Sharing the Good News in 5-7 Minutes

Toastmasters InternationalI’ve been wondering for quite awhile what’s the best way to share my faith and other issues related to the church that I serve. I don’t want to turn people off, but I have a message to share. I have Good News.

I’m not a preacher in the typical sense. I don’t get into the pulpit every week to give some sort of homily to an entire congregation. Rather, I find myself working with small groups of church leaders and students of the faith. I want to share with them the joy and passion I have for this Word that comes from God.

I’m also a Toastmaster, so that means I like giving speeches in 5-7 minute time slots. OK, so that’s an over-simplification, but the time block is a good length for getting across a point without overwhelming your audience.

What if I were to present a series of short talks about different books or themes in the Bible? What if I had prepared brief presentations on leading a Sunday school class or how our faith connects with the world around us? Yes, these are items that I’ve been wanting to share, but they have been stuck in my head. These are thoughts that need to be organized, researched and practiced so that the delivery engages the audience.

I am looking forward to practicing these type of talks. I look forward to the day when I could confidently give three such speeches in a row with barely a use of any notes. This is one reason why I am forming a church-sponsored Toastmasters club, not to exclude persons who are not a part of the church, but to provide persons of faith a much more comfortable place to speak of the Good News and its impact on their lives.

Check us out if you are in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. We are planning an initial demonstration meeting tomorrow, August 26, at Hillcrest United Methodist Church, just off of Nolensville Pike and Tusculum Road. The meeting will be following the 10:15 a.m. worship service. Feel free to come on by at 11:30 a.m. if you worship elsewhere. There will be cookies and coffee provided to tied you offer for an hour.

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Move from Christian privileges, rights to responsibilities

Singers at Munger Place UMC interfaith prayer and action vigil on immigration.

Musicians lead during the "Prayer, Renewal and Action on Immigration" interfaith vigil held in 2009 at Munger Place UMC. (UMNS photo by Gail E. Atwater)

When I was growing up, my parents would regularly remind me that much of what I liked to do and have in life was not a right but a privilege. This meant that I should not expect to be able to watch TV whenever I want, rather it was something that was allowed at times when it did not conflict with my other responsibilities.

Being a Christian is full of responsibilities. One should not expect unlimited access to the church building or to the pastor just because one is a member of the congregation or even because one gives a large sum of money to the local church.

Munger Place UMC in Dallas says, “membership is not about what you get, but what you give. It is not about privileges, but about responsibilities” (quoted in “Kitchen Groups–Not About Cooking,” by Steven Manskar, Romans 12, No. 118).

Being a Christian means being a disciple, living selflessly as led by Christ, loving God and neighbor, studying Scripture, and actively listening to how the Spirit calls today. A Christian cannot be concerned with one’s own entitlement.

This does not mean that a Christian ignores one’s own needs, whereas there is a difference between the needs of all persons and a belief that one is entitled to something that others do not enjoy. The selfless disciple is focused on loving God and neighbor, putting the needs of others first.

I started attending Hillcrest UMC a few years ago because I saw the passion whereby so many people gave of their time and resources to care for others in need, regardless of whether they knew those persons. I saw a level of commitment that I desired to have in my own life.

I hope that others will join me this Lent to gather in conversation about how we can live a life of discipleship, disciplining ourselves to live out the responsibilities of Christ-like love. It is good to be a member of the church, but now we need to challenge ourselves to set aside what we thought were our own personal rights and privileges and focus instead on the responsibility to follow the calling of the Holy Spirit.

What responsibilities of a disciple will you focus on this Lent?

What is the foundation for multicultural worship?

A diverse group of young United Methodists.

How do we welcome into our worshiping community the growing numbers of young people with cultural backgrounds different from our own? (A UMNS photo by Shalom Agtarap)

Last week I suggested having a monthly worship time utilizing the gifts of all the diverse peoples in a community. What would that look like and how would it come about?

First, one needs a team of people to guide this that would include many persons from the various parts of the community one seeks to reach. A good place to start would be the leadership teams of the various existing worshiping congregations in the community. The people on the new team need to be committed to the idea of being God’s community together, utilizing the shared gifts of all.

My vision is not of rotating which cultural group is taking lead. It is not to be worship in the Hispanic tradition one month, an Asian tradition the next, and the Euro-American tradition the third month. Rather, multiple traditions, and even languages, need to be woven together so that all God’s people celebrate the glory of God’s creation.

Sure, there will need to be some variation month to month to engage the different traditions in each part of the service, but care must still be taken that all parts connect to the whole as in any typical worship service. The primary purpose of this time is not to highlight the many cultures, but to worship God. If combining specific items becomes a detriment to worship, then please end that particular combination.

There are reasons worship has remained segregated for many years even as the United States has become more diverse and integrated.  Nevertheless, I believe we can find a way to worship together. We must explore that possibility through attempts at putting it into practice. A monthly service, separate from normal worship times would allow for the building of a multicultural worshiping community without disrupting already existing experiences.

