Don’t Let Frostbite Stop You

He did it!

Ice SkatesLast night, at age 19, our son J.J. played in his first competitive ice hockey game. Now you may think that’s not a very impressive accomplishment for someone his age living in Canada, but there’s a backstory here.

I was raised in Canada playing hockey on frozen ponds and makeshift rinks in our neighborhood. Later, I played on my high school team and eventually participated on the team here at Kingswood University for two years before transferring to complete my undergraduate degree at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina. You will not be surprised to learn that SWU did not have an ice hockey team. Except for one freak storm in my senior year, they didn’t have ice…except to put in their sweet tea! 

Now, here we are back in Canada 37 years after I played my last game at Kingswood. I’m blessed with 3 wonderful sons and all of them have enjoyed learning to ice skate since we moved to Sussex, New Brunswick. John, our oldest son, had a late start but really improved over his time here at Kingswood. As much as he wanted to, John never quite got the hang of stopping quickly on skates. That is important to ensure sure that you do not unintentionally injure yourself or others when you’re playing the game.

Back to JJ. The local arena offers free ice skating over the noon hour so JJ began skipping lunch and practicing every time he could. He learned to skate forward. He eventually even learned to skate backward. But, no matter how hard he tried, he was frustrated for two years trying to learn to do the hard stop. Friends and father alike offered suggestions. He kept trying. Still, no success.

This year, during the Christmas break from classes, JJ had more time to practice his skating. He went every time there were free sessions at the arena. He was so determined that he even ended up with frostbite. That wasn’t in the arena but on a frozen pond in the fields behind the college. The temperature was well below freezing, but he would not be denied. He worked on stopping over and over again. He fell, got back up and tried again. His gloves were designed for winter wear but were not intended to keep fingers warm for hours in subzero temperatures.

But I’ll never forget the look on his face the day he told me that he’d finally figured out how to do the hard stop. He was triumphant. He was exuberant. Yes, we did have to help him care for his fingers and make certain that the frostbite didn’t cause permanent damage.

His determination and sacrifice had finally paid off.

He still had to do a tryout with the hockey coach to demonstrate his proficiency. The tryout was a success and he was given the green light to suit up for his first hockey game last night. He certainly wasn’t the fastest skater on the ice and he didn’t score a goal, but I couldn’t be any prouder of him.

I am more proud of his effort than his accomplishment. Even if JJ had never mastered the skill of the hard stop, his determination and perseverance were building something deeper in his character that will serve him well as he moves into leadership challenges after graduation.

Perhaps the skill that you are trying to develop won’t require you to endure frostbite, However, for every meaningful accomplishment, there is a price to be paid. Don’t give up. Push yourself a little further. Stay in the race a little longer. You are becoming strong and better in the process.

John Wooden, Hall of Fame basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, wrote:

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.” – John Wooden

On that scale, JJ was a success.

And who knows, before he graduates JJ may just score that game-winning goal!

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Church Membership – Time for Another Wesleyan Conversation?

Like many denominations, my own denominational family (The Wesleyan Church) has had numerous conversations through the years about how we should approach the question of membership.

How do we define membership? What is its purpose?Old_Church

What is the best way to implement it?

Do we raise or lower the bar? Do we open the door wider or close it tighter?

With a millennial generation that does not seem to value institutional membership, do our answers to these questions even matter?

My reading plan this year includes re-reading some books that I’ve found meaningful in the past and want to revisit as I prepare to transition from leading a college back to coaching and consulting with congregations.

One of those books is “Leading Beyond the Walls” by Dr. Adam Hamilton, church planter/lead pastor at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Kansas City. First published in 2002, the book was written when COR was averaging close to 5,000. COR averages more than 7,000 today on the main campus and another 2,000 on regional campuses.

In light of our membership conversations in my home denomination, I was especially interested to learn how Church of the Resurrection approaches membership in their growing congregation.

Hamilton owns the reality that “the loyalty pledge to a denomination is difficult for those under forty to relate to or with integrity to accept.” (p.58) He developed an approach to membership that “lowered the threshold to make it easy for people to join our church, while simultaneously raising the bar of expectations for membership.” (p.50)

This is consistent with their view of membership “as a tool that we think best functions as a step toward true Christian commitment…it signifies a growing desire to identify themselves as Christians and to express commitment to the church.”

Hamilton sees this model clearly aligned the New Testament. He refers to Jesus’ simple invitation “come and follow me.” That was followed by 3 years of intensive discipleship but it began with a positive response to the invitation to join Christ on a journey of learning and obedience.

Hamilton also uses the illustration of Peter’s invitation on the Day of Pentecost to “repent and be baptized.” Acts 2:41 records that three thousand responded and were “added to their number.” That comes close to suggesting that the membership roll was comprised of all those who were willing to publicly express their faith in Christ, receive baptism as that visible sign, and align themselves in ongoing fellowship (as depicted in Acts 2:42-45).

Consistent with that perspective, Church of the Resurrection only asks prospective members two questions (p.58):

  • Do you wish to be a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ?
  • Will you make this your church family, allowing the people of this church to love and care for you, as together we serve God with our prayers, presence, gifts, and service?

