A Christmas Party for All Ages

christmas_extravaganza_12_12_14Over the past several years, my wife and I have been invited to attend many of the Christmas parties hosted each year by various groups at College Avenue Baptist Church. Word got around that I was good for some cheap (free) entertainment, being a member of the church staff. And it’s true: I know dozens of fun Christmas games and I can play Jingle Bells on the banjo. I’m happy to share this spiritual gift with anybody for a free meal or a chunk of Christmas fudge.

A couple of years ago after attending several of these parties and doing the same schtick at each one of them (and wearing the same ugly Christmas sweater) I thought to myself, “Hey wait a minute. Why don’t all these groups just get together and have one big Christmas party instead of a whole bunch of little ones. I’m Pastor to Generations at this church and one of my goals is to bring the various age groups together … so why not at Christmas? Why does everybody have to have their own Christmas party?”

I tried to make it happen last year but the idea was met with a big bah humbug from most everybody.  Apparently, people like having their own parties. Sunday school classes, small groups, old people, young people, the board of elders, the missionary society, the college group, the choir, the deacons, the children’s ministry team, the youth ministry team, etc. all have a tradition of doing their own parties.

Still, why not do an all-church Christmas party that would bring all the generations together?  That wouldn’t necessarily prevent any of the groups from having their own Christmas parties at some other time. They could still go ahead and have their own party in addition to the all-church one. I thought that might make a good compromise.

So I brought it up again this year and lo and behold, the church staff agreed to give it a shot. It’s going to happen! College Avenue Baptist Church is having an all-church Christmas party on Friday night, December 12 called “A Christmas Extravaganza.” It warmed my heart to see the promotional piece for the worship folder with the headline “A Christmas Celebration for All Generations.” Some (but not all) of the groups at our church have cancelled their Christmas parties in lieu of this event. Everyone is helping make it happen. The children are singing. The youth are planning a Christmas film festival after the event. The college students are helping to lead the games. The old folks are helping serve and they are all going to have a blast. There will be good food and games and yes, I will be playing Jingle Bells on the banjo.

May your family (and your church family too) have a wonderful Christmas celebration this year!

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Christmas Time’s a Comin!

santa banjoHey everybody, I’ll be leading bluegrass-style Christmas carols for the San Diego Bluegrass Society at their regular 4th Tuesday of the month event (November 25) which is held at the Boll Weevil Restaurant, 9330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in San Diego. I’ll be opening for the Next Generation Bluegrass, the featured band who will perform at 8 PM. I’ll be playing guitar this time with some amazing musicians and good friends: Dennis Caplinger on banjo and fiddle, Tom Cunningham on mandolin and fiddle, and Pete Varhola on bass.

Even though we are doing this two days before Thanksgiving, the Christmas season (or for some, the holiday season) has been well under way for a good while. There’s no admission charge, but attendees are invited (encouraged) to bring new unwrapped toys to donate to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign. The SDBS is planning to make a donation to this venerable charity as well. It’s all for a good cause, so come on out and have some holiday fun with us, bluegrass-style!

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Jerry Douglas Talks About the Earls of Leicester

I was in Raleigh, North Carolina a couple weeks ago and heard more bluegrass music in five days than some people hear in a lifetime. I listened to new artist showcases, went to the IBMA Awards Show and caught most of the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival which boasted more than 70 bands on a dozen or so different stages. I came home on Sunday wiped out and completely full of bluegrass music which I let spill out on my radio show that evening.

No need for any more live bluegrass for a while, right?

earlsNot so fast, banjo breath. The following Wednesday night the Earls of Leicester appeared at the Belly Up Tavern and I had tickets complements of the venue. My wife Marci and I went with our friends Rick and Patty Kirby and had a blast. As Lester Flatt might say, “Goodness gracious, it was good!” The band is the brainchild of Jerry Douglas, who normally performs with “Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas.” But Jerry wanted to do a tribute album to the band that set his world on fire as a teenager, so he created the Earls of Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) with some of the top musicians in bluegrass music (Tim O’Brien, Shawn Camp, Barry Bales, Charlie Cushman and Johnny Warren, whose father played fiddle with Flatt and Scruggs.) They dress in period costumes and mimic the mannerisms and choreography of the Hall of Fame band.

