Archive for the 'Thoughts' Category

Published by Brian Slezak on 06 Nov 2008

Managing a Web Site Improvement Project

Carol Johnson, over at Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church sent me a link to her article that was published yesterday at Church Solutions. If you are have one of these projects in your future, I recommend reading the article. It provides some first steps to anyone managing a web project:

So, you have secured a line item in the church budget for “Website Improvements,” now where do you begin?

I had the opportunity to work alongside Carol in raising up Lee’s Summit’s current website on the TYPO3 / WEC platform a couple years ago. The project took 9 months and cost just over $14,000. Aspects of the strategy mentioned in the article were adopted from Sprint, which as you can imagine is an enormous company that manages massive technical projects.

In 2006 the website project won an “Award of Excellence” at Church of the Resurretion. Although I’m horrible at accepting compliments for my work, it was pleasurable for some of my work to be recognized. 😉

Published by Brian Slezak on 11 Jun 2008

The Day Has Come

Well, I have to say I saw it coming. The Appian Way was slowly running its course, and I kept dreaming of one day setting up a blog of my own where I’m more apt, yet not guaranteed, to post my thoughts and musings on a more personal level. (We’ve yet to see if that’s really what this world needs.)

So here is the release of my very own blog! I have to say it was fun setting it up, and helping Clif get his set up in the process. I feel a sense of ownership with it now, which will hopefully make me a more prolific blogger.

Thanks to all those who have encouraged me to continue blogging.

Published by Brian Slezak on 16 Apr 2007

And Here We Go!

I’m here at the church IT event organized by Tony Dye and friends. Our first day is vendor presentations – but first we started off with a short worship service. It was amazingly high energy for a ~30 minute service. In short, they rocked, we worshiped, and when they finished everyone simply stood in awe and silence for many seconds until someone started that quiet “is it ok yet?” clapping.

Thus far I’ve been thrilled to meet some of the guys I know only by blogs and e-mail addresses. I expect shock and awe over the next few days. Geekfest. 🙂

Published by Brian Slezak on 15 Feb 2007

Skypecast – Cooler than I Thought

I came across the Skypecasts beta directory on Sunday, I don’t even remember how. I have been aware of Skypecast for quite a while now through Jason Powell’s blog, and had always thought of it as an alternative to hold on-line meetings. I was blown away to find a directory of open discussions taking place about all sort of subjects!

I clicked on a “Join this Skypecast” link for one of the entries, and found myself listening in on a Arabic speaking discussion as though I was standing in a public square in Saudi Arabia and just walked up to a group of people, listening to the conversation. This is wild!

I began thinking, the potential of this is huge. This is not just free conference calling, this is a globally accessible public forum. If you want to hold a discussion on any subject all you need is to download Skype, advertise the discussion in whatever manner you chose, and host and moderate it. The barrier to holding a discussion is broadband Internet access, a computer, a headset with microphone, and the knowledge to get Skype installed and a Skypecast created. This is exactly the flat world that Thomas L. Friedman discusses in The World is Flat. I found people hosting their own sociological and political discussions, some of them with very controversial subjects, with people from all over the world participating.

Think about that for a moment. If you were to mash the technical ability of Skypecasts up with the right social networking service, you could bring a great deal of the worlds population closer together than ever before. Say you’re a student and you are writing a paper on antibiotic resistance. You’ve got a few questions that you’re not able to answer through the Internet resources, so you set up a Skypecast for next Wednesday evening and publish this event through a social network service, asking for help from any experts on the subject. On Wednesday you get to talk with a couple other people writing similar papers and you all share resources, and in the middle of that you get a leading expert join in that has seen your advertisement for the discussion and now multiple people benefit.

The potential uses for churches and small groups really excites me. Imagine a globally diverse small group that anyone can be a part of, or just listen in on. A pastor can host a discussion on applying the scripture to your life, and interact with real people with real questions in a moderated format. I think these sorts of technologies will ultimately re-define the roles of evangelism and caring in the physical church to include the global community. The phrase, ‘your neighbor,’ will not mean what it used to mean.

