Monday, February 29, 2016

Developing a Theology of Worship

If a member of your DCOM asked, “What is your theology of worship?”, what would your answer be? Not only is it good to have answers like this ready for anyone who may ask, it will help you to plan worship and market your worship to the outside community. Your theology of worship will change based on your ministry setting, but will have a connectional thread throughout your ministry. 

My most recent theology of worship was: 

My prayer is that people leave worship feeling better about themselves, God, and their ability to play a meaningful role in the transformation of the world. 
Worship provides a reminder of God's promises
even when the skies of life are dark.
Photo taken near my home. 

This informed my sermons, my liturgy, my hymn selections. The people in my congregation tended to be the employees not the employers. I knew that many of them were under appreciated and under employed. They spent much of the week being crapped on and struggling to make ends meet. And yet, they would show up at church at 6am on Sunday to prepare breakfast for the homeless. They would spend free time and resources caring for in-need members of the congregation and others in their community. They would sacrifice for others without restraint. They were some of the most kind-hearted, generous, compassionate people I have ever come in contact with. They needed encouragement to continue and affirmation of their goodness. They needed to be empowered in worship after being disempowered by the world. They didn’t need liturgy about their sinful nature or to be chastised for not helping the least, the last and the lost. I often received compliments about how uplifting worship was or how something we said or sang touched them. I was able to accomplish this because I had a clear, concise, site specific theology of worship. 

One simple, meaningful statement reflecting who your congregation is and what role you play in facilitating a more meaningful relationship between them and God can provide the basis for worship that will touch and transform hearts. Take time and prayerful reflection to develop yours and see how it can guide your worship planning. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blood on the Church Steps (Matthew 28: 19)

The bloody handprint on the church steps took my breath away.  

One fall afternoon, I stepped out of the church to go around the corner to the market for a sandwich and soda. Gone no more than ten minutes, I returned to find police, a fire truck and a hysterical woman in front of the church. 

The woman had been walking her dogs when she witnessed a man and a woman, disheveled, maybe homeless, approach the church and sit on the front steps. They were acting strange, maybe on drugs or in withdrawal, not an uncommon sight in our neighborhood. The man pulled out a knife, and as the woman screamed, he began cutting himself. The dog walker ran home to call for help and when she returned, they were gone. They left behind blood. Handprints of blood. Pools of blood. 

They had never tried to enter the church, didn’t even go all the way up the stairs to the door. The officers and I followed the trail of blood, hoping to find them and get them medical attention, but after two blocks, the blood moved from the concrete sidewalk to the blacktop of the road and disappeared. Years later, I still think of these two people and grieve not being able to know them.

If we are to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, we can not focus only the upper-middle class suburbanites whose giving pays apportionments. Our disciples need to come from all walks of life, which means being in meaningful relationship with people from all walks of life. 

Even if I had been in the building when the incident occurred, I probably would not have heard the commotion as my workspace was on the other side of the building and they never knocked or tried to come in. But had I been able to safely connect with these two, welcome them to church, show them the unconditional love of God, help them find the medical and psychological help they probably needed, have the congregation journey with them…imagine the transformation possible. Imagine the ways in which they could bring transformation to others. But this type of relationship requires an emotional investment we are not used to making, and an effort we are not used to making.

How do we go about making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world? Who should our disciples be? Are our social biases leading us to only make disciples that are in our socio-economic and other relatable spheres?  As you prepare your sermon on The Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20), define ‘nation’ in a broader sense than geography or religious affiliation, and then encourage your people consider their relationship with them. What ‘nation’ of people is in your backyard, needing to know the tangible love of God through your words, hands and actions? 


Practicing Pastoral Care

One challenging aspect of entering into ministry is pastoral care. You simply have no idea what someone is about to say when they enter your office (or coffee shop or bar or burger joint). We live in a very dysfunctional society. But how can you practice for the unknown? 

Pick a crazy reality show. 90 Day FiancĂ© on TLC is perfect. I watch Bering Sea Gold with handfuls of confetti, throwing it in the air and cheering "counseling, counseling for everyone!".  

 As you watch your favorite guilty pleasure, think about what issues you see and what questions you would ask them if they were in your office. What emotional traits and family systems would you discuss? What healthy boundaries or family practices would you offer for their consideration? 

