Experiment: Facebook Live Book Study

I am running an experiment this fall in the local church with the purpose of engaging people in discipleship. The experiment is a Facebook Live Book Study. Some of the observations that lead to this experiment:

  • High engagement of video on the church’s Facebook page
  • Congregants sharing the value of study’s led by the preacher
  • Desire for discipleship opportunities outside of Sunday morning

We will be reading Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World by Shelly Miller (Amazon.com) using a reading plan that you can find at the church’s website. My plan is to go on Live on the church’s Facebook page each week to share some highlights from the reading and invite responses. I hope to be able to engage with people who are able to join online at the time, however the content will also be available to engage with through questions I will post in the comments.

I hope that we will be able to connect with new people who would not otherwise be able to fit a discipleship opportunity like this into their schedule. No matter how it goes, there will be valuable learning.

Let’s do this.

Preparation for a Service of the Baptismal Covenant

A Conversation about the Meaning, Symbolism and Responsibility of Baptism

One of the great privileges that I have as a United Methodist preacher is offering the sacrament of Christian baptism to individuals and families connected with the local church. I like to meet with the individual or family in advance of the service to hear their story and to share some of the meaning, significance and logistics of the service.

Meaning of Baptism

  • Baptism is a sacrament, which is is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. This means that there is a physical action or elements that represent God’s work in our lives. In the United Methodist Church, there are two sacraments — baptism and Holy Communion. In Holy Communion, the other sacrament in the United Methodist Church, the bread and the cup represent the body and blood of Christ and entering into a new covenant.
  • Baptism is rooted in the Bible. We see a connection in the Old Testament ritual of cleansing and renewal. The Jewish people would undergo a ritual cleansing before participating in religious ceremonies. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus himself coming to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan river.
  • Baptism is a sign of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Throughout scripture we read stories of God making covenants, or promises with individuals and communities — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the people of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus offers an invitation to a new covenant at the last supper. Baptism makes this real.
  • Baptism is initiation into the body of Christ. Baptism is not particular to a local congregation or denomination. You become a part of the universal church across all time and space.
  • Baptism is a signal that God’s forgiveness that is always and repeatedly available to us when we repent of our sins. For adults who are baptized, it can be a sign that all the ways that one has strayed from God’s path in the path have been forgiven. When an infant is being baptized, it can be difficult to consider that there are things which the child has said or done that are contrary to God’s dream for people. However, sin is not jus thte things that we hav done wrong, it is also the state in which we exist — it is part of our human condition.
  • Baptism is beginning of a lifetime journey of holiness. No matter the age of the person being baptized, it is not the end of a journey of faith — it is just the beginning. It is a significant milestone in our lifetime journey grow toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a commission of ministry. We are commissioned to serve God in all areas of our life, not just when we are in a particular place or around particular people.

Symbolism in the Act of Baptism

Water is the central symbol of baptism. We experience water in a variety of ways in our lives and these can give us insight into what is happening in baptism.

  • Just as there are waters at our physical birth, the water of baptism is symbolic of a spiritual new birth.
  • In the Bible, we read of the spirit of God moving across the waters and bringing order out of chaos at the very beginning of time. In a similar way, the waters of baptism can bring order out of the chaos of our lives.
  • We use water to wash and cleanse our physical bodies and the water of baptism is symbolic of our sin being washed away.

After the use of water, laying on of hands and anointing with oil symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit. We read in the Old Testament of indiviudals and holy items being anointed with oil as a sign of being set aside for God and God’s purposes.

Responsibility of Baptism

  • In addition to the meaning and symbolism of baptism, there is responsibility. Parents or guardians who are bringing a child to be baptized have the responsibility to raise the child in the faith and model for them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks to worship, grow, give, serve and share. Part of their role is to encourage the child to, one day, claim faith for themselves.
  • Godparents, should the family chose to name them, are also taking responsibility to help raise the child in the faith and encourage them to claim faith for themselves.
  • Adults who come to be baptized have the responsibility to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ as they worship, grow, give, serve and share and seek to move toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a community event and the congregation is responsible for be active in the life of the individual and family and help her or him grow in faith. Those that have made a commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, recommit themselves to living a faithful life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much water should be used?
    • United Methodists practice sprinkling, pouring and full immersion. The water is a symbol of God’s action and the amount does not matter. Consider rings which are often exchanged as a symbol of marriage vows — a more expensive ring does not make someone “more married.” In a similar way, more water does not make someone “more baptized.”
  • Why are infants baptized?
    • As United Methodists, we believe that God is at work in our lives before we are able to recognize it. Faith is professed by the parents or guardians and promises are made to raise the child in the faith.
  • Do I need to be re-baptized?
    • No. As United Methodists, we believe that baptism is primarily God’s action. We do not practice re-baptism as we believe that God was at work in one’s baptism — no matter the age or circumstances. However, there are times in life when it is appropriate to remember your baptism or recommit yourself to living life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can create a symbolic moments in worship for these times of life that are not being baptized again.
  • Does baptism make me a member of the church?
    • Yes. In baptism, you become part of the universal church of Jesus Christ across all time and space. Adults become a Professing Member and Children a Baptized Member of the local United Methodist Church.
  • When do children claim faith for themselves?
    • There is a variety of opinions of the “age of assent” for a child to claim faith for themselves. As a church, we offer the opportunity for persons in 8th to 12th grade to an intentional time of examining their faith and the opporutnity to confirm the promises that were made on their behalf at their baptism. At confirmation, one transitions from a Baptized Member to a Professing Member of the United Methodist Church.

