Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

25 Jan

Diseases of the Church

Posted in Uncategorized on 25.01.21 by Merlyn

Name that Disease

Health is important, not just to people, but to churches and organizations as well. Consultant Patrick Lencioni states, “Organizational health trumps everything.” For me, as a Pastor, I am not interested in leading the biggest, richest, hippest or best church, but I am determined with every fiber of my being and with every minute of my work here to do all I can to ensure that any church I serve is the healthiest church that it can be. Church health will always trump any worship style, preaching charisma and budget that could ever come into existence.In order to be healthy as a church, we must avoid illness as much as possible. What are the diseases that plague the church of Jesus Christ in North America today?

The Flu

If you have ever had the flu, you know it is not fun. When the flu hits, everything else stops. You feel utter helplessness as you have no control over your body. Unresolved conflict as well as conflict handled in an unbiblical way is the flu of the church. The good news is that most often it is preventable by its own flu shot, Matthew 18. Jesus gives us specific instructions on how to deal with conflict and in dealing with it in the way that Jesus has instructed, we are able to avoid the additional suffering that comes with this flu virus of the church. Every church should have a conflict covenant based on Matthew 18 and that conflict covenant that is more important to us than the church constitution or any policy or procedure the church might have.

Heart Disease

Heart Disease is not always noticeable, seems innocent enough but can be deadly. The heart disease of the church is drama. Drama is common, seems innocent enough and on the surface seems entirely innocent. Drama is exhausting, especially in the church. Satan loves drama because it is incredibly distracting and deeply discouraging to those in leadership and those who have to waste their time dealing with it instead of doing the important work of the ministry. I have a preteen daughter, that is more than enough drama for me.

(keep in mind, I am not a medical expert, I am not that kind of doctor…)


Gossip is the cancer of the church. This is especially said because gossip is extremely common and incredibly preventable. It breaks my heart to see gossip ruin churches. Jesus knew this was going to be a risk and that is why he offered the teaching in Matthew 18, not just for conflict resolution, but also for gossip prevention. The apostle Paul speaks out strongly against gossip as well as he saw first hand the destruction, pain and havoc it created for churches. Gossip is a toxin and is not something I ever want to permit, something that I have confronted on more than one occasion in my career.

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29 Nov

Politics (not the church kind)

Posted in Uncategorized on 29.11.20 by Merlyn

The root word of politics is polite.

You would not know that in the United States.

It’s not just true in culture and on social media, but it is true in the church as well.

Most wise pastors avoid talking politics in the church, especially in worship, preaching and teaching settings. While the separation of church and state is not directly in the constitution, it is in fact a principle of our country. More than that, it is a solid theological principle from most theologians including Martin Luther. When Jesus says ‘give unto Caesar what is Caesars’ he was not just talking about taxes. Jesus himself avoided politics and for that he paid with his life. Talking politics, particularly around who to vote for can endanger your tax exempt status as a church. 

All of this aside, avoiding politics is a wise practice. Chances are you have people of all political opinions and flavors in your church. Politics is divisive and people do not want politics in their church. Many, especially those under 40 come to church to get away from politics. The reality is that while we should live out our faith in our voting and our politics, worldly politics have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.

So, most wise pastors avoided it all together this year especially given how divisive this election was. Sadly, those same pastors, in doing the right thing took a beating when the election was over. Those that did not like the result took their anger and frustration out on their pastors.

I have heard countless stories of nasty comments, certified letters, shouting in church lobbies, even rude one on one conversations about how pastors had done wrong in not talking more (or more seriously) about the election.

It turns out that for many, they were relying on the government, a party, an election or a particular politician more than Jesus. Maybe that is the lesson God has for those who might be disappointed that their candidate lost. Maybe God wants to show us something.

Being nasty to another human being, including a pastor is generally not right. Going after a pastor for doing the right thing by all their people just because they did not do what you wanted them to do is beyond selfish.

It’s not an easy season for anyone, especially pastors. Rather than go after them for petty things that have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God maybe it’s time to pray for them, love on them and support them. 

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21 Oct

Pastor Appreciation Month

Posted in Uncategorized on 21.10.20 by Merlyn

When I was serving as a pastor in a church setting, I always felt a little awkward about pastor appreciation month (October). I enjoyed being appreciated and every human needs to experience some appreciation, but I never did this work for appreciation. There were some years where I received a lot of appreciation and others where I received little to none. Those years could be hard because it made you wonder and question no matter how hard you tried.

