A New Coalition

vertical_image_bpm2016Several years ago Rev. Dr. Jeff Schrank, pastor of Christ Church Lutheran (that’s the congregation’s actual name, not Christ Lutheran Church) in Phoenix had a brainstorm. After a financially profitable summer church camp at Christ, Pastor Schrank was faced with the challenge and opportunity of doing something meaningful with the proceeds.

The answer was Best Practices for Ministry (BPM). It’s a three day conference in Phoenix, in February, and is regularly called a “free conference.” That simply means registration is free, meals are free, sessions are free. Speakers and presenters receive no compensation or expense reimbursement. Attendees pay their own transportation and lodging expenses. The rest is free.

BPM is undoubtedly the fastest growing movement in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Attendance has grown from around 500 the first year to nearly 2,000 five years later. The meetings, worship times and presentation sessions are all held on the church campus.

Arrangements, food preparation, meal service, table and chair setup, cleaning, logistics, technical support, registration, and the rest of the many moving parts of this conference are handled by members of the staff, who are ably supported by many, many congregational volunteers. It’s a well-organized machine, led by staff member Nancy Barton.

Some might call BPM a bit hokey for such things as being greeted by a senior pastor dressed like a chicken. During breaks between sessions, attendees participate in various carnival-flavored outdoor activities. Here’s an oom-pah band. There’s a bean bag toss. Oh, and even a buckin’ bronco barrel ride. Display booths surround outdoor tables and chairs. It’s Phoenix in February!

You’d really need to know Jeff Schrank to understand. We served together several years on the LCMS Board of Directors. He’s frank. He’s fearless. He loves to have fun, even if that includes manifesting a few wacky tendencies such as dressing up like a chicken.

In reality, Jeff is a faithful pastor of an LCMS congregation with average weekly worship attendance of 1175 and a Christian school with 588 students. The staff at Christ Church includes five pastors, 26 other called workers and many non-rostered staff and teachers. The hokey stuff aside, Jeff just happens to be theologically conservative, having been trained at an LCMS seminary most people describe as theologically confessional.

I’m calling BPM a coalition, synonyms for which include alliance, partnership, association, federation, etc. It’s a group of pastors, commissioned ministers, lay leaders, women and men who spend time and money with one goal in mind: Learning how to address the ministry challenges presented by 21st century people who simply think and act differently than most people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, even in my generation and perhaps also in yours.

Don’t let the informal, fun filled, casual atmosphere mislead you into thinking nothing substantial is occurring at BPM. On the contrary, presentations are focused on a wide variety of mission and ministry challenges and opportunities. It’s neither advertised nor intended to be a theological symposium. It’s a Best Practices for Ministry conference.

The people who come represent what I believe is the heart of the LCMS. They leave BPM with renewed vigor, refreshed spirit and rededicated zeal for Gospel proclamation. Here’s a wistful thought. What if our national Synod convention more nearly resembled a Best Practices Conference, not necessarily in form but in stimulation, motivation and inspiration?

Due to Terry’s hip replacement recovery and to the task of moving my almost 100 year old mother to an assisted living residential facility, I was unable to attend last week’s BPM conference. It’s the first one I’ve missed. I hope it will be the last one I miss. It’s a great opportunity for Christian leaders to sharpen their skills in Gospel proclamation, using the best practices for ministry we can learn from this new coalition called BPM.

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

That’s one of my favorite movies. Based on a true story, a group of allied prisoners-of-war (POWs) are put in an “escape proof” camp. Yet the prisoners outwit their jailers, dig an escape tunnel, and use motorcycles, boats, trains and planes to get out of occupied Europe.

One week ago yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I preached on a different great escape at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas, Terry’s and my church home. The text was Luke 22:1-13. Those few verses describe seemingly unrelated things going on at that time in Jesus’ life.

While the Feast of Unleavened Bread, aka Passover, was approaching, leaders of the church were plotting Jesus’ death with the help of a man named Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus.

Luke simply interjects at that point that Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare the Passover feast. When asked where they should do so, Jesus gave them a few clues. In the city, a man carrying a water jar would show them a house. The master of the house would show them a large furnished upper room. That’s where the Passover was to be prepared.

Luke doesn’t say what preparations the disciples were to make. Yet we know that Passover observances always replicated the original Passover meal, including unleavened bread, roasted lamb and bitter herbs. Although wine was not specifically mentioned in the original Passover instructions, wine was present when Jesus celebrated this Passover with his disciples.