The concert was packed with bluegrass fans and the Earls transported us back about 50 years with a near-perfect set of music that Lester and Earl and the rest of the Foggy Mountain Boys would have played were they still alive. I was in the audience when Flatt and Scruggs played Russ Auditorium in San Diego back in 1968, just a few months before they broke up for good. I was lucky to see them then and I was lucky to see the Earls of Leicester on Wednesday night. My understanding is that this band is a project band that is touring in support of the new album for a few months, and then it will be over. All of these musicians have successful careers of their own which they will resume once this tour is completed. According to O’Brien, they are booked through March of 2015 and will also play MerleFest in May.

I spent some time backstage with Jerry Douglas before the concert and asked him a few questions which he patiently and courteously answered into my digital recorder. I played that interview on my radio show Sunday night October 12. To hear Jerry talk about the Earls of Leicester as well as his newly released album with Rob Ickes and the late Mike Auldridge called “Three Three Bells,” click here.

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Gettin’ Ready for Raleigh!

ibma 2014For the past twenty-five years or so I’ve made my annual pilgrimage to the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “World of Bluegrass” trade show which started out in 1988 in Owensboro, Kentucky, then moved to Louisville, then to Nashville, and then last year moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where the whole city became the venue. Attendance numbers exploded for the weekend “Wide Open Bluegrass Festival” with some estimates topping 200,000. I have no idea how many people were there in reality but the crowds were definitely impressive. I could tell I wasn’t in San Diego anymore. It’s hard to attract 200 to a bluegrass event in San Diego …  although it happens from time to time.

I do miss the good old days of Owensboro when the conference was smaller and it was possible to hang out in the hotel lobby with people like Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin and Doc Watson. But the excitement of Raleigh and the chance to reconnect with so many bluegrass music friends always makes the trip worthwhile.

For seven years I co-produced the annual IBMA Awards Show which is held this year on Thursday night, October 2nd in Raleigh’s very impressive Performing Arts Center. I’m no longer involved in the production of the show but I look forward to it every year. This Sunday night on my radio program, I’ll be presenting music by all the nominees for awards (or at least as many as I can get into a two-hour show).

If you are a fan of bluegrass music, IBMA is definitely something to put on your bucket list. I’m grateful I still get to go after all these years!

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Countdown to 2000 Radio Shows

2000A couple of weeks ago, somebody asked me how long I had been doing my radio show on KSON and I told them 38 years and counting. That was followed by the comment, “Wow, that’s a lot of radio shows! Do you know how many?” And I was stumped.

So I got out the calculator (and a calendar) and started adding up all those Sunday nights beginning with show #1 on March 7, 1976 until now, factoring in a short break in 1989. That was the year when the original radio station KSON-AM 1240 was folded into the emerging powerhouse KSON-FM 97.3. All of the airstaff at KSON-AM was released of their duties including me. The Bluegrass Special was off the air for about two months before I was offered a two hour slot on Sunday nights which is where it has been ever since.

I had to look at the calendar for each year beginning with 1976 because not every year has the same number of Sundays in it. I counted all the Sundays in each year, subtracted 8 weeks during 1989 and worked my way up through the year 2014 to last Sunday night’s program which turns out to be show number 1994.

So that means my 2000th radio show will take place on Sunday night, October 19th!

Okay, let’s see. Multiply 2000 radio shows times an average of 30 songs per Sunday … plus 13 years when the show was three hours long … that works out to be a total of about 70,000 bluegrass songs played on the radio over the past 38 years.

I wonder how many times I played Foggy Mountain Breakdown?

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Sequoia Farming

Giant Sequoia trees, CaliforniaA little over five years ago I accepted a staff position at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego with the title Pastor to Generations. I was not a member of CABC at the time, but I knew of it. It was one of Southern California’s original megachurches. Sadly it went through some tough times and there was quite a bit of turmoil, division, staff turnover and a huge decline in numbers. Once a church of more than 4000 attendees on a given Sunday, it was down to about 600 or so when I joined the staff.

CABC never had a Pastor to Generations before. We invented the title and to this day, most people have no idea what I do. I explain my job by saying that I help promote and facilitate intergenerational discipleship—that is, I try to help older generations pass their faith on to younger generations. This is a key part of our senior pastor’s vision to unify the church, strengthen families and make more and better disciples. I spend most of my time coming up with and implementing programs to encourage and train parents and bring the generations together.