I haven’t posted here much, so to reiterate why this interests me so much, I am very driven to get churches on-line. By that, I mean encouraging churches to utilize web ministry and enabling them to use technology for ministry and evangelism. Why? Because I strongly believe that on-line evangelism will be highly important in reaching future Christians, and that God has many great things in store for technologies such as Skypecast and social network services.

Published by Brian Slezak on 12 Feb 2007

United Methodists Reaching Postmodernists

A disappointing thought crossed my mind as I drove home early Saturday morning from a late night out. (The late night BTW was much less harmless than it sounds. My wife and I attended a high school musical in support of a friend, and we stayed up late conversing about different subjects.)

What if, on the whole, the United Methodist church can not reach postmodernists? I mean simply can not do it. What if the things that make a worship United Methodist are exactly those things the postmodernist revolts from?

I began thinking about the church reaching the postmodernist, and recalled conversations that I’ve either witnessed or been a part of. They all go something like this:

UM Pastor: “You say that the service doesn’t speak to you, but give me an example of how would you change it?”

Postmodernist: “There needs to be more music. It needs to be cool, not boring. Hip! It needs to be more emotional and less institutional.”

UM Pastor: “But those are not specific examples of what you would change about the service today. I understand what you said, but I don’t understand how you want us to do that.”

The conversation usually goes down hill from there, with the postmodernist trying desperately to explain what hip and cool means and how they could be so very moved if it were done better. Both parties walk away having no idea what the other meant.

I’ve heard at least one pastor explain this as, “They aren’t able to explain what they want.” That baffles me, as I’m pretty sure I just saw human beings who speak the same language converse about what they want. This ends up sounding like the modernist saying they are open and willing to improve the worship experience, as long as they don’t have to change anything about it at all. Why can’t you just be happy with the way it is now?

To me it comes down to this: The answer that modernists are looking for is which portions of the service today need be changed to reach postmodernists, without changing or losing the structure of the worship? What the postmodernist is trying to answer politely – everything. That being said, I’m sure there is a middle ground. I believe that churches that are successful in reaching postmodernists are those finding ways to say yes rather than no, and still hold in their hearts the significance of denominational traditions. Those that tie the significance of a worship service too tightly to the rigid procedural tradition may have a really tough time reaching postmodernists.

Where does your church apply the significance of worship? The process, or the expression? Are they doing church, or being the church?

Published by Brian Slezak on 06 Feb 2007

From Vision to Reality

This past week in our bi-annual all staff meeting Adam, our senior pastor, said something that coalesced a reoccurring thought I’d had for a while. He mentioned a list of large projects our church had either completed, or moved from the idea stage to a living process. Then he suggested that to do this repeatedly, and continually succeed, you have to go through a strategic planning stage. That’s a simple statement right? So now – everybody go do that and succeed much more often …. If only it were that easy.

I’m sure that statement is in a thousand books and repeated by even more people, but the reason I’m blogging about it today is that it seems to be one of those statements where the absorption and understanding of it are worlds apart from the action and ability to perform it. Why is that? Is it simply a factor of the human condition, or is a skill that can be learned and honed? I would lean toward the latter.

Pastor Andrzej from
Katowice, Poland

The idea that strategic planning is a critical ingredient of any vision to reality project is at first too simple to be so profound. One of the questions I have been asked on multiple occasions, after people learn I work at Church of the Resurrection, is “Why do you think Resurrection has been so successful?” The last time I was asked this it was from pastor Andrzej while I was visiting him in Katowice, Poland. Pastor Andrzej has been a United Methodist pastor for more than 25 years and is currently positioned in a thriving church with a congregation more than 100 strong. To put this in perspective, the United Methodist presence in all of Poland is less than 4,500 people.
Pastor Andrzej, spoken in my poor English as “ahhn-jay,” is a person who comes off calm and composed, but with waters just underneath the surface that are roaring to bring God’s Word to the non religious.

Up until now, my answer to the above question has been these things, in short: One is leading with prayer. Another is effective leadership, and the last is an uncommon hive of people who possess a drive to do everything with excellence. These are still accurate, but what I may now add to those is effective strategic planning.