The night of the original Passover, the angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Israelites who had painted blood on their front doorposts. The blood came from the lambs they had prepared for the final meal they would eat in Egypt before leaving that country in the Exodus.

The angel passed over Israelite homes for the purpose of sparing God’s chosen people from the devastating impact of the last of the ten plagues that God through his servant Moses had inflicted upon the Egyptians. That final plague was the death of the firstborn son of every Egyptian family and also the death of the firstborn of all cattle throughout the land of Egypt.

The annual Passover commemorated the Exodus of the people of Israel from 430 years of Egyptian slavery, a reflection on how God saved his people as they left Egypt. That included crossing the Red Sea and surviving 40 more years of wandering in the Wilderness of Sinai before entering the Promised Land, the Holy Land of Palestine. It was truly a great escape!

Next time you receive Holy Communion, instituted by Jesus during this Passover meal, remember that God has rescued his people through the ages, not from physical incarceration but from the spiritual imprisonment of sin and death. Jesus did not escape the plot of those church leaders, but that was part of God’s plan that leads to eternal freedom! Praise God for that great escape!

Super Bowl Commercials

Super BowlFifty-two companies purchased advertisements in the 2016 Super Bowl. Each paid CBS five million dollars for 30 seconds of time on the air. That’s $166,666.67 per second!

Why would anyone spend that much to show a half minute message on TV, only one time? How else could any business communicate to an audience of over 100 million people, at once?

The message these advertisers wanted to communicate is who they are, what they do, and why we need what they have to offer. Two advertisements of interest come to mind:

  1. The Doritos Ultrasound. This ad opens with a pregnant woman having an ultrasound. The dad is shown casually munching chips, which annoys the mom. Then we see the not quite yet born baby in mother’s womb reaching toward the chips. When mom grabs the bag and tosses it out of reach, the unborn baby is shown rushing for the exit — early delivery time!

In what some are calling the dumbest denunciation ever, NARAL, formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League, slammed the ad for “humanizing fetuses.” I cannot comprehend how anyone who sees an ultrasound showing a baby in its mother’s womb can doubt that the baby is a live human being. Embryonic life is a precious gift of God!

  1. The Budweiser “Commercial.” I’m not talking about the paid Bud ads but about Peyton Manning’s interview by CBS’s Tracy Wolfson. After the award presentation, he said he was going to kiss his wife and kids and “drink a lot of Budweiser.” He said it again later.

In addition to paying for two commercials, Budweiser got two freebies from Manning. Such a deal! One full minute and two quick comments for a paltry $10 million!

At times like these I wonder what a $5 million thirty second advertisement for the Christian Church would look like. We could begin by communicating who we are, what we do and why those who don’t yet believe in Christ need what we have to offer.

A better idea might be to skip the ad and spend the $5 million living out what Jesus said: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink, a stranger and you invited me into your home, naked and you clothed me, sick and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me… When you did [these things] to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matt. 25:34-36, 40)

Think about it! Not a bad idea to implement during the Lenten season!

Health Care Providers

Doctor VisitThat topic is on mind quite a bit these days. Here’s why:

  • My dear wife Terry, fresh on the heels of our 50th anniversary celebration last week, had hip replacement surgery earlier this week. Her caregivers were incredible!
  • Christopher English conducted the procedure with warmth, professionalism and osteopathic perfection. Nurses and other staff provided excellent post-operative care.
  • David’s Georgetown Hospital is one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. and now I know why. Folks who practice their vocational calling there do so with excellence. The same is true of many other health care professionals and hospitals around the world.
  • Our granddaughter is a student at Tarleton State University Nursing School in Stephenville, Texas. Kayla is passionate about what she’s learning and is studying like never before. She’ll be an awesome nurse!

Most likely you and your family have had experience with health care providers. I hope yours were as positive as ours. However, I’m aware that may not always be the case. Sometimes things happen beyond our circle of influence or control.

Like the rest of us, health care providers are not perfect. Neither are they always handsomely compensated. They serve in response to a very real vocational calling.

So here’s my suggestion. If you know or happen to see someone in the health care industry, take a moment to express your sincere appreciation for the time, effort and energy spent caring for people who in most cases are total strangers.

You may even want to add “God bless you for your ministry of love, care and concern.” I’m convinced that they’ll be appreciative and that you’ll appreciate their appreciation!