Ministry Challenges

I know, I know.  It has been almost an eternity (especially in “internet” years) since I have posted on the blog.  To be honest, I had to take a sabbatical from some aspects of my life and the one of those things that was chosen was the amount of time I was spending on social networking, etc. and when I did that my “blogging” also went out the window.

However, I am excited to say that this weekend I will be blogging like no other as I reflect and post on Exploration 2011 which will be happening in St. Louis.  I will have a mix of posts which will include my own thoughts/reflections but also I am hoping to interview some young adults about their exploration of their call and their expectations of ministry, etc.  So check back regularly starting Friday!

But now on to topic of this post: ministry challenges.  There are many challenges to ministry but one that might seem debilitating to some I find rewarding and a great challenge and that is the tired cliche:  “Expect the Unexpected.”  My placement in Winona has been an adventure in the unexpected.  You see I was placed here under one set of expectations:  to help the church connect with young adults and young families.  To be honest that is what excited me about this placement, but as I have discovered in ministry what we often expect does not always align with God’s purpose.

You see within months the ministry setting began to change as two of the United Methodist churches here in Winona began to discuss what United Methodism in Winona should look like and began the process of merging.  Within one year of my placement I found myself the associate pastor of a newly merged congregation moving towards rebirth.

Mergers and rebirth take energy and time and because of this the original expectations of my position had to switch and work to help the church accomplish what it needed (a process that isn’t over yet).  As I have reflected on my ministry here I have seen how the “unexpected” has actually been a real blessing (a challenge but a blessing).

The “unexpected” can be accepted as a gift or blessing or it can be rejected and seen as a hindrance.  I choose the former because I have seen how God has often worked in the lives of so many through the “unexpected.”  Perhaps it has been my own experiences that have been most formative in my attitude towards the unexpected.  In the fall of 2004 I began my first year of seminary at Duke expecting to dedicate my time and energy fully to my studies.  It was going to be a time for my wife and I to grow in our marriage while she started her first teaching job and I prepared for my career in ministry.  Then the “unexpected” happened and we found out we were expecting a child within the first month of school.  Through the unexpected there was challenge in balancing parenting and school (especially since I did the full-time care for Micah) but there also was extreme blessing to see how God moved through the community of professors and classmates in our lives.

It was a lesson in how the “unexpected” can be a true blessing and I think that is a lesson that can apply to anyone heading into ministry:  “expect the unexpected and accept it as a gift and blessing.”


Questioning Membership

On Monday I went to a meeting where Bishop Sally Dyck and Cindy Gregorson presented reflections on a road tour they had across our conference in the fall. It was a good meeting, but something someone shared has stuck in my mind more than any of the things that Bishop or Cindy shared.

In reflecting on “membership” this pastor talked about another pastor who has helped a church move to annual membership where everyone renews their membership yearly. It reminds me of a covenantal model with a renewing of the covenant yearly.

This got me asking and wondering exactly how we view membership. I think far too often we think of membership as an end and not a process or journey. Too often membership becomes a defining line with a clear demarcation of who is “inside” and “outside” that demarcation.

I am wondering if this is others experience. If membership were emphasized within a covenantal model with annual renewal would it change? Is “membership” relevant anymore? Do we need this “measurement” or do the boundaries that it creates actually inhibit us from being truly open to everyone?

What do you think?


Spiritual Rustiness

So my father in-law is a mechanic which is a great thing for me. When I say I grew up in shall we say a mechanically-challenged household, I am not kidding. One of the things that I learned from the times I have spent down in his shop is how moisture can lead to rust and seizing on the lug nuts of your tires. I am not kidding when I say one time on my old car we could not get the hubcaps off hardly because of this situation. However, he had this liquid wrench stuff that he sprayed on the nut and then after a bit it came loose with ease.

I got thinking about this and how it relates to our spirituality as Christians. Have you ever noticed sometimes that sometimes you may go from a total absence in our spiritual life and try to instantly go to a strong presence and you struggle and it feels like everything is rusted and seized just like that lug nut? It can almost seem like God is absent and not there when you long deeply for God’s presence and you get frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be any movement?

Well guess what: I have the “liquid wrench” for your rusty soul!

Okay, I am kidding. I don’t think there is necessarily a simple solution that makes it all of the sudden happen and easy like liquid wrench can do for a seized lug nut. However, I do believe there are two practices that can help you foster a deeper spirituality and help you sense the presence of God in deeper ways. (note I am not saying these are the only two ways, but they are two ways that have helped me)

1. Prayer- I think a key to any movement to deeper spirituality is prayer. Prayer can be done in many different forms but all of them have a sense of putting oneself in the presence and care of God. What has helped me personally is committing to weekly prayer with other people. I pray weekly (when I am in town) with two other pastors. Since I have been doing this it has opened my eyes to see the ways God is moving in my life and in the world around me and has helped foster a deeper spirituality within my faith.

2. Reading Scripture- This too can be done in many different ways: daily devotions, random passages, working through the Bible in some type of order. When we read scripture we read how God has moved and been present in the lives of our spiritual kin and that can help us see how God is present in our lives. I have been reading through the Bible in 90 days with some other individuals and it has been amazing to see the often amazing but also often mundane ways God has been present in the lives of those who have gone before me.

