Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Thoughts on Pastoring

What does it take to stay vital in ministry after 30 years? Whenever I hear that type of question asked, I perk up my ears for wisdom. I appreciate discovering what sustains others in ministry over the long haul, because ministry is far more of a marathon than a sprint. I fear a lot of the seminar offerings out there fuel "sprint" behavior; how to crank up and get fast results with a technique, a series, a technology, or a new, charismatic staff person.

I must admit that I've been there and done that. The fact that I'm writing this on my new iPad reflects my love of technology and gadgets. I'm a sucker for the flash and the new. But here are some thoughts I have about what I find works for the long haul:

1. A consistent personal devotional life. A balanced spiritual formation portfolio works: scripture, relevant, and ancient. Reading keeps me alive and connected to the Word, these times, and the deep heritage we have in our faith.

2. Ask questions and listen. The people God has placed around me, often on the surface are both boring and irritating. I'm tempted to stereotype and discount them. Yet they are exactly the gift God has given me to discover, and the discovering work is that of conversations (often over time) where I ask questions and then listen deeply (not competitively so I can share my stuff). The profundity of the ordinary continues to bless and delight me.

3. Show up. Make commitments and keep them. Learning to show up when I'm not the center stage ( real problem for senior pastors) is another gold mine. When I hang in the back of the room and let someone else lead, something good happens to my heart.

4. Expect good from people (and don't be surprised when they let you down). Vitality in ministry is not sustained by cynicism, sarcasm or gossip. Those approaches, over time, shallow my life. It's so easy to be critical and tougher to be positive (and realistic at the same time).

5. Avoid gossip, but speak directly. Talking around an issue or person corrodes relationships, while going directly is tougher but healthier. The longer I'm in leadership, the more impressed I am by the dis-ease of gossip. If I am unwilling to go to the other person, but simply insist on gossiping about him/her, "what are my intentions?"

6. Take time to play (Sabbath rest). Always being "on" and available is debilitating. Take days off, go away from the church, leave the country, put away the list. When I play, I do not take myself quite so seriously.

7. Reverse mentoring. Someone several years ago gave me that notion, especially for technology. I always need a bright 17 year old around to introduce me to some emergent technology and trend (even language). But now I'm finding that young people can bless me spiritually if I ask them into a conversation and listen seriously. Being near a college campus has been a gift to me. These young men and women often "get it" more than my peers. That give me hope.

8. Tithe to the local church. Money can get a strangle-hold on pastor's lives because we are "never paid" what we are worth and we usually see those around us with more, newer and nicer. Not releases covetousness, greed and stinginess like tithing. Tithing continues to teach me to genuinely trust in God's generosity.

9. Bless your local church. There is no perfect church, council, building, budget or community. We can endlessly critique and resent the flaws in our unique setting. Get over it! There will be no perfect church (or pastors) till Jesus comes again. The church is Christ's bride, and that bride has some issues! But she is still the bride.

10. Learn from the culture around you. The culture is our context, not our enemy. Learn to listen deeply to the media and music. What is the hunger? Where are the hopes? What is the story behind the tattoo.

11. Say “Thank You” often and regularly.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Matthew 10:40-42

As Jesus sends out his disciples in Matthew 10:1-39, he warns them of the high cost of being sent by him. Yet, in the last verses of Matthew 10, he promises the high reward of welcoming those he sends. Where do you feel welcomed? Where are you providing a welcome?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Church & Sausage Making

At a recent brainstorming meeting about adult discipleship possibilities, approaches and directions, a participant looked at me at the end of the meeting and said: "Oh, that's how it's done!" with genuine surprise. As a long-time attender, she enjoyed many church programs and activities over the years, but was never involved in the strategic planning until the other night.
When I asked what was surprising about the meeting, she said it was the wide gap between the theological/theoretical and the practical/administrative. Our conversation ranged from discussing what the nature of discipleship among us is to which room and what day of the week would be best for a certain gathering.
The evening was "messy" in that we did not arrive at a clear and concise program schedule, but more questions and options to consider. People were misunderstood and new ideas jockeyed with older methodologies that are well-loved and comfortable. But that's the church isn't it? It's a messy collaboration of saints and sinners, young and old, traditional and cutting edge, certain and risky.
We have our French friends staying with us for several weeks. One of the joys of their presence is the fabulous food Martha and Marylene cook up! But oh do they make a mess of the kitchen, using all sorts of foods and equipment. Ham sandwiches would be much neater and easier to manage, but nothing close to the tastes I get to experience (and clean up later with Yves).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Letting Go of Worship

I love to preach! Make no mistake, the more I do it, the more honored I am to be allowed to enter the pulpit each with after living with a text for a week. I love the mystery of how a text opens up better than a great wine and takes me places I never planned to go. I love working with Bob Gross and the musical leadership to sculpt songs that reinforce the text and wrap worship with a mystery that goes beyond words.
So asking my friend Yves Pizant to preach was a sacrifice for me. Will he do a good job? Will the congregation follow him in French translation? Will he and the translator, Dr. Marianne Robins click? Will it be too long? What direction will he take the text?
At 9:30 a.m. Yves and Marianne met for the first time and launched into an intense conversation about the sermon and translation issues. Though I understood hardly anything they said, I sensed the chemistry, respect and deep French joy!
Opening singing was great! The altar piece framed the sanctuary. And when Yves began, he began in English thanking me and Martha and the church for inviting him to preach. He even thanked them for teaching them Californian...."Dude!" he said! I knew this was going to be fun.
I won't recap the sermon on Jesus cursing the fig tree out of season (you can download a podcast from the church web site). Yves kept circling the text, going deeper and deeper into the meaning of leaves and fruit, seasons of harvest, Temple cleansing and casting mountains into the sea. He had us on the edge of our pews!
Before I knew it the sermon was over and I offered a benediction after Yves' benediction in French and was out the door. The response was electric. People approached me still chewing on the implications of the text for them now! My people were blessed, but I had to let go first.

Le Figuier Desseche

I have seasonal amnesia. My memory has been tied to seasons for so long, it hinders me here in California. It used to be easier for me to remember when something happened by pegging it to the weather. When a birthday party happened on a frozen lake, it was between December and February. When the church picnic had to move inside because the tornado sirens went off…that would be late Spring or early Summer.

When something happens here in Santa Barbara, the temperature is somewhere around 70 degrees and cloudy or sunny….all year long. So I’m not always sure what season we were in when something happened. But the upside to seasonal amnesia (of the Santa Barbara variety) is that something is growing, blooming and producing all year long! It takes a good gardener in Santa Barbara to know when something is in season or out of season. In the Midwest, it’s not so hard. Everything goes fallow at the first frost.

In the text for this coming Sunday, our guest preacher, Rev. Yves Pizant, is preaching from Mark 11:11-24 in French. Dr. Marianne Robins will be translating for him, so regardless of your ability in French, you will hear and understand the sermon. The question Yves will be addressing is the “season” our lives are in now. How do you know what spiritual season you are in? If someone asked you, what season would you say describes where you are right now? I know I’m looking forward to Yves’ energy and love as he brings us the good news Sunday.

Why is Yves preaching? Yves and his wife Marylene have allowed us to stay in their summer home in France in our every-other-year pilgrimage to France. Over 10 years we have become close friends and he has invited me to preach at the church he serves in a little village called St. Jean du Gard. It’s both a high privilege and deep joy to be invited to preach in a friend’s church and in a different culture. So when we heard of their plans to visit us, I extended the invitation and he accepted immediately.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Martha and I are not "Hollywood" types. Our enjoyment of California migrates to parks, beaches, long walks and quiet restaurants with friends. So when our friends from France wanted to see Hollywood, we took a deep breath and asked others the best way to do it. So yesterday, with great adventure, we packed up and drove (for my first time) in to Hollywood and found parking.

When we got to Hollywood Blvd, I was overwhelmed by the street energy and buzz. All the stars on the sidewalk and the hand/foot prints at Grumman's Theater. We too began searching for "our" stars. Note that Martha particularly gravitated to the "Munchkins" (wonder why?). After a couple hours wandering, we drove Sunset Blvd through Beverly Hills. That too was a really fun adventure, seeing mansions stacked up, side by side.

We found Rode Drive and turned left, meandering through quiet streets till we hit "the street" and saw all the shops made famous in "Pretty Woman", which all the women had seen. The slow moving traffic made it easy to gawk into one high priced boutique after another. We even saw a Bugatti Veyron parked on the other side of the street (a ridiculously expensive car!).

We turned right on Wilshire Blvd and they loved the high building elegance of Beverly Hills. But the trip ended at the best place of all, the Getty museum. We took the tram up and had a long, late, lingering lunch as the clouds broke and blue skies emerged. We saw some shows, but had the most fun in the creative gardens and fountains.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An Inch Thick

Being a licensed pastor is a good thing. I recommend licensure for all staff persons who act in a pastoral capacity and office. So I suggested that Jon Lemmond explore getting a Covenant pastoral license as he takes on more responsibilities at MCC. He made the calls and received the attachments to read....a inch thick!!
I don't remember so much paper for my licensure!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Who is this?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Getting ready for worship

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Smell of Peace

What are the smells that bring you most joy. What are the smells that put you in a really good place? We talked about that at the staff meeting this week and it was hard to stop the conversation once we began because we all have “smell-stories.” Camp fires, chocolate chip cookies in the oven, fresh bread, lilacs, fresh brewed coffee (me!), even odd smells like mothballs and cigarettes, all generated powerful stories of loved ones in our memory.

Some research suggests that our olfactory system is directly tied to that part of the brain where memory is stored. This has a protective value in reminding us of smells that are dangerous (rotting meat and poisons) and those that are safe (home nest, good food). But don’t be worried about coming to church on Sunday to be assaulted by smells.

The setting for Sunday is John 20:19-23, where the disciples were gathered in the upper room with “…the doors locked for fear…” There is a “smell” of fear. The disciples had it. Jesus entered that room of fear and breathed on them this blessing: “Peace be with you.” That’s the “smell” Jesus brings; the “smell” of peace.

