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.
Rediscover Sunday Rev. Kevin Miller Posted Jan. 22, 2020
You may recall the three Town Hall meetings held between November 10, 2018, and March 2, 2019.
There were a lot of ideas shared, but one of the themes that emerged from these discussions was a desire for more opportunities for spiritual growth. What was clear was a longing for discipleship teaching and engagement that will bring people of all ages into a more intimate relationship with Jesus.
This generated discussions about our Sunday morning worship schedule that, for many years has focused more on the act of worship. Questions were asked about why we do what we do, and if what we do reflects our church’s core values of worship, service, growth, and invitation.
And so the question was asked: What would it look like on Sunday morning to reflect these ideas and core values. Hence, the idea of restructuring our Sunday morning schedule was hatched and explored. Here were some key talking points and discoveries:
After several months of discussion and prayer, Pastor Kevin and the Worship Staff is offering the following schedule beginning March 1, 2020:
9:00 a.m. – Classic Worship (hymns, liturgy, & choir)
10:15 a.m. – Connect (fellowship time and classes for all ages)
11:11 a.m. – Current (casual; led by Praise Team)
This schedule offers variety in worship styles, and flexibility for all the moving pieces of the choirs and praise team to be ready for their worship times, as well as time for people of all ages to connect, learn and grow in their relationship with Jesus, and with one another.
2020 Vision: What’s Coming up…and Why?
In the life of every church, there will be seasons of change. In churches in which nothing changes, they typically become stagnant, and eventually are forced to make changes that have a negative impact.
On July 9, 2017, my very first sermon here was titled, “It’s (always) Day 1.” It was based in part on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ mantra, “It’s always day 1.” The culture this creates is that the future is exciting; innovation is expected, and the past will not hold us back. This also means that we lead with change rather than wait for change to lead us.
2017 was a year of significant change around this church: new music leadership for Sunday mornings, new visitation pastor, new senior pastor and a new youth director. That’s a lot of change! But, together we made it through. As we look over the horizon of a new year, we can see change coming.
In particular, we know of at least three significant events during the first half of 2020 that will impact us as a church. Two of these changes are self-imposed. They are pro-active rather than re-active. The third event could potentially create reactive change at First UMC, but we simply will not know for many months.
So what are these changes?
I’d like to address the “Why?” of each of these one at a time. So WHY are new screens being installed in the sanctuary? First, a brief background:
The increasing role and use of technology in the church over the last 25-years has been obvious. Over time, it’s been evident that churches who do not use technology effectively are struggling. A web site, for example, is no longer a unique connection, but considered passé.
At First UMC of Valparaiso, it was decided long ago that the use of technology, projectors and screens – not only on Sunday morning, but throughout the week – are important to the life of this church. The way people interact, learn, and, yes, worship, has changed. 65-75% of people today learn visually. Teachers, business people, and pastors today are taught how to communicate utilizing as many senses as possible.
The use of a screen on Sunday morning allows people the flexibility to worship and sing differently. Most – especially younger – people are comfortable singing from words projected on a screen. Some people, however, still like having the music in front of them, which is why the hymnals are still available – and will remain for those who wish to use them.
The Trustees of the church – the group entrusted with caring for the building and overseeing upkeep and improvements to the facilities – recently made a difficult, but necessary decision. It came after many months (actually years) of discussion and discernment. In January, the one projector and screen, located in the upper southeast corner of the sanctuary, will be replaced with two brand-new laser projectors and two new screens located in the pulpit area on each side of the Cross (above where the choir sits).
Because…the current projector is past its useful life. It was installed in March, 2008. It’s simply time.
Because…the quality of the picture and graphics displayed on the screen suffers with older equipment, thus creating a distraction.
Because…the current screen, which is high and to one side of the sanctuary creates obstacles to worship, especially if you sit near the screen itself. Many people comically refer to the location of our screen as “a pain in the neck.”
Because…during the Town Hall meetings held earlier this year, a constant refrain was a desire to reach younger people and families. One screen high and off to the side shows a lack of commitment to modern worship and the younger people we want to reach. Are we willing to do what is needed to help younger people and families feel valued, included and welcome?
