February 3, 2012

New blog... new adventures

I have been quite lax in my blogging lately.  As a method of inspiration, I'm transitioning to a wordpress site.  You can now follow my latest sermons, ramblings, and sometimes-inspirational posts at http://salvagedfaith.wordpress.com/

Life Goes On

My number one personal ministry goal for 2012 has been to encourage lay leadership and to empower my congregation to make decisions, take ownership, and answer the call of God in their own lives.

One of primary ways our church is answering that challenge is by reorganizing our leadership structure and by adopting a single board model.  We spent a few months tweaking this process in the fall and then the second week of January, our new board met for some planning, team building, and organizing. 

But then I left for vacation.  I took two full weeks off from the church.  And, holy cow, did I need them.

I was exhausted.  All the planning of the fall... all of the work surrounding Advent and Christmas... the build-up to the new structure and implementation... it was a lot going on all at once. Getting away was important.

If I am 100% honest with all of you, I assumed life at the church would coast on by while I was gone.  I wasn't expecting any major problems.  I know my folks and they are good people and would get on fine while their pastor wasn't there.  They've done it before, they could do it again.

What I didn't expect was for them to take things by the reins and keep on charging forward! =)

I get back and find out that six of our leadership team attended a training while I was gone (I was hoping 2 or 3 would go).  And not only did they attend, but they got together for pizza afterwards and debriefed and now want to begin meeting weekly to keep these ideas alive and to support one another.  In my wildest dreams, I was hoping I might get some of our ministry leaders together once a month, and they are asking ME to meet weekly.  Hallelujah!

As I was getting ready to head out of town, a new ministry was formed in about 10 minutes.  Conversations went back and forth between Sunday School and the Sanctuary and two days later, we have 15 casseroles in the freezer ready to be sent out at a moments notice to folks coming home from the hospital, new parents, grieving relatives, and stressed out families.

Yesterday afternoon, I recieved a phone call from a lay person who had organized three couples to host a chili lunch after church.  They don't want it to be a fundraiser, just a way for people to get together and have a good meal.  All I needed to do was add it to the calendar.

I feel absolutely honored and blessed to be a part of this church right now.  These folks keep surprising me, encouraging me, and you can just feel the Spirit of God moving in our midst. 

I have never been a details person.  I don't work well behind the scenes.  What I do best is seeing the big picture. When I translate that into ministry, I truly feel called to empower, support, and connect my lay people in the work of ministry that we do as the Body of Christ.  For four years, we wrestled with having enough people who trusted in themselves and God enough that they could take the leap of faith and DO ministry.  I ended up doing a lot more detail work than I should have, walking beside folks, and helping them to understand they CAN do this work, too... that it is not all the pastor's responsibility.

Coming back from this vacation, seeing the work and ministry and growth that has happened already this year, I feel like we have crossed a HUGE milemarker.  We are well on our way.  God is good.  And the church is alive and well. 

January 3, 2012

Confession of a repentant iowa caucus skipper

The eyes of the world were fixed on Iowa tonight and the 2012 caucuses. And I sat on the floor in my living room, a bowl of fresh baked cheesy spaghetti in hand, and watched on television.

If I were to be asked for excuses for not going, I probably would have started by saying I was worn out after a long day. And I was. I got home late after doing a ton of paperwork all afternoon and into the evening. I was hungry, so I made a quick dinner and stayed home.

A second excuse might have been that it wasn't so important, since my party is electing an incumbent.

But that really gets to the heart of the matter... Admitting I have a side. Taking a side. Showing up to actively support a side.

It has been shared with me that my community has a history of vocal political pastors. And it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. So, I came in, and for better or for worse, have decided to love people, but not be vocal or public about where I always stand politically. I will talk about issues as they come up and bring a faith perspective into the conversation... But I have mostly seen myself as the mediator of a debate, rather than one of the debators.

So, not showing up, means not publicly taking a side.

But then, I come across a comment from a classmate on facebook:

"Pastors are people too: citizens and voters and moral persons"

I might have been a neutral pastor tonight... But I was a lazy citizen. And having a perspective doesn't make me a bad pastor... Especially if I can model respectful engagement and dialogue with opposing viewpoints. What I kind of feel like is a coward, because there are ways of participating that don't hammer people over the head or make them feel uncomfortable or left out or whatever.

I am sad I missed out on an opportunity to be a good citizen, an active voter and a moral person with a voice tonight. Next time, I'm not going to sit on the sidelines... I am going to engage in the process and with my community... For better or for worse.

December 19, 2011

overwhelmed by thanks

This past Sunday, as we were finishing up children's time and saying, "Amen," my pianist started playing a song.

We typically sing after children's time, so that there is something to carry the young ones back to their seats.  Since there was nothing in the bulletin, I figured she was just improvising... which is totally fine with me.

So I stand up and start humming along and pretty soon I realize that there are people coming forward!

My congregation surprised me with a love gift for Christmas and also sang along to "You are my sunshine" as they brought the gift forward. 
Not only did they bless me by each contributing something... our lay leader was brilliant and creative and packaged it in a truly spectacular way. 

Yes... that is a Christmas tree with money bows.  Or, as one of my lay people put it - a money tree...   He also encouraged me to plant it and see what would grow =)

We all have days in our work and vocations where we just don't want to get up or complete our tasks.  And we have those days when the work comes easy and it is a breeze and truly a joy to be a part of. 

Like many people, I do this because I am called to it. I don't do it for the praises, and I am more than aware that most people, in most of their jobs do not get thanked nearly enough for the hard work and long hours that they put in. 

And, like any good midwesterner, I get downright flushed by compliments.  I respond back with, "It's no big deal" or "It's my job!" and try to remember to say "you're welcome."  We try to deflect those thank-yous and praises, because we like to work and the work in itself is often enough for us. 

But every now and then, when someone says "thank-you"... it can truly be overwelming.  And there suddenly are no words.  When you get a sense of just how much someone (or a whole church fully of people) really appreciates what you have been doing... well, then that little lump rises in your throat and makes it hard to respond back with a deflection. 

I have never been very disciplined about writing thank-you notes... especially not growing up.  But lately, I have been trying to make "thank-yous" a more important part of my ministry.  There are so many people who bless my life every week with their hours of service, with their kind words, with their prayers, with their food, and by simply being a good friend and someone to be there.  People who help me clean up at the church, or who have made our youth a priority in their lives, or always go the extra mile to help get something done.

At School for Ministry this past year, we were encouraged to write 10 thank-you notes a week to people in our congregations, thanking them for the ministry, support, and encouragement they offer. 

My initial goal was five per week, but I realized quickly that there are far more that 5 people a week who need to be thanked.  It has really given me the opportunity to appreciate the many ways our laity are serving and giving of themselves. 

A simple verbal thank-you is not enough. Because we deflect. We brush them off.

But a hand-written note, with heartfelt thanks... well, that's hard to ignore. 

So is a money tree... and if I can get mine to grow, maybe I can bless others that same way ;)