Saturday, August 09, 2014

Pastoral Temptation: to Poach

Last night the temptation came on strong. The gym (above) was filled with kids and their parents who came to MCC's week-long children's camp called Noah's Half-Day Camp. It was a great week with over 130 kids K-8th grade participating every day from 8:45-noon. Last night we celebrated the week with the great, high energy band led by Bob Gross and a video produced by Sid Beck, and then an ice-cream social on the patio till dark.
Many of the parents approached me thanking me and the church for providing this excellent children's ministry. Some of them commented how dissatisfied they were with the children's program at their church and maybe they would come and check us out. These people are "catches" in any pastor's vocabulary. Intact families who have been active in other churches. They know how to do church and are familiar with what a church needs. Several of them were very successful professionals who could really add to our church budget needs. They bring to us skills and resources in all sorts of areas. And when they voice dissatisfaction with what's going on in their local church, it's an easy next step to poach and agree with their complaint and offer them something better (us).
But I fought the urge last night, not because I'm so righteous, but because I have been a witness to the poaching that goes on in churches. When former members tell me that pastor _________ invited them to help at this new church (sometimes a church plant) it feels like poaching, especially when these members are well-matured believers with great gifts.
New believers are so much messier! They don't know the rules and the culture of the church. They aren't familiar with our words (narthex, chancel, invocation, intercession, eucharist, etc.) They require so much more hand-holding and up-front work. They often have never read the Bible and need help finding the texts. Some come in deeply wounded and full of needs (versus resources). New believers don't know about tithing. They expect themselves and us to behave differently than the world because of knowing Jesus. They are quickly hurt by other believers' behavior ( poached believers know how church really operates).
But poached believers usually get poached again and again. They are good people who circulated among churches with some degree of regularity. "Before here, we went ______ for _____ years, and before that we went ________." Poached believers expect to be courted like sport free agents. But the kingdom of God does not grow by poaching, just recirculates and juggles the numbers between columns of churches.
Not poaching can cause a backlash too. Some years ago a good friend experienced a wound in his church and sought my advice. We like each other and he and his wife were considering attending the church I served. I told him that he should not consider attending here because his wounded church really needed him and his wife. They needed to serve and bring health to that congregation in need. He agreed with my logic, but the word got back to me that I had rebuffed him from coming to our church! Now they were going to ____________ church. The person who told me this was disappointed in my behavior because "they were leaving anyway, why couldn't they come here?"
What's the proper response to poaching? In our little community there are only four churches (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and Covenant). We call ourselves the M-4 and meet monthly for lunch and plan group events together (in September we are working on a local low-income school). In the past we would bring up who is visiting from other congregations. We tacitly refused to participate in church-bashing because we loved and trusted each other. So, if a family from All-Saints visited MCC, at the next lunch I would talk to the rector and tell him that one of his families visited our church so he heard it first from me.
I'd love to hear your take on church-poaching. Is it a problem?

Friday, August 01, 2014

Vacation Bible School Santa Barbara Style: Noah's

Vacation Bible Schools have been a part of my life since childhood, since I'm the child of a pastor whose churches had Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). They were week-long events, usually in the mornings (though in some churches I pastored we tried evenings and even weekends). They were part child-evangelism, neighborhood outreach, summer day-care, and legacy programs (we do it because we have always done it). Usually all other church programs stop as the themed program occupies every classroom and open space with music, puppets, crafts, mission, sports, food and small group discussions.
When examined by its outcomes it often falls short of expectations. Not that many (if any) new families come to the church through it. Rather, families from other churches attend and thank us then go back to their home churches. And I have been a part of many many church council debates on the worth of continuing VBS programs that are so labor-intensive.
But now in my 34th year of ministry, I love VBS (at Santa Barbara it's called Noah's Half-Day Camp) more than ever! I think it's primary value is to bless children, wherever they come from. It's a chance to provide children a royal welcome every morning and create a safe space for them to play, sing, create and learn a bit more about the person and work of Jesus.
So tomorrow (Saturday) the campus will be converted into unique rooms for children K-6th grade and on Monday, off we go!

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I John 4:18 says "perfect love casts out fear." Love sifts out what does not belong; like fear. Love casts out fear....or fear cast out love. What is the sifter your life goes to use?

Friday, July 18, 2014

California Drought?