I think if there were a great suggestion for pastors striving for success in ministry, it would be to educate yourself in strategic planning. When Adam spoke about this at our all staff meeting, Andrzej came back to my memory. He and I had discussed the importance of prayer, and asking for God’s guidance. No one should underestimate this, but God rarely lifts those of us up who are sitting back waiting for Him to take the wheel and drive.

It made me wonder what programs or resources we have set up for our local pastors, as well as our International pastors. I couldn’t find much searching through Google, though it may have been the keywords I was using. My co-worker, Chuck, recommended Effective Church Leadership by Kennon L. Callahan.

Would anyone else who has read this recommend it? Does anyone know of other resources out there that focus on strategic planning in the church?

Published by Brian Slezak on 23 Jul 2006

Reflections on the TYPO3 Conference

I previously posted about the TYPO3 Conference, but wanted to expand on it a bit. Thinking back on the event re-affirms my excitement to be a part of the Web Empowered Church ministry. This was the second conference, and the second opportunity I had to meet Kasper Skårhøj, the creator of the TYPO3 CMF. Kasper is a character, and a great individual with a strong passion for quality and perfection.

This year, Kasper was in good spirit from becoming a new dad just a few months earlier, but was also excited to renew his connection with WEC. In the past, Kasper expressed how he struggled with the motivation to continue maintaining TYPO3, as it was not a perfect fit for his desires as it was earlier in time. At this years conference, he expressed how deeply connected he now felt to the WEC ministry, and how he wished to contribute more than was able. When he released TYPO3 in the open source world his vision was brining it to the church world, enabling them to perform ministry on the web with ease and ability. It seems WEC has been formed to help push the ball over that goal line. His motivation was renewed with TYPO3 being brought to the church like he initially envisioned.

At the same time, those of us performing WEC tasks have become much more knowledgeable in TYPO3, not leaning so heavily on the TYPO3 community to make progress, and we are giving back to the community more. The WEC ministry is now in full swing, more capable than ever, and more supported than I ever imagined by Kaspers personal commitment who believes it a God match.

So coming back to my reflections, I am excited to be a part of WEC for all of these reasons. God brought me to Church of the Resurrection five years ago for some purpose, and although I don’t feel worthy, I believe it was to do my part to bring WEC & TYPO3 to churches. It is exciting to be a team mate with these individuals, and partner with those supporting WEC. I’m looking forward to what the future will bring and where God will lead us.

Published by Brian Slezak on 02 Jul 2006

United Methodist Worship, North Carolina Style

This past Sunday morning the Web Empowered Church team attended two churches to give our guest, Kasper, a taste of different worship services here in North Carolina, US. First we attended the Long’s Chapel UMC worship service. This was a modern church building which extended off an original stone building. The sanctuary felt new, with pews on an angled floor, and a beautiful wooden roof having a look of yellow pine. The roof was flat, and angled upward from the corners of the room up to a square center, which raised up to let light in through small windows at the top. It reminded my wife and I of a Catholic sanctuary we visited last year while we were in Wisconsin. Both created a beautiful vertical space that gave a very personal feel to the room, and left you with a sense of awe.

The service was contemporary, with songs that were thoroughly approved by my wife, and we had the pleasure of witnessing a baptism. Everything had a touch of Southern style to it, which is hard to describe here in words other than “a comfort of home.” This was the weekend before Independence Day, so the theme was patriotic, along with the sermon. The pastor spoke about church and politics, Chucks favorite topics I might add, and mentioned Jesus’ response to paying taxes, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is Gods.” The message, as it should be – simple, hold God above all things in your heart.

The second service we attended was at the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, through the South Eastern Jurisdiction. The auditorium was an open gathering hall, originally constructed with a tin roof and sawdust floor. The building we were in now was more modern than that, but still considered strange, with a very high wood roof and this large white structure coming out of the middle, descending down into the center from the ceiling. The only way to describe this thing was it looked it like it could sprout legs and walk off like a some version of the mechanical beast from the movie, Wild, Wild West. The sides of the building were very open, with fans hanging down to cool the inside temperature.