The art of pastoral care is being lost. Pastors have been told to always refer people to therapists, but not everyone is open to therapy or can afford therapy, and thankfully some people still seek to place God in the midst of their struggles and will seek your guidance as they strive for a more balanced, positive life.  Understand your limitations and that there are times when you should refer to specialists, but you do have the gifts to help people change their lives. 


The Day Johnny Got Stabbed (Matthew 26:11)

The poor will always be with us, and sometimes someone gets stabbed because of it. 

The inner-city church I served provided a free breakfast to the homeless on Sunday mornings, when free meals in the city were scarce. It was a hectic but loving event. We worked hard to provide good meals, fresh coffee, and welcoming volunteers. With an average of 175 guests, our little basement Fellowship Hall got crowded. We had a gentleman in his late 30’s with some possible mental health issues who would come often, and he would wear headphones and listen to music, occasionally singing along. 

One morning he was singing (or rapping, I guess) to a song that contained some….questionable…..language. An older, African-American gentleman asked him to stop, that the language was not appropriate under any circumstances. Johnny said ‘no, and what are you going to do about it’. And the guy pulled out a knife and swung at him, nicking his cheek. That’s what he was going to do about it. 

Guardian Angels serving as our security and a few other guests quickly jumped in and separated the men. A nurse who happened to be volunteering that day used butterfly strips to fix him up and he declined our offer to call to police. (We respected our guests wishes in situations like this. If medical attention were necessary it would have been different.) The man with the knife was banned from our program, and Johnny was given a stern warning regarding music and informed he would also be banned if the inappropriate language continued. 

But that is not the most important part of the story. At the time, we had a sweet, petite, young, female intern. Our church was her first experience with inner city mission work and she wanted to jump in. She served part of her internship providing pastoral care to our guests and support to the volunteers. She was still pretty new and easily startled at that point (now she is a rock-star, ass-kicking minister who isn’t phased by anything). 

When the fight broke out, one of our other homeless guests jumped up and put himself between our intern and the fight to protect her. When the situation was under control, he turned to her and assured her everything was fine and made sure she was alright. 

When we think of the homeless, do the words caring, compassionate, and protective come to mind? It is easy to use the words ‘homeless’ or ‘poor’ as the primary descriptor of someone, but to do so minimizes their true identity as a child of God and all of the beautiful qualities that go along with that. 

Challenge your congregation to come up with descriptive words for the people we see in our mission programs, shelters and on street corners. If we are to believe Matthew 26:11, the poor will always be with us. And if that is the case, in your sermon on Matthew 26, challenge your congregation as to why they categorize people by their socio-economic status and how would that look in their own lives. If they had a roommate and the only thing they ever learned about that person was their financial situation, how meaningful of a relationship would that be, and how long would they want to live with that person? If the poor will always be with us, wouldn't it be better to know them as people, to be in meaningful relationships? 

"Leave and Cleave" Pastoral Care

Image result for pastoral careWhile many people favor secular counseling over pastoral care, there are still those who seek to have God firmly rooted in their relationship discussions. Many pastors feel ill-equipped to provide pastoral care to couples, but chances are, you are equipped and should be meeting with folks who request your guidance. Be ready to recognize when a situation is beyond your capacity and refer to the proper professionals, but even if that is the end result, you now know your people better and can provide periphery support.

You might get a call (text, email, bat-signal) from someone asking if you support “leave and cleave” counseling. This phrase is based on Genesis 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” 

Image result for leave and cleavePeople asking this question are asking if you will help them to differentiate from their family of origin and create a more solid bond with their spouse. Generally the situation involves one partner who is overly connected to a parent (not leaving) and it is hindering the marital relationship (not cleaving) or a couple who is trying to create healthy boundaries with an extended family member without success. The ultimate ending may be that the problematic family member is removed completely from the couples life. 

Can you support that? Do you believe that some family members can be so toxic and dysfunctional that they no longer have the privilege of being in someones life? Or do you believe that we ought to sacrifice our own emotional, spiritual and physical well-being for the sake of extended family? (Not that I have an opinion.)

