Thursday, September 03, 2015

Watchtower Witness

The Jehovah’s Witnesses built a new Kingdom Hall (their meeting house) in our neighborhood about three years ago.  Soon afterward, they started visiting on our street.  One lady in particular, I’ll call her Sherry, is very consistent in coming by with a companion.  I never let them in the front door but we have had some pleasant conversations.  Although we disagree on many doctrinal issues, I think I have surprised them by agreeing with them from time to time.

I don’t plan to convert and become a Jehovah’s Witness, but Sherry and her companions model some things that mainline Christians should practice.

First, Sherry is always courteous.  Even when we disagree on a doctrinal point, she does not become defensive. She keeps the lines of communication open.

Second, Sherry remembers my name and little things I have mentioned about family. She left a magazine recently with a note remarking on my comment about losing a grandson to cancer.  In the note, she mentioned an article in the magazine about “a wonderful hope for the future” with departed loved ones.  I was touched by her awareness.

Third, Sherry and her friends are persistent without being pests.  They come by regularly even though I have never invited them in, and I clearly have my own set of beliefs, and they never overstay their welcome.

Fourth, Sherry’s companion is not always the same person.  Her companion is always female, of course, but Sherry is clearly serving as a mentor to others (usually younger women) and sharing her visitation experiences with them.

I probably could be annoyed by these visits, but I am impressed by these people who practice what they preach.  Those of my tribe could learn much from them about courtesy, hospitality, thoughtfulness, consistency, and mentoring.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Ircel Harrison, Joel Emerson, Phillip Moody, and Chris O'Rear
Occasionally, I will come across notes from some professional conference I attended years ago.  Many of these dealt with self-care and life/work balance.  As I review those notes, I find that this has always been a challenge for me.  I assume that it is for many of us in ministry.  How do we take care of ourselves and those about whom we care while pursuing the demanding life of a minister?

This week I attended a conference sponsored by Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee.  My friend, Chris O’Rear, who is executive director of the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee, had the unenviable assignment of being the final speaker of a worthwhile but day-long conference.  Fortunately, Chris’ presentation was worth staying to hear.  He discussed the topic that never goes away—work/life balance for clergy.

I won’t try to share in this post everything that Chris said, but I do want to list the basics of self care he provided and make some comments about each.

Healthy boundaries.  This is difficult for those in pastoral ministry especially when it comes to family boundaries.  The minister wants his or her family to be a part of the congregation, but they are not on staff nor should they be held to the same standards that a staff minister must meet.  Too often, both spouses and children come to resent the church because of the demands made on both the minister and themselves.

Healthy and open communication.  Whether this is with significant others (such a family members), co-workers or parishioners, clear and honest communication must be nurtured and encouraged.  What is not said is as important as what is said.

Eating a healthy diet.  I think that many of us have come a long way on this.  We realize that not everything has to be fried in order to be eaten (unless one is at a state fair) and that we can say “No” to certain things.  Even so, this is always a challenge.

Getting plenty of rest.  Another speaker at this conference talked about the four basics of our physical lives—air, water, food, and sleep.  Sleep provides the opportunity for our brains to be renewed.  If one has difficulty getting a good night’s rest, he or she should consult with a trained professional.

Making time for exercise.  Again, everyone knows that this is needed, but we often need accountability structures to assure that we do what is good for us.  Even a brief period of exercise each day helps build confidence, resilience, and health.

Cultivating our own spiritual practices.  Do you study the Bible just for sermon preparation or do you immerse yourself in Bible study, prayer, and other disciplines for your own spiritual health?  Such practices are proven to be good not only for the soul but for the body as well.

Making time for hobbies and other interests.  Leisure time activities not only refresh and divert us but they feed our creativity.  We come back from such activities with new purpose and insights.

Easier said than done, you might say, and that is very true.  I do know that if a minister does not practice these things on his or her initiative, not only will the ministry suffer but so will relationships and personal health.  I once heard a pastor say, “I would rather burn out than rust out.”   A better approach might be to stay well tuned and maintained so that you can sustain your ministry for the long haul.

Thanks, Chris, for reminding us that self-care for the minister is not a burden but an opportunity.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge explains the value of alignment: “[W]hen a team becomes more aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individuals’ energies harmonize.” He goes on to write, “Individuals do not sacrifice their personal interests to the larger team vision; rather, the shared vision becomes an extension of their personal visions. In fact, alignment is the necessary condition before empowering the individual will empower the whole team.” (pp 234-235).  Alignment precedes empowerment.

