I didn’t see her.


I was about to practice the sermon when one of my members interrupted me, “Pastor?” He knows better. I need this practice Sunday morning, before anyone else is here. I need this last review. What’s he doing –


Pastor?” he repeats. Next to him stands a woman swaddled in blankets. She shaking. Her face is so tired I can’t tell her age.

She creaks out, “I need help.” (more…)



I have no idea what just happened.

I’ve been gearing up for today’s meeting for months. When I’d brought up similar things with the council, I received anger. I honestly braced for certain members of the council to walk out of this meeting and not come back.

I think my friends are sick and tired of hearing how nervous I was about this meeting. I know, though, that many of them have been praying. And it humbles me. This morning a friend told me she was praying for me. I burst into tears.

Last night I told my Bride that I was done here. I love the people. I love this place. But… but I’m burning out. I can’t serve with leaders so often openly hostile – not for this long. Not when there are other churches crying out for pastors. The people…I love them, but they’re burning me out. I don’t know how much longer I can stay here. (more…)

Season Finale


Yeah. That would be an unexpected cliffhanger.

I just said goodbye.

He’s being sent away for thirty months. I might be able to visit on occasion, but not nearly the weekly visits I’d been able to do. His time in my life, at least for now, is at least shifting in character. And he tells me… he tells me he’s never had a pastor like me.

A pastor that cared enough to visit him. Even in jail.

Who am I? I’m nothing. I’m not special. I’m not even giving him what I could. And he’s crying now, talking about how his dad abandoned him. About how he wants to be a good dad. All things I’ve talked with him about so many times.

And… and I say goodbye. Because the time has come. This is the conclusion. (more…)

The Broken People I Love

Judge holding gavel in courtroom. Image shot 2010. Exact date unknown.

Thirty months.

Two and a half years.

He’s sentenced. He’s going away. And the children who call him dad don’t even have the ability to say goodbye. No final hugs. Nothing. The woman I was supposed to marry him to stews beside me in the courtroom.

And then the judge decides to get preachy. Look, I’m a preacher. I know what it is to deliver the Law. I do it quite often. Pretty much every sermon, in fact. But this man… He decides to directly insult the accused’s fiance. For no reason I can determine. In matters in no way pertaining to the case.

And we can say… nothing.

And then the judge says that there is no way the accused could have misunderstood his previous sentencing. “No one could be that stupid.”

Because clearly our court system is a cinch to navigate. Because clearly no one could misunderstand what a judge’s order is. Because clearly a man who never graduated high school can read court documents oh, so well. Because clearly this man is lying about what he does and does not understand.

And we can say… nothing. (more…)

To Love in Pain


I was supposed to write a different post tonight, about what the most challenging aspect of my ministry is. I was planning on a nice rundown of the challenges I face and rating them. But then… things happened.

I love so many hurting people.

I’m calling the police again. And it hurts. It hurts so much. This time I’m not mad at me – it’s a very different situation. I’m hurting for the person involved, though. This is a person I love.

Sunday a man tried to come in to worship after we’d started. He never entered the sanctuary. I found out after that his ex-girlfriend, one of my members, saw him and… well, it wasn’t a good look. She told me after that he wasn’t allowed to come into church. I answered that, um, no. We’re not going to bar anyone from coming in unless they cause trouble here. And this is a person I love.

A prospect came to church on Sunday! And a family member of the prospect told me he couldn’t come to church if she was there, because her very presence distracted him so much. And I love both the prospect and her family member.

Today a mother wept for her children to come to church, to see Jesus. Today an unrelated man cried for his children. “Don’t harden your hearts to God!” he wept. And these broken people… I love them, too.

And I hurt so much with them. So much. These are my sheep, the sheep my Shepherd has entrusted to me. (more…)

Bracing for the Storm


Speaking the truth in love is easy when there are no stakes. But now…

I did a survey of the congregation. Spoke to roughly half our members one-on-one. Asked them where our church does well connecting people to Jesus. Where we don’t do well connecting people to Jesus. And what they wanted the church to look like in five years.

A few things surprised me. Moreso, though, the biggest complaint surprised me not at all. About half of the people I interviewed mentioned this problem. As one member said, “Our church does a great job connecting us to God. Not so much connecting us to each other.” We have a congregation full of lonely people. They want to develop deep, real relationships. They want to be able to lean on each other, to support one another, to laugh and mourn together.

The cry was not unanimous. Several people said we were friendly and warm. Those voices were few in comparison, though.

Our congregation is looking for so much more. (more…)

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.


And now it’s stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

Today we hosted our annual Neighborhood Cookout. It’s a great day every year. The church provides free burgers and hot dogs. We provide live music (this time a guy doing covers of classic rock). There’s a bounce house. Games. A few local agencies have booths (for instance, our teen center). The neighborhood generally shows up. In fact, in the last couple of years, people in the neighborhood look forward to it and it almost becomes a neighborhood pot luck, with people bringing a dish to share.

But, before the neighborhood can show up… they need to hear about it. So we go out and hand out invitations to neighborhood homes. We knock on doors, and give a simple invite: “Hi! I’m Jon from St. Smithins (not our real name), and we’re having a free cookout next week! Just wanted to give you an invitation. Thanks!”

A couple weeks ago we headed out, with the goal of handing out invitations to 500 homes. And my eldest son accompanied us.

Wow. He was eager, walking swiftly to homes, knocking on doors solo, and inviting person after person. He would spot someone walking on the sidewalk and launch himself forward to invite them. He’d come back, proud. “Did you see, dad? I invited them.” And no one said no to this nine-year-old boy. I was so proud of him.

