Saturday, April 24, 2010

Catalyst West 2010: Wrapup

Well, it was great conference.  At the end of these gatherings I come away with a diverse array of sentiments: first, it is really exciting because I believe that I'm watching the future of the Christian Church in the U.S.A.  This conference (like its larger Atlanta counterpart) is attracting thousands of people between, say, the ages of 25-40 and grooming them to lead their churches boldly.  But it is also a little depressing to grasp the relative insignificance of my own ministry on the larger scale of things.  It's not that the people aren't important - after all, what is the church if the individual becomes insignificant? - but it's also natural to want to play a role in the movement as a whole.  Our church needs another zero on its numbers just to be on the team.

For my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), what's clear is that we haven't even begun to do what it will take to stem the decline.  First and foremost is the development of leaders who have the core competencies that it takes to lead churches forward.  Our pastors often just don't have a clue.  Then we need to vault newer leaders into key positions and protect them from being marginalized by old-school leaders.  We're a denomination where moving a congregation to email puts you in the forefront, when most of the rest of our society is increasingly seeing email as passe.  We're a denomination that likes to do things one step at a time, which won't work if you're starting two steps behind the world. 

So I'm ever more convinced that the PCUSA denominational structure as it exists is toast.  Some of the congregations will thrive, more will continue to simply (barely) exist, and many will end their ministry ("fail" is the wrong word, just as our own death isn't failure - it's the end of our appointed time).  It will survive in name, but the various departments and agencies that we created for a different time will continue to be shut down.  And this is a good thing in the overall scheme of things.  The thriving congregations will drive the rebuilding of the denomination, and who knows what that will look like?  But I suspect that it will follow Andy Stanley's statement that our goal should be to do what only we can do.  Our presbyteries, synods, and G.A. should strive to do what only they can do.  If it can be done by congregations, it should be left to congregations.

The most important part of the conference was seeing the extent to which they are driven by social justice.  And it was fun to see them use the phrase so often that this entire conference would have been shunned by Glenn Beck.  A few good Web sites: - combines unused balances on gift cards and gives it to charity.  Who doesn't have a gift card with $2 left on it - too small to use but you don't want to throw it away?  Even better, maybe you have a gift card for a store you don't shop at?  Send it in!  10% of all gift cards are never used - but someone in need can use them. - inspire your congregation to spend less at Christmas, make it less commercial, make it about Christ, and then help the world. - "People of the Second Chance" - can we be people who learn to see that "broken is beautiful"?  Excellent videos available for download purchase.  Watch the one about the artist Stephanie.  It's intriguing. - okay, if your church isn't serving Fair Trade Coffee yet (?!) then maybe this would motivate them.  These folks sell Rwandan coffee where all of the fair trade principles are observed (or exceeded), but the proceeds directly benefit particular villages that were ravaged by the Rwandan massacre.  Their stuff allows you to tell a particular story that might motivate people to make the switch away from exploitation coffee to something that benefits the people. - 143 million is the number of orphans in the world.  Are there people in our churches who will prayerfully ask whether they are being called to adopt?  If only one family for every four churches in the U.S. would adopt a child, every American child in the nation's foster care system would have a family.

On to Catalyst West 2011: From talking to folks, it is clear that they will be moving from the Mariners Church venue, not because it isn't an awesome venue, but because they sold it out and will be looking for larger digs.  Having spent a fair amount of time attending conventions, and knowing their announced plan to stay in Orange County, Anaheim is the only reasonable destination.  There is everything from the Anaheim Convention Center to the Honda Center (home of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hockey team).  A Catalyst team member told me that they are negotiating various locations next week (makes sense) and may move the date from April to February.  Since Easter is extremely late next year (April 24, 2011), this late April time doesn't work.  I think February would be fantastic, as I can imagine many of us taking a week off before Lent begins.

Catalyst West 2010: Day 2

The second day is off to a great start with Donald Miller, author of the classic memoir Blue Like Jazz, whose latest book is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  He started with a funny story about playing with a metronome in the band room in high school, and watching how people would subconsciously walk in step with the beat - so he could actually control their walking tempo.  He said that narrative controls us in a similarly unconscious way: that people become the character they play in the story they believe.  So what is a story?  He defines a "story" as "a character wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."  If our story is boring, maybe we need to want better stuff, and as leaders, we need to proclaim a better story.  He (bravely, for this audience) disclaimed the idea that God has a specific plan for everyone (for some, not all) - rather, "God gives you a big piece of butcher paper and a box of crayons."  He then said that he was taught that if you get stuck writing a story, just start asking "what if?" questions - "what if the character got married?" - and challenged us to ask "what if?" questions about our own lives ("what if we adopted a child?") that might help us realize that there's a beautiful story waiting for us to live it.  Teach your people to want good things - and understand that the natural next step in the story is conflict.