            The drought has my full attention. The drought has MCC’s full attention as well. We have drained the fountain to be compliant with the request to not use potable water in outdoor fountains that can be lost due to evaporation and wind. We have cut back watering our lawns and are getting used to the brown-look.
            I even heard of a new term this week called trunking. Evidently when avocado farmers go through a drought, they cut back some of their trees to the trunk and paint them white. That action puts them into a dormant condition and they need/use less water.
            But today I read in the Santa Barbara News-Press that the area vineyards are having an early harvest with “higher yields expected despite the drought!” Imagine that; fruitfulness in a drought! What will survive and even thrive in this drought, and what will shrivel and die? It will all be evident in the fruit.
            The same process works in the spiritual life. Jesus uses agricultural imagery many times in his parables and teachings. He is the vine and we are the branches  (John 15: 1-17). In that passage he instructs us to abide in him so that we continue to bear fruit. What does a fruit-bearing Christian look like? How do we bear fruit in times of drought and stress?

            I John 3:16-18 gives us a road-map and guide of what kinds of fruit God looks for in our lives, whether in rainy seasons or in drought. It’s all good news!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Are You Important?

I post a picture of myself to let you know what I looked like as Martha and I took a walk today through Westmont campus to mail a letter. The campus is virtually deserted this time of the summer. Camps come and go during the week, abandoning the campus on Sunday. So as Martha and I walked through, we spotted an SUV with a mother taking a photo of her daughter near the administration building. We both said "Hi" to the women. The mother then asked me/us "Are you someone important?"
I immediately said "No, we are not part of Westmont, but I'm the pastor down the hill at Montecito Covenant Church." We laughed and walked on, but began to discuss both the question and my answer.
The question was nakedly honest. We ask it all the time with our eyes and ears, listening for the hints if the person we are with is important. We drop the names of important people we know, because our proximity to important people makes us kind of important. It happens all the time in our area where celebrities live and are sighted. We find out the important people around us by what they can do for us: teachers and coaches for our kids, politicians for our causes, insiders for friendships.
But answering the question is also kind of curious. Of course none of us admits to being important, that would be arrogant and catty. Not even the president of the college (who I know quite well, making me kind of important) would say he is important.
The better followup question back would be: important to whom? I think I'm pretty important  to Martha, my kids and grandkids. I'm important to the people who depend on me (couples getting married, people coming to hear a sermon).
Today I preached from I John 3:1-10....I'm a child of God. I'm probably important  to God if I'm called his child.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Got the Right Name?

         I went to visit a member of MCC at Cottage Hospital a while ago. She was going in for surgery and I offered to come by the hospital for prayer and to give her one of MCC’s wonderful prayer shawls to remind her of this community’s prayer and love for her.
         So, with my Bible and prayer shawl in hand, I went up to the reception desk at the hospital entrance and asked for her room number. The receptionist looked at her computer and told me that they did not have a patient by that name. I begged to differ and told her about our scheduled appointment for prayer before surgery and probably knew the room where she would be. Again, she told me that there was no patient by that name in the hospital.
         Because of HIPAA regulations, I have to have the exact name correct before they can provide me room information. They cannot help me, if the last name is correct but the first name is wrong. Gratefully, I had a relative’s phone number and called with my dilemma. “Oh, he said, the name she uses at church is not her legal first name, it’s really __________.”
         With the correct name I re-approached the receptionist and requested the room. Immediately I received both the room number and an entrance badge. Having the right name matters!
         What are the names we use for each other in the church? Pastor? Staff? Member? Non-member? Visitor? Westmont? Student? Faculty? Newcomer? Old-timer? All these are accurate and even descriptive. But the writer of the text for Sunday offers us something more, something better in   I John 3:1-10. Come and find out what your name really is.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

What Lasts?

         Happy July 4th! I have many fond memories of celebrating the 4th of July as a little boy with my family on vacation in Upper Michigan. We would drive down to the beach in our station wagon with blankets and hot chocolate to watch the fireworks over Lake Michigan. When I got older, I remember staying at the cabin and launching our own fireworks display from fireworks bought legally in Wisconsin. I remember taking our kids to various parks to watch fireworks and then, as they grew, to watch them launch their own displays.
         Tomorrow night, our eldest son will be taking his daughter Elise to her first fireworks in San Diego. Another tradition will be passed along. And I hope to go with Martha to the wonderful 4th of July parade in Montecito. And I’ll wave a flag and enjoy the floats and kids on scooters, and maybe even see our own members marching, riding or driving. These are wonderful traditions that last.

         The text for this Sunday is about a faith that lasts. I John 2:15-29 contains old John’s reminder about what does not and what does last spiritually. As you prepare for worship, conduct your own personal spiritual inventory about what has worn out for you and what lasts. What practices or routines have worn out over the years and what have endured?

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