Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dear Pastor,

Dear Pastor,

Last Sunday my son and I put on our coats and headed outside into the cold.  It was time to put up the Christmas lights.  Our home has a covered front porch which serves as the focal point for decoration.  We hung the pre-lit wreaths and placed small artificial fir trees on either side of the door.  We hung several strands of lights around the exterior of the porch.  They were the kind that hang down in individual rows to make them look like icicles.

I purchased the icicle lights earlier in the day.  The ones I used last year didn’t survive the move so it was time for new ones.  As I searched through the many different sizes and styles of lights I closely read each package, determining the actual length of each strand so I would know how many I would need to get.  Eventually I settled on the lights I wanted.  They were the right length and style, and even better, they were LED lights so they wouldn’t use nearly the amount of electricity as the old ones.

After we hung all the lights it came time for that glorious moment when the extension cords are plugged in, the switch is turned on, and the decorations are lit to bring some visual joy to the neighborhood.  As soon as they came on I realized something had happened that I had not anticipated.  The new LED lights were much brighter than the other lights.  They shone a clear bright white, so white it was almost blue, while the other decorations with incandescent lights shone a softer, duller shade that was almost yellow.  

I’ve spent the past couple of days debating whether or not to return the new lights.  They just don’t look quite right among all the others.  But yesterday as I was contemplating this decision I had a moment of realization:
Some lights shine brighter than others.  

While it may seem elementary, this simple realization hit me like a freight train, because immediately in my mind it became a lesson for parish ministry.  

Followers of Jesus are called to be bearers of the light.  Each of us, in some way or another, bears the light of Christ into our world.  One of the great joys of parish ministry is having the opportunity to witness that light burning brightly in others, especially in those incredible moments where we see the first flickers of light or when we see someone’s smoldering coals suddenly ignite with bright flames of passion.

But not all of the people in our charge or under our care have brightly shining lights.  Some lights shine brighter than others. Some of God’s light-bearers have dimmed their lamps with dysfunctional behaviors and hunger for power.  Others have become so church-institutionalized that the light of Christ becomes concealed behind a highly guarded exterior that stubbornly resists any movement of the new and different.  And still others are so dimmed by their own negativity that we begin to wonder if there is even any light in them at all - it can sure be hard to see amongst generous helpings of criticism. And often, as pastors, we have a tendency to focus our energies, our thoughts, and our emotions on these people.  Believe me, I know.

Perhaps it’s our pastoral nature that causes us to do this.  Pastors are, in general, people pleasers.  We want to be needed.  We want to help people.  We want to feel like we’re making a difference.  We also tend to want to be liked.  And it bothers us when people don’t like us, when we don’t feel needed, or we don’t feel like we’re making a difference.  Perhaps that’s why we waste evenings at home that could be spent enjoying our families by instead dwelling on those negative people.  Perhaps that’s why we have so many off-color inside jokes about dysfunctional church people - because this truth hurts and laughing helps us cope.  Perhaps that’s why we allow people who criticize, people who reject, people who are just negative, to have such a dramatic impact on our self-worth, or at least take a heavy emotional toll.

Regardless of why we do this, I want to encourage you to remember that some lights shine brighter than others, and to encourage you to focus your energies and your efforts on those light-bearers who are positive, who are uplifting, who are supportive, and whose light points you in the direction of Christ.  

This is not a call to neglect those in your charge who you don’t like, who are negative or overly critical.  This is not a permission slip to outright ignore those church members who are sometimes (or frequently) problematic.  This is, instead, a reminder for you to take care of yourself.  You need support.  You need encouragement.  You need to be loved and cared for.  So if you’re going to spend your evenings at home thinking about church people, spend that time thinking about the ones who bless you.  If you’re going to lose sleep about people, lose sleep over the ones that genuinely love you, not the ones who love to hate you.  If you’re going to take memories of your ministry with you, don’t you want your retirement years to be filled with memories of the people who showed you love and compassion - those who showed you the light of Christ?

As I think about it now, I just might keep these new-fangled LED lights, even though they don’t match the others.  Yes, my Christmas display might be two-toned, but each time I see it I’ll be reminded of the simple yet profound knowledge that some lights shine brighter than others.  I have to remind myself regularly to focus on the bright ones, and I hope you will do the same for yourself.

Blessings in Christ,


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A brief word on the death of Rev. Fred Craddock

On March 6th the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as well as the whole Church (universal) lost a great gift in the passing of Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock.  His inductive (or conversational) style of preaching was not accepted by all (perhaps because of his non-confrontational demeanor or his refusal to tailor himself into a made-for-TBN personality) but few could argue about his ability to retain the attention of a congregation and weave messages that taught you something without you even realizing it.  Fred was one of the most gifted preachers I've ever heard.  And though I haven't completely adopted his style I have learned a great deal from him through the years. The few times I did get to hear him in person I was greatly blessed.  Perhaps, more than anything, Fred taught me about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to preaching and the disassociation of expectations to sermons.  I once heard him say that sometimes the sermon you thought delivered terribly was the one that moved someone the most and sometimes the sermon you were most jazzed about giving and thought was going to move heaven and earth came out of your mouth and fell to the floor "like a wingless dove."