Next up was Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance, and author of the just-released book Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality.  Scott posits that we reach a "project plateau" after coming up with a great idea, and the temptation when we hit that plateau is to come up with a new idea before finishing the last one.  He gave a simple framework for dealing with the plateau: divide the project into increments of time (he recommends two weeks in most cases), enumerate milestones for each time increment, then devise tasks to achieve each milestone.  Pretty basic stuff but good, esp. for those who are lousy planners.  He also said that because of the never-ending stream of data inputs into our lives, we tend to develop a reactionary workflow, and that we should create "windows of non-stimulation" so we can focus on what's important rather than what's urgent.  Finally, he encouraged us to publicize our ideas so we become accountable to acting on them.

Just before lunch we were presented with a strong emphasis on adoption and helping children around the world.  A strong and emotional presentation was made by Kay Warren (Rick 's wife) and Wess Stafford of Compassion International.  We were encouraged to visit Catalyst's site: for encouragement.  Kay pointed out that if one family per every four churches were to adopt, we would take care of every child in the foster care system in the U.S.!  She said that adoption is not for everyone (she hasn't), but argued that we should prayerfully ask God whether adoption is for us, for how will we know the answer if we don't ask the question?

After lunch we were treated to a comedic routine by Michael Junior, who has a documentary coming out about taking his Christian comedy routine to prisons.  My favorite part of the routine was when he spoke about Christians who are "over-saved."  Yeah, we know them.  The kind of people who, if you ask them if they're thirsty, answer, "yes, for living water!"  See

We then had a nice musical interlude with performances by Zach Williams, worship leader at Community Grace Church in Brooklyn, and Mariah McManus (Erwin's daughter).

Erwin McManus was next up.  He recounted the story of how Mosaic developed their winning commercial for Doritos, and how many, many Christians criticized him for somehow betraying the gospel.  (I couldn't help but think that McManus' critics are among the "over-saved.")  McManus critiqued the church as unwittingly conveying the message that what people do during the week is meaningless; that unless they are engaged in ministry, their lives are meaningless.

Andy Stanley closed us up with a good talk about working to our strengths and delegating our weaknesses.  His key point is that our goal should be to only do what only we can do.  He pointed out that because we have authority over everything, we choose to exercise that authority even in areas that are not our core competencies.  (He reminded us that in the church world, if you're the best speaker in the organization, you become the leader of all of it - why does that even make sense?)  Andy said that stress is more often related to what we are doing, not how much we are doing.  He challenged us to always ask: what will I let  go of this year? - and he encouraged us to compose the ideal job description for the job we currently hold and then work toward it.

Great conference!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Catalyst West 2010: Day 1

Well, Day One of the full conference is here.  They never really tell us who is speaking when (I wonder if it's to make sure we don't skip out?) and today is going to be a LONG day.  The opening session is at 8:30, runs until 5:30 (with a lunch break) and then they've added an evening session with Louie Giglio speaking (I'm ambivalent about him) and Chris Tomlin leading worship (I love his music, so I'm excited about that).

Opening worship was vibrant and loud.  I love it.  The theme of the conference is "Unusual Tomorrow" - the core message seems to be that we are being summoned into a future that is designed by God.  The opening speaker is always Andy Stanley, who is a terrific speaker.  He begins by reminding us that as leaders "we deal in the currency of tomorrow."  He then warns us that our "picture of the future will never be bigger than what [we] think is possible."  He tells a story of possibility that stems from a visit he had made to the Roman Coliseum (if you subscribe to his sermon podcast from North Point church, you heard this story not long ago), where he talks about seeing a cross in the Emperor's entrance to the Coliseum - who would have ever imagined that Christianity would outlive the Roman Empire?  I liked these quotes: "The older you get - the more obstacles you face - life has a way of shrinking what you think is possible; the realities of today crush our dreams for tomorrow."

Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle ( spoke about a mission initiative of his to combat extreme global poverty.  Called One Day's Wages ( they challenge people to give one day's pay to combat poverty - esp. among the 3 billion people who subsist on less than $2 per day.