For example: 
A couple in your congregation adopts a child of a different race, in addition to their biological children. Grandma doesn’t like it, clearly favors the biological children and makes vague (if not outright) racist comments in front of the children. Does grandma have a place in their lives? Should they just ‘suck it up’ and take all the kids to grandma’s for Thanksgiving? Should only the biological children be taken to grandma’s? Should they say that grandma is unsafe and not expose any of the children to her? 

People seeking a ‘leave and cleave’ counselor are usually hurting, vulnerable, and need honesty and support. If you are unable to support the very difficult decisions they may have to make, please tell them so. It’s not your place to use your position to guilt them into doing something that feels wrong to them simply because it does not fit your perception of family. 

Pray, think, and research your theology of the family so before you are placed in the situation you know where you stand. Then you will be able to provide honest care to your families, even if that means sending them to another colleague for the ‘leave and cleave’ care they are seeking. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Preparing For Your Introduction

“Hi Frank, this is your new DS. I have an introduction set up for you at First Church Hogwarts next Tuesday. Please prepare a five minute talk so they can get to know you. See you there.” 

And….go! 

Often you will have very little guidance on what to prepare for your first introduction. You’ve got a very short amount of time to share with your potential congregational leadership who you are, why you are in ministry, what you can bring to them as pastor and what you expect of them as your congregation. And if its your first church, you might just be really nervous. 

Prepare a good story, with tangible visuals if you can (no power point, it’s too impersonal), that shows you in co-creative ministry with the church, doing the unique work of God. My story was about a funeral I did for a man, Jack, whom I had never met. He was in his 80’s when a neighbor found him laying on the sidewalk in a snow storm. No one in the neighborhood knew him and he had no family. Jennifer picked him off the ground and helped him inside. He didn’t want to let her in. The lights did not work because he could not see well enough nor reach high enough to change the light bulbs. The mirrors were covered with old newspaper. She ran home and got some lightbulbs and in the light, could see that the house was a disgusting mess, food was out on counters with maggots, and the man had weeping sores on his arms and legs. He said he had not gone to the hospital (literally a block away) because if they admitted him, there would be no one to feed his cat. She promised to feed his cat, and took him to the hospital. He was there was three weeks, during which time she visited him daily and rallied the neighbors to clean the house and prepare for his homecoming party. The neighbors were upset to learn that this man had been invisible in their midst for years. 

Jack became part of their families, and his lonely heart opened. They set up meal rotations and helped him restore his first car (which he'd kept in the backyard), a 1920’s Model T, and would drive him around town in it. He came to their homes for holidays and they threw him a birthday party at his favorite bar every year. Jack lived the last 10+ years of his life in fellowship and happiness before passing of natural causes at 98 years of age.

He never married and had lived alone since his parents died in the 1960’s. He had retired about 20 years before Jennifer found him in the snow, and had spent all that time alone. Those who came to love him knew that his parents had been members of the church I served as an associate and the funeral director called the church to see if we could do the graveside service, lowering Jack into a plot next to his parents. 

I met with a few of the neighbors to plan the service, and they expressed a great deal of guilt that Jack had been alone in their midst for so long. In preparing for the service, I searched the church archives looking for a trace of Jack’s parents (and by archives I mean a large closet filled with boxes and file cabinets). After hours of searching I found a large book in which the United Methodist Women had documented the passing of their members. I turned to the year and month in which Jack lost his mother and sure enough, in the most beautiful script, was her name. 

I took the book to the graveside for the service, and I acknowledged their guilt over Jack being alone. I showed them the page where his mothers name was written so lovingly in the book. I explained that while Jack had been alone for many years before they befriended him, during what was probably his loneliest moment, the passing of his mother, he was not alone. If there is one thing I know about the United Methodist Women, they make casseroles. And they surround people in need with love. 

When Jack stood on that same ground that we stood (he was buried next to his parents), he was surrounded by the women of the United Methodist Church. And they would have checked in on him and brought him meals, and been with him as long as he welcomed them. 

And I explained to the church committee just how much relief seeing that name written it that book provided (and showed them the book). Sometimes it’s the littlest things we do that provide the most comfort. And we have no idea how what we do today will impact someone years or generations down the road. 

From this introduction, they knew that I would go above and beyond to care for people and bring them comfort, members of the congregation or not. They learned that I view even the smallest tasks as ministry opportunities. They learned that I deeply value that we are on the spectrum of God’s plan, here because of what those before us have done and laying the groundwork for those still to come. 