Monday, January 19, 2015

There's Still Time To Register

Ministers’ Institute is an annual ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper MidWest.  Although it is primarily geared as a continuing education event for Disciples of Christ ministers in the Upper MidWest region, it is open to ministers of other regions and partner denominations.  DoC ministers in the Upper Midwest who attend earn a significant portion of their continuing education credits required for annual standing.

This year our featured speaker is Richard H. Lowery, PhD.

We take registrations until the day of the event, so sign up now and join us!

Sunday, January 18, 2015


I am happy to see someone finally develop this.  Dr. Jerry Gladson has developed an online history and polity course for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  It's meant for groups.  It's good quality.  And it's affordable!  You can preview it and learn more about it here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Non-Credal-Church Friendly Discipleship Resource

In some arms of the Christian movement there is a tremendous need for good resources for baptism preparation and/or confirmation.  For example, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), of which I am a part, there is no formal catechism, no creed, no official doctrinal statement to which individuals are required to subscribe.  Within the sole baseline of belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God there is a certain intentional vagueness.  Our tradition prides itself on both the freedom of believers to arrive at their own theological positions and the responsibility of believers to do so within the context of scripture, prayer, and the Christian community.  Creeds and official doctrinal statements are seen as divisive, but the need for theological training of the community remains.  This delicate balance of freedom and responsibility provides many potential benefits but it also creates some very distinct dilemmas.

One of those dilemmas occurs when the proposition of baptism preparation and/or confirmation comes up in the conversation.  In many traditions there is a catechism, or a process of learning which people must complete in order to join the church, become baptized, or be confirmed in the faith.  In such situations the official denominational catechisms, creeds, or doctrinal statements often serve as an outline for such instruction and preparation.  So what does a pastor do when those outlines do not exist?  Or, to more directly reference my own situation, what does a pastor do when a person who was baptized as an infant is now a part of your congregation that practices believers' baptism and wants to experience confirmation?  If you don't want to reject their prior baptism and want to affirm their commitment to discipleship but don't have a resource for that, where do you get it?

The answer for many of us is that we either borrow from other denominations or write our own.  And there are great benefits to these choices; they can force us to re-examine, each and every time, our own faith and our own commitment to Christ.  They can also help us practice the process of testimony by requiring us to carefully consider our message and our method of instructing new disciples.  But this process is quite labor-intensive.  And, if your church is anything like mine, things come up that distract our focus and take away our time.  If we're not careful, our process of instructing and preparing baptism candidates and confirmands can get less than our best effort.

Christopher W. Wilson has recognized this and composed a resource for congregations in such a situation.  Published in 2009 by Chalice Press, Passage Into Discipleship: Guide to Baptism provides an excellent model for non-credal churches.  While it is written within the context of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and relies on external resources like the Chalice Hymnal, it is flexible enough that other congregations both in and out of the Restoration Movement could easily adapt.  Wilson has structured the curriculum around six central themes: Confession, Contrition, Covenant, Community, Connection, and Church.  Each theme has two components, a classroom session and an experiential element.  The classroom sessions utilize scripture study and discussion while the experiential elements involve immersing (no pun intended) the learners in a situation or environment that will help them learn in a deeper way (and they are quite creative).  The book comes complete with reproducible handouts and leader outlines for each session.  Wilson also incorporates the utilization of adult members within the congregation as guides through the experience, as well as an orientation session with candidates and their parents as well as a closing retreat.  

The reason I am recommending this resource to you is not because Wilson has done all the work for you.  I am recommending it precisely because he has not.  While there are lesson plans, resources, and handouts, what Wilson has provided is a structural outline.  The questions provided in the lesson plans are not aimed at forcing a prescribed doctrinal answer.  Instead the questions provided are aimed at helping candidates and confirmands understand points of scripture and theology while thinking for themselves and simultaneously requiring the instructor to do the same.  While the resource is structured for baptism preparation it could easily be adapted for confirmation in a situation like the one aforementioned.  It is my humble opinion that Passage Into Discipleship: Guide To Baptism is designed well enough to help you guide your baptism candidates and/or confirmands towards deeper understanding of, and a deeper relationship with, Jesus Christ.  And it is flexible enough to be adapted to your particular church, and allow you to experience a deeper understanding of, and relationship with, Jesus Christ as well.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review Published in Call to Worship

My recent review of When Heaven Stands Open: Liturgical Elements for Reformed Worship, Year B, was published in Call to Worship magazine.  Call to Worship doesn't make their publications available online, so here's a link the review, posted here earlier.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Interview for The Christian Century

This week I was interviewed by Steve Thorngate of The Christian Century about my experience using Year D in worship this year.  Here's a link: