ministry

The Dangers of Peopling

people sitting in front of wooden table

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So maybe I’m a little isolationist. So maybe I like it if I have a week where all I have to do is work my butt off in the office. So maybe I don’t like answering the phone. So maybe I’d rather bury my head and just have to deal with other people on Sunday morning.

So maybe I’m an introvert.

And maybe I’ve taken advantage of this whole pastor thing for too long.

See, when you’re a pastor in a small congregation,you’re largely in charge of your own schedule. Frankly, as long as Sunday morning goes off without a hitch and you visit people when they’re in the hospital, you could probably get away with doing nothing else.

Now, I’m not lazy. I’ve been working hard.

But… I’ve been spending a lot of time in the office and not nearly enough time out visiting members, making evangelism calls, anything like that. Basically, if it involved peopling, I’ve become really good at avoiding it.

That needs to end. (more…)

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Found it!

Sleep

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Aaaaaaah…. there it is.

I’ve found that if I spend too much time with people and not enough time in solitude, it triggers a depressive episode. Last week I spent pretty much every moment of every day with people while I was at camp. I figured a depressive episode was coming.

And then it didn’t.

The day after I got back, I spent a good chunk of time on the phone, an activity that’s not too friendly too me. No problems had, though!

Sunday was a Sunday. I got to see and serve my congregation. All went well. In fact, I even spent more time on the phone.

I was really expecting the depressive episode on Monday. See, my depression usually follows “pastor’s rules for sickness.” I know a lot of pastors that will be sick as dogs on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday they’re fit as can be! And then Monday, the sick strikes again. It’s a combination of mental “I have to do this” and God’s pure grace, keeping his servants able to serve. My depression often follows those “rules.” I can be a wreck on Saturday, fine Sunday, back to a wreck on Monday. (more…)

I’m Going Back

This is me, doing high ropes at camp. It was… it was an experience! 

He asked my permission to leave the pool. I told him he could sit on the benches over there against the wall, but everyone had to stay in the room. I went back to the pool basketball game that was currently exhausting me.

A few minutes later I noticed he wasn’t sitting on the bench, nor was he back in the pool. A suspicious number of girls were running into the girls’ locker room, and not a few guys into theirs.

I grabbed a female counselor and suggested we might need to clean out the locker rooms. We headed to our opposite corners. As I did, several guys fled their locker room. Not the kid who’d asked permission to leave, though. He was still missing. I saw the female counselor ushering a number of girls back toward the pool. All the boys and girls gathered together in the pool and were clearly talking about someone. They got real quiet as I approached and shooed them to go play. They scattered.

I slipped into the locker room. No one there. I peeked out into the lobby.

Ah. There he was. He huddled on a bench, eyes darting around. There was no one else out there. (more…)

Surviving Camp

adventure atmosphere conifer conifers

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You need to come back!”

As I write this, it’s Thursday. Tomorrow afternoon camp will be dismissed for the year. Parents will pick up their exhausted children, and I’ll make the six-hour drive home.

I wrote about a week ago that I wasn’t looking forward to camp. And it’s true. Summer camp doesn’t exactly fill me with joy.

As I’ve watched my son at this camp this week, I see everything that I was at that age. He’s awkward. He doesn’t know how to participate. He doesn’t want to introduce himself to anyone, and the most boisterous games don’t interest him terribly much. He’s told me he doesn’t want to come back.

Meanwhile, my daughter is having the time of her life. She’s reunited with old friends she hasn’t seen in a few years, made some new friends, and is constantly giggling. She’s usually afraid of heights; yesterday she volunteered to be the first to swing over a “river of lava.” She’s glowing and growing so much. This camp has been fantastic for her.

And me? (more…)

Going to Camp

two person walking on pathway between plants

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Some people have fond memories of summer camp. Some people look back on those days and wish they could go back.

I am not one of those people.

I had one experience at what might be called a typical summer camp. I slept in a dorm with a bunch of other guys. Ate the food. Survived all the stupid rules and games and songs and traditions and was glad to go back home. It all just seemed like a constant in-joke that I wasn’t invited to participate in. After the first day, I just kept my head down and survived the week that seemed longer than an entire school year.

Summer camp wasn’t really designed with me in mind. I’m not outdoorsy, I don’t really enjoy those games where someone points and says, “Oh! You have your elbows on the table! Go run around the campground!” and it didn’t allow me any alone time.

If you’re into it, I don’t hate you. You’re probably built differently than I am. That’s fine. We’re allowed to like different things.

But for me, camp was something I did once and didn’t miss it ever again.

