Thank you to everyone who attended the church's Annual Meeting on February 5 and made it a wonderful gathering. In case you missed the meeting, did not obtain a physical copy of the report, or simply want the convenience of a digital version, here is a PDF you can download. More physical copies are available in the church office, for those interested. And the same report is available below, if you would rather read right in your browser. Here's to a great 2017 at our corner of Beacon and Centre Street!
The Annual Meeting of First Baptist Church in Newton will be held Sunday, February 5, following our 10 AM worship service. In addition to passing the budget, the annual report for 2016 will be presented. If you missed last year's meeting, click here for your own copy of the 2015 annual report.
There will also be a potluck luncheon with an international flavor. So far, we have food from South America, Asia, India, and the United States. If you cannot make/bring something and want to donate money, we will purchase needed food items as well. If you can help with the dinner in any way, please contact Eunice Wilson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Everyone is welcome at the meeting and members are warmly encouraged to attend.
P.S. Everything will wrap up long before the Super Bowl kicks off at 6:30 PM.
It is that time of year again!
Sunday October 23 is our annual all church meeting and luncheon. All friends and members of First Baptist Church are warmly encouraged to attend. Lunch will be provided.
After worship in the sanctuary on Sunday October 23, around 11:15 AM, we will meet in the chapel. Once everyone is settled with lunch we will discuss hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. A crucial part of this is going over the proposed church operating budget for 2017. Voting to approve this proposed budget will also occur during this meeting.
So join us for lunch and discussion on steering the direction of the church during the upcoming year.
What is Community Compass?
Community Compass offers an "orientation" (so to speak) to First Baptist Church. You can share your experiences thus far, ask questions about anything, and meet others who have been around for various lengths of time. It is an informal gathering for people who want to know more about our community. Exploring and getting comfortable in churches can be daunting, and this is aimed to be as helpful as possible in that process. Letting us know you’re coming is helpful, but not required.
We will meet in my office this Sunday, October 2, after worship at 11:30 AM. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Part one of this series looked at the dynamics of small, medium, and large groups. Read it here.
Part two offered some advice on cultivating medium sized groups. Read it here.
This final part of our series on gathering gives nine tips for leading a life group. Put them to use and start your own!
Did you miss part one in this series focusing on gathering? Read it here.
Medium sized groups are the most difficult to cultivate, but can be the most rewarding to those participating.
How do you go about starting a medium sized group?
1. Start with three people
The core of a healthy group is three people who assume three roles:
Leader, Assistant Leader, and Host. The names are less important than the roles.
The Leader is the designated point person who plans and facilitates the gathering. The Assistant Leader helps the Leader by leading the group in the absence of the Leader and generally supporting the group by supporting the efforts of the Leader. The Assistant Leader may be someone who is not ready to lead their own group and is gaining experience, or someone who is experienced at leading and can be especially helpful to someone who is new at leading a group. The Leader and Assistant Leader will typically touch base offline to discuss the needs of the group. The Host is responsible for the location and set up, including refreshments when appropriate, and takes attendance. The Host can also help or be responsible for communicating dates and times and other details.
2. Read or View. Share. Pray. Do.
Healthy groups start and end on time. Healthy groups also meet for a defined number of meetings and then take time away to refresh, recommit, or re-evaluate their involvement. Healthy groups choose to travel a particular distance of their journey together. They reach their destination (6 weeks or 12 weeks, for example) then take a break before starting again. Among others benefits, doing so encourages new groups to form.
Medium sized groups are the most difficult to cultivate, but can be the most rewarding to be a part of. These are key guidelines which will help you start.
What is missing from this list? Let us know in the comments.
Thriving churches are like the internet - a network of groups drawn together by shared interests or affinities. Churches which are not intentional about their “Group Life” fail. In this three part series, I will cover some basic ideas about Group Life.
Groups come in three sizes: small, medium and large. We need all three sizes to thrive personally and corporately.
A “small group” can fit in a car - three to twelve people who will show up for you at a moment’s notice. Your conversation is unedited. We might say Jesus’ small group was the twelve, and three in particular who anchored the group: Peter, James, and John. Groups of 3-12 are intimate and spontaneous.