This year feels different. Its the first year where I am focused on caring for and supporting pastors. Its the hardest time to be a pastor ever. Pastors are people and they are struggling with the same issues the rest of us are in this difficult season. Added to this is a need to learn new skills, work more, be online and help people through their own struggles in this hard season in the country and the world.

If that were not enough, people are getting a lot more vicious towards pastors in this season of anxiety. I am seeing pastors be mistreated in a way that I never have before.

It turns out they are also getting less appreciation than usual at a time where they need it even more. Its a perfect storm for losing pastors all around the country. 

Pastors are having a hard time. They are weary, They are burdened. Show them some appreciation.

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22 Sep

What do you want?

Posted in Uncategorized on 22.09.20 by Merlyn

As I was reflecting on church ministry and leading change, the following thought came to my mind and I posted it on social media:

“Most church goers want their churches to grow. Few of them really want to reach people. Even fewer are willing to make any sacrifice to do so.”

This is the challenge in leading churches forward. It is the challenge in revitalization as well. We have taken a very consumer oriented approach to church and we think we can have a change in our effectiveness without a change in our behavior. We assume that we can have things be different without any sacrifice. This is just not reality. In fact, doing the same thing and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.

It seems that churches simply need to be honest about who they are, what they want and what they are willing to do to reach people for Jesus.

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20 Aug

A Need to be Needed

Posted in Uncategorized on 20.08.20 by Merlyn

One of the things that a lot of people in ministry struggle with, but do not always recognize or admit is a need to be needed. Early on in my career this turned out to be a huge issue for me. It is, at its heart, rooted in something good, a love for people. The best pastors and ministry staff care deeply about people and want to care for, support and help them. Ministry attracts a lot of helpers, but often, our identity gets wrapped up in helping.

That often leads to a need to be needed, rather than looking to serve people through the power of Jesus in us. Our identity becomes wrapped up in what we do, our work and our call. Our identity is never in what we do, it is in who we are, more importantly our identity is rooted Christ. We are children of God.

While it is great to want to help people, we need to be careful not to become addicted to helping, addicted to being needed. Its a fine line, but chances are, if you ask those closest to you, they will be able to tell you whether or not this is an issue for you. Its certainly worth examining. 

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20 Jul

Life on the Other Side

Posted in Uncategorized on 20.07.20 by Merlyn

After working in churches with only a couple periods of 1-3 months off, I am for the first time in 20 years living life on the other side of the church, as a worshipper. This transition has been wonderful and has gone much easier than I would have ever of hoped or expected. 

As I have made this transition, I have worked to think carefully about how to best be a part of a church after two decades of serving as a pastor or staff member in a church. I knew I did not want to just attend and I reject taking a consumer approach to church. I also knew it would be critical to set boundaries given all my work in the church, boundaries for my own good and out of respect to the staff of the church. In the end, my goal has been to be the church member that I would love to have had as a pastor. So far, the following things have been really important in this journey:

  1. Make my primary goal encouraging and supporting the pastors and staff in the church, praying for, talking with, listening to and blessing them in any way that I can. Pastors and staff face a lot of challenges with little encouragement and support, especially in the challenging time in history we find ourselves in.
  2. Pray, pray, pray. I pray for my church, the pastors and staff every day.
  3. Assume the best in the pastors and staff. This is easy and important. Its a rare thing to experience in a church as a staff member. 
  4. Be willing to do anything that you can to help, jumping right in to ministry in the church. For many pastors, a break, an easing in is needed for health and that is good.
  5. Give generously of time, talent and treasure. 
  6. Tend to your own spiritual life well.
  7. Don’t be a consumer. Don’t go to church to be ‘fed’ or made happy. Don’t evaluate anything based on your own preferences or wants, instead, look for the ways that the things you see can be good and helpful.
  8. Don’t engage in anything that is petty. Often, the things that church members focus on are the petty things that have nothing to do with the mission, the Kingdom or the Gospel. 
  9. Offer genuine praise your church, pastors and staff in the church, the community and online.
  10. Don’t offer an opinion on something unless asked to help or offer an opinion or if you develop a relationship where sharing your thoughts is right, natural and helpful.  

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22 Jun

The Problem with Petty

Posted in Uncategorized on 22.06.20 by Merlyn

One of the challenges to working and leading in the church is the intense amount of pettiness that can exist. Pettiness between church members, staff, church members towards staff and pettiness around small issues/desires/preferences. It is the figurative death by 1,000 (or in some cases 100,000) paper cuts.

