Loving Utah – our sister ministry here at Utah Advance – has scheduled the next Utah Church Planters Summit for Thursday, October 3. We will gather from 9am to 3pm at K-2 the Church in Salt Lake City, for prayer, networking, and sharing ideas about ministries practices. We’ll send out more information about the theme of this fall’s event, but for now put it on your calendar. We welcome church planters and spouses, leaders of reproducing churches, denominational and movement executives, and anyone interesting in seeing healthy churches multiplied in Utah. If you want to be included on the mailing list, let me know at email@example.com.
For years I’ve been interested in theological training that equips people for ministry in Utah’s unique cultural setting. That’s why I’m excited about a new opportunity coming to Utah. Church Birthing Matrix is a strategy for planting churches. But I’m particularly encouraged about one aspect of that strategy. They are creating a training process to give individuals a theological and practical foundation for ministry right where they live. The process will involve gathering cohorts throughout Utah (and the USA) for webinar training using highly qualified trainers. The cohort will meet every Tuesday night and one Saturday each month. (Some students might attend Tuesdays OR Saturdays as schedule allows.) The entire training would take two school years to complete for someone enrolled in both Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Each cohort will be led by a local trainer, a mentor / coach who will help cohort members apply the training in their own ministry settings. To me, this is an advantage to this approach versus online programs. The cohort will learn in the context of relationships and will have a personal trainer who is experienced in local ministry. I will be leading a cohort in northern Utah. (We’ll be meeting in Layton).
This training is geared for laypersons exploring a transition into vocational ministry, whether as church planters or any ministry role. It is also ideal for those who have started in ministry but have not been able, because of job or family commitments or costs, to enroll in traditional theological education. The program is not accredited at this point, because the emphasis is on actual preparation for ministry rather than meeting institutional requirements. The cost of this group will be very accessible. (I can’t say what it will be yet, but it may be in the range of $50 / month.)
Right now I’m recruiting participants for a Fall 2013 cohort. An online registration process is being set up and should be ready within a couple of weeks. To learn more about this training opportunity, go to http://www.cbmatrix.org/Training.html. Please feel free to contact me if you’re interested or have particulat questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
One other thing: if we have a qualified trainer and enough interested parties, we can form a cohort in other communities as well. If you’re interested in doing this in Cache Valley, St. George, etc. please let me know.
On June 10, I’ll be flying to Japan for 2 1/2 weeks to teach a series of seminars on Mormonism. I’ve been invited by an alliance of evangelical churches who want to prepare their members for the LDS missionary presence in Japan. The seminars will be held in Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka, and Hiroshima. I may also have opportunity to speak at a Bible College. I’ll be covering four subjects:
- The Origins of Mormonism
- The LDS Claim of Restoration
- The LDS Plan of Salvation
- The Book of Mormon
LDS Temple in Tokyo
No, I do not speak Japanese. I will rely on able interpreters to help me communicate. I have completed student notes and power point slides and sent them ahead to be translated in advance.
Mormonism does not have a large presence in Japan, with about 125,000 members in almost 300 congregations, but only about 25,000 are estimated to be active. (Find out more about Mormonism in Japan.) It’s hard to know how many LDS missionaries are serving in Japan, but there is a surge of new missionaries there since the LDS Church lowered the eligibility age for missionary service. The LDS Church has two temples in Japan (Tokyo and Fukuoka) with a third under construction (Sapporo). A few popular LDS celebrities do give Mormonism credibility in Japan. And certain elements of Mormon doctrine and culture seem to fit in well with the Japanese culture: such as emphasis on and reverence for ancestors; hard work and responsibility; patriarchal structure; and deference to authority.
While I’m in Asia, I will also spend 3 days in Manila making some connections for Alpine Church.
Because of the generosity of my hosts, I have few expenses for this trip. However, if anyone would like to make a donation to help cover what costs I do have, you can use the “Donate” button to the right. Thank you!