Senge’s idea is that everyone is going somewhere but is there some way to get everyone to either put alter their goals so that everyone can move in the same direction?  Very often an individual’s goal can even be seen as an important part of attaining the larger organizational goal, becoming a win-win situation for all concerned.

One of the biggest challenges of leading a church is achieving some level of alignment, at least in vital functions such as doing mission and living into a vision.  Churches are made up of people with varied gifts and talents that can be released for mission.  At the same time, people come with different needs, many of which are based on the specific life stage in which a person finds himself for herself.

For example, in the same congregation are youth and young adults making choices about vocation and calling, young adults birthing and raising children, median adults dealing with aging parents and growing adolescents, and older adults concerned with health issues and wise investment of time and resources.  Each has his or her own challenges, opportunities, and needs.

Difficulties develop when one of these normally caring, responsible individuals puts on blinders and starts thinking only of their own needs and goals.  Indifference and self-centeredness impair alignment.

How can church leaders deal with this?

First, involve more people in intergenerational experiences.  Whether it is worship, Bible study, or community service, we must find ways for people of different generations and in various stages of life to interact with each other and understand the various needs and goals represented among members of the church.

Second, find ways for people in different stages of life to minister to one another.  Youth and young adults can assist incapacitated older adults with yard and home maintenance.  Adults of all ages can provide childcare assistance during worship services and teaching to preschooler, children, and youth.
Children can lead worship that is both God-honoring and fresh.

Third, provide opportunities for people of all ages to share their spiritual journeys with others.  The wisdom of age as well as the idealism of youth provides new insights about how God continues to work.

Fourth, try to think of each other as family.  In a healthy family, no one person gets their way all of the time.  We learn how to take turns and share.  The same attitude is needed in the life of the church.

If we can do these things, we will be ready to align our lives around a common vision of empowerment and mission.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Now You Know

We live insular lives.  There are major catastrophes all over the world that impact thousands, threatening life and health, and most of us know nothing about them.  In an online peer group this week a Doctor of Ministry student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary shared about the flooding crisis in Myanmar.

Massive floods and strong winds in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have killed 99 and impacted over a million people across 12 of the country's 14 regions, according to the August 10 situation report by the government of Myanmar. More than 200,000 households have been displaced, 15,000 homes have been "totally destroyed" and 1,290,000 acres of farm land have been ruined.

In this student’s home province, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and over 7000 people are homeless.  He has applied for a visa to travel there to assess human needs for food, safety, and shelter and report back to International Ministries of American Baptist Churches, USA. He will probably have to walk over 100 miles to get there since the roads have been destroyed. 

Emergency relief funding is being sent to an American Baptist International Ministries (IM) partner, the Myanmar Baptist Convention, to help with the relief efforts.  Donations are welcomed.

Who knew?  I do now and so do you. Want to help?

Thursday, August 20, 2015


How good a listener are you?  Most of us would say that we are good listeners, but careful reflection on our listening would probably reveal several things that contradict that assessment.

First, as we listen, we often spend a considerable amount of time thinking about how we are going to respond to the person we are listening to.  We are thinking, “How do I avoid seeming disinterested?  How do I communicate that I am an active participant?”

Second, although we may hear and understand what the speaker is saying, we may be trying to find a link to our own life.  We are asking ourselves, “Have we experienced something similar to what the speaker is recounting?  Do we know someone that the other person knows?  Do we agree or disagree with the speaker’s statements?”

Third, we may actually be rather distracted or thinking about how to move the conversation into an area that we are interested in or know more about.  We think, “What’s in this conversation for me?  What can the other person share that will further my goals?”

Fourth, we just may not be interested and trying to find a way to disengage as soon as possible!

In Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses the holy obligation to listen to another person.  He wrote:

 “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother's confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. . . . But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” 

Listening is a holy task. Those of us who are life coaches learn very quickly that when we actively listen to the person we are coaching that we are creating a sacred space for that person to think out loud, voice the desires of the heart, and contemplate the opportunities and challenges previously unconsidered. 

Perhaps our lack of listening skills also says something about our ability or inability to hear a word from God.  If I am in a hurry, already have my mind made up, or am trying to justify myself, I do not have an ear open to hear what God is saying to me.

We can learn how to listen better, but it takes not only training but a transformed mindset that is non-judgmental and caring but empowering as well.  In many ways, this is a spiritual discipline.