number of things that I hadn't heard before and found very challenging:
  • Pastors should not be acting as "chaplains" for the congregation, but should focus on developing the leadership of the staff so the staff can develop the leadership of the laity. (See this excellent post by Jan Edmiston and the thoughtful discussion in the comments that expand on this subject.)
  • Churches that are not making new disciples for Jesus Christ are not being faithful or healthy, no matter what else they are doing.
  • A healthy church gives priority to the people who aren't there yet instead of the people who are.
Accountability is the key to the strategies that Borden advocates--the pastors and other church staff as well as the lay church leadership must be held accountable for well-defined goals. Those goals should include the number of UNCHURCHED people their ministry will reach this year for Jesus, how many leaders they will develop, and by what percentage their area of ministry will grow this year. Borden stresses that "you must marry responsibility with accountability."

It seems to me that the issue of accountability will be the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Accountability is something that churches of every denomination fail to apply to their pastors/priests/ministers, staff and lay leadership at every level. Too often the suggestion that performance standards should be agreed upon and implemented is successfully resisted by those who either fear them or fear the controversy that enforcing them might cause. Witness the congregations and denominations that reward pastors and denominational leaders despite loss of membership, revenue and withdrawal from mission. Or note the many times that ineffective and/or dysfunctional lay leaders remain in place because neither the pastors nor the other lay leaders will remove them. Effective systemic change will never happen unless we are willing to deal with some unpleasantness and pain along the way. The question is can we be tough enough to change, or are we satisfied to wring our hands and whine?

Dr. Borden's presentation did not gloss over the difficulties in the path of congregations that commit to following his strategies for transformation. He gave us way more to think about than I have included here. Dr. Borden's prescription would be a dose of salts for most of us, but maybe it's just what we need to move into the future making disciples for Christ instead of continuing our self-satisfied ways and wondering why the church continues its decline.

If I were the pastor of a church that committed to work with him and his principles, I would be mightily heartened and encouraged to have Paul Borden's assistance and counsel during the inevitable trip to the valley of the shadow that the process would bring. He is positive, convincing and very supportive of pastors, staff and lay leaders who engage in transformation. His presentation included lots of specific examples of creative ways that churches he worked with reached out to make disciples.

Because it would be difficult to re-structure an existing congregation in the way he advocates, I think that using these principles in the implementation of new church plants will prove to be the most productive strategy. I'm appointing a small group of those who attended to sift through all these ideas and recommend ways for New Covenant presbytery to tackle them--that may include exploring the idea of a joint "Growing Healthy Churches"/PCUSA church plant in this presbytery. Since New Covenant presbytery is training church transformation consultants this week, we will also want to consider integrating some of the GHC principles into our program--with special attention to Borden's emphasis on accountability.

Our retreat was very challenging and hopefully will prove to be very productive for us!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wedding in Mexico Lindo

My good friend Wonder Woman (so-called because she is a real rocket scientist working with the space program, a long-time Middle School youth sponsor, expert seamstress and all around fun person)'s eldest daughter was thoughtful enough to plan her wedding at a Mexican Pacific beach resort this weekend, so of course Dorothy, her husband, El Jefe and I had to attend.

The area is known for its magnificent sunsets, so I'm sharing this picture I took with you. We were also treated to an evening of watching the humpback whales while sailing around the bay. Sometimes we saw three or four of them at a time blowing big waterspouts and flipping their tails! The weather was delightful--mid to high 70's and partly cloudy. The best part (other than the wedding itself) was the chance to spend a lot of time together and solve all the problems of the world and the church.

Now we're back to real life in dreary, rainy, cold Houston. Tomorrow I'll report on the retreat to the Piney Woods with Paul Borden. Today I've got some catching up to do!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Retreating Once More into the Piney Woods

Later this morning, after the roads warm up, I'm off to Presbyterian Church Camp in the Piney Woods for the annual New Covenant presbytery retreat of General Council and all the committee chairs. Our retreat leader is Paul Borden.

