Sometimes putting the inmates in charge of the asylum is fun.

antique crumpled crumpled paper dirty

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

By the time I left, he had something like fifty ideas, and excited for all of them.

I had come to ask questions and listen. This congregation has become content to a point bordering on apathy. I’m asking what they’re passionate about. I am not questioning their faith; I have seen it in action. But as a congregation, we’re certainly not moving together. We’re happy to show up for Sunday worship and nothing else as a family of believers. Time to tap into the passions they already have and use them.

I asked the family what we did that they were already passionate about.

Their young teen son said, “Helping at the hazardous waste cleanup! Can we do more of that?”

A couple times a year our congregation volunteers to help with various clean-up efforts in the community. It’s some of the few things we do outside our building, really. This was the first year this particular teen was old enough to participate, and he was excited to serve more.

He wants to make a difference. (more…)

Just a Little Bottle of Water

I’m not a creep. I’m not a creep. I’m not a creep.

I knock on the car’s window. The person inside jumps, raises her hands to her mouth in shock, sees me, jumps again, and after a moment of hesitation lowers her window. My sweaty reflection disappears as the glass drops into the door. I look like a creep.

Hi!” I say. “I’m the pastor from the church right there.” I gesture to the building behind me. “I noticed the accident and everyone’s been waiting here for a while I thought you might like some water.” I proffer a plastic bag filled with sealed water bottles.

The woman looks at me, glances at the bag, and says, “Thanks. Yeah. I think I’ll take one.”

We chat for a few minutes. She’s a librarian on her way to work. She’s already half an hour late because of the accident. She asks about the people in the crushed cars.

When I talked to the officers, they said there was no one seriously hurt. So that’s good! They told me the road should be cleared in ten minutes, but that was, um, fifteen minutes ago now.” I offer a rueful smile. “And it’s so hot. How long have you been waiting?”

She looks at the clock. “Almost forty minutes.”

I’m sorry.” I gesture to the line of cars. After some more niceties, I say, “Good to meet you! I’m going to make my way up the line, though. Make sure no one gets overheated.”

And I make my way up the street that has become a parking lot, reminding myself that I’m not a creep. I offer more water, eventually running out – and actually at just the right place, at the guy driving the dump truck that was at the head of the line. Only about half the people I talked to accepted water; many already had drinks with them of some kind. Good thing; it was in the 90’s and plenty humid without waiting inside a car on the pavement. As I went, I chatted with a man on a motorcycle, one of the church’s neighbors who had come out to see what was going on, a Baptist deacon (“Good to meet you!” he says and offers to come cantor at my congregation), a few construction workers, a young woman who really didn’t know what to do with me, and a lot more.

I really debated what to do when cars started lining up. Do I go make sure people are ok? Offer them our bathroom? Offer them our AC? If I bring water, do I hand over a business card, too?

I opted to simply… serve. I identified myself and offered bottles of water. That’s it. If someone wanted to talk more, of course I’d be willing! But here I didn’t want to “hold anyone hostage” or anything. Just… serve. And so I delivered water until I ran out of water. The timing worked out, too. The line finally got moving about five minutes after handing out my last bottle.

And once the line started moving, I counted: 145 cars backed up in one direction on the little two-lane highway in front of the church. On the hottest day of the year thus far.

Should I have slipped in a business card? Yeah, it probably wouldn’t have hurt. Could I have invited to church? Yeah. But… I chose to simply serve. To simply give cold water to those who desired it. Best thing I could have done? I’m willing to admit that I probably could have done more.

But I know what I did was good. Best? Probably not. But here, again, cold water for those who needed it.

And here I take great comfort. Every day I fail. Every action I take is tainted by my sinful nature. I have never done a purely good work. And yet… Jesus has given me his robes of righteousness. While I’m concerned about being a creep, he looks and smiles – not because I’m awesome, but because he is, and he loves me. And on the Last Day, he’ll look at me and declare, “Well done!” And that declaration has nothing to do with my actions. It has everything to do with the fact that he has given me what he earned, and he has declared me what he is. And now I am his child. My sinful nature is buried; I need not fear.