This has not been an easy job. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. And after five years, I wish I had a little more results to show for it. I wish I could report that CABC has become one big happy family and that all the older people love the young people and vice versa. I wish I could report that the majority of parents are making disciples of their kids. I wish I could report that the declining numbers have stopped. I can’t report any of those things. Despite our best efforts, progress has been extremely slow and at times seems to be stuck in reverse. Too many people still don’t get it and others just don’t want it. Discouragement pops up like wildfires. I’m coming to realize that results in generational ministry are no less elusive than they were when I was in youth ministry. I always said that youth ministry is a lot like Sequoia farming and apparently the same is true in generational ministry. I have a feeling that it’s going to take a lot longer than five years to see the vision for intergenerational discipleship truly take hold and produce health and growth at CABC.

But wait a minute. Some good things have happened over the past five years. When I compare where we were then with where we are today, I do see something that looks like results—maybe even something that looks like success! I see parents and kids worshipping together in the same space at the same time every Sunday. I see people of all ages coming out for our weekly beach nights at La Jolla Shores. I see a number of families, young and old people serving together in Mexico on a mission trip. I see almost half our church showing up for an intergenerational retreat focused on community-building. I see dozens of parents attending a 12-week Spiritual Parenting class (the video series featuring Michelle Anthony). I see our church adopting a new children’s and youth ministry curriculum called tru (Cook Publishing) which practically requires parent involvement. These things could not be seen five years ago.

So I feel better now. These are baby steps, to be sure, but they are signs of life. They may not produce the kind of results that satisfy the bean counters and naysayers, but they are all good things and have moved us a little closer to becoming the church that God wants us to be. As someone smarter than me once said, “We aren’t called to be successful, just faithful.” I am trusting God that his call upon my life will produce good fruit in his time if not mine.

How do you think results should be measured in generational ministry?

(This article was first published in NxtGenJournal.)

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Cross-Generational Ministry

Last month our senior pastor Carlton Harris preached a vision-casting sermon based on Ephesians 2:14-22. This passage stresses how Christ created a new humanity out of two cultures (the Jews and the Gentiles) that were previously incompatible with each other. “For he himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … (v. 14).”

College Avenue Baptist Church is strategically situated in a part of San Diego where many cultures, not just two, converge. We have people from almost every country in the world living within a few blocks of the church. So a major part of our church’s vision is to be cross-cultural, to find ways to “make disciples of the nations” right here at home.

In his sermon, Pastor Harris went on to apply this passage in another way. He challenged our church to not only become more cross-cultural, but more “cross-generational” as well. He emphasized that being cross-generational is very different from being multi-generational. Any church can be multi-generational, he said, but it takes a special kind of church to be cross-generational. In a cross-generational church, the dividing wall of hosintergenerational handstility is broken down between the generations and these very different cultures (young and old) are not only at peace with each other but actively participating together in worship, community and ministry. “Our aim is for College Avenue Baptist Church to be a cross-generational church” he emphasized, and he gave examples of how we are striving to do that in our programs and ministries.

This is the vision that drew me to CABC five years ago. I have been serving the church since then as Pastor to Generations, doing my best to help bring that vision to fruition. We have accomplished a few things but still have a long way to go.

I was intrigued by Pastor Harris’ use of the term “cross-generational” to describe what we are doing at the church. For years I have used the term intergenerational to say essentially the same thing. Others have used it too. In their book Intergenerational Christian Formation, authors Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross take several pages to discuss how the term intergenerational is defined and why it is preferred over terms like multi-generational (for the same reasons Pastor Harris pointed out) and transgenerational, which some people use. But they never consider the term cross-generational at all.

I think cross-generational has a nice ring to it–especially when used in the church. What do you think?

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Does This Banjo Player Look Familiar to You?

wayne caricature by Jeff PalmbergJeff Palmberg is a pastor in Washington who also likes to draw caricatures. Occasionally he randomly caricature-bombs people just to make them smile. I certainly got a kick out of the one he sent to me.

If you would like Jeff to do a custom caricature for you (or someone you know), he has a Facebook page called JP’s Custom Caricatures. Check it out.