…except I’m going back tomorrow. (more…)

Anniversary

Ordination

It’s been eight years.

Eight years ago today I was ordained. I was made a minister of God to serve his people, called by his church. Pastors that I didn’t yet know (but would soon learn to love as brothers) laid their hands on me and gave blessings. It was a hot, hot day.

And now I’ve been a pastor for eight years.

Eight-year-olds generally don’t know a whole lot. They think they do, and it’s true, they’ve learned a lot, but they’ve got a long way to go, don’t they? They can read, but not terribly well. They can sports pretty hard, but not with a lot of skill, generally. They can music with zeal, but not always in tune.

I feel that’s me. I’ve come a long way since I was ordained, since I started this blog, since my first trembling steps as a minister. But man, I still know next to nothing.

And it’s weird… because I’m starting to be the person to go to for other ministers. (more…)

I don’t belong here.

Public Speaking

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I don’t belong here.”

I allowed myself to tremble as I stood before all of them. Hundreds of leaders in my church body gathered in convention, and I was tasked to point them to Jesus. The worship that began the convention the day before had a sermon that guided us through Law and Gospel. We had been fed rich food. That morning, a confident man had guided us through the meaning of a particular word, feeding both intellect and faith as he revealed the mysteries of Scripture.

And then here was me.

And as I looked out at that vast sea of leaders, I spoke the truth again: “I don’t belong here.” I couldn’t even pace; the sound system in this rented space didn’t include wireless mics. “Maybe some of you are far more self-assured than I am, but I constantly feel like I don’t belong. I feel like a fake. Like someday someone is going to figure it out, and the district president will show up and pull the plug. ‘We figured you out, Jon. Get out. You don’t belong here.’”

There’s a slight chuckle through the crowd. They think I’m exaggerating.

Of course I’m not. (more…)

Sometimes I See Stories

Ponder

Sometimes I wonder.

We don’t know how old Joshua was when he entered the Promised Land. His fellow spy, Caleb, was forty when they explored the land flowing with milk and honey before the forty years of wandering, so it’s realistic to say Joshua was about the same age. And if he was forty then – well, how long did slaves wait before they got married? It’s reasonable to guess Joshua was already married at that point. And since no one who was an adult at the beginning of the forty years of wandering made it into the Promised Land except Joshua and Caleb, well, that means that if Joshua was married, he was a widower when he entered the Promised Land.

It’s all guesses. Somewhat educated guesses, but guesses. The Bible does tell us Joshua was married at some point. He had children. We don’t know when that was, though. After the conquest? Before?

But sometimes I take a look at those snippets… and I see a story. (more…)

The Battle-Planning Has Ended

Planning

Every interaction with the church leadership required careful battle planning. How to explain this? What part of their spiritual immaturity was most likely to explode? How to deal with that ahead of time, if at all possible? Who do I need to talk with before it’s brought up in council?

Any time we had a meeting of the leadership of the church, I would stress out. It was a cause of ulcerous concern. I really would call it battle planning, and it would start weeks ahead of every meeting. And considering we usually met about monthly, that meant a lot of my time was filled up with just dealing with church leadership. So much mental and emotional space was crammed with all that.

I would feel the pressure building up weeks and weeks in advance. I’d pray that this person or that would simply not being at the meeting, so we could just get the thing done or addressed and move on. I hated it.

I tried to build bridges. More than once we had the church leadership over to the house for just a friendly meal… and though it wouldn’t turn into an argument, it did turn into a business meeting. The leadership couldn’t just talk about how their lives were going with each other; it had to be about the church every time we got together. Not about Jesus, mind you – about the congregation.

The stress grew and grew. I dreaded the meetings. There were parts of ministry I looked forward to, but it rarely had anything to do with anyone in leadership. As the pressure built, I hated that part of the ministry more and more.

And then we moved. (more…)

“Go get Jesus!”

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I don’t know.” She stares out over the river, her mind distant. “I mean, I try to do good. But my mind keeps on doing things. And I’ve done things.” She lapses into silence again. “I mean, I’ve done things that are bad. Really bad.” She looks down. “If it’s the Ten Commandments, if it’s really the Ten Commandments, I don’t know what I’d do.”

And I tell her.

I tell her it is the Ten Commandments. God says, “Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He says, “Do this and you will live.”

I really don’t have any hope, either. Not if it’s based on the Ten Commandments. No way. “The soul who sins is the one who dies.”

But then I point her to Jesus. “So, Jesus was holy. He was perfect. He really deserved life! And do you know what happened to him instead?”

She nods, a little hesitant. “He died on the cross.” (more…)