Monday, May 30, 2011

The River of the Water of Life: New home for "The Preacher's Husband"

Today's post is "The River of the Water of Life."

This "Preacher's Husband", "Clergy Hubby" blog is now posting at WordPress. Click on any of the key words here to find the new address.

Please take a look, and paste it into your "favorites".
Peace and Blessings - DEREK

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-4)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Statistics are made to be broken

Note: I typically post to this page about once per week. For daily entries, please visit my "The Life-charged Life" blog. Or visit this page's home at WordPress

"The Preacher" with Graham, one of our most excellent youth. Looks a little bright - may need to wear shades.....
The Future's So Bright we've Gotta Wear Shades: My wife, "The Preacher", is not a fan of statistics. "What's the point?" she says. "Statistics are made to be broken."

She's right, of course, and she has perfected a lifetime of demonstrating that the variable that actually counts is always the individual in question, not the statistical trend.

Which is a really, really good thing. Because, according to a whole slew of professional, health, gender-related and actuarial statistics, by now my wife should be a divorced, depressed, dissatisfied former pastor who left the ministry after years of bumping against the glass ceiling and being stymied by the "good-ol'-boy" system. Oh, and she should also be dead.

But the numbers do interest me. So this week I took a look at some of the recent data (and "current data" is always a couple of years out of date ) for female pastors and churches in our denomination, the PC(USA).
  • There are, apparently, around 13,500 active pastors and 10,718 PC(USA) congregations. 31% of these pastors are women.
  • 1,186 of Presbyterian congregations are served by a woman who is the solo pastor, co-pastor or senior pastor/head of staff (that's 11% of all churches).
  • Of those 10,718 congregations, approximately 900 have a membership of over 500 people (that's 8.3% of churches).
  • Of those 900 plus "large" churches, 61 are led by a women who is the solo pastor, co-pastor, or senior pastor (that adds up to 6.6% of the large churches).
  • 28% of active female pastors are the "lead" pastor in a Presbyterian church. 1.4% of female pastors are the lead pastor in a church of over 500 members.
  • Ergo, the larger the church, the less likely it is that a woman is serving as the lead pastor.
  • One more interesting tidbit - the average congregation of over 500 in the PC(USA) reports weekly attendance at 43% of membership. Our congregation comes in at around 75%. That means our 525 member church sees more action on a Sunday morning than most 900 member churches!

Church around here is vibrant
So What! My point is that, while I wholeheartedly endorse my wife's insistence that her job is simply to follow Jesus, to articulate a vision for our local congregation, and to resource the ministries the people at fpcBrandon are called to engage, I also believe it is critically important that the "movers & shakers" in this world understand one very important fact. The important fact is: The reason my church (fpcBrandon) breaks every statistical number-cruncher stereotype that the number-crunchers can come up with, is that our church culture is NOT anywhere close to being business-as-usual!

Rebekah says the spotlight should be on Jesus, not her ministry. She insists it's our pastoral team (Rebekah, Tim Black and Earl Smith - plus the amazing team of elders) that makes all the difference. She says the fact that she is a female head of staff in a dynamic church is a non-issue. Fair enough... but I want to shine a spotlight on that!

I want to shine a spotlight on the fact that the gender of our senior pastor is a non-issue.

Are we having fun yet? Yes!
She can be "under the radar" all she wants, but I love the Presbyterian Church and I think there's a lot that our denomination can learn from vibrant, discipleship-oriented congregations like ours. Here's a sampling:
  • This church belongs to Jesus.
  • Ministry is about making disciples, not recruiting members.
  • Worship Sunday morning means a lot more when there's mission during the week.
  • The main thrust is how we can be the presence of Christ to the world in and through the work of the church.
  • The Gospel is always transformational - politics and "issues" are not.
  • Our most important, pervasive, and consistent creed is love.
  • The way we are as a community - the quality of our koinonia - tells the truth about the Gospel we preach...
So, "take that", statistics! When it's all about following Jesus, then nothing else has the power to distract us from the transformational power of the Gospel! My wife may not keep count, but I can't help but notice... We keep setting the curve around here!
Peace - DEREK

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Telling the Story of Good News...

The Preacher after church

If there was one word to describe what "The Preacher" does well (other than "everything) it would be "communication." Rebekah is beyond awesome when it comes to connecting with people; be it just the one, or a room full of a thousand.

I'm sure I've already said this, but my wife is absolutely without a doubt the most interesting and inspirational preacher I have ever heard! But she also happens to be a really good writer, a wordsmith who manages to draw people in with just the right words at just the right time.

Our church newsletter - "The Happenings" - goes out twice a month, and the "Rebekah's Remarks" page is never a disappointment. A lot of preachers brush the newsletter off as hardly worth the effort, but Rebekah understands that her message is an important element of the communication package and she always takes the time to get it right.