Conclusion

Baptism is meaningful, significant and exciting time in the life of an individual, family and local congregation. It is an honor to be part of this milestone on the journey of faith.

Institute: What’s the Point? (5 of 5)

I spent last week at a youth camp, Institute 2010: God’s All Stars, which is a ministry of the Conference Council on Youth Ministry of the Kansas East Annual Conference. This post is part of a series reflecting on the week and making applications for the local church.

I am unable to deny that there are some positive outcomes to Institute. I was still left with the question, What’s the point? It could have been:

  • Provide a safe place for students
  • Offer freely given love as part of a Christian community
  • Create a place where people are always accepted
  • Meet new people
  • Move forward on the journey of becoming a deeply committed Christian.
  • Have fun and play games
  • Create a culture of hearing God’s call to ministry

After a week, I am not sure what is the driving purpose of Institute. Those who come to camp become part of the leadership team that plans the next year. Students come year after year. Adults come to serve because they came when they were young. It has been going for 99 years…

I gained some additional insight from Notes on Camp and commend it to you as a great listen and insight into summer camp of all sorts.

Top Indicators of an Unhealthy Church

There are clear indicators of effective clergy that would ensure that she or he would receive an appointment regardless of whether her or his appointment is guaranteed in the United Methodist Church. There are also churches that are more and less healthy. In April, the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church suggested that there are five areas to be measured in a church:

  • worship attendance
  • disciples engaged in mission
  • professions of faith
  • mission giving
  • spiritual / discipleship formation groups.

Unhealthy churches are those that are not breaking even or growing in these areas. Other, less official indicators include:

  • Requesting that 3 of the last 5 appointed pastors move in less than two years.
  • No clear mission or vision.
  • Unwelcoming to first time guests.

What would you add to this list?

Fractal Discipleship in the United Methodist Church

I had a conversation several weeks ago with Paul Watson and he talked about a concept which I dug up on reaching the online generation.

The concept is Fractal Discipleship.

According to Wikipedia, “A fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole.”

The basic idea is what helps a new believer grow in her or his faith is the same as what helps a deeply committed Christian grow in her or his faith. This is a deeply methodist concept. The organization of class and bands were the same process for someone that was just beginning the journey or someone that had been on the journey of faith for a long time. Spiritual growth happens most effectively in community for both the non religious person and the deeply committed Christian. The means of grace, in which one opens one’s life and heart to God, are the same for someone no matter what level of commitment.

A great concept and an excellent way of understanding it.

What are your thoughts, feelings or opinions about fractal discipleship?

Zimbabwe: Worship and Discipleship (4 of 8)

One of the first sites that we visited in Zimbabwe was a revival at Prospect United Methodist Church. We walked into some of the most passionate worship that I have experienced. In the singing, preaching, dancing and response it was clear that the Holy Spirit was active. While I did not understand the language of some of the songs, I was clearly able to worship God.

It was refreshing.

I was also struck by the commitment to discipleship. 80% to 90% of the people who attended worship on the weekend were also active in a small group, which was called a section. When I commented that it would be fantastic if there there were 50% of a worshipping congregation also in a small group in the United States, my comment did not seem to make sense. The response was, wasn’t that how Wesley designed the class meeting? so that people could grow in their faith? This is the way to do that.

True.

Too true…

What do you do as pastor for Resurrection Online? – Part Un

This is one of the most common questions that I receive since starting my new role as Resurrection Online Campus Pastor on November 1. The answer is most accurately answered in two parts and the first part has to do with the online experience.

Since November 2, 2008 there have been an average of 1,004 people worshiping with Resurrection Online each weekend at http://live.cor.org. I serve as the pastor for this community and seek to provide leadership, care and guidance through word, order, service and sacrament. This online experience is built to connect with digital natives who are comfortable in an online space and are seeking meaning. Right now, I am interacting with this community primarily through email and I am working on a survey to gather more information about those who are worshiping online.

In addition, we are looking at ways to increase the interactivity on the website to allow for community to begin to form. I believe that this will most effectively be through existing social networks and tools that people use to interact online and not force people to create a brand new login and profile. Any website improvements will be social to begin to build community around the shared experience of worship. In addition, they will also seek to improve on the experience of spiritual formation of those that are online.

Other next steps as pastor for Resurrection Online include:

  • My video presence before, after and / or during the worship experience online with a specific message for those online.
  • Developing opportunities for people to grow in their faith outside of worship.
  • Equipping people who worship online to serve in the communities where they are located.
  • Providing pastoral care and guidance to those who worship online.
  • Clearly articulate the ecclesiology of the experience from a United Methodist perspective.

Ultimately, I hope to be part of building a Christian community online where non religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.

Will you please share what you hope I would be about as pastor for Resurrection Online?