How do you build worship for the new community?

Multicultural Choir

A multicultural choir sings at a United Methodist event in 2008. (A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert)

One of my main concerns for the church is building a community of diverse peoples. This has been a concern of mine from childhood when one of my favorite songs said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” I have wanted to bring all of God’s precious children together, but have struggled to envision how to bring that about.

Recently, I read about “Women’s Worship” and a Children First worship time. One common suggestion was to create a monthly worship service addressed around the needs of the specific community. Could this be a way to begin a worship time intended for an audience of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds?

First off, let me say that I am not trying to segregate the worshiping community. Ethnically and culturally, we are already highly segregated in worship. Even the congregation where I currently worship, which prides itself on its diversity, finds itself segregated from Hispanic and Asian worshiping communities that use its facilities. I am looking for a way to bring people together.

I envision a monthly service at a time separate from any current worship time. It would be a time to highlight the gifts of many in the community in ways that are not regularly done in the weekly worship services of any group. Yes, language barriers will need to be addressed. However, the purpose would be to worship God together with each other as the diverse people God made us to be. While we may not understand every single word spoken, we should be able to understand the love of God flowing through our neighbors.

It’s Time to Build a Congregational Education Plan

Tree Branches

There are many parts that make up a full Christian education program.

I just spent this afternoon brainstorming with the minister of discipleship in my local congregation. We are in the process of developing a holistic program for spiritual formation to begin this fall. Already our spiritual formation team has determined six general areas that need to be covered: Scripture, beliefs, worship & sacraments, daily life, living mission and United Methodism. We believe that every member of our United Methodist congregation needs to develop an understanding of these six areas. Therefore, we need to make sure that our congregation regularly teaches each of these areas at some point during the year.

Ideally each Sunday school class will cover each area, as will the preaching, during the course of the year. The task of our discipleship team, minister and team chair (myself) is to determine other programs to supplement the preaching and Sunday school classes. Not every person is in a Sunday school class and not every class is as effective in addressing all six areas.

Today, we began our work by considering the person new to this congregation and perhaps new to faith. People in this context need a program that answers the question of who we are as Christians, as United Methodists and as members of this local congregation. The program will need to prepare persons to make a decision on whether to join the congregation and perhaps even to make a profession of faith.

Yes, there are plenty of resources that provide guidance for this type of program. We will likely tap several of them either for this initial course or at some other point in our calendar. However, our goal is to present the uniqueness of our congregational context while also paying attention to the needs of those who pass through our doors. In this manner, we will fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Learn From Dickens’ Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens-A Christmas Carol-Title page-First edition 1843Charles Dickens wrote his holiday classic A Christmas Carol more than 160 years ago, and it still speaks to us today. Dickens’ story, whether read or seen in one of many screen adaptations, reminds us of the joys of Christmases past, the busy-ness of Christmas present and the uncertainty of Christmases future.

Join me Sunday, December 5, at Hillcrest UMC in Nashville, Tennessee, for a four-week study of A Christmas Carol and consider for yourself whether the coming of Christ is a season of humbug or a reason to give of yourself. Class begins at 9:40 am and will be held in the Fellowship Hall. We will begin this week in setting the stage of 1843’s London, who is Scrooge and the encounter with Marley and the Spirit of Christmas Past. Bring something that reminds you of a previous Christmas, either in happy or in sad times.

How Can One Take Risks in Mission and Service?

feeding

Volunteers at Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver serve lunch three days a week to the city's growing homeless population. (UMNS)

I am excited to see more “risk-taking mission and service“; however, the church continues to hold many people back. The church will best succeed in developing “fruitful congregations” if it supports those with a desire to reach out into the community and the world.

Risk-taking mission and service is the fourth of Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. It is an area that I yearn to grow in. Perhaps that is why when as a college student I spent six months in Kenya. While at the time I was afraid to travel the country on my own, Kalamazoo College gave me the opportunity to be a part of a study abroad program that provided opportunities to live in different parts of the country. It was this experience that opened my eyes to the world and the need to build greater connection between peoples.

However, one does not need to travel the world in order to engage in risk-taking mission and service. There are plenty of opportunities for service in our local communities. Cold weather months will soon be upon us if they are not already in your neighborhood. Many churches open their doors to the homeless and provide a warm place to spend the night as well as three meals. Hillcrest UMC in Nashville, Tenn., where I attend, is one of those places that welcomes guests once each week. In partnership with other congregations, all nights of the week are covered. Volunteers are needed to prepare meals and stay the night with the guests.

I have helped in this program when attending Belmont UMC, also in Nashville. It is a good way to sit down and have a conversation with persons you may not otherwise be able to talk to. Sitting around a dinner table is a much more comfortable place to engage in this conversation then on the streets. However, I want to warn you about the risks. You may learn about other areas where your service is needed. Don’t be afraid. Gather others in your congregation and engage in mission.