Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Survived Junior High Camp

Being a counselor at Junior High Camp is not for the squeamish. Of course there are all the jokes and stories about body functions that junior high boys like to tell. Then there are the games played in and with various food items. Then top it off with 145 kids and adults playing four corner kickball on an indoor basketball court all at once... Which reminds me of the noise level, which varies from low roar to shrieks and more.

On a positive note, Quaker Haven Camp is a beautiful facility, overlooking Dewart Lake in northern Indiana. The camp leadership is genuinely concerned about the well being of the campers, and the camp directors do a great job of making sure the campers learn about Jesus.

There were 80 girls and 40 boys. The boys weren't especially interested in the girls, although some of the girls were eying the boys. At meal time the campers doing meal set up and the counselors were encouraged to sit around in different places, in order to get to know other campers better. At lunch time I sat at a table with one of the boys who helped set up. When the doors opened, the table quickly filled up with six girls. The boy hunkered down in his seat, avoiding eye contact and not wanting to talk about anything. As we waited for prayer and our turn to go through the buffet line he looked more and more uncomfortable. We got up to go through the buffet line and he saw his chance. He never returned to our table.

Junior High camp makes you thankful for some different kinds of things:
--I was thankful I could get the butter out of my hair after the football game.
--I was thankful somebody threw out Jerry's coke bottle filled with dead minnows.

I walked by the beach early one morning on my way to get my morning cup of tea. The sandy area and the grass area were covered with geese. It looked pretty, but I decided I wasn't going to use the beach. (However, the camp does try to clean up after the geese, which I appreciate)

So, you may ask, why would you choose to be a counselor at Junior High camp?

Thursday night, during our cabin time, those seven junior high boys spent some time talking about their desire to serve Jesus and their hopes for the future -- then we spent some time praying for each other's families, friends and churches. That's what makes it worhwhile.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Somebody Who Asked Good Questions

Vernard Eller passed away on June 18. He was a minister in the church of the Brethren and a retired professor of philosophy and religion at the University of La Verne in California.

He was also a great thinker and writer who always raised interesting questions as he explored what it means to be a Christian today. He was probably most famous for "The Mad Morality", an exploration of the ten commandments as seen through the eyes of "Mad Magazine".

He knew how to raise interesting questions and understood in a profound way that life in God is a journey of discovery.

I remember him for writing "The Outward Bound: Caravaning as a Style of the Church". This short book transformed my way of understanding how we do church. He uses a series of contrasting pictures to describe what the church is and is not. For example, instead of thinking of the church as a "commissary" dispensing grace, truth and spirituality, he argues that the church is a "caravan" on its way to a destination, taking on newcomers, adapting to the needs of the journey, and looking after the needs of those in and out of the caravan.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sticky Ideas

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a new book on marketing that has helped me think through some of the things we do as a church. The book explores the question of why some ideas survive – they “stick” in our minds – and others die.

The authors suggest six common characteristics of ideas and concepts that are memorable and connect with people. Using the acronym “SUCCESs”, they describe how ideas that stick are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and are communicated by Stories.

The good news we have to share about Jesus transformed our world in just a few centuries because it had these qualities. It was a message that bridged languages and cultures and “stuck” in peoples minds and hearts.

We have the same good news to share today, but it doesn’t seem to stick very well. Why is that?

Chip and Dan Heath’s list of sticky qualities caused me to ask myself some questions about what I am doing as pastor and what we are doing as a church. They are good and important questions and I’d like to share them with you:

Simple – Have we complicated the core message of Jesus (“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”)? Do our ways of doing church get in the way of knowing and sharing Jesus?

Unexpected – Have we made Jesus so predictable that nobody really hears what we have to say about him?

Concrete – Do we spend too much time in abstract theories and not enough in down-to-earth ministry?

Credible – Are people able to see Jesus at work in our lives and the lives around us?

Emotional – Are people able to feel Jesus at work in our lives and the lives around us? Are we communicating passion in our quiet Quaker way?

Stories – Are we getting good at telling the story of God from the Bible and from our lives?

The good news of Jesus is the ultimate “sticky idea.” Let’s share it.

Pastor Bill