Is Your Bulletin Sideways Energy?

Lengthy bulletins can be sideways energy. What is “sideways energy”? As Art Rainer summarizes it:

People are working. Busyness is occurring. But little movement is experienced.

That’s sideways energy. Now, bulletins at a church can become an exercise in sideways energy for two different reasons:

  1. The length bulletin may be communicating and promoting a lot of different events, programs, opportunities, etc. when we try to communicate everything, we end up sharing a lot of information, but without the prioritization and emphasis that makes this “mass” of information palatable and action-able for readers.  If you float 20 ideas to me, I can tune out. If you compellingly encourage me to move toward one–or just a few–I’m a lot more likely to take action.
  2. Let’s say your very-lengthy bulletin effectively communicates with focus–it’s not just a huge menu smattering of different ideas that may or may not be connected–but actually reveals a discipleship pathway. This is great. You may be a parish that doesn’t need to change the approach to the bulletin at all. However, consider the resources necessary to produce this–the work of editors, secretaries, visits with publisher advertisers, etc. Is that resource use sideways energy that could be better directed elsewhere?

As many churches start a “new year” right about now–how’s your bulletin?
Is it contributing to transformation? Or, is it an instrument that distracts from the central movement of energy and vision in your local church?

Crotalus cerastes mesquite springs CA-2.jpg

“The common name sidewinder alludes to its unusual form of locomotion…as its body progresses over loose sand, it forms a letter J-shaped impression, with the tip of the hook pointing in the direction of travel.” Sidewinding–good for desert snakes, not for our communications 😉 Source: “Crotalus cerastes” via Wikipedia

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How Can I Welcome Someone at Mass?

None of us want our parishes to be a place that’s not welcoming, that’s not hospitable to the outsider, visitor, guest, or occasional-attender. The question is how? What to do? What can I as just one individual do to welcome someone at Mass?

Tips for Welcoming

When you see someone that you think might be a visitor, don’t say “are you new?” (some people don’t want to stand out as different/new), instead make it about your own perspective, “I don’t think we’ve met before, my name is…” 

Do have conversation with those who might be guests, visitors, or less-frequent attenders…just about every church has programs, music, and things to do. It’s personal connection that leads to belonging.

When conversing, don’t ask or presume specific family relationships (i.e. spouse, marital status, children) through your language. Making the wrong guess or assumption can cause a person to feel like they don’t fit in. Instead, let them share and then you know it’s a comfortable topic for them.

Don’t interrogate–i.e. asking what religion they are, what church they came from, etc. Focus on open-ended conversation that allows them to share their unique experiences and personality, rather than information. (Some examples of conversation “ripening” phrases).

At the end of a conversation, offer the person a pathway for a next step. This could mean showing them a welcome card, or a safer option a person is more likely to say “yes” to, simply offer your own contact information (i.e. email, phone #, whatever you prefer). This puts the ball clearly in their court and shows that you respect and trust their choice to follow up and get to know you more, versus giving their contact information to a total stranger at a new church. You’ve taken the first step in friendship, without being pushy.

Affirm parents. Parents are naturally self-conscious about having children at church events or worship. Simply affirm. Don’t offer praise that could be taken as an insult, i.e. “those kids were rough during Mass, but you did a great job.” A “thanks for being here, I love seeing children at Mass” cannot be misinterpreted.

In summary, keep your eyes open! Ask the Holy Spirit to point you to a conversation. People will remember, “that was the church where a stranger took an interest in me, for who I am…not who they hoped I’d be or how I could get involved in their church…simply because we connected as people.”

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Reader Request: Resources for Preaching a Series

A reader wrote to ask, “Have you discovered any resources to help design message series since that post [Rebuilding Your Message: Big Idea #1 The Series]?”

Ideas for Preaching a Series

  1. Read Rebuilding Your MessageIt’s an easy read, full of practical tips.
  2. Watch the Rebuilding Your Message webinar produced by Ave Maria Press with co-author Tom Corcoran.
  3. Watch or listen to series preached at Catholic parishes, for example:
  4. Adam Hamilton (Methodist pastor)’s book Leading Beyond the Walls has a section on series, read more here…
  5. Try it. Just do it. 🙂 But, before you start the series, recruit a group to provide feedback–folks in your parish with experience in communication, sharing the faith, offering critique, etc.–and during your “experiment,” meet with them weekly. This will help you gauge what’s working and what’s not and make week-by-week improvements. At the end of the series, solicit feedback from your parish using an anonymous web form or a printed card.

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Seek a Future of Hope (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

“When you look for me, you will find me.” –Jer 29:13

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says to His people, “I know well the plans I have in mind for you.”

Now if you’re like most of us, and have ever been anxious or curious about your future, this is great news! God has a plan for you. Your life isn’t left to random cosmic events. There is a God of the universe who loves us as individuals, and we matter to Him. He has a plan to give you a “future of hope,” no matter how desperate or unfortunate your current life situation may seem.

But then things get a bit disappointing. Jeremiah doesn’t have the details of God’s plan for us.

Instead God gives these promises:

1. When we pray to God, He will listen

2. When we seek God with all our heart, we will find Him

3. If we’re in an exile of sorts—cut off from God or those around us—He will bring us back and “change our lot.”

While God is our loving creator, He doesn’t force any of us into a relationship with Him. Each of us must seek God with all our heart to find the future of hope He has for each of us. Seeking God requires our whole heart and personal prayer—moral behavior, church attendance, or being “religious” are all good, but none of these is a substitute for seeking God.

