Archive for August, 2008

Managing Your Emotions

How do you deal with your emotions and emotionally tense moments? The second week of my very first appointment out of seminary I called a lady who lost her husband the month before I arrived. This task was assigned to me (I was on staff as an associate pastor) as a kind of pastoral care “jump into the water” moment. I was nervous and at the end of my phone call I said, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” This widow responded “How can you help me? You don’t even know me!” I mumbled an apology and hung up the phone. I’m pretty sure I went into a fetal position under my desk. I have and had then, too, thin skin. My embarrassment and anxiety were creating stress and I didn’t know how to handle it. I probably didn’t even know what to name that feeling much less handle it.

I participate in a reading group for United Methodist clergy in my district and this month we read and discussed the 12 year old Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I understand that over the years there have been some real criticisms about the scholarship of this book but nevertheless there are some very helpful parts of this book. I learned a lot about identifying emotions – a very good first step – and am working on managing my emotions and how I react to them. It is not easy to do but I believe it is important to model for others emotional maturity as we grow as Jesus’ disciples. The way of the cross means a lot of dying and dying is not something that I often want to do. If I want to be a servant leader this is something we must pursue. If had reacted to the widow in the first paragraph in an emotionally mature way I might have been able to help her deal with her pain (NB: She same by the next day to apologize and hug my neck).

I have been keeping a journal of some sort since I was 13 years old and last night I took some time to read through a couple of old journals dating back to 2003 up through 2006. One of the things that I noticed about some of my entries is the immaturity of my emotional responses to people like my colleagues and even my wife. It’s only by God’s grace that I’ve grown considerably during the last few years. I still see a lot of room to grow but I’m confident knowing that God has begun a good work in me and that he will be faithful to complete it.

What areas of your emotional life do you need to yield to God as the Holy Spirit shapes you? Is there any emotion you are holding onto, unwilling to give up?

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Zen and the Art of Church Maintenance

August 20, 2008 1 comment

One of the strategic goals for the conference in which I serve is to “move from maintenance to mission”. What this means is that they want churches to stop maintaining the status quo of making sure everything stays exactly the same with no growth for the kingdom and no prospects. They want pastors to stop leading in that way and start lighting a fire of mission to the world.

I happen to think it is a great goal for the conference. I’ve seen changes take place over the last few years, mostly under the leadership of our current bishop, that excite me. I’ve heard people complain that he is “old school” – I don’t know if that’s true but if it is it’s exactly the type of leadership we’ve needed. The changes I see are ones that I believe have been designed to move us from maintenance to mission.

But why do we still see a small number of churches actually doing that?

I’ll qualify my question by saying that I’m not in the conference leadership so my observation might be total ignorance. My gut says that there are some churches striving to be missional but there are far more who want to maintain. Thus my question: Why?

My intuition and experience tell me it’s because moving and changing and convincing people to sacrifice on behalf of a larger goal is hard work. That’s not to say that our pastors are generally lazy, although some are, but it might be that some of us don’t have the guts to lead in a way that leads to the kingdom of God coming to bear in the life of a church.

I’m not being judgmental. Quite the opposite: I’m empathetic. Leading to mission means things are going to change in the lives of people. This is difficult and emotional. At some point in our ministries we are going to have to determine whether we’ve got the guts to do it and I think this is why we have so many churches committed to maintenance. Some of us are so concerned with job security and ladder climbing that we’ve lost the courage to lead which in turn leads to maintenance instead of a passionate and Spirit-filled mission.

Are you maintaining in your church? Do you fear what it might mean to move into mission?

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What Do We Want?

August 19, 2008 2 comments

From Seth Godin’s blog this morning:

What you have doesn’t make you unhappy. What you want does.

And want is created by us, the marketers.

I almost said the same thing Sunday morning and I was trying to make a little bit of a different point from Mr Godin, but the more I think about this quote the more disturbed I am.

What are the growing churches and the Christian publishers out there doing if not convincing people that what we want is what they are selling. If we don’t have it, we aren’t happy. I see this almost daily when people say, sometimes without speaking, “Look at what these other churches have or are doing. We don’t have that. I want it and I’m not happy that I don’t have it.”

Can anything be more soul destroying in a church, of all places, than to be unsatisfied with the music, preaching, teaching, or even the taste of the coffee? This is definitely one of those few but solid places where I side with John Piper. If our desire is anything else but Jesus we are missing out on being satisfied, even in the midst of our worldly dissatisfaction. Jesus isn’t going to swoop in and turn your worship leader into Matt Redman. He’s not going to turn your preacher into Bill Hybels. He’s not going to make sure you have Krispy Kreme’s every Sunday morning.

What Jesus promises is that if we desire him we will have that desire satisfied. Jesus says in John 6:35 “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Are you unhappy with your life, your church, or your ministry? Come and eat.

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Death By Love

Death by Love is a new book by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle.  I’ve always enjoyed Mark’s books because he’s entertaining and he makes me think.  I don’t always agree with him but I have been blessed by him in many ways.  One of the blessings I have experienced recently was reading a sample chapter of this new book which can be found here.  It’s a book that takes a look at the many layers of Jesus atoning death on the cross.  This sample, like the other chapters in the book, is in the form of a letter.  It is highly pastoral as well as theological in the way it communicates the meaning of Christus Victor.  I’m looking forward to reading this book.

Also, if you’ll click on the icon in the left column of the page to which you are being directed, you can watch an amazing video advertisement of the book.  It is really well done.

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Co-dependency in Ministry

I just finished reading a great post at PastorHacks about “the Co-Dependent Pastor“.  It spoke to me in a powerful way this morning.  I am announcing a change for our church’s worship schedule on Sunday morning and I’ve been experiencing a lot of ups and downs during this week about it.  One day I will feel totally confident about the decision.  I’ve filtered it through a definition of wisdom I learned from my friend Mike Harris a year and a half ago: Wisdom is doing the right thing at the right time in the right way in the right spirit.  I’m confident that this decision has met these criteria.

But, the next day I worry and worry because of how some of our folks might react.  I’ve spoken with a lot of people about this and the general response is, “It inconveniences me in some ways, but if it is good for the church I’ll support it.”  I should be thrilled at this response as it is a very mature response.  But I’m still worried to death about what those who haven’t been involved in the process will say.  I don’t take criticism well.  I don’t take disappointment well which has led to some apathetic leadership moves on my part over the years – a lot of non-decisions.

My prayer is that God will focus my heart and my emotions on Jesus and leave my dependency and self-worth with him in order to be the pastor he has called me to be.  May my confidence be in Christ and nothing else.

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I’m not going to make a habit of posting pictures from vacations or of the cat I do not have (I can’t stand cats), but I did want to post one picture from our family trip to visit my paternal grandmother in Minnesota.  I’m consistenly amazed and sometimes amused when I think of the ways God turns and shapes our pasts and circumstances into something useful for his purposes.

For all the trouble I’ve caused and potential I’ve left littered behind me, God still sees fit to use me in ways that can only be attributed to grace.  And as best as I understand it, we began in this church I photographed last week.  This is the church in which I was baptized barely four months after I was born in May of 1977.  My parents pledged to raise me to know and love Jesus and this church pledged to help them do so.  As far as I know, I’ve not stepped foot in that church one time in the last 31 years.

But, that baptism was a promise, not by humans but by God, that I would be tethered to the church for better or for worse.  God’s grace has been overwhelming since that day and I trust that even through iffy beginnings and careless sin and mishaps over the years, God will still, through that same grace, bring me home in the end.

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