Your introduction sets the stage for your ministry. It is, in a way, your first sermon to your new congregation and the image your leadership team will have of you and share of you before you begin. If you need assistance with your introduction or other aspects of transitioning into your first or new congregation, consider a few sessions with Whole Soul Consulting. We are here to make your journey smoother. Visit us at www.wholesoulconsulting.org 



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Crafting Your Website Bios

According to Monk Development, 46% of people say that the website plays a important part when selecting a church.* Churches have finely crafted mission statements, exciting program pages, and hopefully photos of the church in action to give people a sense of what they are walking in to.  Often neglected are the biographies of the pastor and other important leaders (including lay leadership). 

The standard bio is your educational history, family, hobbies and a few other generic details. My guess is that somewhere on your website you celebrate the diversity of the individual and invite people to come and be their authentic, God created selves in your church. How is your biography modeling this individuality and authenticity for your congregation and guests, and is your biography introducing yourself to strangers in a way that makes them want to come and be in ministry with you? 

Provide all the relevant details, but be creative. Bad at math? Secretly love your kids sugary cereals? Always dream of spending a summer living off the grid in Alaska? If you met someone in a bar or coffee shop, would you talk about your Christology or the new ribs recipe you tried for the tailgate last weekend? Where did your passion for ministry come from? Why would someone want to be a part of what you are doing? 

This is one of my favorite restaurants, and they have a great bio page: http://www.blueskycafe.biz/about-us.html  Don't you read this and just feel compelled to eat there? Make your biographies so engaging that people feel compelled to be a part of your ministry setting. 



Friday, February 12, 2016

Hope Sucks

Journal Entry from 2011 (It's always fun to look back at crazy ramblings)

The light above my head literally went out this morning.

Birds woke me up about 4:30am, and my first thought was the need for a pellet gun. I catch spiders in Tupperware and set them free outside, so having my first waking thought be of terrorizing innocent little creatures was more than a little disconcerting. I stayed in bed for about 90 minutes, simply not wanting to face the day.

The squeaky cat was intent on being fed, so I finally got up and went to make coffee. Turned on the kitchen light, and as I stood beneath it, the bulb burst. An ominous sign for the day.

It’s been a difficult year. I had such high hopes this would be the most amazing year. The church was supposed to be under control, time to create, a relationship that is more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined.

The church is not under control. I cannot tolerate when people intentionally create chaos and turmoil, especially when we are in an environment that is supposed to be Spirit filled and mission oriented. I did not go into ordained ministry to send emails and sit in meetings and listen to selfish bitching, and that is about all I do.  It is depressing, and there is no end in sight. I’m attempting to accept that this is my present reality and move forward as best I can, but it’s becoming overwhelmingly depressing.  

And it is overwhelmingly depressing about 70 hours a week. Which leaves no time or energy for anything else. And I know: “set boundaries; you can’t do it all; take care of yourself” but it just doesn’t work that way sometimes.  Everything for worship has to get put together. Emails and calls have be dealt with.  Drama has to be confronted.  This summer (2011) I took over from a pastor who was at the church for 22 years, and the transition has been terribly difficult for everyone.  

And even when I can do meaningful ministry, the negativity does not stop. Several times a week I provide lunch to the homeless through a coordinated program that provides nearly 800 lunches each week. But there is never enough, and the chips are not the right flavor, and the water isn’t cold enough, we were three minutes late or started too early. It's never something I do for praise, but it would be nice to not get bitched at constantly. 

The more I do and the more I give, the more crap I get for it. And yet that is part of the calling: not giving up, not walking away for a more comfortable life.  Having hope that it will get better, hope that God can be found in every situation, hope that this might be the year the Rockies win it all. Hope.

Being driven by hope sucks because there is always hope, and thus no excuse to give up. When you live in hope, you live in a world of endless possibilities and have to keep seeking them.

And the people said……oh hell.



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Meaningful Residence in Ministry Retreats

One of the major complaints I hear from candidates is about the quality of their Residence in Ministry retreats. Too often, retreats are focused on touchy-feely topics like prayer, which the candidates have gotten plenty of in seminary. Candidates (and their church leaders) report that what is needed is business training (especially financial), human resource development, volunteer management, conflict management, and strategic planning. 