A “medium size” group can gather in your home and consists of several smaller groups. It takes several cars to get everyone there and the house may be full, but you’re together. No one is there every time you meet, but you notice when they aren’t. There is room for people to listen and be listened to. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sends out seventy people (or seventy-two depending on the translation) to do things they had mixed feelings about. In the Eastern Christian tradition, all seventy can be named. All returned to share stories about the miraculous things they accomplished. If you invite seventy people to a party and two-thirds show up, you have a houseful of people. This is your medium sized group.
A “large group” needs a large hall, like a church “sanctuary." It takes planning and organization to get everyone together. You do things that are fun and meaningful to do as a large group. Music with a group this size is inspiring, singing as one voice. You might even rehearse a few special songs. Someone might tell a story. A ritual, like communion, is especially moving in a large group. You can also accomplish things together like rally behind a common cause. In the Gospels, we see Jesus feeding 5000 with just a few loaves and fishes.
Which group is the most difficult to cultivate?
You might assume a large group is the most difficult to cultivate. What church doesn’t want a big gathering on Sundays? However, it is the medium sized group which is most difficult to cultivate and the most rewarding.
Medium sized groups are the most difficult to cultivate, but can be the most rewarding to those who participate. Most churches expect their large sized group to meet their medium sized group needs. Consequently, their large groups are, well, medium sized. The average size of a church is 70 people. A church with 70 people is a medium sized group that can host a large group, but it is not a large group. Letting a medium sized group grow into a large group means letting go of certain things. In a large group, you might not know everyone’s name. You might not be able to be involved in everything, attend every informal gathering, contribute to every initiative. Consequently, you can feel left out.
How would you describe your “group life”? What experiences have you had in different sized groups?
My gas grill is old. It still works fine, except the starter, the igniter. One click used to do the trick. Then it was two or three clicks. Maybe you need a new igniter for your spiritual life. Maybe using matches will be fine. Maybe it’s time for a new grill. All you know for sure is the igniter isn’t working anymore.
If you have found yourself in a spiritual rut and unsure of what to do because your familiar igniters no longer work, here are three things you can try to help you get back on track.
1. Write a Thank You Note
Most people I know are grateful. They recognize that what really gives them joy, what is really important in their life, may have required hard work, but that there are many things beyond our control which conspire to provide what gives us joy. Creating gratitude lists regularly benefit many people. However, when you’re looking to jump stat your spiritual life, gratitude lists can lead us to either feel guilty for not keeping one regularly or guilty because you do keep one and still aren’t grateful enough to ward of a spiritual rut.
When you want to jump start your spiritual life, it can help to keep things simple. First, accept that you are probably grateful enough. Then do something simple. Write a thank you note. Thank you notes have a way of opening us up. If it’s an overdue thank you note for something specific, then you’ll feel relief for doing it. You might also consider a thank you note that expresses gratitude for a friendship or family member. Writing a thank you note can help you move into a more receptive place and prepare the way for a new season spiritually.
2. Walk Slowly
When we say we have a “spiritual life,” we imply that there is a part of our life which is separate from other parts of our lives. In addition to a “spiritual life” we might have a “social life.” We might refer to our physical health as our “physical life”. We might differentiate between our “personal life” and our “professional life.” Compartmentalizing this way can help us simplify our complex lives.
However, our lives do not simplify easily. Compartmentalizing this way can lead us to discount the influence each area has on the other. Next to breathing, walking may be the most overlooked treasure available. Walking offers more than a means of transportation. Walking offers us an opportunity to listen in ways we cannot sitting still. Once upon a time, we walked everywhere. Walking provided a break from business and time to listen to one another, to ourselves, and to God.
To receive the spiritual benefits of walking, try walking slowly. You may not even need to go outdoors of this kind of slow walking. Take ten steps, slowly enough that you kind feel you foot roll from your heel to your toes. Be aware of how your weight shifts from back to front. Bring your feet together. Repeat. Do this three days in a row and you will be more aware of your steps throughout the day and when you notice your steps, you will be refreshed and more aware, more open (even for just a moment).
3. Talk to an Atheist
Talking to an atheist is probably counter-intuitive to someone seeking to re-ignite their spiritual life. However, atheists can be inspiring to be around and most are not like the atheists we know in the public eye. The atheists I know don’t have a desperate need to criticize religion nor are they nihilists (rejected all religiosity and seeing life as meaningless) and hedonists (unbridled pleasure seekers). In fact, they share something in common with me: a desire to cherish life. Trying to convert an atheist is really not much fun for either party. However, asking an atheist thoughtful questions can be energizing. Questions like, “What gives you joy?” “When you think of success, who do you think of?” “How would you describe the God you don’t believe in?” You may discover you have more in common than you think!
