congregation

My Strength is Not Enough

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I can’t do it.

So after the Christmas and related fires ended, I took a few days to rest. And then this week I’ve started trying to reach out to all the people I asked, “Can this wait until after Christmas?”

Except there are too many people. There’s so many people to reach out to. There’s that family living in a car that I got food to, but ended up not even being able to see. There’s that member that I’ve met only once before. There’s that family that had a recent death. All people I served over Christmas, but much less than I wanted to.

But now Christmas is done. I’ve been refreshed by some time off.

And I’m making phone calls and texts and emails and such, trying to get back into contact with everyone.

And it’s too much. (more…)

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Gifts for Me

Christmas Card

She is alone much of the time. As I visit her, she tells me, “I haven’t left my room in over a month.” I know this woman fairly well. She may be in a nursing home, but she’s hardly sedate. She’s active with the other residents, playing games, solving puzzles, and sharing Jesus.

Normally.

Just about every time I visit, she’ll say, “Pastor, my neighbor doesn’t believe in God. How can that be? How can I tell him about Jesus?”

Her heart yearns for her Savior and yearns to share him, too.

But now she’s sick. It’s a new medication that’s simply not cooperating well. Hopefully it’ll be solved soon. In the meantime, she hasn’t left her room.

She hasn’t been to church in years. Her family stuck her in a nursing home far away. It was cheaper. But it’s so far away she physically can’t handle the drive to church anymore. It’s so far away pretty much no one visits her. It’s about an hour away by interstate.

And she longs to be with the congregation again. She misses the family of believers. (more…)

Reboot

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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…)

A Weekend with the Family

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Usually not a happy sight.

Of course I’ll take you.

Grandpa had open heart surgery. He’s a church member; I’d already been planing to take the one hour one-way trip to the hospital to see him. His daughter and grandchildren don’t have a car; they want to see grandpa, too. So up we went.

And on the way, not only did I get to spend time with my members… I got to know them better, and minister to them in their need. And then minister to grandpa in his need. And then minister to a sad and shaken family on the way back. Stepdad in the family was taught growing up that “Real men don’t cry.” I got to teach him otherwise. If it’s ok for Jesus to cry, it’s ok for you.

It is good to be the family of God. (more…)

Nothing Left to Give

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What was that Lassie? My ability to care fell down a well? Huh. Well, screw it all, then.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year again, and I just don’t care. My euphemism is “I’m feeling down.” And it’s true. At first I thought it was just overwork and exhaustion. Five thirteen-hour days in a row will do that to you. But then I slept. And I was no longer tired.

Still, I did not care.

It’s not as bad as it was a few years back when I finally decided to go and get checked out for depression. I was able to get out of bed, though it still seems like getting out of bed was the worst thing I could possibly do in most situations. I was still capable of dealing with most people, though I had no desire to. I’ve faced darker tunnels and longer days.

Doesn’t mean these days are great.

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It’s not funny. It’s true.

Last Thursday I went to a regular Thursday appointment to see a certain family. I’m there nearly every week for a variety of reasons that don’t really matter for this post, other than to say they’re all involving ministry and sharing Jesus.

This particular family also knows about my struggles with depression. I’ve shared with them, because many in their family have the same struggle.

One particular woman in the family asked how I was doing on Thursday, and I shared honestly: Not great. “I’ve been having some down days lately. Not terrible, but it’s not been good.” I shrugged. I went about my business with the family.

Friday I got a text from that woman: “Hi Pastor, how are you doing today? Is there anything I can do for you?”

My heart broke. I read the text again. And again. I was not alone. This woman reached out to support me, just to see how I was doing.

She loved her pastor.

The body of Christ reached out to one who was hurting. To me.

Maybe your pastor is well-loved. Maybe he can experience that love. Maybe, though he is a shepherd who faces many hardships, is reminded of his congregation’s support. I don’t feel that support here. Please notice how I phrased that: I don’t feel that support. Perhaps it’s there and I’m blind to it. Perhaps my people love me and don’t have opportunity or knowledge in how to show it.

But in a week of darkness, this woman reached out.

God knows what I need, and he sent someone to give it.

(Please note: My Bride is awesome and has been as long as I have known her. She supports me, too. She has all this week. I do not discount that support at all! However, it’s a touch different receiving support form an unexpected quarter.)

When that woman came to church tonight, I thanked her personally. I wanted her to know how much that simple little text meant to me.

God knows what he’s doing. This week, I encountered this webcomic:

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lonely2

lonely3-1

lonely4

Very seriously, visit http://adam4d.com/ for some really, really great webcomics.

Again, exactly what I needed.