I'm not familiar with him, so hopefully I will learn a lot. Since it's cold and the cabins are drafty, I'm packing an extra blanket and a bottle of restorative vino for myself, my roomie and whoever else wants to join us.

We return tomorrow afternoon-- and El Jefe and I leave the following morning to attend an out-of-town wedding through Monday. So there may not be any new posts until Tuesday. Have a good weekend, y'all!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A 6th Odd Fact Even QG Didn't Know About Herself

DK continues his research on the geneology of my family and just turned up the information this afternoon that one of my direct ancestors was executed for being a witch during the infamous Salem Witch trials in colonial Massachusetts.

That could explain a LOT!

5 Odd Facts About QG

Denis Hancock (The Reformed Angler) tagged me for a meme where you share 5 odd facts about yourself that people are not likely to know already. Here goes:

1. As a high school senior I was the Duchess of San Antonio in the Cav-OIL-Cade festival in Port Arthur, Texas. This meant that I spent a couple of weekends there, rode on a float in a long fancy gown and was relieved that my assigned escort for the weekend was my height. For those of you who didn't grow up down here, Texas has an array of festivals that require faux nobility. The Cav-OIL-Cade was sort of a "farm team" for the big league festivals like the Martha Washington Ball in Laredo, the Tyler Rose Festival and the the n'est plus ultra: the Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio. I was involved because my Aunt Jean was a force in the Cav-OIL-Cade. And no, I was never called up to the big leagues!

2. In college I went to the March on Washington against the War in Vietnam with my sorority sisters. We had t-shirts that read "Tri-Deltas Against the War."

3. The summer after I graduated from college I was invited to go on a young adult mission trip to Colombia by Mission Presbytery (that's the presbytery for the San Antonio area where I grew up). We spent a month down there and went all over the country. It was a great experience.

4. I was the first woman to be invited to become a partner in a San Antonio law firm--but the offer came at the same time as El Jefe's offer of marriage. I made the smartest choice of my life when I chose El Jefe and moved to Houston where he was an associate in the Big Time Law Firm.

5. I served as an officer and director of the Junior League of Houston for several years. My favorite position was a two-year gig as their Political Action Chairman. I got to go to conferences in Washington DC and lobby Congress with the national group for child abuse reform. Most Junior Leagues have "worker bees" as well as socialites. I was one of the worker bees.

I'm supposed to tag other bloggers, but I'm reluctant to do that with a meme that involves revealing personal things about yourself. So if you'd like to play, please let me know in the comments. I'd love to visit and find out 5 odd things about you!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Million Dollar Problem Update

For the last several days I've been consumed with meetings at presbytery devoted to developing a solution to the million dollar problem.

Here's the most recent financial report on the New Covenant website, if you're interested.

It turns out to be more than a one million dollar problem.

The presbytery's investigation revealed that the former director of business affairs who diverted the special offerings money to presbytery's operating accounts also engaged in an elaborate sale-and-leaseback chain of copier contracts generating large cash rebates that were used to cover other financial shortfalls at the staggering cost to the presbytery of a total copier obligation through 2011 of over $700K. The contracts were reviewed by an attorney who advised that they are enforceable. Presbytery representatives have tried negotiating an early buyout but with no success. Additionally, the presbytery's own restricted accounts, many of which are held for third-parties, were diverted to operating costs to the tune of over $500,000. The million dollar problem has become a $2 million plus problem. Lately it seems as though the numbers are a constantly moving target, which is frustrating.

As a result, the presbytery also finds itself with a critical cash shortage which the aforementioned misallocation of funds was masking. The financial folks are developing migranes as they try to cut the proposed budget enough to balance the income and expenses going forward into the fiscal year 2007.

I've been working with a task force charged with developing a repayment plan that would include reimbursement to the PCUSA for the special offerings, payment of the copier contracts; and replacing the money in our own restricted accounts. We think it is important to bring a proposal for repayment to the February 10 presbytery meeting in order to restore credibility and confidence.

