Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Appealing to the 'Nones'

The GPS task force is moving toward completing its job of recommending ways for Second to be the church in the next few years. (For a timetable, see our Dec. 10 blog posting.)

As that happens, it's helpful to look again at the reality of religion in America today and to remember that there are lots and lots of spiritually hungry people outside of churches who might be willing, under the right circumstances, to consider what being a disciple of Jesus Christ might mean for them.

To help all of us get a sense of what such folks are thinking, we could read this piece by someone who considers himself in that unaffiliated group -- often called the "Nones" because when they're asked which of a long list of religions they subscribe to they cite "none of the above." It's a piece worth our attention.

The GPS report will suggest ways to engage the "Nones" while also making sure that we take excellent and compassionate care of the folks already inside Second's walls.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A timetable for the GPS report

The GPS planning team has been at work since mid-July, listening to the congregation, assessing where Second Church is now, praying for guidance and trying to discern where the living God would move us in the next few years.

We are closing in on a report to be presented first to Session, then to all the church officers and then to the full congregation.

Here's at least the tentative timetable:

After conversations with some individual church leaders, we'll be presenting a report to Session on Jan. 17. The report will be full of recommendations as well as ideas for how to implement those recommendations. When Session receives our report it won't automatically be approving all of our ideas. Rather, Session -- and later the whole congregation -- will need a chance to digest the report and decide how best to proceed, though there are some actions we hope the Session will consider quickly. The GPS, after all, has no authority to implement anything. Rather, the GPS is in the analysis and recommendation business.

The report will be presented to all the officers on Feb. 3 and 4 at the annual officers retreat at the Heartland Presbyterian Center in Parkville. At the retreat held early this year, officers kicked off the GPS work by participating in a workshop about our future led by Leta Anderson, the professional planner the GPS has been working with.

The full congregation will be introduced to the GPS report at the annual congregational meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Once the report is presented that evening, the work of the GPS task force will be done, but the work of the officers, staff and the whole congregation will have just begun.

Members of the GPS are excited about the work we've done and the many wonderful ideas about how to be the church in the years ahead that have arisen from our process. Thanks to all of you who have participated in our work. Second is full of people who are passionate about being disciples of Jesus Christ and proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. And our prayer is that each person in the congregation -- and eventually many people outside, too -- will find something in the report to embrace with passion so Second can move confidently into a future full of promise and hope..

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some notes from the choir

As the GPS continues its discussions with various groups at Second, some of us spent some time with members of the choir on a recent evening.

We were interested not just to hear their thoughts about choir but also their broader dreams for the church.

Here are some things they told us:

* There's a nice mix of ages at Second now.
* We should encourage members to do their charitable giving through the church rather than individually to community organizations.
* It's wonderful to see so many children come forward for the children's sermon and to see so many new people attending worship.
* The Parish Ministry Team is doing an excellent job putting more emphasis on caring for our own members.
* Our efforts at being more hospitable are increasing and succeeding, though we need even more emphasis on that. 
* Second should advertise more and better.
* We should have more community events in the sanctuary, such as music programs.
* We should narrow the focus of mission by cutting down on the number of mission partners we support.
* People in church who used to join families at the Y camp in Estes Park, Colo., miss doing that now and need an alternative.
* The recent volunteer effort to help Harvesters is doing well.
* Change is both good and painful.
* We need more small group opportunities.
* Choir members need an opportunity to participate in Sunday School and other events that they can't do now because of rehearsal times.
We really need to improve youth group so we can attract families with children.
* The idea of Second creating a coffee shop near UMKC is great.
* Second needs a volunteer coordinator.

If you agree or disagree, let us know -- and give us your thoughts, too. You can e-mail us at or drop a note in the church file folder of GPS moderator Bill Tammeus.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1865, 1866, 1867, 1868. . .

The GPS closing ceremony to remember Second's history

Sometimes it takes more than words to help us remember what needs to be remembered. Sometimes it takes an intentional ritual.

Which is why -- among other reasons -- the church creates rituals for the sacraments of baptism and holy communion as well as rituals for weddings, funerals and other special times.

But it's possible to create ad hoc rituals -- rituals on the fly, if you will -- to help us focus on something important. And that's what the GPS team has done. We have devised a closing ritual for our meetings -- a ritual that reminds us of the nearly 150-year history of Second Presbyterian Church and of our hope for a bright future.

In our work of looking toward the future, we want whatever we recommend to be in harmony with our past, so at the end of each meeting we do this:

We each take a small strand of red rick-rack -- sort of a serrated ribbon -- and we tie it on to the previous piece of rick-rack, and as we do that we name one of the years of Second's past. When we have tied on the next strand of rick-rack, we say: "God was with us in 1922 and we pray God will be with us into the future."

The first strand represented 1865, the year of Second's founding. As of our meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 16, we are up to 1957. Paul Rock brings to our meetings a year-by-year history highlight of Second, and as we name the various years, he often will remind us of some event from that year in Second's history.

It's one way of helping us understand that Second was here long before us and that we hope Second will be here long after we're gone. Part of our GPS work is to help ensure that future so Second can be part of proclaiming and demonstrating what the reign of God looks like.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A conversation with deacons

Several members of the GPS met with the Board of Deacons on Monday, Nov. 13, to hear members' thoughts about the future of Second. It turned out to be a wide-ranging discussion that revealed both their deep commitment to the church and some of their frustrations about being congregational leaders.