I am struggling with caring about the flock given to me. The last several posts show how I have been wavering so much on this. Part of that struggle is with the loveliness of the congregation. Frankly, they can be a hard group to love. That shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t.

It does.

Though I long to be like my Shepherd, I am not Jesus. I want to show the grace he has shown me. Oh, it is so hard. In many ways, I simply feel empty.

And another element reared its head this week: Depression. Woo!

And now I’m dried up. Like pottery thrown on the floor, I’m just a shard of the refuse.

Today I got to lead my congregation into grace. And I loved preaching to them. Bible study was such a joy. I played volleyball with some of my congregation. I came back energized. I led a Sunday evening worship service and drove several teens back to their homes. I smiled most of the way.

And then I sit down… empty.

When I think of the individuals of the congregation, this is where I want to be. I think of the man who longs to see his Savior and reminds me so often of Jesus’s love. I think of another man who faithfully cleans the church every week. I think of the woman who struggles to care for her family and still types up large-print bulletins for us. I think of the teen who’s excited to teach Sunday school. These are the people I have been called to shepherd. I know them by name, and I ache, I ache to shepherd them.

And then I think of them as a group… and my heart turns off. I just don’t care anymore.

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I tried to find a picture of “I just don’t care anymore,” but every image included swear words. I’ll let you imagine them here.

What is this? Some symptom of being an introvert? Some element of depression or exhaustion or burnout?

I know this coming week, I’m spending more time at home and not planning on working all those hours. We’ll see if I’m able to do so. I suspect less hours will help me approach people with a heart full of God’s love and not empty. I suspect some rest will also combat my depression.

I also know I’m thankful for that little text. I’m thankful for Jesus using that woman to show love.

Can I encourage you to do something?

Tell your pastor. Call him up. Send him an email or a text. Write him a note. In fact, I encourage you to do something written rather than oral, so he can look back at it.

Tell him you care for him. Tell him you are thankful he brings you the Word. Ask how you can support him – not even the church, but him, as he goes out to shepherd the flock that Christ has placed under him. He may not need that encouragement at that moment. He may not need any help you are equipped to provide.

But simply knowing that one of the sheep cares about the health of the shepherd means so, so much on a dark day.

Tell him.

And even if he never says thank you, let me say it for him:

Thank you.

 

Pastor looks to get something for service, shamed by congregation. More at eleven.

Well, I guess that reveals my rotten core, huh?

It started simply enough: with a compliment. Our alderman, whom I’ve had a few encounters with – never negative, mind you – sent me an email. “I know your congregation is trying to get out into the neighborhood. A few blocks from you, an elderly couple is under orders from the city to paint their house exterior. They can’t do it. Would your congregation be interested in helping?”

Well, I thought it was a fine idea – great publicity for the congregation, as well as just a great chance to serve together. Absolutely! I brought the idea forward after worship one week.

Within five minutes, we had about ten volunteers to paint, a man willing to purchase paint, a man willing to purchase all the equipment needed, and another willing to donate lunch. Well, I guess we were in! (more…)

A Dangerous Question

“Trash Sunday morning. It doesn’t exist anymore. There’s nothing there. Now, starting from scratch, redesign the entire Sunday morning experience with two goals: 1) Introducing Jesus to someone who has no clue who he is, and 2) Strengthening the faith of our members and visitors who already know him, no matter how well they already know him. Go.”

We’re walking the path to becoming “an outreach church.” For the last several years, while we’ve certainly held outreach events and God has certainly laughed as he’s blessed us with people who want to join the congregation, we’ve not exactly been focused outward. One member told me with a straight face, “If someone wants to come here, they have to change to be like us.” I want to point out here, that this same member is not afraid to tell me to change God’s Word if it means keeping a member. He’s more concerned with “the way things have always been” than doctrine.

I also want to make clear that there are certain non-negotiables. I constructed the question to be as broad as possible to start discussion… but I suspect I’ll be pulling back from more radical changed, depending how creative people get. Non-negotiable number one: the center of the service is still the proclamation of the Gospel. Period. We do not change doctrine. We do not change God’s Word. I don’t care if the Gospel or closed Communion or original sin is offensive and scares people away; these things are non-negotiable.

But today, in our “little” evangelism group, we asked the question… and got some responses I didn’t expect. (more…)

“If you want to do something about it… stand up now.”

We planned it out. It was time to convince the congregation to get their hands dirty. We had a meeting today. A meeting after Bible study, running into the lunch hour. We’d arranged for lunch – my Bride made her fantastic chicken bacon teriyaki ranch sandwiches – but even with food… how many people will turn a morning at church into an at least three-and-a-half-hour marathon?