He was followed by Charlene Li, author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies who spoke about social media and the leadership style that it takes to embrace its power.  She spoke of how traditional leaders are often fearful of the power that shifts to the people of a "groundswell."  She proposes a new concept called Open Leadership: having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control, while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.  She then gave examples of companies that have embraced the real potential of social media: creating open dialogue between company and customer to discover new ideas and build customer loyalty.

Lunch is being provided compliments of Chick-Fil-A, a company famous for embracing Christian principles and supporting Christian leadership.  There were some cool exhibitors: my favorite was, which accepts gift cards with unused balances (don't we all have a gift card lying around with $2 left on it - not enough to use, but we won't throw it away) and combines them into usable amounts that are donated to local charities.

After lunch came Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  Mark is a bit of a controversial figure, in that he claims the Calvinist label (rare for an evangelical) and preaches an extreme Calvinism that borders on determinism.  He was surprisingly engaging (I've seen some YouTube videos of him where he's pretty surly) and self-effacing.  His topic was "finishing well", referring to colleagues who had "blown up, burned out, or given up."  He reminded us that "ministry is not what you do for God, ministry is what God does for you, in you, and through you (sometimes in spite of you)."  He had a cute line about Jesus being the true "senior pastor" of the church, so the pressure is off of us.

Then came John Ortberg interviewing a legend, Dallas Willard.  Willard's main point was that the kingdom of God is now, and the Gospel is the Good News that it is possible for us to live in the kingdom now.  He said that the church too often taught that the Gospel was about proclaiming the minimum requirement for getting into heaven (which Willard said was like passing the written portion of the driving test).  He had a good line about how works were compatible with grace, that "grace is not opposed to action; grace is opposed to earning" (effort is action, "earning" is attitude).  On the subject of spiritual disciplines he said that there is a difference between trying to do something and training to do something.  Effort (trying) is no substitute for focused preparation.

The afternoon concluded with Reggie Joiner, a founder of ReThink and author of Think Orange: Imagine the Impact When Church and Family Collide....  Reggie used the parable of the prodigal son to say that the one thing that is the difference between being a leader/church that has influence or being one who does not, is the resolve to treat every prodigal the way a loving father would treat his son.  He put forth the following hypothetical: imagine if the first person the prodigal encountered upon returning home was his brother?  He said that "loving fathers throw parties, elder brothers throw fits."

After dinner, we were treated to some powerful worship led by Chris Tomlin, who led us in a number of his classic hits: "How Great Is Our God", "Your Grace Is Enough", and "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)."  Louie Giglio was the speaker, and though I haven't liked his DVDs, tonight he was really good (maybe because he was passionate without going all emo).  He spoke reflectively about how he is finally serving as a pastor of the startup Passion City Church in Atlanta (  His point was that church planters today think about what kind of church they are starting: a "seeker" church? A "missional" church?  Or even an "Acts 2" church?  Then he posed the question: what kind of church did the people in Acts 2 think they were starting?  They didn't (couldn't) know what an Acts 2 church was supposed to be?  So what did they have?  Louie said they had three things: they were witnesses to the power of the resurrection, they had the teachings of Jesus, and they had the presence of the Holy Spirit.  And what they had was all we need.

Well, a day that started with registration at 7:30 a.m. ended with the conclusion of worship at 9:15 p.m.  A long but energizing day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catalyst West 2010: Labs

I'm sitting in the Community Center of Mariners Church (, which is again the host site for Catalyst West.  It is a remarkably well-kept and elaborate campus, with an enormous student center, skateboard park, and assorted amenities.  I wish they would have scheduled the start of the day for something earlier than 10:30 a.m. (PDT), especially since the day won't conclude until 6:00 p.m. and we have two very full days coming, including an evening session tomorrow night.

First up will be worship with Aaron Keyes.  Aaron is the worship leader ( at Grace Fellowship Church outside of Atlanta, and he likes to disciple young worship leaders.  He was pretty good, though I'm not a huge fan of the guitars/bass/drums ensemble that I associate with Southern rock; I prefer having a keyboard in the mix.  He also talked a little more than I am comfortable with, but his songs were good and he got the folks involved.  

Choosing the speakers to listen to today is difficult.  The conference itself is all plenary, no breakouts, but today we have to choose.  Gender is a factor in my choice, because the gender bias in evangelicalism is fairly evident in that there is almost no female leadership in the main conference, but there are a few today.