It actually reminds me of a weekly newspaper column. The "Op-Ed column" is an art form, and when it's done well it's one of the best reads in the paper. Rebekah gets it right every time.

So I thought I'd share a couple of paragraphs with you, just to offer a different slant from a writer I truly admire. They are the first and the last from this week's "Happenings".

Dear Fine People (Rebekah writes):
We were gathered for our weekly staff meeting two weeks prior to Easter, and it was noted that "things will calm down after Easter Sunday." I don't know where such a thought came from. I was told of this so-called slow-down my first year in ministry... and I'm still waiting. By now, I know that a church sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit isn't about to slow down.
Every day is Easter.
Every day affirms that the tomb is still empty.
Every day allows us to realize our world's constant need of the Light and Power of the Risen Lord....

...There is so much going on, in such a wide variety of ways, as people are being led to go deeper and wider in their relationship with God in Jesus: The world Jesus sends us out into will break; wars continue; lives are destroyed by natural disasters and random acts of evil and violence; termites will eat away in poorly reinforced walls (Inside joke - it happened at our church!).

God's healing is found in the midst of brokenness...
Peace transforms conflicts...
Natural disasters will be cleaned up...
People will commit their lives to Christ...
Celebrations will be enjoyed...
Ministry and mission will be carried out...
The Bible will enlighten and strengthen...
Our church family will be faithful, as we continue to be who we were created to be - the Body of Christ for right now.
Invite your friends to church with you. They'll find out more about who we are in the next few weeks than even some of us know (Next week is the church 50th b/day celebration).

I love you - Rebekah

This coming weekend we celebrate 50 years as a church, witnessing to God's grace here in the Brandon community. Stay tuned, there's bound to be a blog post that reflects some of the excitement!


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Men, Men, Manly Men....

Men from St Andrew UMC, Highland Ranch, Colorado
In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:19)
I've talked about men's ministry before in this space, and there's been some interesting discussion posted in response to some of the foundational ideas I've been putting forward. They are, in brief:
  • God's purpose is that men and women work together - and at the peak of their capacity - to further the work of the Kingdom of God in and through local faith communities... 
  • Too many of us do very little at capacity, and most especially at church
  • One of the best measures of church health is the percentage of actively engaged men, ages 25-70
  • The Preacher's Husband is ideally situated to inject life into men's ministry initiatives
  • I believe it's self-evident that - in many congregations - a vacuum exists where the church could benefit from more effective male leadership
  • The traditional "one more civic club - but at church" approach to men's ministry, one that looks and acts like just another Rotary, is aging, dying, and increasingly irrelevant.
The best case scenario is a faith community where there are options, and where there is constantly something new on the scene. Not to replace outdated programs (because they still meet the needs of those who participate) but to supplement, add, reinvent and renew.

Some of the Sun-risers
So I have been very pleased to see our established men's breakfast group (The Sun-shiners) grow steadily while - at the same time -my small-group Bible-study has gained strength. The Sun-shiners - who struggled at one point to bring five or six men to the weekly Tuesday morning prayer breakfast - now have 25-30 active members with as many as 20 in attendance from week to week. 

Their ministry has become a vital component in our prayer outreach. The men discuss prayer needs, they pray for the individuals concerned, and they sign a prayer card that they then send to each person they have prayed for. It's a powerful witness and an encouragement to everyone involved.

A sampling of The Men's Room
Yesterday evening, Wednesday, I counted 18 men in my Bible-study. We very much need to start a second small-group. Our format is completely different. We share what's going on in our lives, we read scripture together (often in the context of a book study), and we pray for one another. Ideas like care, encouragement, accountability, support, and "provoking one another in love" (Hebrews), are at the core of our purpose.

My Wednesday evening group is all about being disciples and encouraging one-another to be faithful.

As The Preacher's Husband, I like to talk about our freedom from "traditional" clergy-spouse roles, our lack of dependence on stereotypical expectations, and the joy of living outside the bounds of pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped, cookie-cutter cultural norms...

... That said, there's some serious discipleship work to be done amongst the men who stand around the periphery of church life. And we, my friends - my brothers - are just the guys for the job.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6)

In Christ, and because of Christ - DEREK

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why - and how - I am "Ecclesiastically Multilingual"

Quite often when I'm invited to travel somewhere to speak or teach, it's with churches and denominations representing varying Christian traditions. In fact it's the rule rather than the exception. I may have been a Presbyterian for thirty years, but that doesn't appear to carry much weight in a denomination that has fluctuated between slow to non-existent when it comes to embracing my work and ideas!

So far as I can recall, since GET REAL was published in 2007, I've worked with the following church denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, and the Church of Christ. I've been invited to Florida, Georgia, Texas, Colorado, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana.

