Friday, May 4, 2012
I love all the ways we can share our lives in this day of social networks whether it is through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, texting or some other mode. I use them regularly to complement my regular face-to-face interactions. Unfortunately there is a temptation to abuse this for telling others a little too much about our strengths and lives as if others are living for our next post.
G.K. Chesterston, in his classic ORTHODOXY was well ahead of his time in challenging us away from our need to over self-promote. This is a great call toward what it means to be humble and genuinely care for others:
"Are there no other stories in the world except yours; and are all men busy with your business? Suppose we grant the details; perhaps when the man in the street did not seem to see you it was only his cunning; perhaps when the policeman asked you your name it was only because he knew it already. But how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers."
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
This morning I wrote a response to a blog on longevity in youth ministry. Here is what I said:
"I’ve been in youth ministry for 32 years and 28 at the same place. Growing up as pastor’s kid, moving every couple of years I never would have dreamed of being at the same church for this long. When people ask me about tips for making this work in their ministry I list them under the following categories:
REASONS UNDER MY CONTROL
*I am very intentionally, a youth PASTOR. While I love youth the most I want to be a pastor to all the people of the church. I spend time with senior citizens, children and every age in between. I do funerals, weddings, make hospital visits and seek to be a great team player on our our pastoral staff.
*I work hard to be teachable. Years ago while leading a regional convention I recruited some of the best youth pastors I could find to provide leadership. One was a long-term guy who proceeded to shoot down or minimize almost every idea we had. I have told several people “slap me around” if I ever act like I know it all.
*I searched far and wide for long-term youth pastors to be mentors. These people are not easy to find but I have found a few and let them speak into my life.
*After three decades of youth ministry I still like middle school and high school students.
*I keep my relationship with God first, my family second, my ministry third.
REASONS NOT UNDER MY CONTROL
*My senior pastor has been here for 36 years. One of our other associates has been here for 15 years. Long-term seems to be in the DNA of this church.
*This is a very healthy church. It is not perfect but is a place where communication is clear and encouragement abounds.
*This church loves youth ministry. They brought me here to begin a youth ministry. How often does that happen?"
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Eugene Peterson, in his book, “The Pastor” says, “The American stereotype of church. Salvation is God’s business. It is what God does. And then He turns it over to us. Church is our business. It is what we do. God, having given himself to us in Jesus, now retires to the sidelines and we take over. Occasionally we call a time-out to consult with God. But basically, we are the action.” (p. 117)
As I think back to many of my seminary classmates or those who have begun in ministry through my 30 plus years of being a youth pastor I observe how many are no longer in ministry or should no longer be in ministry. There may be any number of factors but one ingredient seems to be very common: believing we are the action.
Those who believe they are the “action” are defined by . . .
- the number of hours they work
- the length of their to-do-list
- how many committees, leadership positions and projects they can juggle at one time
- how many decisions go through them
- the too few days or full vacations they take off
- the minimal time they spend studying the Bible for themselves, in personal prayer with God
- the lack of time they give to their spouse and families as their number one ministry
This is not my ministry. It never was, it is not now nor will it ever be. There will always be more things to do and lives to shepherd. It is all God’s business, I am his servant and I desire to live life in His rest, and finish well. That’s my kind of action.
Monday, January 16, 2012
There are two words that seem to be almost constantly on the minds of people I know: time management. We long for the balance of work, play and rest. We look for gadgets and strategies to keep our time in order. We prioritize, categorize and excise all for the sake of doing what is most important in the 24 hour days we have been given.
In the mix of our desire to schedule wisely we identify areas where time might be wasted: lingering too long on Facebook or majoring on minors, to name a few. One “time-killer,” though, actually defeats all the rest. It is one we don’t want to admit and one we would rather not consider. Its name is “sin.”
When we willfully disobey God and choose our way we have immediately made the decision to waste our own time and the time of others. This became very clear to me several years when I had a former student make some very bad choices and consequently ended up in some very “hot water.” I spent at least a year of weekly walking with him through the challenges he faced. It was another 2 years before it all resolved.
This last week I spent nearly a whole work day worth of hours working through a situation with another pastor, caused by sin.
In my own life I have cost myself precious time from short-sightedness and failure to follow the wisdom God was trying to give me. I have lost count of how many times I wanted to push the “re-wind” button on decisions I made to take things into my own hands.
I could easily resent the sinner and I could easily be resented. Instead, I’m going to hate and resent the sin.
I know I will waste a little more time in my life because sadly I will sin. I also know, God through His mercy, offers me forgiveness and in fact will offer me ways to redeem the time. His time management is perfect.
Hosea 10:12: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.” (New Living Translation)
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Over the last several days the abundance of happiness has enveloped our home while all five of our family are under the same roof. With older kids these moments are not taken lightly. We have enjoyed being together but this time next week will find us once again going our separate ways.
Many years ago when Nancy and I first made the move to Southern California from the eastern part of the United States I would often feel the sting of sin at the airport as we said “good-bye” to our parents and extended family. I was reminded in the Bible in heaven there will be no more separation. When we are together with those we love we experience a little slice of heaven.
In my continued reading of THE PASTOR by Eugene Peterson he describes a new revelation he had on the profile of the church, “It had taken me a long time, with considerable help from wise Christians, both dead and alive, to come to this understanding of church: a colony of heaven in the country of death; a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God.” (p. 110).
The church SHOULD be a place where we can experience the belonging of community, the prayers of those who care, the teaching to equip us for life and the attitude of generosity. This is the gift of togetherness at its finest. Eternity has already begun!
Today I count myself blessed to pastor in this “colony of heaven” found in Santa Barbara, California, U.S.A. It is here I see those who not only care for each other but long to bring life to the “country of death” and despair around them.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Here is what I know . . .
*He sent His son to die for me
*I am forgiven
*My immediate and extended family loves me
*I have friends who love me
What I don’t know (a partial list) . . .
*Why I was born in the United States of America
*Why I was born to two parents who loved me, provided for me and have remained faithful to each other all of their marriage.
*Why I had the opportunity to attend elementary/secondary schools, college and graduate school.
*Why I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful woman to whom I have been married for 30 years.
*Why we have three great children who have chosen to put Christ at the center of their lives and live for him in amazing ways.
*Why I have had the honor to be an associate pastor in a healthy church with a nurturing Senior Pastor/staff and invest in the lives of youth for over 30 years.
*Why I live in a place where I can see the awesome creation of God through the mighty Pacific ocean and majestic mountains every day.
My life has had its share of ups and downs but when I look back at the “highlights” I am astonished to see all the gifts placed in my lap. I have not “deserved” any of these. I could have been born anywhere else in the world in a war-torn, impoverished country to a single mom with little to no resources, no home, little opportunity to ever attend school, all without the benefit of hearing God’s great news and experiencing it in the ways it has been modeled to me over all these years.
God loves all his creation. Why I landed in this wonderful situation I cannot reasonably explain but I can thank God for this blessing. He has blessed me with a gift I did not earn but a gift I will humbly and happily accept.
What has He given you?
Friday, December 2, 2011
Yesterday our office administrator called and said she had someone on the phone for me. She said the person had some “spiritual questions.” As I talked to the lady on the other end of the line it was clear she had less than great experiences with pastors who only smiled, greeted people at the door, ran meetings and preached sermons. After asking me a series of other very specific questions she inquired if I really knew the people in our church. Did I know their needs, did I know where they work and did I visit them outside the four walls of the church?
When I answered “yes” to the lady’s question she was shocked. She said she had never experienced that in any other church. My heart grew heavy, my compassion expanded and I expressed my sadness on how she had never received the love and care God would want her to have in the community of faith.
Eugene Peterson, in his book, The Pastor: A Memoir, quoted a pastor/mentor as saying this: “What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday? . . . For two hours ever Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I walk through the neighborhood and make home visits. There is no way I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about.”
These words should be convicting for any person in any type of ministry whether volunteer or paid. Our words ring hollow if we have not taken the time to know and love the people we teach.
I have high regard for excellent teaching and preaching. It requires research and preparation but when this part of ministry becomes more important than me walking with people in their lives it ceases to be effective and I lose the right to be heard.
As the lady asked her pointed question I was immediately thankful for all those mentors over the years who modeled for me the importance of preaching the word AND loving the people. The mentors include my own dad, a pastor, who spent many afternoons visiting his people and the three wonderful senior pastors with whom I have worked and who have tirelessly celebrated and comforted their “flocks.” What they did became a natural part of my life and ministry.
I have heard it said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” All we seek to offer can look good on our computer screen. When we bring real lives into the picture those plans often look differently.
Planning events, preparing for sermons, working on creative teaching experiences are worthy work but only a piece of what we are called to do. In what ways are you too easily letting the “events” more easily define your ministry than knowing and caring for the people you serve? It’s a question I’m asking myself today.