Having served and worked with a variety of chruches, I have seen this to varying degrees. Its not always a commentary on the quality or character of the people, but it is always a commentary on the culture of the church. 

The pettiness does not always just happen while you are serving a church as a staff member. It can also happen after you have served a church, even with those whom you have a good relationship and with whom you have no conflicts. 

In some cases, I have remained in the community I served after leaving a church. That has been an interesting experience for sure. While I am always honest and transparent, I think it is critical to truly separate and not worry about or be involved in the church you have served in the past. Its good to give space and distance to the leadership. After leaving a church, I would find that bumping into people from the church would either be a great experience, or a deeply petty one.  There always seems to be a trend of either friendliness or rudeness. Its always the case where some people are just awkward, regardless of which of the two camps the experience fell into. 

I have found the latter camp (the rude one) to be very difficult. At first, I took it far too personal and allowed it to be a value statement when it should not have been. As I have grown however, I have transitioned to a place where it has become both baffling and sad.

Its unfortunate that in any transition of relationship that we would have to ever be anything but kind to one another. We all have our days. We all have our moments, but we too easily forget that we are all children of God.

Be good to one another. Be good to your leaders, even after they leave you.

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20 May

Reflections on Leading Worship Post Covid-19

Posted in Uncategorized on 20.05.20 by Merlyn

While I am not serving full time in a church setting, I have been filling in from time to time in various churches. On Sunday May 10, I led worship and preached at a church for the first time since the Covid-19 restrictions went into place. It was the first time this church of under 25 was meeting in 8 weeks.

During the pandemic, I have been diligently working to think through the implications of Covid-19 on the church, much like I would when I was serving full time in a church. I did this in order to help churches in the midst of the pandemic as a part of my work for Preparing for Amazement Ministries. 

I have had a distinct advantage during this time not serving in a church, as it gave me the time and ability to see from the outside without being in the middle of the crisis. I had the disadvantage of not having to make the decisions pastors were making, so I have and will remain cautious about offering unsolicited advice.

As I walked in to the church building I knew it would be one of the more unique and unfamiliar experiences in my life in spite of stepping into church buildings to lead most Sundays for about two decades.

I had taken plenty of time to think through the big picture, the meta issues if you will. The big implications, challenges and opportunities.

I spent more than adequate time thinking through the little stuff: communion, greeting, offering plates, masks and more.

What I had not thought about was the spiritual tone of this time and the need to create a spiritual transition as a part of the service. I should have thought about this, but even if I had, I also know my ability to do so would be limited. The truth is I needed to be in the worship space and in the moment, listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit to know I needed to say and do something. I needed to listen carefully in order to offer my best, meager offering of words of transition.

After doing so, I found myself exhausted, yet certain it was needed, critical in fact.

While we were back in worship, we were not back to normal and never will be.

It took me a couple days to process it all. I feel called to share the experience, for what it’s worth, not as advice, but in hope it may be helpful to some.

In any crisis it is critical to name and frame the challenges, yet also point to hope. This reality was the framework for my brief, pre-sermon (or bonus sermon) comments.

I shared honestly with this congregation that this crisis has caused people all around the world, perhaps for the first time, to simultaneously experience a shared, corporate grief. We are grieving all kinds of losses: temporary, perceived loss of freedom, loss of routine, loss of certainty, economic loss and more. I shared with the congregation that Covid-19 presents many challenges for the church, and we need to name those and rather than fight them, work with them. I mentioned that the old normal is gone and will not return. I pointed to the reality that God is speaking to us in this, slowing us down, showing us what have become idols in our lives. I concluded by noting that the greatest cost of this pandemic will be the toll it takes on mental health.

I then made a transition to pointing to hope. I put most of my time, effort and energy into this portion of my remarks. I shared that Covid-19 has presented many opportunities for the church and for followers of Jesus. I reminded these faithful Christians that God redeems all things. While God did not cause Covid-19, God can use it for good as he does all things: good, bad and ugly. I reminded the people of the power of slowing down and hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit and that this crisis can be seen as a gift now and going forward. I reminded them that a new normal will emerge and that this new normal could be a more beautiful normal for them, for the church and for the world. I encouraged them to ask themselves what the Holy Spirit might be saying to them. I encouraged us all to ask ourselves what has Covid-19 made possible.

It was not my best, most polished oration, yet I know the Spirit was speaking because while I have thought about these things, I do not think I could have the wisdom, courage and clarity I did in that moment if it were not being directed by the Holy Spirit.

