Is Easter REALLY Our “Super Bowl”?

Is Easter Sunday REALLY the Super-Bowl?

Growing up in my faith tradition, it was common to hear Easter Sunday referred to as “The Super Bowl”. Since it is (was?) traditionally one of the most heavily attended Sundays of the year, there is always a tremendous amount of time and energy put into making an amazing Sunday experience—both for guests and for God.

We put together the best musicians we can find, we purchase thousands of dollars in Easter lillies, we polish the pews and the doors and we make extra room for people who will “check out faith” for perhaps the only time that year.

In short, we put our best foot forward.

Part of this effort is in recognition of the celebration of the resurrection: Easter really IS a special day in our faith, and we do our best to make our worship reflect the glory and joy of Jesus’ resurrection.

However, is calling it “The Super Bowl” really the best metaphor? I’m not sure.

(For starters, soccer is a much better metaphor for the spiritual life.)

The reason I’m rather uncomfortable with the Super Bowl image is that, well, it just puts too much of me in it. The Super Bowl depends on the players playing in it.

Christ’s resurrection does not.

Our best efforts on Easter are not so much to “make it happen” but to respond to something that has already happened.

Our Super Bowl really happened already. We are just basking in the victory now.

Furthermore, the Super Bowl metaphor (and yeah, I know: all metaphors break down eventually, but this is my rant, not yours) doesn’t really play out theologically: We play the Super Bowl; you (Who: guests? The Church?) watch us. 

I wonder if a different image might be a Feast: We are inviting people to “our house” where a great celebration is going to happen. We didn’t even cook the meal, but it’s going to be a night of rich food and deep celebration. We want you to come, but the success of the feast doesn’t really depend on our greatness, or the 6 (8? 10? 15?) hours of rehearsal…

It depends on the presence of the One whom we are celebrating.

We are participants, with you—the guests, the Church… everyone. 

We have come to the feast just like you. We are not separate.

So what if instead of “Playing the Super Bowl” this year, we “Went to the Feast” (and invited others to come as well)?

 

About these ads

That Time When Jesus Wrecked My Ministry (Well, sorta)

English: Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006.

English: Wrecking ball in use during demolition of the Rockwell Gardens housing project in Chicago, Illinois, February 2006.

I’ve written before about where my ministry shoulders are “broad”, meaning the areas that I feel competent and trained and able to execute fairly easily. When I began to teach and preach regularly a few years back, that started developing into an area of confidence and competence as well. I never thought of myself as a preacher, but I knew that words mattered to me, and somehow (for better or for worse) I was able to string together series of them into phrases and thoughts that seemed to matter to people. It seemed like I could do some good; people came up and affirmed me, and told me how much these thoughts and phrases had challenged them, or helped them to see God in a new way, or comforted them.

A part of me loved every minute of it.

My ego soaked it up, and began to believe all of those words that I heard. Each time I walked up onto our little platform, I desired to be poignant and clever; I wanted to shake people up, to invite them to see God and His world in an awe-filled and worshipful way. I continued to do some kind of good, and accepted people’s compliments with the requisite, “aw shucks” attitude that pastors are supposed to have.

But in retrospect I think that I was rotting inside.

When I began my sabbatical back in January, Jesus started dealing with me in some very serious, foundational ways, and one of the truths that I’ve had to deal with is how full of myself I can be.

My pride can be horrific.

For the past 10 months or so, I’ve been journeying inside myself to find all these nooks and crannies where destruction lives, and attempting to bring them out into the light where God can deal with them in a loving but firm way.

As a result, I’ve begun to feel somewhat like a normal human being.

But what’s been interesting—and even a little scary—is how it has impacted my ministry.

Because I have less confidence than ever.

Because I stumble over words more (maybe our congregation doesn’t notice, but believe me, I do.).

Because I feel empty. (Not in the spiritual way; in the “Watch-me-I-can-get-this-done-just-fine” way.)

Because I feel mostly like I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

All because Jesus showed up. All because he showed up to show me how ill I truly was, how my ego was destroying me, how my inflated and false sense of self was keeping me from knowing healing and some semblance of love.

He showed up—not because he wanted to tear me down as a pastor—but because he wanted to build me up as a human being. He comes to do that, you know: to turn us into full human beings, like we’ve always been intended to be.

