Pastor's Blogby Rev. Kevin Miller
Feel free to read and comment as I share my thoughts on a variety of topics that I hope you find interesting or uplifting.
February 13, 2018
Back on January 13, 30 hearty souls braved the early morning snow to gather in Tower Chapel to worship, learn and talk about leadership and the church. There was time for reflection and discussion as we learned about doing ministry “off the map” and how this might look at First United Methodist Church. (To hear my sermon based on our learnings, go to our website or our Facebook page, and listen to “Off the Map” on February 4).
The theme for the day was drawn from Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 14:12 – “I tell you the truth: whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
We live in an amazing time when we can still do “greater things” for God’s Kingdom.
An exercise I’ve found helpful over the years is called a SWOT Analysis. At our event, the group was divided into six smaller groups at tables and were asked to take about 8 minutes for each section; identifying the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats at First Church.
While a SWOT Analysis is not a perfect tool, it gives us an opportunity to share thoughts and identify areas of hope and common ground. It gives us a picture of the church at this point in time. It helps us identify our current reality…which, really, is a function of leadership. Business leader and author Max DuPree wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”
The list this group generated ended up to be pretty long. Your responses may differ, but the table groups agreed in many areas. Every table group found some common ground – not in all areas, but here are the top five responses identified during this exercise:
Strengths: Location/visibility Mission-oriented People (quality of talent & leadership) Quality staff Facilities
Weaknesses: Income/finances Internal conflicts (i.e. trust, communications) Lack of volunteers (a few people doing most of the work) Fewer younger people/children Sunday school & adult education
Opportunities: University outreach Youth & college-age Communication Partnering with other churches Invite & involve more people
Threats: Revenue Outside activities infringing on worship & activities Increasing secularism Insider language/cliqueiness Mind set of maintaining status quo Aging congregation Apathy Losing mission focus
So the natural question is, “What’s next?” It’s an interesting list, but what do we do with it? (good question)
The next step is to use this for a process of identifying gaps and developing goals, and a strategic plan for the next few years. Weaknesses can be changed into strengths. The trick is doing this in such a way that identified strengths don’t become weaknesses. This is the beginning of a process of developing goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely. If you like acrostics, these spell “smart.”
I believe Jesus has a plan for His bride and I believe Jesus has a plan for this church. My prayer is that you and I (and we) are open and obedient to this plan as it is revealed to us AND that we have the courage to adapt and implement His plan for us. Will you join me in this prayer?
Doing ministry is challenging. Doing it in a new setting can be trying. The very first line in William Bridges’ book, “Managing Transitions” is “It’s not the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” My experience is that the people of the church make all the difference when it comes to helping transitions go well.
At First United Methodist Church, 2017 has been a year of changes and transition. There is a new Senior Pastor (yours truly) beginning July 1; a new Pastor of Visitation (Rev. Dee Miller) who began duties on July 15, and a new Director of Choirs (Christopher Ebert) who began on August 16. We are all transitioning together.
There is a fourth staff position that has been open for a long time. With all due respect to the rest of our great staff, I believe that the leader of youth is the most important in the church today. And I think most of you do as well. I’ve heard the comments loud and clear:
“We need youth leadership!”“We need youth leadership NOW!”“We need dynamic youth leadership!”“We need a youth leader teenagers can connect with!”“We want a dynamic youth program!”“Our church needs a solid youth program and leadership!”
In my short time here, it’s obvious that a solid youth program is important to you and to this church.
The good news is that we may be close to hiring a solid leader for our youth program. Someone who loves Jesus, loves His church, loves leading youth and has experience in leading a program that builds leaders.
I’ve been down this road a few times and here’s what I’ve learned:
Remember, change is a part of our everyday life. It’s the transitions that can do us in.
How can you help this transition go well? There are several ways:
I’m excited about the prospects for ministry here in 2018. Let’s all transition together.
Pastor Kevin MillerDecember 6, 2017
Has the world gone nuts in the last couple weeks, or is it just me? I’m not as outspoken on social causes as many of my colleagues but allow me to make an observation.
Although I “grew up” during the 1970’s, I was heavily influenced by the turmoil of the ‘60’s. You see, my oldest brother served in Vietnam, so even though I was young, I became socially aware of the world around me. The news was dominated by demonstrations against the war and made statements like, “Question authority!” and “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30!” Reflecting on it became part of my family’s dinner conversation.
I don’t remember either of my parents saying this, or exactly when, where or how I developed this thought, but here goes: All those demonstrations and riots and pickets and protests didn’t accomplish anything. Using violence to react to violence has never ended well…and I don’t think it ever will.
Understand I’m not talking about limiting anyone’s freedom to assemble and state their opinion. In the midst of all this turmoil, I remember a simple, but powerful lesson: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In other words, in this country, anyone has the right to express their opinion…whether I personally agree with it or not. No matter how stupid or misguided someone’s opinion is…they have the right to express it. And reacting violently to another person’s opinions doesn’t change anything.
During the 1960’s, there was one man with a different vision who used something more powerful – a peaceful use of a biblical worldview. Martin Luther King brought about change by encouraging non-violence; by promoting peace and by intercepting hate in exchange for love. And he died for the sake of that cause. Centuries ago, a man by the name of Jesus of Nazareth used the same strategy and his death and resurrection changed the world
If you really want to change the world around you, get to know this Jesus. During his final discussion with his disciples, he told them, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT) Allow this gift to work in you.
Peace in this world is usually defined as the absence of conflict. The peace of Christ is confident assurance in any circumstance. The world around us focuses on sin, fear, uncertainty, doubt and so many other forces at war within us. Jesus said he will give us this peace if we are willing to accept it from him. This is the peace that really does go beyond our understanding, and that truly changes hearts to transform the world. What do you think?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi
Some days you have to take a deep breath with a very long exhale. It’s already August and I feel like I’ve been here a very long time. This has been the summer of change for the Miller household. The summer is just half-over and here’s what’s happened:
You know, when I list everything, it seems overwhelming. One of the staff pointed out that we experienced the three top producers of stress in life all since summer began: new job, a move and the death of a loved one. I didn’t really need to know that!
But God continues to bless us with favor. God blessed us with precious time with Alan during his last days. We talked, we prayed, we laughed and we cried, and I can only hope that if I ever find myself with a similar diagnosis as Alan, that I can face death with the same grace, courage and humor as he did.
God blessed us with safety during our move. Everything went well; we all arrived safely and nothing was broken.
God blessed us with family and friends. Mid-July was a whirlwind with the blessing of seeing Liz’s family for a couple days in Wisconsin and then speaking at Alan’s funeral in Decatur. What a feeling of love and support from extended family we seem to only see at funerals anymore, and spending a few minutes with life-long friends.
Finally, God has blessed us with wonderful churches. This is the body of Christ at work. The people and staff of Valparaiso First have been so loving and supportive and understanding during this time. We will never forget your graciousness and love during a stressful transition. You have made it go smoothly and for this we will be forever grateful.
Because of the body of Christ in action; because of Jesus and because of love, I end my long exhale with the prayer, GOD IS GOOD!
Pastor KevinAugust 9, 2017