So I decided to see Susan Isaacs in the first breakout.  The audio from all of the sessions will be available, but I wanted to support the idea that female speakers can draw interest even at an evangelical conference.  She is an actress and comedienne ( who wrote a book entitled Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir.  Her talk was on writing your own spiritual memoir, which is different from a faith timeline, in that it is truly a memoir of your life which you then view through a faith lens.  She asked a really provocative opening question: "if you died without writing your memoir, what stories would the world be poorer for not knowing?"  She then led us in some interesting exercises and viewpoints that would help us compose such a memoir.  My reaction is that this would be a great summer seminar to have at my church, because seeing your own life story through the eyes of faith would make it easier for us to share our faith.

Next I'm watching Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church ( and he had one good quote to start but now he's annoying me.  His good quote was "Shepherds don't make sheep.  Sheep make sheep."  But his talk was centered on three things he thinks the church needs to be teaching more forcefully, and it devolved into a defense of the institutional church, a defense of "traditional" teaching on sexuality, and an admonition that we should be careful not to get so involved with professing the gospel by deeds of social justice that we forget proclaiming the gospel with words.  I was surprised at his explicit defense of the church's stance against LGBT persons because my experience of Catalyst has been that it shies away from the social issues stance of older evangelicals (in two years I haven't heard anything about abortion) out of respect for the diverse (and even mildly progressive) social views of younger evangelicals.  A real disappointment.

The last speaker in the breakout portion of the day is Margaret Feinberg.  I love her latest book, Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey, which I discussed a couple of months ago here.  She uses actual experiences with shepherds (actually, a shepherdess), beekeeper, and vintner to gain insights into these oft-used Biblical metaphors.  She is a polished speaker, but it feels too polished - and she is basically speaking her book.  And I already read the book...

Yet to come is a final plenary session led by a person whose teachings haven't inspired me, John Ortberg.  He pleasantly surprised me.  Again, like so many speakers, he was really pushing the theme of his latest book, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You.  He's presently at Menlo Park Presbyterian, having gone there from Willow Creek.  I think being in a Presbyterian church has gotten to him; his speaking style feels a bit "old school."  He was basically pushing what sounds to me like a basic Reformed understanding of sanctification, though he never once used the word "sanctification."  My favorite quotes were "God is more concerned with you reaching your potential than you are" and a good reminder that somewhere along the way "grace got reduced to the forgiveness of sins"; John's core point was essentially that sanctification is also grace. He then reminded us that "spiritual growth is hand-crafted, not mass-produced" - that God, in the Bible, treats people very differently.  He called on churches not to treat spiritual growth as if they can just put people "on a Christian assembly line."  He scored points with many of us by asking: "how many of you can't stand journaling?" (I never keep a journal and don't understand why I should) and saying that spiritual practices are not the same as spiritual growth; after all, he pointed out, "if they measured spiritual growth by spiritual practices, who would win?  The Pharisees."

Day 1 of the full conference is next.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogging Catalyst West Coast

Well, I've just arrived in Irvine, CA for the Catalyst West Coast conference.  The "labs" sessions are tomorrow (Wed, April 21) and the full plenary sessions are Thursday and Friday.  Check back here for personal reflections on the presentations from a progressive, mainline, Reformed perspective.

In preparation for the conference I've been reading Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies; Charlene Li will be one of the speakers at the conference.  I'm looking forward to hearing her apply "groundswell" thinking to churches.  It has long been my feeling that churches struggle and struggle until they achieve a certain critical mass at the local level.  I've referred to this as becoming a "top of mind" church - being the church that everyone in the area - whether Christian or not, whether an attendee or not - mentions when someone asks about churches.  I think that's a micro-level variation of a "groundswell."

Check back starting tomorrow...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rob Bell's Resurrection

Well, after shutting down his Nooma series, Rob Bell is back with a new film for Easter.  Entitled Resurrection, you can view it here, although I'm not sure for how long.  It is short (under 4 minutes) and features Rob who has clearly been green-screened onto a light-show type of background.

I'm not sure he's saying much new here, and I miss the intriguing visual backstories that were present in the Nooma films.  I hate to say it because his work has meant a lot to me (particularly his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith) but it seems as if he's running out of fresh perspectives.  Perhaps with Shane Hipps taking much of the preaching load off of him at Mars Hill, Rob will be able to work on developing his theological work.  Personally, I think he needs to take his theological insights and go deeper with them.  He has a wonderful, novel way of expressing base-level faith, but eventually people need more depth.