Many faithful, church-going Christians are desperate to get back to normal. It would seem natural to just walk back into church as if nothing happened, perhaps with different ways of doing greeting, communion, offering and with some masks and hand sanitizer. To do so would be understandable, but spiritually speaking might be a mistake. Scott Cormode of Fuller Seminary notes that as pastors and ministry leaders, we are to be ‘spiritual interpreters,’ pointing our people to the bigger spiritual narrative at play in the midst of the events of this world. For any pastor or ministry leader, there has not been a more important and critical time to take the time to point to the spiritual story at play than in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For all the time I have spent reflecting on Covid-19 and the implications for the church, I almost missed the most important thing. The need to create an honest, healthy, spiritual transition for the people we lead.

Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson

Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries

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21 Apr

3 Big Things Ministry Leaders Need to Consider in the Midst of Covid-19

Posted in Uncategorized on 21.04.20 by Merlyn

Covid-19 has quickly changed the world in unprecedented ways, especially the church. While parts of the pandemic and its implications are not unprecedented, many are, especially in the past 100 years.

As I continue to reflect on Covid-19, the church and ministry, there are three big things that all ministry leaders need to consider in the midst of Covid-19.

Corporate Grief is a Different Beast

Grief is always difficult and is most often a rather strange beast. While we are accustomed in ministry to dealing with individual grief and even moments of community grief, we have little to no real experience with corporate grief. Perhaps our only experience is from September 11. The primary emotion that we are experiencing with Covid-19 is in fact grief. Grief is not limited to loss of life, it is the real or perceived loss of anything. Covid-19 has brought a lot of loss: security, certainty, economic loss, relational loss, loss of routine, loss of freedom. For the first time in or memory, the entire country, the entire world is experiencing simultaneous, daily, corporate grief. This requires a different approach and is an issue that all ministry leaders will have to deal with. How will you address corporate grief?

Crisis Always Presents Challenges AND Opportunities

“Don’t waste a good crisis.” Donald Miller. In any crisis there are both challenges and opportunities. Its critical to name the challenges, but to focus on the opportunities. As followers of Jesus, we believe in redemption, the idea that God is making all things new. In any crisis, God makes good of it. As leaders, it is our job to make sure that we see the challenges for what they are, yet recognize there is no challenge that we can ever face that cannot be conquered by God, that there is no challenge that will be the end of us. Culturally, we tend to focus on the bad, the shortcomings and not consider the blessings, the gifts, the opportunities. Great leaders name the challenges, but they point to hope. Great leaders look for the opportunities and partner with God to leverage them for good. What are the challenges for you and those you lead in the midst of Covid-19? What are the opportunities presented to you and those you lead in the midst of this crisis?

The Old Normal is Gone – A New Normal Will Emerge

A lot of leaders, especially those in the church will be tempted to claw their way back to normal as the restrictions and crisis subside. This is naive at best, delusional and selfish at worse. The old normal is going and it is not coming back. This season of crisis is a season of transition. Just for the record, transition sucks. While a new normal will emerge, it doesn’t mean everything changes. At the same time, we will not have as much control over the new normal as we would like to think. We also cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope that it will go away. “Crisis is the cradle of innovation. Crisis challenges your methods, but it can give new life to your mission.” Carey Nieuwhof. Much of what will change is our methods. We tend to worship our methods, often at the cost of our mission, especially in crisis. As leaders, we need to be looking to and for the new normal and reflect on how we can achieve our mission in the new normal. We need to be willing to change our method for the sake of our mission. Now, more than in our lifetime, we have less certainty and clarity about what the new normal might look like, but that does not mean we cannot begin to think, examine and reflect. Are you thinking about, reflecting on and preparing for the new normal?

The ministry I lead, Preparing for Amazement Ministries is leading some free open forums on these topics. You can learn more here.

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20 Feb


Posted in Uncategorized on 20.02.20 by Merlyn

Having served in ministry in some capacity for over 20 years now, I have learned so much and have been blessed by the growth that comes from working in ministry settings. It has not always been easy, pleasant or joyful, but it has always brought me closer to Jesus. 

A particular area of growth has been growth in generosity. This generosity has not just been financial (though that is where the greatest growth has happened), but in many other areas as well. I have learned to be more generous with my time. I have learned to be more generous in assuming the good in people, taking a posture of optimism and hope. I have grown in generosity in forgiveness, seeking forgiveness and apologizing. While I can, need to and will continue to grow in each of these areas, I am thankful for the grace of God, the good and tough lessons of ministry and the many people the Holy Spirit has used in my life to help me grow in the generosity Christ calls me to.

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