When doctors in training are in their residency, they are not learning how to apply band-aids or wrap sprained ankles. They are receiving in-depth training in a specialty. It is challenging, pushing them intellectually and emotionally. 

What might it look like if our Residence in Ministry (or ordination retreats by other names) were this intense? I’ve yet to hear a candidate (myself included) lament the intensity of an ordination retreat, celebrate the new techniques learned, or be truly challenged by the materials presented and resulting conversations. Seminary only goes so far in preparing our future leaders for ministry. Ordination retreats must do the rest. 


If you are a candidate, share with your reading team or retreat leaders what you need to learn to be more effective in your transition into the pulpit and in your ministry. If they don’t know what you need, they can’t give it to you. Advocate for yourself, knowing that you will be the one held accountable if your lack of training is perceived as ineffectiveness.   

Monday, February 8, 2016

Transitioning from Secular Work to a Sacred Vocation

Like many of you, ministry is my second career. I was the manager of accounts receivable for a multi-national company providing services to the trucking industry. I worked with our contractors,  finance and claims departments, teamsters, and probably a few mobsters along the way. While I joke that dealing with teamsters prepared me for dealing with church people, that may not have the best response when ordination committees and boards asked how my previous career was relevant to ministry. 

As more people leave secular careers to pursue ministry, they face the task of connecting their previous work to their calling and their gifts and graces for ministry. If you are in this position, reflect on times in which you acted in a way that shows your calling and be ready to tell that story. For example: 

Relaxing from a long Labor Day weekend, on the couch in my comfy clothes, CNN scrolled the news that one of our largest customers would be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy the next morning. I hyperventilated a little and waited for it to scroll again to make sure I’d read it right. We’d had some payment problems with them for about 6 months and their accounts payable director, Barbara, and I were becoming best buddies with near daily phone calls. Office keys in hand, I headed out the door. My cell rang. The CEO at corporate across the country. It was a situation where the pleasantries of “hello” went by the wayside. “I’m on my way in. I’ll get you numbers.” “This is bad, isn’t it?” “Real fucking bad, sir.” (We were in trucking, and I speak the lingo.) 

I spent the night at my desk crunching numbers. What they owed by terminal, what we had been paid in the last 90 days (which could be considered preferential payments and thus have to be returned in the bankruptcy proceedings), creating spreadsheets and fielding calls from our contractors wanting to know how this impacted their payments, all while watching the fallout on the business channels. Nearly 15,000 people out of jobs overnight, facilities pad-locked and employees unable to even collect their personal belongings, and millions owed to vendors like us. Knowing the months, probably years, of paperwork and legal meetings and the financial impact on us, I picked up the phone to call Barbara. 

The message I left went something like this: 

“Hi Barbara, this is Jessica from Company X. I’ve been up all night watching the news and going over the numbers. This is so bad. And I’m so sorry for all you are going through. I can’t imagine the phone calls you are getting. Please know that I’m thinking of you. If you need anything, like a reference for a new job, or just to talk, please call me.  You have been so kind, and I can’t imagine what you have been going through in the past few months as all this went down.  Again, I’m just calling to say I’m sorry, and I’m thinking of you, and if there is anything you need, please call. My cell is XXX.” 

About two hours later, she called me back. And she was crying. She said her voicemail was filled with hateful, vulgar messages. Except for me. She and all her co-workers were out of jobs. They had been through hell in the past few months. I asked if she needed help finding a new job, we had lots of connections. No, she said, it was time to retire, travel to see grandkids, go fishing with her husband. She thanked me for my kindness towards her. She was shocked that in the midst of it all, I was concerned for her. And we said goodbye. 

In the midst of what the bankruptcy meant for me and my company, I was far more concerned with the well being of this woman. I saw it from her perspective. And I took action to provide comfort to her, even though she worked for the “enemy” that had just caused massive upheaval for my company. My gifts for ministry include compassion for those who might not be seen as the vulnerable party.

Our callings exist long before we recognize or act on them, and our gifts and graces for ministry can be seen in various aspects of our lives. Being able to recognize ministry moments in our secular careers is a vital element to transitioning into ministry. 

For help learning how to tell your story and transitioning from the secular world into the life of ministry, consider a few sessions with Whole Soul Consulting and visit www.wholesoulconsulting.org