Feb
14

I want the future of ministry to be these 5 things…

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Major ministerial goals for me in the next ten years are really more woven into a healthy shift of ministry approach.  Consider the following:

1. Crises will produce character – As the intensity of spiritual, ideological, governmental and economic despair accelerates, it is going to require more Christians that can pray, think and steward God’s resources strategically, without collapsing under the pressure. In other words, we need to develop or personal spirituality. As believers we have to be learners and doers. This means that we will be forced to learn interdependence upon our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ as perhaps never before. It will no longer be an option.  There are leaders that serve and dare to encounter creation and there are those that hunker down and throw lightning bolts.  We must serve. It is this critical mass of folks who are now rediscovering the dynamics of bringing faith into their homes and sense that “part-time” Christianity will not empower them for an encounter with modern culture.  This is a primary teaching point in all the youth ministry that I advocate and has changed the culture of adolescent ministry in my home diocese.

2. Right thinking precedes right action (Ro. 12:2 “Be not conformed to this world’s thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”). Perhaps Oswald Chambers said it best, “Most of Christian learning is to un-learn what thought we knew.” Christians are now hungering to develop a more integrated, biblical world view. Catholics are reading the bible!  Whoever would have thought it would happen. We’ve choked on humanism and now the chickens are coming home to roost. In the context of the Catholic believer that pursues holiness and grows in personal formation, these and other “ism’s” can be systematically dismantled and replaced by a proper, biblical foundation for advancing the Kingdom of God. This will take time.  But, a laity awake and not a sleeping giant will inevitably change the landscape of modern Catholicism.

John 17:14-18 illustrates the discipleship strategy by our Lord Jesus himself in His prayer for us. Note that maturity, in Jesus’ mind, involve recognizing: A) God’s sovereignty to “Take us out of the world system,” and B) our progressive, obedient yielding to the Holy Spirit, taking the world’s system of thinking out of us. It then culminates in C) our responsive action to His mandate to go back into the world system to represent the Kingdom of God.  This is evangelization at its raw core.  It is what church was always made to be.

3. This growing community of delivered, formed and motivated Catholic Christians is now prepared to become active participants in external community. They are ready to bring their spiritual gifting and ministries into the citywide or parish celebration – to see I Cor. 14:26 actually functioning again! The future Catholic church releases believers to bring forth spiritual songs, hymns, teachings, exhortations and general strengths into the more corporate gatherings and are given the opportunity to share them openly with the whole body.  This is both a multicultural and demographic awareness!

4. The rise of team ministry and diversity of leadership is already beginning to replace the “lone ranger” approach to catechetics and formation. This requires a new level of humility, faith and servitude by Catholic Church leadership, characteristics that God is requiring of clergy and laity who have a healthy self-image, not linked with their title. We need leaders with ample trust in God, so that the “order of worship” need not be inscribed in stone. I am not referring to liturgy here.  I am addressing the notion of community worship, life of prayer and pursuit of holiness. The open and inviting Catholic Church of the future may at first seem risky, but the result will be the edification of the whole body, drawing the focus to the head, Jesus Christ.  With Eucharist at our core, what community could fail in expanding their awareness of holy commission to simply become more?  Perhaps,  that question requires an even greater dialogue.

5. As leaders and parishes begin to discern their unity of purpose – to advance Christ’s Kingdom – to Evangelize – they will begin to discover one another. In relationships, Christ clearly reveals the miraculous and the mission driven aspects of discipleship. The early signs of this can be seen in youth and adults used to gathering in prayer and worship. Prayer and worship becomes the norm for Catholics and not just another “event.” A genuine longing for continuation of these relationships found in deanery and diocesan community occurs at a national and international level.  Consider the power of gatherings like the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry’s National Catholic Youth Conference or World Youth Day. This dynamic is also growing among Catholic working professionals who are awakening to the key role that God has given them in advancing God’s Kingdom in the marketplace.  Perhaps there will be more dramatic impacts in politics where Catholics are challenged not to be partisan but rather politically homeless.

Add it all up and you can see that the individual pursuit of spiritual discipline and family faith formation is a key element to a modern evangelization. Yes, as the kingdoms of this world are maturing in unrighteousness, the Kingdom of God is maturing in righteousness, a process that Jesus explained in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13: 37-43). Notice that they both grow side by side until the end, and it’s not our job to pull weeds, but rather to sow and grow wheat! Praise God that he builds from the inside out and the bottom up.

A grounded family based approach to healthy spiritual development will change the landscape of ministry and begins with folks already in the field.  This is my major ministerial goal.  I want to model healthy direct service ministries from my diocesan office, but I also want to teach witness and train others to re-invest in their homes as the primary venue of faith formation.

Feb
13

Tootsie Pops and the annihilation of fearless foes.