As you prepare for worship on Sunday, reflect on what aroma, what smell, Jesus brings to your life.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Praise of Nouns

In a little while we are driving to LAX to pick up our good friends from France; Yves, Marylene and Mailys Pizant. Yves is a pastor in St. Jean du Gard, France and his wife's parents are the ones with whom we stay every time we visit. I speak very little French and Yves speaks a bit more English. But we get along really well with nouns (and our wives stepping in when we need deeper translation).
When people ask me if, after visiting France so often, I am now fluent, I respond by saying that I get by with nine nouns and three questions. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Nouns really do the trick. They identify objects correctly or wrongly. When someone gives me the gift of a noun in French, I feel like I'm that much more able to know the environment.
Several days ago I read an interesting blog (and forgot to bookmark it for here) from Shane Clairborne disavowing the label assigned to him as emergent church leader. It was a well written piece wherein he discards the adjective (emergent) and clings to the noun (church). Adjectives are so much fun. They brighten dull nouns with dazzling colors and descriptors. Adjectives give zest and texture. Sometimes we double and triple up adjectives to pile them on nouns because the nouns alone seem so naked and pitiable.
I think about all the nouns I have enjoyed clinging to for identification regarding my role in the church senior pastor, evangelical church, liturgical church, contemporary church, missional church, as if pastor and church are not sufficient. My love of adjectives, as Clairborne revealed, diverts me from the central noun...the church. It is sufficient.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Ascension: Luke 24: 44-53

Games are where we learn about “our turn.” Last Monday, at the Memorial Day softball game, I watched one of our younger players eagerly step up to bat. But his dad stepped in saying, “It’s not your turn yet, others need to bat first.” This young boy was so eager to play, he could not wait for “his turn” at the bat. Board games typically have a rhythm of play to determine who’s “turn” it is to roll dice or flip cards.

We learn as adults when it is our “turn” to host a holiday meal, to drive in a car pool, and even lead groups. This past week the Covenant lost a great leader, Rev. Jim Hawkinson. Jim was a long standing family friend, pastor, editor of the Covenant Companion, editor of the blue hymnal we have, musician, historian, story teller and “keeper of the flame” of the core value of the Covenant heritage. In talking with a friend in Minnesota about Jim’s life and the deaths of many in his age cohort, she said, “Well, I guess it’s your turn now.” I know she did not mean it was my turn to die, but carry on the tradition Jim loved so much. My reaction was almost a recoil. I can’t do that. Nobody can replace or fill the shoes of a person like Jim Hawkinson.

Think of those formative leaders in your spiritual life; the ones you looked up to and shaped your heart in many ways. For some of us, they are still living and active forces. We can easily develop a habitual dependence on these great teachers, mentors, missionaries and leaders. The question is: when is it your turn?

The text for this coming Sunday is Luke 24:44-52. This is the story of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. But it’s also the story of the disciples hearing the news that it’s their turn now. As you prepare for worship on Sunday, reflect on those times and places where you have realized and stepped up to your turn.



1. An Inquirer’s Class will be held Sunday afternoon from 3:00 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall. If anyone needs childcare, please contact Don Johnson on the patio after worship.

2. Did you know that there is an informal picnic every Thursday at 6:00 p.m. on the lawn at the Mission rose garden. All are welcome, bring your own picnics and meet new friends!

3. Sunday is the last day to sign up for remaining tickets to the Solvang Theater on June 25. See the table on the patio. All payments are due June 9th.

4. Budget Update as of May 31, 2011

a. Income Needed YTD: $296,346

b. Income Received (%YTD needed): $338,668 (114.3%)

c. Expenses YTD: $261,037 (+$77,631)

Ascension is for....worriers

Sunday is Ascension Sunday and I admit as I begin my sermon that Ascension has always been a bit awkward for me. Oh I believe it. I just can't fully explain it and understand the mechanics of it. Maybe it's the quiet Swede in me that turns away from the ostentatious and spectacular. I gravitate to the quieter walk on the road to Emmaus or the woman at the well.
But this year I'm jumping right into the Ascension of Jesus. I still don't get the mechanics of it all, but I got blessed in a sideways sort of way. I've been worrying a lot lately. I read newspapers (2) and news magazines (2) and cruise news web-sites (too many to admit). There is a lot of seriously bad news out there; about the economy (national & global) about the environment and extreme weather, about irresponsible leaders, about trend lines for Baby Boomers. There is a lot of worry in the church. The latest edition of "The Christian Century" has an article about "The Dismembered Church; attending without joining." I can fully embrace all that worry. Where are attenders who used to be here? Where is giving that used to be here? Why is it so hard to find leaders and small groups who are open to new people? What's with the trouble in marriages among believers? And my frown lines deepen as I flit from bad news to bad news.
The Ascension grabbed me. Jesus is on the throne with his Father, not was. Jesus is actively reigning right now as I write this, not on hiatus or vacation. Jesus is working the plan for the universe right now. Jesus is not, I believe, fretting and worried about all these things I've listed above. He is reigning well, not poorly or ineffectively. His ascension presence reminds me that the plan is in place and operating. My responsibility is to worship, wait and obey him. Whew!

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