Other than the distraction of analysing the strange structure, I thought the service had a well seasoned choir, and the speaker of the week was William Willimon. He did use some “churchy” words in the sermon, and lightly dusted the sermon with dry humor about the disagreements between liberal and conservative churches regarding whether the Christian church needed a full body resurrection to believe in Christ. It was delivered in good taste, with no names mentioned.

It was wonderful to be able to experience not one but two Sunday services, both of which my wife attended and survived to my surprise, and something I’ll be able to remember quite a while.

Published by Brian Slezak on 30 Jun 2006

Conference – TYPO3

I’ve been here in North Carolina at The Foundation for Evangelism at Lake Junaluska over this week, learning more of the TYPO3 CMF. This in relation to the Web Empowered Church ministry. It has been the second opportunity I’ve had to meet and be inspired by Kasper Skårhøj, the creator of TYPO3, and although we drove quite deep into the technical, what stood out the most was Kasper’s expression of his original mission with TYPO3. He always saw TYPO3 as a tool for ministry, which is now being realized with Web Empowered Church.

I try to step outside of myself and realize how truly unique it is for Christianity and technology to come together in such a way. The room is filled with twenty people who have come to have Kasper impart knowledge about TYPO3, but all have come to imagine new ways that expand the Lord’s Kingdom through Internet Ministry utilizing TYPO3. We have people representing Web Empowered Church, freelance consultants, church staff, and ISPs. In short, Christian technology geeks, a categorization I happily place myself in. :p

I began as a WEC developer in January 2006, coming on board for multiple reasons. The short list being empowering the local church with tools for ministry, the fact that WEC is a global ministry with the ability to affect people on that scale, and most importantly because I felt God calling me to do this, which tells me all I need to know about WEC. Also, as Kasper expresses in his corner of the web, what better way to honor God than using the ability he gave me?

I rather enjoyed visiting The Foundation For Evangelism and experiencing their culture here at Lake Junaluska. It is the first time I’ve visited this part of the South, and I have to say you can hear all you can of southern hospitality, but until you experience it – you won’t get it, trust me. The Foundation staff were extraordinary.

Although I came away with a deeper technical knowledge that will empower my ability in this ministry, I also came away with an experience being another notch on the pole of my spiritual growth. As some in the community would say, +1.

Published by Brian Slezak on 11 Apr 2006

Winning Gen-X for Christ – Part II

Through my thinking I came up with three steps to making a Gen-X / postmodern friendly church, and want to share them because I feel they are important and dependent on one another.

Create The Right Environment
Create an atmosphere that promotes learning. Imagine in your mind a casual environment where people are coming to relax, learn and follow. That environment should not be formal. Don’t make it feel like a rigid environment where they have to be on their best behavior. Salvation is not forefront in their lives, so do not charge at them with that goal. Appeal to how Christianity is relevant in their lives today, and to the fullness of life it can produce. Create a learning environment where they are eager to think about religious subjects and deepening their faith through growth of knowledge. The environment should not be constructed with the ease of leading in mind, but with the ease of following.

Open The Doors
The church should be flexible and open to people showing up, sitting down, and getting to know others. You can’t have an environment where people have their own seats they always sit in, or things that can only be done, used, or put away one precise way. You also can’t make visitors feel like you are so very thankful they are here because the church just couldn’t go on with out them, and would they please consider coming back next week, please, please, please. 😉 Be personable with them. This interaction is very much like a blind date between the church and the first time visitor. Treat this situation with the same respect.

Reach Out Gently
As pastor Laura Guy put it, “it’s much like feeding a wary deer from your hand.” You have to be delicate, and make them comfortable enough to approach you. No fast movements. You can’t charge over, open their mouth, force feed them, and make sure they chew it up appropriately. Don’t reach out trying to win some for Christ being the first and foremost thought. Beware the salesperson filter! Danger Wil Robinson, Danger! Don’t try to sell Christ to them. Instead, let them know there is a place that is open, has friendly people, and is inviting to perusal of the spiritual inventory. Appeal to the challenges they face with Christianity. The bible is a book of old stories written by uneducated people claiming this dude Jesus was born miraculously, died and saved us somehow, and then came back to life. In the words of a postmodern, “Whatever!?”

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