We first asked them to describe what gives them the most satisfaction in their role as deacons and what they find frustrating.

Clearly they enjoy being able to connect with Second's mission partners and to alert the congregation to the needs of the agencies Second supports financially. In some ways, however, that also is a frustration in that Second supports so many agencies it's been difficult to focus our resources and in that despite the many efforts of deacons it sometimes seems that the congregation doesn't connect enough as volunteers with our mission partners.

But several deacons expressed their gratitude for being able to learn in more depth about the work of our mission partners.

We talked some about whether Second's financial support to various local mission partners should be more limited to those agencies at which members of our congregation are active volunteers. Although there was some sympathy for considering this, a couple of deacons suggested that some agencies might need our money more than they need our volunteers.

It was also mentioned that many members of the congregation are connected with non-profit agencies that the church does nothing to support financially.

There seemed to be general agreement that internal and external communications about our mission efforts need to be better than they are now.

Our final conversation was about whether it's time to rethink the reality that Second's deacons are charged with oversight of much of our mission outreach. Since New Testament times, deacons traditionally have had oversight of caring ministries focused on the needs of the church family. But when Ron Roberts was an associate pastor some years ago, he suggested that because Second then had an active caring ministries program operating outside the purview of the deacons and because the deacons seemed then to be under-used, perhaps the deacons should be given oversight of our mission outreach. So that change was made.

Several deacons acknowledged the need for more coordinated internal care but wanted to make sure that if a committee headed by a member of Session eventually was given oversight of mission outreach that the detailed work the deacons do to evaluate and connect with mission partners not be lost. Bill Tammeus, GPS moderator, assured the deacons that if GPS recommends such a move, their concerns would be reflected in the recommendation and that there would necessarily be a time of transition so make sure that both the caring ministries of the church and the mission outreach will be handled well.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ministering outside the church building

What would happen if we intentionally gathered outside the church building for various church-related functions, from staff meetings to Bible studies?

Well, we might wind up meeting people and affecting their lives (or they ours) in ways that would not happen if we simply stayed inside our edifice.

When the Rev. Jan Emiston (pictured here) of the Chicago Presbytery spoke to a gathering at Second Church on Saturday, Nov. 5, she told a story about what happened to her once when she was a parish minister and decided to spend part of each Monday working outside her office that was located in the church building.

"The mission field today," she said, "is actually in the local coffee shop, the local office, the local bus stop. One of the things I have done as a pastor. . .is take Monday as a monastery day. Every Monday I would take a monastery day and do the things you'd do in a monastery but I'd do them in a coffee shop or the food court of a shopping mall or in an art gallery because The Smithsonian is all wireless." (Her church was in the Washington, D.C., area.)

Usually, she said, she was working on her next sermon and thus would have with her a big annotated Bible plus her laptop computer.

Even though she was seeking to work alone, "100 percent of the time, someone came up to me for a conversation."

One day she was in the corner of a Starbucks courtyard outside, working alone in this way. A man wearing a Muslim prayer cap was seated in the opposite corner, "and he yells across, 'Hey, is that a Bible?'" She yelled back, "Yes." And she began noting how the courtyard began to empty of people overhearing this odd conversation.

"And this guy goes, 'So are you a Christian?'" Yes, she replied. "So are you like a priest or something?" Yes, she replied, identifying herself as the pastor of an area Presbyterian church.

The man asked if he could talk with her. Sure, she said. It turns out "he was a Muslim guy who was divorced from a Jewish woman." He told Jan that he wanted to raise his children in a religiously devout family, but he was at loose ends knowing how.

He said, "'I'm just really lonely and I wonder if you would pray that I would find a Muslim wife.' And so there I was in this courtyard at Starbucks praying with a Muslim guy that he'd find a Muslim wife. And I was thinking, you know, if I were working at the seminary library on my sermon this never would have happened."

The point, of course, she said, is that we must find ways to move outside the church building and to encounter people and their needs where they are to see if we can respond to them as members of the body of Christ.

As Paul Rock likes to tell us, the church is not just "a place where" but also "a people who."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Going from good to great

One of the resources that the GPS has drawn on as we think about what to recommend for Second's future is the small monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, a highly popular study of companies that went from being pretty good to being excellent.

This past Wednesday evening, Paul Rock described to a class at Second some of the ideas Collins writes about and how they apply to Second and the work of the GPS.

One idea is not to get all focused on measuring what Collins calls "inputs" but, rather, to pay attention to the "outputs," or the results of what you're doing.

In a church setting that means not obsessing about membership numbers, meeting budgets, minutes, policies, maintaining tradition, the number of baptisms and so forth. Rather, church leaders should be assessing how the work and witness of the congregation is helping to transform lives, meet member and societal needs, give more of our time and talent, serve more people and so forth.

Among many other points, Collins emphasizes the need to "get the right people on the bus and in the right seats," which is a reference in church terms to leadership. What that means for the Nominating Committee going forward is that it will have to do an even more focused job of matching talents and passions of our members to our governance needs.

Well, there is much more in the Collins book that has been helpful to the GPS, and it's a little booklet (and quick read) we recommend. You can even order it on by clicking here.