Fortunately, presbytery does have resources to help meet this daunting obligation. A couple of years ago it received an unrestricted bequest that is large enough to cover these debts. That bequest was set aside for the purpose of supporting the presbytery's vision -- "growing congregations that passionately engage their community to make disciples". We've already made a lot of progress planning programs that will help our churches fulfill this vision and are supporting more New Church Developments than almost any other presbytery in the country. The terms of the fund that were previously approved by presbytery will allow using the corpus for other purposes provided there are two super-majority votes by presbytery on different dates. Of course if the fund is depleted, then presbytery will not have the funds to continue supporting its vision in the future.

There are also three parcels of land on the market that were acquired for NCD use in the past but now are not deemed suitable for that purpose. The combined estimated fair market value of this land approximates our total liability. However, two of the parcels have been on the market for some time with little interest generated in them. The third and most valuable has more potential for an early sale and was only recently listed. A group has recently been formed to study the possibility of selling the property where New Covenant's offices are located as well, and that may be another source of money that could be used for repayment.

The challenge is to balance the need to begin making significant repayments to the special offerings and restricted funds, as well as covering the copier lease obligation, with the desire to keep moving forward with a vision that we think is critical not only for the presbytery but ultimately for the PCUSA. There is something very positive going on down here in southeast Texas -- and Heaven knows that the PCUSA needs all the positive developments it can get!

So the task force came up with a 5 year repayment plan that addresses all of these issues in the hope that within the next couple of years real estate sales will permit earlier retirement of all obligations and reimbursement to the Vision Fund of any advances made. It seems like the most prudent and responsible approach to take.

As I write and re-write the drafts of the task force's report and recommendations, I shake my head wondering how in the heck we got into this mess. Then I remember Sir Walter Scott's famous line: "O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Isn't it the truth? I'm grateful we have the resources to get ourselves out of it, but I am concerned about the consequences. I know that the budget cuts that will be necessary in the meantime are going to distress those affected by them.

Despite the difficulties ahead, though, I am not dismayed. Much good will come out of the million dollar mess. Sound financial controls have been implemented. Barnacles on the good ship New Covenant are being scraped off. Tall Steeple Churches have stepped up and assumed some critical NCD costs for the near future. Sessions and individuals are making contributions to presbytery to help with repayment. The General Assembly office is cooperating with the presbytery's proposed repayment schedule. Presbytery will find out which of its functions, programs and missions have the support of the churches and which ones do not. None of these things would have happened but for the MDM.

God can use any situation for good for those who trust in Him. And I believe that God will.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can't We Just All Get Along ? Department

For years two warring factions have conducted Martin Luther King Day parades (yes, two of them) in downtown Houston. Last year's settlement that resulted in peace, unity and one parade for all fell apart this year, and lawsuits ensued resulting in a federal judge ordering the city to issue permits for two parades. There's a rumor on the radio that a third group is now wanting to get in on the fun and insist on its right to have its own parade on Monday.

Way to honor the legacy of Dr. King, y'all !

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Missing Miss Vivien

Please join me in prayer today for the family and friends of one of my favorite people: Miss Vivien. Vivien died yesterday after a long bout with melanoma. She was an energetic, positive woman who was always a delight to be around, even in her illness.

"Miss Vivien" was a beloved Sunday School teacher for the second and third graders at the church. She loved teaching that class with her teenage daughter as her assistant. She was also an elder and very active with the youth programs her daughter participated in. Her husband and daughter will miss her very much, as will all of us who were privileged to know her.

But we do not grieve as those who have no hope, but are comforted to know Vivien has joined the Church Triumphant. God bless you, Vivien.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Separating the Viable from the Non-Viable Church

Wendy emailed me a very interesting article today. "How to Measure Viability" by Thomas Bandy discussed how to measure the viability of churches and when to decide it is time to “pull the plug on them.” In the article, Bandy argued that “many regional judicatories are being held hostage by non-viable churches” and that “most viable churches have distanced themselves from the denominations.” (I'm quoting from it because it isn't available on the web.)