How you arrived where you are today is not getting you where you want to go. You might not even we sure you are headed in the right direction. There are many ways you can re-ignite your spiritual life, but these are three that help me.
How do you reignite your spiritual life?
Most of you probably don't know that last Sunday, August 28, First Baptist Church in Newton made 12 large tables and 100 chairs available for the Boston Indie Game Dev Summer BBQ. It was a fun gathering of a diverse group of people in the Boston area who make tabletop games and video games. It happened the day after Boston GameLoop, an unconference (or open conference) about game development and related topics. Besides technical discussions, issues like cultural competency were discussed. I even led a discussion on good and bad examples of depictions of religion in video games.
Volunteers from the event arrived at the church Sunday morning to help pick up and transport everything to the American Twine building in Cambridge where the event was held. It was a great group to work with, and they were even kind enough to put thank you notes to the church on all the tables.
Finally, I want to share with you a thank you note from one of the event organizers. I hope it gives you a sense of how much this simple act of generosity was appreciated.
As someone who loves video games and has been getting more involved with the Boston game developer community over the years, I echo those sentiments.
I sat in on the recent Reimagining Theological Education: Online Conference (June 28, 2016). To those close to it, the need to rethink the training of religious leaders is obvious. What is less obvious is how to gather interested parties to collaborate and begin building what is not-at-all obvious - an effective approach to training religious leaders for the 21st century.
Doug Pagitt (who joined us here during Lent) and Jeremy Fackenthal hosted the online gathering with graciousness, deftly navigating the challenges of online communication with humor and ease. Panelists included: Brian McLaren (who will join us for a special event in November), Phillip Clayton, Kelly Leamon, and Eric Samuelson.
The two-hour session was divided into three formats:
I will address three specific points mentioned in the conversation.
My childhood did not include a religious tradition, other than Sunday mornings at home with Bach and the San Francisco Chronicle (when I lived on the East Bay) or New York Times (when I moved to a Manhattan suburb). All in all, not a bad religious tradition! Nonetheless, my identity in relation to institutional church is as an outsider. Consequently, so was my entry into organized ministry.
Para-church youth groups provided a bridge to institutions. My identity as an outsider was valued and provided an abiding and deep appreciation for the experience of those outside the community of faith. My own faith was the result of the “outward focus” of para-church groups and churches. I instinctively understood what it meant when I heard it said that “the church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of those outside of it.” While this is not entirely true, what it meant to me was that the heart of Christianity was the “Great Commission.”
I have been fortunate to been involved with growing ministries for as long as I have been involved in organized ministry. Youth ministries, worship services, and new churches all grew numerically and outlived my involvement. Some extraordinarily so. In each setting, my gifts and passions were acknowledged and put to use regardless of formal training. I learned to learn. I sought out mentors, I attended conferences, and participated in ongoing local leadership groups. I was sought out and invited not based on my academic credentials, but on the apparent effectiveness of my work.
Ultimately, I enrolled in seminary. I began with a few courses, including some online (which in 1996-7 was quite ground breaking - hat tip to Leonard Sweet). I continued working full time, had my first son, and took classes. My ministry was growing, I was growing, and I was learning more at work than in school. Full-time theological school did not make sense. It gave me numerous gifts I treasure. However, an appreciation for what I was doing was by-in-large not one of them. How could it? I was not “sent” from a denomination or even by a church. I was not in a “calling” process or ordination track and my church did not fit neatly into a typical category. Despite my desire and efforts, I could not find a denomination that would support what I felt called to pursue. I could not afford the cost of membership.
I did graduate from theological school. It took a long time to complete part-time. There is a cost, for sure. However, I would choose it again in light of what at the time appeared to be the only alternative - feeling shackled by the limitations of failing institutions.
A “modules” approach has been effective and will be effective in the future
I pursued education and training with a decidedly pragmatic approach. It could easily be categorized as “modular.” Among other things, having one foot firmly planted in the emerging “information age” convinced me that the thriving churches of the future would not rely on “experts” - experts in Biblical interpretation, theology, or pastoral care. Churches would need different kinds of leaders in the wake of the internet boom, just as businesses have. Churches would need leaders that functioned more like “curators” who facilitated gatherings and settings where transformative encounters could occur.