Do I want to learn how to serve better? Yeah. But only because my Savior has already told me that I am his, and he has proven it on the cross, and he has given it to me in my Baptism.

Which means… I rejoice that he gave me an opportunity to serve. To simply give a bottle of cold water to those who are thirsty. This was a gift from him.

And for the next time? I’ll pray wisdom to use the opportunities better.

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…)

Is there a heaven for introverts?

I never want to talk to another human again.

Last year at this time, I was glowing. I was broken. It was also before I knew more about how I worked.

Since then, I’ve gone through a lot of counseling, and I’ve learned some things about myself. For instance, after spending time with people, I need time by myself. This isn’t a matter of preference; spending time with people depletes my energy. If I continue being around others, my ability to process decreases at an incredible rate. I stop being able to function. I start saying things that I really ought not say.

If this keeps up for days, I fall into my depressed state. The only way to fix it is time alone. Not necessarily time not working, mind you. I can work on sermons, write Bible studies, and even do emails and IM’ing. But the more time I spend in a crowd, the more time I need away. (It’s strange that I can handle IM’ing, but texting tends to deplete my energy. No idea why that is.)

And this is just another way I’m broken. (more…)

The Customer Rules

The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential rules for Delivering Sensational Service
by Lee Cockerell

How do you “do” customer service? Lee Cockerell, former executive vice president of Disney World, walks the reader through 39 rules for providing a superior experience to customers that will guarantee a high rate of returns.

Cockerell’s writing is crisp and clear. Every chapter is another of the thirty-nine rules, and I think the longest chapter was all of seven pages long. He gets to the point, but he also illustrates with plenty of examples from his own life or other companies. He applies the rules to high-level executives and fast-food workers. He makes it clear that no matter your job, you can apply his rules and give the customer great service. His conversational tone keeps things moving in a friendly and encouraging way.

Wait a second – this is a blog about being a pastor! Why am I reviewing a book clearly aimed at someone trying to climb a corporate ladder or get more customers into their store? (more…)

Who do you serve?

My heart is full and I don’t know how to write about it. I also am not sure how much to write.

It was a devotion. It was one that I knew would elicit reaction, though not this much.

The thrust of the devotion: “We serve Jesus. We don’t serve the church.” I see some tunnel-vision in certain servants of the church. They focus so much on this single congregation that they seem at least at danger of forgetting Jesus. When something bad happens to the congregation, it is the end of the world – because their hope is in this gathering of believers, and not in Jesus, who is eternal.

So I did a devotion pointing back to Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. The church never died for me. The church didn’t save me. The church doesn’t rule the world on my behalf. Jesus does all those things.

The point was not that the church doesn’t matter. The point wasn’t that we shouldn’t serve the congregation. The point was that we serve Jesus first. He’s the reason we do anything; if we’re doing it for the church and that’s the end of it, we’ve turned the church into an idol.

The devotion did not go well.

At the end, one man stormed away. Another openly defied me.

And the sad thing is… their sinful nature has taken a good thing and twisted it. It is a good thing to love the church. It is a good thing to love the gathering of believers that God has joined you to. It is a wonderful thing to serve the congregation you’re attached to. These are good things.

But we must never confuse good things with the one who gave them.

The one who stormed away? He hasn’t been back to church since. I’m making an attempt to contact him this week. We’ll see how that goes.

The one who openly defied me? He’s calmed down.

We’ll see. I have a devotion with this same group next week. And I’m going to hit this again; I’m hoping I will be ever more clear. If any have begun to worship the congregation instead of Jesus, of course it’s going to cause problems. I’m casting down sacred cows. But in the end, it will be worth it. They’ll be faced with idolatry. They’ll have to choose: Jesus or church? What’s their priority?

Because if the priority is church, they need to be shown their sin. And if the priority is Jesus, well, shouldn’t such a message simply bring joy?

It’s sad. It has gnawed at me. Frankly, this incident has poisoned my Christmas celebration. I should be able to focus on Jesus, and what he’s done for me – not on someone storming away because I have the audacity to say that we serve Jesus.

Sin sucks.