How many people will come, knowing that this was going to be a presentation asking them to get involved… in sharing Jesus with other people?

Before church, one of my members and I talked. “Well, if anyone shows…” he said. He was pessimistic.

Me? I was sure I could count on a few people. You know, the usual suspects – the ones who show up for everything. But would they actually be willing to not just sit at a meeting, but even get their hands dirty in outreach?

And then… after church, I hear a group of the usual suspects talking: “Yeah, we’ll meet you at the park. Right after church?”

So… we’re not even getting the usual suspects, huh? Maybe that pessimistic member was right. (more…)

Loving the Church but Hating Jesus

I probably got a lot of people angry at me today.

My congregation has suffered greatly over the last few years. In fact, my first year here had a good probability of being this congregation’s last, as it had shrunk due to a few congregational crises. There simply weren’t enough people to keep going. Frankly, we’re still tip-toeing close to the edge, though not as close to the abyss as we had been.

However, I’ve seen a lot of “church worship” here.

“Pastor, nothing will ever make me leave this church.”

“Pastor, close your Bible. That’s not why we’re here.”

“Pastor, stop preaching that part of God’s Word. It scares people away.”

“Pastor, we need more people in the seats.”

Some of those are pretty obviously despising God’s Word – but how are they worshipping the church? Well, each one of those things is motivated by a desire to fill the church, and not necessarily with a desire to introduce those people to Jesus. Getting them into church is the important part.

See, we’ve been in survival mode for so long, and we’ve seen the possibility of closing for so long, that so many in the congregation are hanging on to the congregation with white knuckles.

Is that really so bad? Isn’t the church a gift from God? (more…)

Apostle to the Teens

They look innocent, but trust me. They’ll rip the arm off a youth minister and devour it faster than you would think possible.

When a congregation in my church body wants to call a new minister, they put together a list of what their particular ministry needs. Usually a circuit pastor or district president will help in the process, though the bulk of the work needs to be done by the church council with input from other leaders within the congregation.

In other words, I really didn’t expect to be involved in the process for quite some time, if ever. (I have no intention of pursuing the position of circuit pastor, nor any other “high ranking” clergy; I simply don’t have the organizational skills.)

You’ve heard that thing about God laughing, right?

Tuesday I’ll be meeting with a few other men to draw up a call document. Our teen center, hopefully, will be getting its own full-time pastor. And now I need to sit down and figure out what exactly that ministry needs. I could rattle off a laundry list of necessities, but to rank them and really phrase them precisely? That’s a matter of skill that… well, apparently I’m going to be trying my hand at it.

First, he have the “Youth Minister Goatee,” because that makes him relevant.

I’m a little nervous about that, personally. God has greatly blessed the teen center and brought faith to a number of teens through that ministry. Teens are fickle, though, and it takes a special man to work with them. God must be laughing pretty hard, because I so didn’t relate to teens when I was one. And here I am, working with them on a regular basis as one of the pastoral advisors to the program.

I’m also concerned about the handoff; whenever the new minister arrives here, I’ll likely need to back off my hands-on involvement at least a little. Maybe it’s selfish of me, but I love working with the kids so much I don’t want to let it go. The teens are refreshing; I always know where I stand with them. If I say something stupid, they call me on it. I say something they don’t like, they let me know. My “normal” congregation? They’re not duplicitous, but they are adults and we adults like hiding our emotions to at least a certain extent, don’t we? Must be polite in society, mustn’t we?

I’m also a little concerned for the kids; even if the new minister is the apostle to the teens, well, teens are fickle. If it’s not the guy they’re used to, will they keep coming to the center? It’s a valid concern; after all, it’s hard to have a teen ministry without teens.

I’m also just plain concerned because… well, I don’t work well with others. Maybe this is just another way God is going to grow me, but like most Lutherans, I just don’t like change. And when it’s me changing?

And it starts Tuesday as I go to do my part in writing the call document. We want to get this right, and I’m a part of that.

You know that part of growing up where you feel like a fake? Where you expect someone to burst into your house and accuse you of making it up as you go? I had that feeling for a long time as a pastor. It still comes pretty often.

But now I’m doing something that most pastors don’t even get to do. And… who am I to do something like that? Who am I to figure out the qualifications for service in this setting, when I don’t even feel qualified to be here myself?

“And I ask God to help me.”

I need to go back to my ordination and be reminded: It’s not about me. My concerns? My worries? God’s bigger than any nightmare I can dream up. And he’s going to continue to grow me bigger, whether I want it or not.

What will come of a new minister here? I don’t know. But God does, and he’s got great plans.

I just have to hit myself over the head with a brick to get it through my thick skull.