Because…during the time of discernment by the Trustees, many heard comments about keeping the focus of worship on the center of the church (the Cross). Screens located in either corner of the room would actually divert focus and attention away from the Cross.
Because…relocating the screens will help bring clarity and focus to worship. Aesthetically, moving the screens will direct attention toward the Cross as well as to the speaker and those leading worship, and thus the message.
Because…relocating the screens will enhance engagement during worship. There is currently disconnection between the people leading worship and those participating when the congregation’s attention is diverted up and away from the stage.
Because…doing this provides more flexibility, ease and safety in matching colors and images for the liturgical seasons. Additionally, it provides more flexibility to customize graphics and colors for wedding and funerals. On a side-note, there is a misconception among some that the banners and paraments were hand-stitched by someone in the church. In fact, they were purchased from Robert Gaspard Co. of Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Because…the new location of the screens is not unusual based on the wide seating layout of our particular sanctuary. It should be acknowledged that in our sanctuary, there is no “perfect solution” when it comes to screen placement. However, the width and relatively shallow depth of the room mean that moving the screens deeper into the room will increase the depth of sight and create much more comfortable viewing angles from just about anywhere in the room.
If you’ve read this far, thank you! We are blessed by people who care deeply about the future of this church. This decision was not taken lightly – or quickly! But neither is this decision a “magic pill” that will attract masses of people. But it is a reflection of our collective concern and commitment to the next generation. For those of us who have been around the church for awhile, our focus and concern should be not for us, but for those who are not here…yet.
Concern for the next generation is not just a good idea, it’s biblical! Psalm 71:18 implores, Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. (Psalm 78 and 145 point to the same idea.) Remember, the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ has not changed. But the methods have.
May this be our focus and prayer moving forward.
The morning after…
A few weeks ago, we hosted a “Because People Matter” workshop at the church. It was led by Mark Waltz. Mark is from Granger, Indiana but is also an author, trainer, consultant and coach for churches around the world. We were blessed to hear from him. About 70 people from our church and community participated.
One of the table discussions focused on the Sunday morning experience for visitors. The task was to “define the experience we want people to have before they have the experience.”
The compelling question we were asked to explore: What do you want people to say about your church on Monday morning?
After table discussions, we all shared thoughts together. Here’s what people want visitors to say about their church on Monday morning:
So, what would you add to this list?
More importantly, for members of First United Methodist Church, What are you doing to make this list a reality here?
REMEMBERING 9-11 September 11, 2019
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
Let’s be honest. It’s easier just to go about my day as usual. To cover the things on my to-do list and not think about what happened 18 years ago today.
But the reality is, the wounds are still open and raw. The reality is that we owe it to those who were murdered at the Twin Towers in New York City, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, as well as their families, friends. We also remember the 23 New York Police officers who were killed in the attack, as well as the 241 members (so far) of the NYPD who have died of 9-11 related illnesses. We also remember 343 members of the Fire Department of New York who died in the attack, as well as 202 (so far) FDNY members who have died of 9-11 related illnesses.
Out of respect to the countless family members and friends…we have an obligation to pause and remember. And more importantly, never forget!
I well remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news of the attacks on September 11. But in retrospect, I also think about where I was the Saturday before. My wife’s parents were returning from a trip and we picked them up at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. We arrived early and met some friends who live just north of Chicago. We ate at a restaurant in the terminal and then walked over to the gate to greet my in-laws as they came off their flight.
You can’t do this anymore! Everything changed after 9-11. It’s a small thing, really, but it points to the reality of freedoms and innocence that was lost because of what happened.
For many people who lost loved ones on this day, the memories and impact are very different and very real. I also remember in the days after, President Bush encouraged Americans to “get back to normal.” This is very difficult to do when “normal” has changed.
Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Be very careful, then, how you live…” If this day reminds us of anything, it is that we really have little control over what happens in the world.
Despite all the technological advances, meteorologist’s still cannot fully predict the path of hurricanes and tornados. Even though we’ve beefed up security, shooting sprees still happen. In the last 18 years, medical science has made amazing advances, but the mortality rate is still 100 percent.