I have found that committing to these two practices in my own life has helped me move from a place where I would see God sporadically at work in my life to now beginning to see all the ways God was moving and moves in my life on a daily basis. This shift in spirituality was helped by these two practices much like the seized lug nut was helped by the liquid wrench.

What are some practices that you might do that help your spirituality? Do you have any suggestions? Please share in the comments.


Real Hope and Change?

So I was driving home from a campus ministry meeting yesterday when I passed a billboard that caught my eye. Perhaps you have seen the same billboard, but it is the following:

It is obviously a dig at President Obama and the campaign of “hope” and “change” and I get it. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I am not even wanting to go into the political landscape right now. Rather, what it reminded me of was something I had written back around the election time and how as Christians we should not be buying into the rhetoric that made Obama out to be a savior because it wasn’t fair to Obama and it wasn’t aligned with a Christian understanding of “hope” and “change.”

This got me thinking further about how as Christians we should be talking about what we understanding to be the “real” hope and change. The hope that comes from the resurrection. The change that comes from grace and the transformation from a life of slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. What a powerful time to speak the truth of the Gospel! We are in a tough time of political rhetoric that points to many of our hopes being pinned on worldly institutions and ways of being. Now I am not saying that these aren’t things that should be addressed, they should. However, as Christians our hope doesn’t come from any political party or any “rights.” Our hope and freedom comes from Christ.

I find that my acknowledging that fact and living into that reality is empowering. Why? Because it helps me understand that no matter what situation I am in, I am free to be who God has called me to be. That doesn’t mean I will be free from pain, hardship, or even death, but it does mean that those things do not control me. Even if the United States of America for some reason decided to make it law that reading Scripture was illegal, that would not take away my true freedom. I would be free to worship God and read Scripture (there would be a temporal cost) and that right to choose to obey or disobey the powers that be would still be my free choice.

To me that is real “hope” and “change.” The reality that no matter what this world may say, I am free in Christ and have the freedom to choose Christ.


Rethinking Communion

You will have to be patient with me because this is something that I am still working out in my heart and head, but I wanted to start the process of working through it and have some interaction with different perspectives, etc.

I think the sacraments are highly important within the life of a church. As a United Methodist, this means that I believe that baptism and communion should be a foundation in the life of any church. However, lately I have been wondering if there isn’t a disconnect between our words and the way we practice one of those sacraments: Holy Communion.

This disconnect first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a weekend senior high youth event here in Minnesota. As part of the gathering it has been the practice to celebrate (please note that word) communion on Saturday evening in a dark room by candlelight with soft music playing. It is a powerful time for many of the youth and they often are moved to tears and you can witness the lingering hugs of support and comfort that go on well past the partaking in the sacrament.

Now I am not trying to say that this is necessarily bad, but for some reason it just didn’t seem right. It seemed like this sad time and it functioned as a time of almost movement toward confession and repentance (good things, don’t get me wrong). However, the words of the Great Thanksgiving are ones that are of celebration. Hosanna. Thanks. Praise. When I think of hosanna, thanks, and praise I think of joy. I see pictures of people dancing and clapping and shouting for joy. Perhaps they are weeping, but weeping tears of joy with smiles on their faces.

That is when the wheels began to turn in my head. Have we in practice turned this moment of joy and anticipation into a moment of somberness and sadness? I began to wonder why our practice of Holy Communion within worship usually is so somber and serious. I understand being reverent to the holy moment, but why must reverence be quiet and somber? I started to think about all the elements that go into The Great Thanksgiving Liturgy in most of the churches I have participated in and how the music is often slow and serious. How the words aren’t said or shouted with joy but rather are said in a serious tone.

Why do we do this? Why do we recite words that speak of such joy and not have an atmosphere that reflects it? Why does communion seem more like the beginning of confession rather than a response in joy and thanksgiving that the sins we confessed do not mean death for us because of the life giving love of God we are celebrating?

Let me sidetrack us for a second. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving meal (you know with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries, Stuffing, etc.) in a home being celebrated like we often celebrate Holy Communion? Everyone sitting around the table, serious and calm and not wanting to open their mouth out of fear of ruining the celebration. (apparently not many people can because I really tried to find an image of a thanksgiving meal where the people weren’t talking and enjoying one another’s company and generally looking thankful to be with one another) Who would want to be a part of that? Yet, our thanksgiving meal where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord is often celebrated in such a way.

What would happen if we really “celebrated” communion? Would it change how we looked at our faith? Would we begin to really be thankful and to really feel in our hearts the joy that comes from the reality we are celebrating? Can we imagine a celebration of communion where people are clapping, joyfully singing, and joining together in praise to a God that has shown such great love?

I want to work this out more but I wonder if I am the only one? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

(Now do understand that I know that communion is powerful either way and that the true power of communion comes through the presence of Christ there with us in the meal and the grace that is received. I am just wondering if there is a disconnect between the words and how the practice has functioned within worship)