Sunday morning, and not present in the body

Early on in my ministry here, I threw a softball to my council to see how they would react to a little responsibility. I knew that a large chunk of my council were very concerned that I take care of the shut-ins (those members who for health reasons are unable to attend normal Sunday morning worship). I knew that I should be able to visit them in their homes on a monthly basis, barring emergencies (and I have indeed kept that schedule). However, as I presented this to the council, I told them, “They have the desire to worship with other Christians more often than once a month. We can serve them better. What are some options? Bring me some ideas.”

It felt like this: They knew they were other people, but they only worshiped alone. We can do better for them!

Now, my intention was to get a group of elders started – some men to visit each shut-in once a month on weeks that I wasn’t making my visits. However, I wanted them to come up with whatever idea they came up with so they could own it. Well, I didn’t get my wish of an elder. I got something… unique.

An early idea that they proposed was to simply record the worship service and deliver the recordings. A fantastic idea many congregations implement, but it wasn’t really practical for us. Our shut-ins have a wide gamut of technology; over here is a couple that still haven’t made it to the VCR level, while over here is another shut-in who Skypes with her great-grandchildren. We considered by mp3 players for each shut-in and training them how to use them.

Despite the stereotype, there are plenty of old geezers who can geeze on the internet breezily!

Then one of the councilmen had an ingenious idea: no matter what level of technology they were at, every single person had a phone of one type or another. Why not have them call a phone number and listen to Sunday morning worship live?

As I considered, I found a lot to like with this plan. When watching television or any recorded media, we tend to be docile. We’re not interacting with what we see; we’re merely sponging it in. But a telephone – now here’s something different! We’re used to interacting! And it’s live – it’s not merely a recording, but something that’s happening right then. A person doesn’t prepare for watching a recording; a person might prepare if they have to get up in the morning to listen in.

So, we pursued the options. Ideally, we’d find a way to patch our microphone system directly into the phone line for the hour-or-so every Sunday morning. No dice; at least not in any inexpensive way. We did find an inexpensive service for conference calls, though. It would mean I’d have to wear a Bluetooth during the service. That would take some getting used to and necessitate I use the lapel mic instead of the one that hung off my ear, but I could handle that. The system was easy to use for both our tech staff to set up as well as the shut-ins at home. Let’s give it a go!

I don’t look nearly so dynamic as this guy. Nor as well-groomed. Nor as cheesy, I hope.

Yesterday was the third week straight of this new program. Our tech staff (generally confirmands and recent confirmands) have gotten the hang of it; the hardest part is them talking on the phone to welcome the callers. I’ve heard from our shut-ins that they’re loving the program. They’re feeling like they’re part of the congregation again! They not be present in the body, but they are listening and participating!

I’ve made a big deal since getting here that we’re family. Here we simply see one of the ways that plays out: even if you can’t be here in body, you’re still a member of the family. The congregation has accepted the Bluetooth; I’ve not heard a single negative about it in a congregation that can get pretty darn vocal about change. I’ve heard nothing but positive from the shut-ins.

There’s one unexpected side-effect from all this; not only are the shut-ins able to join us for worship, but they’re fellowshipping! I’ve encouraged them to call in at least ten minutes before the service starts so we can sort out any bugs if they pop up. During the time before the service starts, they’re talking to each other on the phone. They’re sharing each other’s’ lives – granted, it’s not in a deep way, but it’s more than they’re used to! They’re encouraging each other and enjoying being part of the family – not in a mental or spiritual way, but now also in a way they can experience firsthand.

The system isn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. Because I wear the Bluetooth, when it comes to singing, the shut-ins only hear me and not the rest of the congregation. That’s… disconcerting. I wouldn’t want to hear me singing solos for all the music! We need to find a way to fix it, but this is an inconvenience and certainly not a deal breaker!

And the neat thing about all this? I simply made a need known. I said, “Hey, let’s see if we can serve this one portion of the congregation better.” And the men took this and ran with it. They thought of the solution. They compared ways to reach the solution. They made sure it happened. I made a problem known and released the men to fix it.

They succeeded.

I need to do this more often. I need to simply let the men go on a mission they believe in. I plan to practice that with some events coming up, but this success shows me that it can be done in this congregation with these people.

And the result is that even more of the congregation is blessed. Awesome!

Good job church council!