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My friend Jeff and I used to play a game when we were younger.  You can imagine the amount of logic that went into creating a game as a sixth grade boy.  All of us would make up games involving tag, wizards and the occasional Star Wars character. Right?  My friend and I were no different.  This game, however, involved tootsie pops and the occasional emergency room visit.

Sitting in the car with Jeff after school on our way somewhere, we both had tootsie pops in our mouths.  Jeff looked at me with fierce determination and said, “I got an idea.”  To which I replied, “Cool.”  Most of Jeff’s ideas involved the consumption of insects or the shooting of BB guns so as far as I was concerned, Jeff was a genius.  Jeff’s idea was to play a game whereupon he and I stare at each other with our hand firmly planted at our side.  Whoever could reach up and grab their tootsie pop out of their mouth and hit the other person in the forehead first was the winner.  Man, I love this guys logic.

The game sounded like as good of an idea as one could muster on a road trip so I said, “Cool.”  Staring into one another’s eyes with determined vengeance we planted our hands at our side.  No sooner had I set my hands down did I feel a slimy tootsie pop smear across my face.  “You missed,” I said.  Jeff, now siting in his target with more determination than ever, reached for his tootsie pop but not before I firmly whacked him square in the melon.

A word or two about tootsie pops; this is a candy made up of flavored caramelized sugar in a small ball around a tootsie roll center on the end of a tiny stick.  What appears to be harmless should really be classified as some kind of medieval weapon.  Jeff’s world had been rocked.

He looked at me with astonishment mostly because I never won our “games” and because he noticed a small trickle of blood flowing down his face.  My tootsie pop had shattered when I hit him and formed itself into a small dagger of sorts.  The trickle became Niagra Falls. We figured we were doomed when his parents found out and we were pretty much right.

Two hours and three stitches to Jeff’s forehead later I was dropped off at home.  His parents were more upset at Jeff’s idiocy than my keen skill with the tootsie pop.  “See ya tomorrow,” I said with just a hint of victory in my voice.  “Cool,” Jeff replied like a man defeated at his own craft conspiring to find the angle for which he would accomplish future victories.

This post is really just a plea to all you folks to give up candy for lent.

Happy Ash Wednesday.

Cool.

Feb
12

The Iron Man and the communion of Saints.

“On the night that Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played there were no arrests in Baltimore.”  My good friend Ted told me this over beers the other night.

There are a few important things to understand regarding this statement.  Baltimore is a wonderfully historical city.  It is deeply rooted in both import/export business and the corruption that comes with big money.  It is a city close to everything but far away from many peoples most desirable places to live.

Like many blue collar cities in the world there is a great deal of crime and frustration regarding the economy and the general decomposer of “the way it was” or “the way it ought to be.” Baltimore has a couple great sports teams (Orioles and Ravens).  You might have heard of them.

On September 6, 1995 most of the country and pretty much all of Baltimore tuned in to watch Cal play his 2,131 consecutive game.  Ripken hit a homerun in the fourth inning and by the middle of the fifth inning the game was official.  The crowd stood and gave Cal a twenty-minute standing ovation.  They cheered loudly and with the ferver of amazed bystanders for twenty straight minutes not really knowing what else to do.  Ripken had given his entire career to one team.  He encountered suffering, disrespect, media pressure, death threats and the remarkable anger that comes to many when we try to change history.  But he endured.

Both outside and inside the stadium in Baltimore, people were spellbound.  Silence ensued within the city’s busy streets.  Celebrations occurred and violence seemed to stop.  In a city known for its raw culture and honest working man’s efforts, hatred seemed to take absence because of one man and the game he loved. No arrests happened on September 6, 1995.

I write these things on the Shrove Tuesday (Mardis Gras) on the eve of Ash Wednesday and the brink of the Lenten season because I love that pitchers and catchers report to spring training today. And I love peace.  I love that well after Ripken’s career in baseball had come to an end he founded a corporation that builds baseball parks in urban Baltimore with the express purpose of getting youth off the streets and teaching them a more enriching way of life.

Peace comes to us when we are silent.  It comes when we remember the things that are really important.  Peace happens when we invite celebration into our homes and when we listen to the stories of heroes and the broken.  Peace is a gift in the midst of thievery and a statement among silent voices.  It is a twenty minute raucous and a quiet street.

When we focus on our true heroes we encounter peace.

Lets focus on Christ this Lent.  Lets dig into the lives of the saints and surrender the violence of our daily schedules for the holiness of their sacrifice.  Lets bring peace.  Peace be with you this Lenten season and all seasons.  May peace enter your home and reign in the midst of all your days.  Play ball.

Jan
31

No drugs in the desert.

Once I gave up coffee for Lent.  This was a conscious choice.  I swear. After forty days of depravity it was decided by my lovely wife that I was never aloud to do it again.  Allow me to explain.

In the forty days leading up to Easter, Catholics enter into a time of fasting and preparation for the resurrection of our Lord.  Easter becomes the carrot on the end of the stick.  This is, of course, where the folklore of bunnies enters into the tradition.  Catholics become so desperate for whatever they fast from during Lent that they are like rabbits ravaging a garden of carrots.  Not really.