Since I’m committed to spending the next two years working intensively with my presbytery as Moderator-Elect and Moderator, that assertion really got my attention. I think there is a lot of truth in it and that is a real problem because those viable churches are the ones that can provide the resources and example that the “less viable” or “ non viable” churches need.

Bandy suggests that a leader of a church must give three years of effort devoted to trying everything possible to help a “non-viable” church grow. If within 6 months after the end of that time at least 3 out of the 5 following criteria are not realized, then it is time for the pastor to move on and for the judicatory to close the church:
• Net increase of 20 percent of the adult members in serious, partnered midweek, spiritual growth disciplines that include daily Bible reading, intercessory prayer for strangers, intentional conversation about God, increased financial giving at least 3 percent above the average weekly gift to the church and perfect worship attendance (except for reasons of health).

• All (100 percent) of the board members can publicly, individually articulate the answer to this key question: What is it about my experience with Jesus that this community cannot live without?

• The average number of newcomers or visitors in attendance at weekly worship has increased by at least 10 percent.

• The congregation has staked significant money and volunteer energy (proportionate to its budget) on a signature outreach ministry towards a micro-culture not currently represented in the church;

• At least 10 lay members have separately and individually come to the pastor without any outside encouragement or announcement to declare their readiness to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus in mission…and agreed to pray together for the resurrection of the church.
Those are some very specific criteria. I think Bandy’s emphasis on spiritual development of the members, increase in visitor attendance and a proportionate commitment to mission outside the congregation are the keys to success of any revitalization effort.

Many of us in church leadership have resisted setting objective measures of success in this area, fearing that to do so seems to limit God’s grace and power to transform. Bandy argues that his criteria are not measuring God, but our faithfulness—or lack of it. Indeed if we agree to judge others by this criteria, we will be judged by it ourselves. And maybe we’ll be found lacking, too. It is too tempting to exclude ourselves from this judgment.

Ouch! Jesus had something to say about that:
... how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:42.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Calling All RevCooks

Here's a great idea for the Food Network: a show based on the new cookbook, Cooking With The Bible.

There are plenty of RevGals and Pals who could be featured cooks for the series.

Who wants to be the next Rachel Ray or Paula Deen?

Helpful hint for the show: don't demonstrate the Ezekiel bread.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Didn't Know I Needed It


Good friend Dorothy gave me this calendar today as a belated Christmas present.

I think I'm flattered she thinks I need help with this!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Please Shut Up

The Reverend Pat Robertson is once again receiving messages from The Almighty in the form of dire predictions for 2007. This one is a doozy. Robertson says the Lord told him that the US would be hit by a major terrorist attack sometime after September of 2007 involving several major cities and possibly millions of casualties.

Rev. Pat says God is angry with the US for "feigning" friendship with Israel and pushing it towards "national suicide." It's hard to know what to say about a statement that is so patently false.

Robertson claims that he is usually right --like the one where he said President Bush would appoint conservative judges to federal courts (that's a prediction?). Plus he got this directly from the Lord who spoke to him at a recent prayer retreat. I think he's having trouble differentiating the voice of God from the voice of his own preconceived notions.

Can't someone make him stay home and shut up?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

An Inspiring Service

I was listening to the funeral services for President Ford at the National Cathedral this morning while I took down the Christmas decorations. (Yes, I know, some of you leave them up until the end of Epiphany. But I get antsy to do this after New Year's Day.)

Wasn't the music in the service wonderful? The magnificent pipe organ, the orchestra and the choirs were so inspiring and uplifting. And the congregation sang EVERY VERSE of the hymn For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest ! This is one of my favorite hymns and too often you only get to sing a few of the verses.

I also came across this post from Ben Witherington about President Ford and his son, Reverend Ford, who was one of Witherington's seminary classmates which includes some interesting personal anecdotes. It's worth reading.