Remember this day and that our lives together were forever changed. But, as Paul writes, make the most of every opportunity. May you “be filled with all the fullness of God,” (Eph. 3:19) and give control of your life to the only One who is really in control.
AN OPEN LETTER TO WHOEVER HAPPENS TO READ THIS…
From: Kevin T. Miller, ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church since 2006, currently serving as Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso, Indiana
The United Methodist General Conference held last week in St. Louis has come to a close, and the last few days have gone…well, I hate to say it, but I told you so:
If you are not aware, after much debate – which was rarely civil and often embarrassingly contentious – the delegates (representing churches on five continents) voted to adopt the “Traditional Plan” which maintains the language of the UM Discipline that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits self-avowed homosexuals from being ordained as clergy as well as our sanctuaries being used for same-sex weddings. Clergy are also prohibited from officiating in such ceremonies.
This section of the Discipline has been debated with passion and conviction at every General Conference since 1972 (the UMC was created in 1968 by a merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church). But, regardless of where you fall on this particular issue, what has never been debated is what we still hold to be a non-negotiable truth: All persons are of sacred worth, created in the image of God.
If in any way, this decision has hurt you or made you feel that you are “less than” anyone else, know that your value to God through Jesus Christ has no boundaries; know that you truly are a person of sacred worth and you matter to God; you matter to the church, and you matter to me. No matter what decision is made in any area of General Conference, this will always be non-negotiably true.
One of the challenges that comes with being the Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso, Indiana is the wide diversity of theology and thought in the pews. Since the decision, I have had conversations with some who enthusiastically support the vote; with some who strongly disagree with the decision, and with a few who are personally devastated and are rethinking their commitment to this church.
Interesting factoid: The diversity of this church – more so than any church I’ve been connected with – reflects the diversity of the global United Methodist Church. And to me, that is a strength. If General Conference proved anything, it is that there is a wide diversity of deeply held opinions. We are a small part of a global church, which includes the growing church in Africa, where homosexuality is a crime in 37 countries. I’m not saying this is right; I’m pointing it out as a reality. We are part of a world-wide ministry which means we stand with and support churches doing ministry in completely different contexts than our own.
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, is often (incorrectly) attributed with writing, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things love.” This thought didn’t originate with Wesley, but it is powerful and applicable for us in the church in 2019. So what is essential? I believe four things are absolutely essential in today’s church:
This should define us as a people and as a church. Let us continue to be about the essential work of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
In a spirit of collaboration, peace, unity and love,
“May you live in interesting times.”
Legend has it that this quote was originally a Chinese curse. One of a trinity of curses; the other two being, “May you come to the attention of those in authority,” and “May the gods give you everything you ask for.”
Well, we find ourselves living in interesting times, and I would propose to you that, in the church, this not a curse but an opportunity. In the midst of the rhetoric and chaos defining our time, I am finding people who have never sought after God are seeking. People who have never stepped inside a church are looking for truth and civilized decency, and thus the opportunity.
“Interesting times” are not unique, but when we study history, we find time and time again the church has been a force for God’s truth. The Dark Ages received its name honestly.
After the Roman Empire fell, chaos ruled. Factions developed, barbaric war broke out and an entire continent seemed lost. But one force prevented it: the church.
Instead of conforming to the barbaric culture of the time, marked by destruction and confusion, the medieval church was countercultural. As the chaos spread, thousands of mission houses opened all over Europe. They were characterized by discipline, creativity and order lacking in the world around them.
Monks opened schools and shelters for orphans, widows and paupers. Hospitals and farms were established as well as roads cut and bridges built. People were drawn not so much by the hospitality and compassion, but by the discipline and dedication of these religious missions.
By holding fast to the basics of a civilized society – faith in Christ, education and civility – the monks and nuns brought light into the darkness of the age, and eventually Europe emerged from the Dark Ages into a renewed time of cultural creativity, education and art.
Today’s “interesting times” are just as dark, and the world seems more sophisticated than when Rome was destroyed. But today’s barbarians wear pinstripes instead of animal skins, and pretend to entertain while, in reality, enabling divisions, lies and darkness.
Like the mission communities of the Middle Ages, is it time for the church to serve as mission outposts of truth, decency and civilization in the darkening culture of our “interesting times”?