Perhaps this seems too easy. However, Hamilton presses on to make it clear “that unlike the American Express Card, membership in our church has no privileges, only expectations.” (p.59)

In their experience, people want their membership to be more meaningful. This orientation toward membership being about responsibilities rather than rights, “makes it all the more compelling.” (p.59)

All members at COR are expected to demonstrate their commitment by: 1) attending worship each weekend (unless sick or traveling out of town), 2) participating in a growth experience in a class or small group, 3) serving at least once each year in the ministries of the church, and 4) financially supporting the church with the goal of tithing. The church not only expects but also inspects to see how the membership is responding to these growth opportunities. At the time of this writing, attendance averaged between 90 and 110% of membership, participation in classes/small groups was 45% of membership, serving at least once each year involved more than 80% of their members, and giving was increasing faster than the growth rate of membership.

For many in my home denomination, this would be a marked departure from our current prescribed model of membership. Honestly, I would not be surprised that this is how a number of our growing churches are actually implementing membership in their ministry context.

One of my friends recently described our model of membership as “a reward for discipleship rather than a door to discipleship.” Is our current model a response to the requirements of creating a reform or protest movement within a majority-Christian context of the 1800s? Was membership then more about creating behavioral identity markers to separate us from other denominational entities? If that was the origin, does it continue to be our purpose?

General Conference 2016 will allow us one more opportunity to have this important conversation.

Here are some of the questions I am asking as we move toward this discussion:

  • If we were beginning The Wesleyan Church from scratch as a new missionary movement to reach post-Christian America, what model of membership would we create to help us be most effective as we sought to fulfill the Great Commission in the Spirit of the Great Commandment?
  • What model of membership is most consistent with our passion to spread hope and holiness that transforms lives, churches and communities?
  • In the Church that Jesus is building, is it most helpful when local church membership is held out as a reward for discipleship or should it be the door to discipleship?
  • What membership framework will be most helpful in not only retaining our own next generation (including my children), but in giving them the best opportunity to effectively reach and impact their world for Christ?
  • Will The Wesleyan Church, that has meant so much to me, continue to be relevant to them as they launch out on their journey of discipleship and ministry?

Do find these questions compelling? Do you think the answers matter?

I do and I am confident that the leaders of The Wesleyan Church will guide our conversation toward a solution that ensures the maximum possible impact of our Kingdom influence.

New Year – New Opportunities

I have to confess that I like new things. Maybe that’s why New Year’s Day may be one of my favorite days of the year. A new adventure. A new destination. Even a fresh new page in a brand new journal!

I realize that New Year’s Day is not exactly a holiday (holy day), except for college football fans. But this day does seem spiritually significant.

Like many of you, I take several hours on the days leading up to January 1, to reflect on the past year and project into the year ahead. My reflections include highlights of the past year. I think back over victories and disappointments. Mistakes made. Lessons learned. Friendships formed. Chapters closed. Doors opened.

One of the biggest changes has been in our family life. The countdown to launch is on with our kids. Our four children are wonderful and it looks like we’ve survived the teenage years without major catastrophe. They really are amazing young people. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed growing up with them!

John and Lindsey were married just over a year ago and are thriving in pastoral ministry serving on staff at Stoney Creek Church.

Josiah is months away from graduation with only 2 more classes and his internship in student teaching left this semester. He stays busy filling in to lead worship at several churches in the area. I’m excited to see where God leads him in the fall.

Joel is a junior this year and serves as president of the student council at Kingswood University. He is also member of the inaugural Buckingham Leadership Institute Scholars, a monthly mentoring experience with Dr. Laurel Buckingham.

Jordan, our 17-year-old, is always a delight to us and is enjoying her freshman year at Kingswood. This New Year’s Day finds her serving in Haiti with Dean Stephenson’s Catons Island counselor team.

But this fall, Sherry and I are likely to be empty-nesters, unless Jordan takes pity on us and follows us to a destination yet unknown. That will be a big change. Sherry has always enjoyed serving clients in her accounting and tax practice, but has been careful to not let it come ahead of our children. For the next few years, at least until grandchildren start arriving, she is looking forward to developing her practice more broadly. Whatever she does, it will be with excellence and contagious enthusiasm.

And then there’s me. I turned 55 this past year. Trusting God for favor and health, I’d like to be as energetic and enthusiastic at 75 as is Dr. Laurel Buckingham, my friend and mentor. If that’s the case, I am just beginning what I believe will be the most productive 20 years of my life.

I have been incredibly blessed to serve the church in a variety of capacities: youth and music leader (North Carolina and Alabama), church planter (Mississippi), pastor (North Dakota and Azerbaijan), district superintendent (Wisconsin, Michigan), and now as a college president.

The past 5 years at Kingswood University have been amazing. I’ve learned so much. I’ve worked with a dedicated team. I’ve met wonderful people. I’ve been blessed to see God work in miraculous ways. But I really did sense last year that this chapter was closing. My goal is always to leave a place better than I found it. I believe, with the help of God, I have accomplished that assignment.

And bright days are ahead for Kingswood. I am confident that the new president will hit the ground running with vision and passion that will take KU to even greater levels of impact in preparing workers for the Harvest.

Some friends have asked what I’m planning to do after leaving Kingswood. The honest answer is that I don’t know yet. I do know I’ll be more engaged in coaching and consulting, especially with leaders in local churches. And there’s a writing project that’s been calling my name. But if you have room on your prayer list for one more request, we would be grateful for you to pray that Sherry and I will clearly know and follow God’s will for this new chapter.

Whatever door God chooses to lead us through, He is so good and faithful that I am confident that He will make a way, even through the wilderness. And, I fully expect to find streams in the desert!

May God crown you with His blessing and favor in all 8,760 hours of this new year as you pursue Him!

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)