Seek the Lord, and begin to know more deeply and confidently the plans God has for you today.

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Image: “Hope” Melanie Tata (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

The Journey Matters (Psalm 37:5)

“Commit your way to the Lord” –Ps 37:5

Commitment is hard.

From taking the first step in a new resolution, to sticking it out when distractions arise, to continuing your commitment when it becomes boring or repetitive—commitment can test our heart, mind, and body. This verse offers us a promise—that if we trust in the Lord, he will act. But this comes after we take the first step, and commit.  

Commitment
Image: Memphis CVB (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Now, committing anything to the Lord may sound intimidating, but God never asks the impossible of us. The Lord doesn’t ask us to promise success or commit our glowing achievements to Him. No, to “commit your way” means to commit your life’s journey. To give the long, winding, and possibly confusing road of your life to God. To “commit your way” is to give your whole self, your way of being—whatever unique personality traits, way of going about life, and human gifts you have. God cares about the process, not just the results. He promises that if we trust Him with that process—the way of our lives—He will act.

What’s the one area of your life that’s hardest to let God in on?

It could be money, school or work, relationships, your family, or even your doubt in God’s existence—whatever it is, “commit your way” to God, even if you don’t know the outcome, and trust that God will lovingly accompany you wherever your road takes you.  

What is Salvation?

If our idea of salvation isn’t God’s idea, then (spoiler alert!) by extension the Good News that we proclaim and announce isn’t going to be truly Good.

Earlier this year, the Congregation for the Doctrine [aka Teaching] of the Faith, published a letter, Placuit Deo, “on certain aspects of Christian salvation.”

What do people today think about salvation?

Across the world, we see two “drifts,” two different directions that start with something good, but then drift and become disconnected from the greater whole. The first is…

I can achieve it! Just watch me!

An individual-centric worldview “tends to see the human person as a being whose sole fulfillment depends only on his or her own strength” (Placuit Deo, para. 2). If you’re keeping score historically 😉 one could call this a “neo-pelagianism.” Now, there’s something intrinsically good about wanting to grow in strength, and we even find in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus, in his youth, advanced in wisdom (Luke 2:52). However, the problem is when we think we can do it ourselves, that the self-help and self-growth is going to come all from my “self” or maybe just by looking to Jesus as a great moral teacher or inspiring example for me to follow.

The second drift is in the opposite direction, and says…

I’ve got inner peace! I can’t hear you!

In this drift, we see “a merely interior vision of salvation,” “a vision which, marked by a strong personal conviction or feeling of being united to God,” but “does not take into account the need to accept, heal and renew our relationships with others and with the created world” (para 2).  For the history buffs out there, this is akin to a neo-gnosticism. While a Christian most certainly should have a personal experience of God’s love, the problem comes if this is the end state–or if a person turns inward to “protect” themselves from the messiness of the world, separating themselves from the “healing dimension of salvation” and the meaning of Jesus Christ truly being “made a member of the human family” (para. 9, 2).

Proclaiming Today

People aren’t blank slates waiting for us Christians to fill their heads with information. We connect with others more fruitfully, when we recognize and understand what assumptions and drifts they might be living out. Knowing these two major “drifts” reminds us that our announcement of truly Good News must include:

  • the transformative power of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit
    • without this, it’d be depressing news about how bad we are and need to get with the game, buck up, and fix ourselves by being “good”] (para. 2; cf. 2 Cor 5:19; Eph 2:18)
  • the healing, elevating, and participatory dimension of Jesus Christ’s mission (para. 9)
    • without this, why wouldn’t we run for the hills to escape from the rest of humanity? I mean, we human beings can be a unruly bunch!

Placuit Deo sums it up concisely:

“Salvation consists in being incorporated into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity.” (para. 12)

Jesus Christ “is at the same time Savior and Salvation.” (para. 11)

“The salvation of men and women will be complete only when, after having conquered the last enemy, death (cf. 1 Cor 15:26), we will participate fully in the glory of the risen Jesus, who will bring to fullness our relationship with God, with our brothers and sisters, and with all of creation.” (para. 15)

That’s the road we’re on, and inviting others to join us in.

Fullness in our relationships:

  • with God
  • with humanity
  • with all of creation

That’s Good news, indeed!

Use Words (Psalm 91:2)

“Say to the Lord…” –Psalm 91:2

Inside the Old Fort
Image: Ken and Nyetta (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

Seems simple, right? “Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”

Of course many of us often think of God as a protector—a “refuge and fortress.”

Yet, living this out isn’t so simple. Here’s why: in order for God to really be my refuge and fortress, I must humble myself enough to allow God to take on this role in my life. God can’t be my refuge unless I cooperate with Him, and seek Him for cover and guidance. God can’t be my “fortress” building, unless I’m humble enough to enter through the door for protection. It takes action to turn to God as a refuge or fortress. Trust goes beyond the occasional passing thought.

The Psalmist writes, “Say to the Lord.”

Did you catch that? We’re supposed to talk to God directly in prayer and tell God that we trust in Him, that we want Him to be our refuge and fortress against the storms life brings upon us.

Take up the challenge of this verse today.

Say to the Lord, “you are my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.” Then pour out your heart to the Lord about all of the things you need refuge and protection from, all the things that are hard for you to trust in Him for.

And then listen. By doing this you’re building a relationship with God—a sure sign of your trust in Him!