He’s still working on me; I’m still speaking and playing music, and I’m growing used to the idea of not being in control of everything.

He’s better at it than I am.

Weapons of Mass Production :: The “135 Principle”

You should see my “To Do” list…

Currently, it runs 11 pages.

This is not a source of pride for me; it’s simply a picture of what my priorities are.

I don’t know how long your list is, but let me as you this…

How many things do you try to accomplish on a given day? 

One of the things I’ve realized lately is that there’s a serious disconnect between what I think I can accomplish on a given day (given an 11 page long “To Do” list) and what I actually can accomplish. I used to wake up and be determined to make some serious dents in that list, but over and over again, I’d end up at the end of the day frustrated and discouraged, because the list just seemed to actually get longer not shorter. It was pretty demotivating.

vsco_0What if the problem is not with my work ethic, but with my expectations? Would it not feel more motivational if I actually was clear (and reasonable) with what I wanted to get done?-

I’ve been trying to re-frame my thinking about my daily productivity, based on something that I’m simply calling the “135 Principle.”

It’s based on the premise that in a given day, you can really only accomplish one really big goal, three medium-sized goals, and five small goals. 

  • The “1” could be that very significant, highly creative project you’re working on that needs the best of you over multiple hours. It’s the centerpiece of your day, the “mission” of that day.
  • The “3” could stand for the thirty-minute standing conversation you need to have with a co-worker regarding an upcoming meeting or event. It could be the set of instructions you need to write up, or the recap conversation or email you need to craft.
  • The “5” could represent phone calls or informational emails; things that are still proactive, but not necessarily time- or resource-intensive.

Sophisticated language, I know, but this was significant because I realized that I’d actually been operating in something like a 5-8-15 paradigm, and there simply is not enough time to do those things. 

And when we “fail”, over and over again, to accomplish things, most of us stop referring to our lists, because we become subtly aware that they don’t mean anything. When you constantly feel like you are unable to accomplish your list, a trigger starts to go off in your brain to avoid it. It’s a drain; it’s a sign of failure.

What something like the “135 Principle” can do is to help you manage your expectations and complete your tasks on a given day, which can give you a minor sense of accomplishment and some motivation to get up and accomplish the next day’s tasks.

 

It’s about momentum.

 

NEXT WEEK: I’m starting a new series on Jesus (surprise!) Stay tuned!

 

========================================

 

 

Weapons of Mass Production, Pt 1

Something different today…

As a pastor, I have to balance my life between efficiency and love.

This is not easy, because these two concepts are nearly mutually exclusive.

But that’s my reality.

I have to cultivate efficiency because I’m a part of an organization, I lead a team of busy people, and we try to accomplish various things.

I have to “get things done.”

I have to cultivate love because as a pastor I’m charged ultimately with trying to help people cultivate the Spirit of God in their lives.

Most of the time it involves long conversations, sometimes sitting in silence with people as they cry.

This is seldom “efficient.”

Looking at the efficiency side of things first, I thought I’d list some of my most helpful tools. I’m not naturally organized and linear; I’m actually rather distracted, and can be more than a little spacey. I need tools and techniques in my life to help me “ship” and to be present—physically, emotionally, spiritually—when I need to be present.

I need efficiency in order to love.

So here are a few:

  • Getting Things Done. This book forms the backbone of how I organize my life. In a very concise nutshell, everything that you have to do in your life—pick up groceries, finish the TPS report, learn songs for band practice, etc.—is taking up mental energy that you need for the most important/creative work that you have to do. So you get it out; you write everything down in a brain dump, and then you organize it and begin to tackle it. If you’re just getting started in productivity, or looking for a new way to organize your life, take a look at it.
  • OmniFocus. This app is my primary day-to-day task manager, and integrates well with Getting Things Done (GTD). They make it an iPad and iPhone version, as well as a desktop version as well. It syncs—fairly seamlessly—in the cloud and so my tasks are always with me. Very, very powerful, but very helpful (and also pretty beautiful, especially on the iPad and iPhone). The Omni Group make very, very good software. Everything I have to do goes in here, from writing exercises, to meetings, to events, to weekly worship planning.
  • Evernote. Evernote is critical to grabbing ideas, storing pdfs, sermon ideas, meeting agendas, even songwriting ideas. I use Evernote for anything that I want to have readily available. It’s powerful and simple. A great, great tool; make sure you get the mobile version(s).
  • Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” Talk at Google. Merlin is passionate about productivity; he is also irreverently funny and brilliant. This talk (it’s almost an hour long, btw, so set aside enough time) has the capacity to radically change your approach to email. I’m still struggling to get to “Inbox Zero” myself, but it definitely woke me up to some of the pitfalls of email, and how I’d been using.
  • Moleskine notebooks. Part of the GTD system is capturing all the ideas that have the potential to drain your creative energy and distract your and writing them down so you don’t have to think about them. In order to do that, keeping various notebooks on hand is important. My primary notebook is 8×5 1/2 (alternating between squared and blank pages), but I also use 8×5 1/2 cahiers for various bible studies and class notes, a reporters notebook for my car, and finally an extra large notebook that I use as a sketchbook for larger-scale creative brainstorming.
  • Moleskine year calendar. Though I use iCal for my day-to-day calendar, when things get really crazy I reach for a paper calendar. I find that my relationship between me and my calendar changes when I actually have to write things down: I remember more things, but I also get more critical about what I’m doing. I’m somehow more emotionally present to a paper calendar, and that forces me to examine what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. The large calendar also allows me to see my week at a glance and to easily identify blocks of time that are either being used or are “unseized.”

There are so many tools out there, but these are the ones I keep in my box. These are my efficiency tools.

Do you have any that you share?

“I Got 21 Problems…”

Each week, as I climb the three stairs to our stage, I have potentially a whole host of problems going through my head; here are just twenty-one:

  1. Who is on the team this week?
  2. What’s the pastor speaking on?
  3. Who’s running sound?
  4. Who is running lights?
  5. What will the graphics look like?
  6. Did I remember to put the “Chorus” graphic in twice?
  7. What arrangement of (that song) did we decide on?
  8. Should that be an “Fmaj7″ or just an “F”?
  9. Will the sound guy know when the guitar solo is?
  10. Will the coffee be brewed?
  11. Will the announcement person pray?
  12. Will there be any spelling errors or typos in slides?
  13. Did I meet that person last week?
  14. Who’s counting off the first song?
  15. Who’s counting off the second song?
  16. Where’s my bible?
  17. Does that child’s parents know that they’re in here?
  18. Where’s that buzz coming from?
  19. Did I eat breakfast?
  20. Is that “clever transition” going to work?
  21. AM I MAKING A DIFFERENCE????

Obviously, I can not answer most of these questions; however, I believe one of the essential elements for doing ministry is peace of mind. By the time I walk to the center of the stage, I need to be centered spiritually, intellectually and emotionally, and every question I have to deal with has the potential to pull me off my game. Luckily, I have to make choices with most of them. I can:

  1. Control them by answering them between Monday and Friday
  2. Control them by answering them Sunday with a conversation or a phone call
  3. Trust that they are answered, and just wait and see
  4. Know that they are not answered, but just release them (and make a note to address them later)

The trick to doing nearly anything is knowing when to press/control and when to release. There are simply certain things that I will trade in order to preserve my peace of mind. It may mean that I have to deal with a “curve ball” or two, but I also know where my “shoulders are big“, so I know which areas/categories are easier for me to release.

What about you? Do you know what questions confront you when you are “shipping”? Do you know what to release, control, or trust?

Leadership Commandments, 1-5

Last week I had the privilege of sending out a dear friend to the beginning of what I believe will be a long career in ministry. I decided to jot down some leadership “commandments” for him, and I thought I’d share them (with commentary) here. Here are the first five:

  1. Don’t forget to care for yourself artistically and spiritually. It’s simple, but we lose sight of it all the time. You have to have something in your tank in order to give something out. My wife and I bought our first really good kitchen knife just last year. When we first got it, it would slice your skin effortlessly. By now, however, it’s beginning to get dull. If we refuse to sharpen it, eventually it be as useless as the $19.99 set of 9 steak knives that I bought for Christmas one year (but that’s another story).
  2. Closely watch cross-gender relationships. Again, it should go without saying, but … um … it doesn’t. When you step into a position of leadership, it becomes very, very easy to confuse relationships with all kinds of people, particularly with those of the opposite sex. Lines are too easily blurred, too easily crossed, and then every single thing that you have you have invested in in your ministry will be incinerated, and you will be left with wreckage and ash.
  3. Know your job description, but know what you are paid to do (they don’t always match). Knowing your job description gives you a target, and makes sure that you are giving the church what they need. Knowing what you are actually paid to do, however, can focus your efforts even more, and relatedly allow you to say “no” more freely. When I started in my first ministry job, I was overwhelmed. I asked my supervisor, “How am I supposed to do this overwhelming task?”He replied, “I just want you to do two things: ensure excellence on Saturday (when we gathered) and shepherd the music team. That’s it.”That was what I was paid to do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to “just” be faithful. There will be times when you simply don’t want to lead people. There will be times when the feelings and emotions of praise and worship won’t be there. At those times, you must commit to just opening your mouth. Don’t confuse the feeling of worship with obedience. Sometimes it’s just enough to show up and lead the best that you can, out of whatever reservoir is available to you. Doesn’t mean you want to stay in that place, but neither can you just walk off the stage and leave it up to someone else.
  5. Character trumps ability. It will always be tempting to look for a “short-term” win and add an amazingly gifted—but fatally flawed—person to your team. Do this at great risk. They have the capacity to sabotage your efforts, and also to hold the rest of your team emotionally “hostage”. Choose long-term, holistic growth over the short-term sexiness of the glittering image. I’m not saying character can’t change; I’m merely saying that you should keep guard the safety of your team fiercely.
The next five are coming shortly…

I Will Try to Fix You … (But, Really, I Can’t)

I got on the Coldplay train pretty early. I got a copy of Parachutes pretty early, and was pretty mesmerized by the simplicity, passion, and purity of the music. As this was the early, early days of eBay, I even sought out a copy of some demos and B-sides (remember “B-sides”?), and just soaked in where they were coming. I was convinced Johnny Buckland was going to be the next great British guitar hero (especially, for, um, church guitar players).

When Rush of Blood to the Head came out, I harassed a good friend who’d gotten a record-release poster to hand it over (I think that poster now resides with Trace Armstrong); I defended my sister’s charge of “This is too repetitive!” when she heard “Clocks” for the first time. I was hooked.

They released X&Y after we’d moved back to Chicago from Colorado. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same reaction. Three records in, I expected to hear some growth, some risk-taking from the band, and it simply wasn’t there. It was all just very, “Coldplay”. Same old rhythms, same rather wimpy vocals and “super-sensitive guy” lyrics.

Meh. I gave a cursory listen-through, but didn’t really stop to sit through any of the tracks. I through it in the car to listen to “sometime.” (And we all know that “sometime” really never comes in my car.)

But one night I was driving to a gig down on Belmont Avenue, and this song came on. I was transported. Something really happened in those few minutes; I had to just sit there in the car, prior to hauling gear, and let it play out. It remains an incredibly healing song in my life (and in others’ as well: I’m partial to this version).

But over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize that the song contains a subtle but damaging lie. One of the strange paradoxes of my job as a pastor is that I spend a lot of time trying to get people to be honest with themselves–and also with me–about their hurts and their pain. Over lunch, coffee, beer; across café tables and couches; I try to “make space” for people to tell the truth of their lives. Without honesty, true healing cannot take place, so I spend a lot of time to try and lead people (safely) to those places of honesty.

The thing is, once we get to those places of honesty, the results can be devastating and difficult to watch. Being honest with your life usually requires confronting pain and hurt. Tears come. “Why?” Gets asked. A lot. They hurt, and I want to help, so badly, but as a Believer I believe that ultimately, I can’t fix them. These people are my friends (mostly), and it’s a sometimes cruel paradox to think that, though I lead them to places of great vulnerability, I can’t lead them back out of those places. It’s a Spirit thing, an act of healing in which they must collaborate with God.

So I lead them, I patiently wait for them to arrive, I watch walls fall down (occasionally I even poke a little), and then I mostly can do nothing. I pray for them, I encourage them (I hug a lot, too). But I can’t fix them…

… But lights may, indeed, guide them home.