My book Understanding the Book of Mormon has been well received by the reading community, as represented by people who use the Goodreads site. Reviews there average 4.13 out of 5 stars, with no negative reviews. If you haven’t read it yet you can get Understanding the Book of Mormon in print version, e-book, or audio book. Here are the comments people have left at the Goodreads site:
“I am very new to this topic and I thought that this book did a wonderful job of teaching the basics. It was written by an ex-Mormon who is still close to his Mormon family but he is also Pastor and is the perfect person I believe to write on this topic. He comes at it from not only head knowledge but a compassionate heart as well.”
“Fair and balanced, no bashing, gave me insight to the beliefs of my close friends and helps me understand them more.”
“This is a good, balanced introduction for someone who isn’t familiar with the Book of Mormon.”
“The author, a former Mormon, offers a temperate critique of the Book of Mormon, and he doesn’t use straw man techniques. In fact, he submitted the most controversial material to active LDS members (including friends and family) for review and critique. He gently points out the flaws of the Book of Mormon.”
“This is a fantastic book! So greatful there is a generous and kind book that helps christians gain perspective on this other religion.”
Alpine Church got a phone message recently from a Latter-day Saint upset about our billboard. As the pastor at Alpine with the most experience with Mormonism, the message was forwarded to me. The current billboard says: “Four locations. Twelve services. You choose.” The caller was distressed about how anti-Mormon the billboard is and how much it spews out hate for the Mormons (his words). He wondered if we could possibly be any more anti-Mormon than that.
I called him to try to give him a different perspective on the billboard. I left a message with my personal phone number, inviting him into a conversation, but unfortunately he chose not to return my call. I’m sure I would have learned something from such a conversation. But here’s what I wanted to explain to him: almost 1/3 of people raised LDS are leaving the Mormon church. About half of those try to find a new spiritual home in a traditional Christian church. That means: in Utah there are thousands of people disaffected with Mormonism, but who are looking for a new way to connect spiritually. The billboard is for them. It’s not a dig at Mormonism. We simply want to communicate to the religiously disaffected that if they try Alpine Church, its going to be different from what they’re used to. To encourage them to try church again, we want to help them overcome their stereotypes of what they think church is going to be like. They are probably used to a system where you don’t have a choice which congregation to attend. In a similar vein, speaking to that audience, previous billboards have said, “Wear jeans to church” and “Church caffeinated.”
I was also hoping to explore with this caller what he means by “anti-Mormon”. Because drawing attention to coffee at church seems pretty tame on the larger scale of activities that could be called “anti”. I do want to be a good neighbor and not needlessly offend or poke a stick in someone’s eye. I called the guy back because I wanted to learn whether my perspective is out of touch. But the more I thought about how many Latter-day Saints throw around the “anti-Mormon” label, it makes me wonder what it really means and how it helps the conversation. I think that in some ways it’s parallel to the term “homophobic.” The gay community has concerns about how religious people think of them. Some of those concerns are legitimate. But the term “homophobic” seems to me to cut off meaningful dialogue by conjuring up a purely emotive response. It seems like a stereotype that insiders use to paint outsiders in a negative light without meeting them or hearing from them. (Evangelicals do the same thing with our own vocabulary.)
But my point is not about the gay community. My point is that many Latter-day Saints seem to use the term “anti-Mormon” to cut off conversation and protect themselves from “outsiders” or critics. Again, the term conjures up a purely emotive response. It conveys a stereotype fueled by memories of the Mormons being harassed and expelled from Missouri and Illinois. Thus it thwarts meaningful conversation and mutual understanding.
I had a more positive experience a couple of years ago. I found one of my books listed on a Mormon blog under the category “anti-Mormon”. I reached out to the author of the blog and asked him what he meant, and explained why I did not consider my book “anti-Mormon.” The book was not an attack against Mormons or Mormonism nor an attempt to bring down the LDS Church. For the first time, this blogger realized the inherent stereotypes in the label, admitting that it didn’t really convey any useful information, and created a different category – at least for my book. That was a good conversation.