And today. Today, as members and neighborhood folks milled around, as we yakked over burgers and while listening to the live music, as we watched our kids jump in the bounce house and try their hands at the frozen t-shirt contests…

My boy was there again. Inviting. He told people they should come to church. Fearless. Eager. Ready.

Oh, my boy. I wish I had your courage. I am so proud of you. (more…)



God has timing.

I’m a Trekkie. I’ve enjoyed the more recent movies – Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness, but I don’t consider them Star Trek. They’re decent sci-fi action films that I enjoy at that level, but they’re simple sci-fi action wearing a Star Trek skin. I heard a lot of good things about the most recent film in the franchise Star Trek Beyond. I wanted to see it in theaters, but didn’t feel a great draw to actually spend money on it. Today, literally the last day it’s in the theater here, my Bride kicked me out to go take in a matinee.

I’m very, very glad I did.

See, reboots need to have a certain balance. They need to respect the old, while still forging ahead to something new. Lean too far one way, it’s a remake that only the fanboys will see. Lean too far the other way, you upset the core audience and lose what made it a thing in the first place.

And Star Trek Beyond… finally got it right. Slight spoilers ahead for the movie, so if it matters to you, don’t bother reading. And for those of you wondering, yes, this has a lot – a lot – to do with ministry. My ministry, at least. (more…)

The Unsavory Art of “Blackmail”


Can I use the church basement to babysit?”

It was a prospect. My immediate knee-jerk reaction was, “No!” I didn’t respond that way, though. I asked for time to think about it. Realized I really didn’t have a good reason to say no, as long as no one else was using the space and they followed some rules. So I texted back, “I’ll need to lay down some rules. We can talk tonight at church.”

I won’t be at church.”

OK. Any reason?”

I’m mad at you and I’m never coming to church again.” (more…)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Llama


Don’t send the police to my house.”

And so began the slide today. For once it didn’t strike at the hand of a member. For once it didn’t come from a leader of the church displeased with something God is blessing, or displeased that God isn’t blessing the way they want, or some such nonsense. Instead, it came from a prospect that, well, if you read this blog this past Monday, you can probably already guess at.

We had texted through the week, though I’d not seen anyone from the family. And then this text today.

And the slide began.

We texted back and forth, and it wasn’t… it wasn’t what I wanted. I asked to meet face to face. They refused. Only texting.

Sometimes texting is a real blessing, and other times it is a mask to hide behind.

And it got to the point that… sigh.

Sometimes depression just plain sucks. Actually, most of the time depression just plain sucks. There aren’t many times I can imagine it being awesome.

So as the afternoon edged into this evening and I got ready for evening church, I was thinking about a church I’d heard of just today that would soon be calling a new pastor. Boy, it would be nice to start over, wouldn’t it? To take all the lessons I’ve learned the hard way the last five years and chuck all the bad and start over?

My daughter dogged me as I set up the room for evening worship. She was happy, and her joy kept me from sliding perilously over the edge into pure glum.

But the texting conversation continued. And kept pulling down, down down. Family is angry. And apparently the dam let loose today. It’s my fault. I embarrassed them. I alerted the whole world to all their problems. They never want to see me again and refuse to ever talk to another church.

And then it was time for worship.

Well… it helped. It gave voice to my sorrow. We got to talk some about depression, and how God comes to us in our depression. And I got to say something I often need to hear:

When we face depression, our emotions tell us that it will never, ever get better. Those emotions are wrong. Because there will be a last tear. There will be a last bullet. There will be a last time a family is shattered, a last time there is shame. And after that… there is joy. Because Jesus faced all our pain for us. Our darkness will end, because he faced darkness for us. And what comes after is only light.”

So by the time worship ended… I was ok. Not great, but ok.

But we had two guests in worship tonight. Two teen girls I’d arranged (along with other teens of both genders, but these are the two that came tonight) – two teen girls I’d arranged to come, participate in worship and then evaluate afterward over ice cream – my treat. And so we went out to DQ after everyone else had departed from the church.

And they chattered away. And told me about things they liked, things that didn’t work, suggestions…

…and it was fun. Just to listen to them talk. These are two young women I know and serve through our teen center. They laughed and giggled and told secrets as I ate my mini Blizzard. And they talked about seeing llamas today at a petting zoo.

On the way home, I played them a song by one of my favorite bands: “Let Me Be Your Llama.” And by the time I dropped them off, both of them were belting it out at the top of their lungs.

And by the time I got home… yeah. Happy.

So in my ministry, I pissed a family off. For doing the right thing. And I have suffered for it – if not “in fact,” then in my heart. I may never see them again. I pray more opportunity to serve them with the Gospel, but… well, that’s not up to me.

And then God does this. He finds two young women that delighted in tonight’s service. “I like that you asked for opinions, so we didn’t have to worry about being wrong. And then you used that to teach us about God. I like that you joke around, but then you use it to tell us about Jesus.”

And then singing about llamas at the top of their lungs.

He allows me to feel pain. He allows me to feel the cross. He allows me to suffer for serving him. And then he brings me joy from another source entirely.

Father, keep going. You told me that I must bear the cross. Teach it to me. But Lord, please, bring me your joy as well. Teach me to love those you give me, even in pain. Show me how much you love me, and grow me in trusting you. Because you know what you’re doing, even and especially as you teach me to bear the cross. Make more and ever more your servant.