Lent is a time of sacrifice.  It is a desert.  In going out to the desert, Christ embraced the challenges and temptations of the world and told them where to stick it. The word Lent itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words lencten, meaning “Spring,” and lenctentid, which literally means not only “Springtide” but also was the word for March, the month in which the majority of Lent falls.

Please understand, I do not consider myself addicted to any drugs.  I am not a drug abuser.  I choose my drugs wisely and feel that I care for them with the utmost compassion and respect.  I simply like coffee.  On a day to day basis I drink about four to thirty cups.  Okay, more like eight.  You get the picture.

I felt like giving up coffee would be a real symbol of sacrifice and dedication to the season.  I didn’t realize that the headaches, lack of “wake-up”ability and genuine agitation would disrupt my family dynamic to the point of near incarceration.  But I made it the full forty days.  Bring it on.

In giving up coffee, I thought my sacrifice was the reason for the season.  I understood Lent to be about me and my ability to dedicate myself by giving up something.  Wrong.

Easter morning I drank an entire pot of coffee and returned to the daily high octane lifestyle that my wife and children had grown to love.  My stomach felt like a rusted steel mill brought back to life for one weekend of production only to be shut down again by a strike on the part of my colon.  Not pretty. What was Easter about anyway?

Lent is not about what you give up for your sake in hopes that you can tell all your Catholic friends about your sacrifice.  It is about the desert.  Lent is a time to shut up.  It is a designated season for creating more space in your life for Christ to be more present.  It is silence when you would normally be loud.  It is stillness where you are usually busy.  It is calm where you bring chaos.  It is Christ.

Walk into the desert this Lent with a sense of confidence and anticipation for you resurrected king. If you “give something up” be sure to fill the time you would have used for that thing with time for Christ.  Meet him in the sands with dedicated time and set aside reflection.  Chocolate or no chocolate, I promise your Easter will be that much more of a celebration.  Then, have a nice cup of coffee and enjoy the morning.

Jan
28

Wolves shooting guns in the kitchen.

I was a liar as a child.  It is something really.  I would lie to my parents about all kinds of things.  Once I wrote my name on the side of our house with a pencil.  When my dad asked me if I had done it, I denied it.  Now, I am no lawyer, but I feel my defense may be weakened in these particular circumstances.

The amazing thing about all my childhood lying was that I really don’t know why I did it.  I was a pretty good kid.  Sometimes my friends and I would do stupid stuff, but nothing illegal, that we knew of at the time.

My lying haunted me when I became a teenager. It was clear that my parents had a hard time trusting me.  Please understand that I completely agree with them at this point.  Who would trust someone that would lie about their homework almost everyday and then lie about how they had lied in order to try and get themselves out of trouble for lying.  Mom and dad, I get it.

This lack of trust in our home created a bit of a vacuum for healthy conversation and genuinely led my dad to becoming a stark raving lunatic.  I had cried wolf so many times in our home, the shepherds were just down right pissed. Let me explain.

I had BB Gun when I was a child, like all good boys.  I had shot many pop cans, neighboring cats and the occasional migratory bird.  I was actually pretty responsible with the device.  I know you don’t believe me now, but I swear.  Anyway, on one fine day my friends and family popped a big bowl of popcorn in our Stir Crazy popper.  Being young, I was always inclined toward making a mess.  A number of the hot popcorn seeds spilled out of the popcorn maker and onto our linoleum kitchen floor.  The seeds were so hot that they melted little holes into the floor just about the exact size of a BB.  Do you see where I am going with this?

My dad, not exactly a morning person, woke up one afternoon after working hard as a long haul truck driver only to find his kitchen floor riddled with small holes. His red faced assessment led him to believe that I had walked around the kitchen shooting the floor with my BB gun.  I know, right?

I was confronted with the allegation whereupon I laughed quite loud.  My dad became enraged at my humorous downplaying of the situation and proceeded to deductively reason both my motivation for the crime and my general defiance in the home.  I was at a loss for words.  I thought he had gone nuts.

The sad part is, he was really angry and stayed that way for quite sometime.  What I considered to be something trivial and silly, he presumed to be wedge in our relationship.  That kinda sucked.  The wedge would have been an easily explained mishap if trust had been maintained.  Instead it was a family altering reality.

Trust is what it is because it is necessary in healthy relationships.  Trust is a non-negotiable component. Trust is like 1000 foot dam.  It appears powerful and strong and nearly invincible but as soon as one little leak is spotted, integrity and value become doubted and even dismissed.  Trust is the foundation for all relationships because it is both fragile and firm.  It tills the soil and nourishes the seed. You wonder why all of God’s relationships with us were built on convenant…a old word for promise based on trust.

To this day, I am convinced that my dad still believes I shot his floor.  No worries dad, at least you never found the holes in the ceiling.