On-line teaching has added at least a dozen more states, several more denominations, and people from three continents.

"So What?" you may ask. Well, the so-what of all of this is JESUS - the redemptive truth we all hold in common. That fact is a blessing that resonates even more so when I fold in what I like to call my "faith heritage."
  • I was raised Baptist in the south of England. 
  • One uncle was a Baptist preacher; one uncle was a Methodist preacher; one uncle served a Congregational church that later became United Reformed. 
  • A cousin worked as a Church of England clergyman; another cousin became a Baptist preacher. Still another cousin is a United Reformed minister. One cousin runs a denominationally nonspecific house-church in France. Two other cousins married preachers.
  • My mother was raised in an esoteric Brethren group known as The Peculiar People.
  • I made my public profession of faith at a Billy Graham Crusade.
  • When I left home I spent a couple of years hanging out with fundamentalist charismatics.
  • Later I did mission work with the Assemblies of God.
  • I attended a Southern Baptist Church during college.
  • Finally, I married a Presbyterian preacher. 
And so, I often declare when I'm standing in front of a group I have never met before, this is why I like to say that I am "Ecclesiastically Multilingual." (I don't often rush to stamp "mine" on an idea, but I'm claiming the "ecclesiastically multilingual" phrase as 100% original!)

Or, as I said to my new friends at First Baptist of Decatur, Georgia, last fall. "Hi, my name is Derek Maul. I may be Presbyterian but I'm also fluent in Baptist."

I've also been known to say, "I may be Presbyterian, but I also speak Jesus."

Which is funny, when I remember a story Rebekah ("The Preacher") told me one day when she returned from a preaching trip to up-state New York.

"I was cautioned after the first service," she said incredulously, "by a woman who told me, 'I don't know if maybe it's a Southern thing; but you need to know we're not that comfortable with so much Jesus talk around here.'"

I have only one thing to say to that, and it's not even a complete sentence: "OMG!"

Always learning, nearly always laughing out loud - DEREK

Monday, May 2, 2011

Apparently I have beautiful feet! Who knew?

35 faithful men from St. Andrew = a good weekend!
I couldn't make my mind up about where to write this... But I think it really is a "Preacher's Husband" post.
  • How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
My feet have been to the mountains, and I've been bringing some good news!

Wow... that was some weekend in the Rocky Mountain National Park! I think I'm an instant fan of Colorado... I know I'm an instant fan of the men's ministry at St. Andrew United Methodist Church.

I was invited to join the St. Andrew crowd for their men's retreat at the "YMCA of the Rockies" in Estes Park. A couple of the guys met me at the airport and we enjoyed a good visit on the drive up into the mountains. I was instantly impressed by their deep faith and commitment.

Rocky Mt National Park, Saturday afternoon
By the time we reached Estes Park it was snowing. I felt refreshed and invigorated the moment I stepped out of the car. And, having already grown weary of Florida's too-hot, too-early summer, I couldn't have been happier. 

Not surprisingly, "refreshing and invigorating" turned out to be the theme for the weekend. It's always encouraging to establish new relationships at events like this, and the St. Andrew men were no exception. 

Their church, in the Denver suburb of Highland Ranch, is a thriving congregation with over 1,000 in attendance each week and a brand new sanctuary. There are many men's ministry events, such as the "Grill Team", well attended monthly breakfasts, and a variety of mission initiatives - but there is no weekly men's Bible-study or core discipleship-oriented program.

That's why they invited me to lead the retreat, and why my book "GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men:" apparently resonated with their leadership team.

I got to be a wide-eyed tourist for two hours!
Fortunately, the content seemed to communicate well to the participants. The guys were extremely gracious and receptive listeners. It's a good thing, because they had me scheduled to speak for six one-hour sessions plus a short meditation during communion. But, as the Beatles said/sung in "The Magical Mystery Tour", they were "Such a lovely audience, we'd like to take you home with us..."

I told the organizers my presentations depend on small-group gatherings after each "lecture." We managed to fit in five of these, with just 5-6 participants in each cell. And - no surprise to me - this was pretty-much the highlight of the weekend.

So I followed up with a challenge. "I'd like to see several of you pair off to facilitate small Bible-study/support groups," I said. "Invite two or three guys from your congregation who are not involved with the men's ministry, plus one or two who don't even come to church. If just a handful of these groups get going you will both double the reach of the men's ministry and populate it with guys committed to supporting and encouraging one-another."

I love doing this!
This is why weekends like this are so powerful. I could see the men looking around at one another, encouraged and inspired simply by the presence of other faithful disciples. Because absolutely anything is possible when we discover that we're not alone, and that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead stands ready to revolutionize our ministry, transform our church, reach our community and begin to heal our world.

Sounds like a plan to me! I'm already excited about what's next.

God's rich blessings - DEREK

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)