I have studied at several different theological/seminary institutions in addition to my degree granting school. Each setting could be viewed as a “module.” I sought out different places for different things. A growing interest in the experience of the Early Church led me to study theology (liturgical and dogmatic/systematic) with the Eastern Orthodox Church (St. Vladimire’s Orthodox Seminary). Arguably, the Eastern Orthodox church has been the best caretaker of Early Church practice and thinking. As their name implies, they have also retained a more “eastern” approach, less influenced by “either/or” thinking and more interested in “both/and” thinking. This has become especially relevant in our current cultural context which has a deepening appreciation for eastern approaches to spirituality like yoga and mindfulness or mediation. It could be said that western Christianity is rediscovering its eastern roots.
I earned a certificate in Youth and Theology from Princeton Seminary. The spiritual formation of adolescents has been a central focus of much of my career and led me to deepen my understanding of child and adolescent development, and especially rites of passage. I developed a confirmation program and a leadership development process while actually working with hundreds of students over more than a decade. My academic engagement was fueled by specific concerns, a specific context, and specific people.
My education has not stopped since receiving my degree. My interests in the last decade have led me to explore continental philosophy more deeply, especially the religious turn in the philosophy of religion and radical theology. Most recently, I studied with the Global Center for Advanced Studies, a fledgling collection of researchers and instructors from around the world largely focusing on critical studies. The center provided the opportunity to study Radical Theology and interact directly with world renown figures in this area (John Caputo, Thomas Altizer, Peter Rollins, Creston Davis, et al). This work has been intensely practical and inspiring at the ground level of leading a church. It also provided me with an ongoing network of people with similar interests whom I draw upon regularly. All of this was accomplished online.
I also competed an 8 week mindfulness training at the University of Massachusetts designed by John Kabat-Zinn. This course was personally transformative, but has also deeply impacted how I approach “spiritual formation” in my congregation. Perhaps paradoxically, the experience built upon what I have learned from the Easter Orthodox Church.
Lastly, I would consider the small network of personal mentors I have cultivated over many years to be a form of learning “module.” Building and nurturing this group is an ongoing process requiring intention and skill. The value of such a group was impressed upon me as a young adult. I have worked diligently at cultivating a diverse group of people I admire with whom I can go to for encouragement and wisdom. In my experience, it is a skill that can be taught and one that is under appreciated. Some of these mentors are from the world of business and have offered the equivalent of mini-MBA courses in leadership, fundraising, and organizational development.
Being “problem centered” is not effective
Brian McLaren noted that many of us in professional ministry have been trained to be problem solvers. However, what we are experiencing now is systemic change. Declining church attendance is not a problem to be solved, but a product of systemic cultural change. Systemic change requires adaptation and takes longer than typical problem solving. For perhaps the first time in history, the church is needing to answer the question, “Why do we exist?” Decades ago, Peter Drucker popularized two similar questions every organization needs to answer: “What’s our business” and “How’s business?” The first question must be answered before the second. Costco’s profit from sales does not define their business because they are not in the business of selling goods. They are in the business of selling memberships.
Those who are effectively adapting to the systemic cultural changes see opportunities. While launching a new church, we noticed many people who felt marginalized by traditional expressions of church. Consequently, we created opportunities which connected with these people. In truth, the number of things we did differently may have been outnumbered by the number of things we did not have to do because we were a new, younger church. Notably, our life together took on an increasingly liturgical, even traditional, shape. The frequency of communion increased, contemplative practices became more commonplace, and interest in rites-of-passage like baptism and confirmation were increasingly requested by those outside of the church community. What was obvious from the beginning, however, was that culture was critical. Borrowing from Andy Crouch, culture is comprised of cultural “artifacts.” Consequently, our approach was less about solving a problem and more about creating “cultural artifacts” which reflected who we were aspiring to be (grace filled, creative, relational, intelligent, etc). Eucharist, baptisms, and confirmation were all valued, but offered in a context which reflected the values and context of the local community.
As a way of contributing to the ongoing conversation, what I have offered here is a reflection on my own experience in ministry and my “training” in light of the recent Reimagining Theological Education gathering. My experience affirms many of the insights and conclusions thus far and I look forward to seeing what emerges in the days ahead.