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Annoying Expectations

worshipOur pastor is fond of saying that Sunday morning begins Saturday night. I learned that same idea as a child growing up in a home where we always took Saturday night baths, shined our shoes, pressed our shirts and generally got everything ready for church the next morning. I no longer concern myself with pressed shirts and shined shoes but I do at least try to get into bed at a decent hour on Saturday night so that there will be less chance of my falling asleep during the pastor’s sermon in the morning. And my evening prayers always include a prayer for the pastor and the other worship leaders on Sunday morning. I pray also for my own heart, that I can set aside my expectations of what worship ought to be and enter fully into the singing, the sermon and the other elements of worship. You see, that has been a big problem for me. I often have difficulty entering fully into worship because of my expectations for what worship ought to be. This is not a criticism of my church or any other church. It is just a recognition that my expectations have become problematic, a real hindrance to me. Here are some of them:

  1. I expect that worship leaders will direct my attention to God, not to themselves.
  2. I expect that worship will not be a performance by the singers and musicians no matter how talented they are. I expect that the congregation is not an audience and that the sanctuary or “worship center” is not a concert hall. At least, not on Sunday mornings.
  3. I expect that most of the songs and hymns will be songs that I am familiar with, or at least songs that have singable keys and somewhat predictable melody lines.
  4. I expect that when we DO sing a song I’m familiar with (like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”) it will still have the same words and melody I remember.
  5. I expect that when the worship leader introduces a new song, he or she will take some time to help the congregation learn it rather than just showing off how well he or she knows it.
  6. I expect that the songs we sing will be about God, not so much about me.
  7. I expect the songs we sing to have good (or at least acceptable) theology.
  8. I expect the songs we sing to have inspiring lyrics. Songs that include words like “wanna” and “woahhhhh” don’t inspire too much.
  9. I expect that the song lyrics will be available to me and others in the congregation in some form or another at the appropriate time, not five seconds after the lyrics have been sung.
  10. I expect that the worship leader understands that not everyone can remain standing for more than 15 or 20 minutes if they are over the age of 30.

I’ll stop there. Those are just some of the annoying expectations I have of worship which sometimes become stumbling blocks for me.  It’s hard to give them up, but maybe that’s what I need to do.

Let me just say that most Sundays I am able to worship without my expectations ruining things for me. I’m grateful for the talented worship leaders who serve in our church week after week and do the best they can to provide a worship experience that includes and involves everyone. I do look forward to attending worship each week and most of the time it’s easy to focus on God and worship with the rest of our congregation.

But now and then, those annoying expectations rear their ugly heads.

What are your thoughts? What are some of your expectations in worship?

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At Least It Fell Away From the House

On Wednesday morning April 30th, Marci and I woke up to discover that our giant 100-year-old (or more) eucalyptus tree in our back yard had fallen down. We assumed it must have fallen during the night, although we didn’t hear a thing. Turns out it fell down sometime during the day before and we just didn’t notice it the night before. One of our neighbors told us it went down around 10am on Tuesday and it made plenty of noise.

100_5669

The tree is (was) over 150 feet tall and very bushy. Apparently there was some root rot going on and the tree just couldn’t stand up to the wind storm that we had on Tuesday (“Santa Ana” winds). Fortunately, the tree fell away from the house, but it landed squarely in our swimming pool. It crushed the shed containing all our pool equipment and demolished most of the landscaping in our back yard.

I tried to climb up on the fallen tree just to assess the damage and ended up falling into the tree and cutting my leg badly. I went to urgent care and got it stitched up and decided to call in some professionals to see if they could remove the tree.

Two weeks and several thousand dollars later, our barren back yard looks like a bomb went off back there … but at least the tree is gone and I can get to the pool which is now a mosquito-breeding swamp. I’ve called some expert pool people to help me clean it up. It is really a mess.

Eucalyptus Tree 5

When I was finally able to get into the pool shed, I discovered that all the pool equipment was destroyed completely as I expected, but a stack of plastic lawn chairs survived. I removed them from what was left of the shed and put them on the concrete deck next to our swamp. “We can save these chairs, at least,” I thought to myself.

Not more than two hours later, I was in the house when I heard another crashing sound in the back yard. I ran out and discovered that a large branch from another eucalyptus tree (which had been sideswiped by the first tree) had fallen to the ground … right on top of those plastic lawn chairs. I have to admit … that made me laugh.

100_5701So, I am learning … more and more these days … that you can’t get too attached to your possessions or your money. God gives and he takes away. All things are in his hands and no matter what happens, we can always give thanks. Right how we are just so thankful that the tree didn’t fall towards the house.

If you would like to see some more photos of our “great tree disaster,” click here.

 

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