Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

15 Oct

LCMC

Posted in Uncategorized on 15.10.18 by Merlyn

Last week I was at our LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) annual gathering in Iowa. I was humbled and honored to teach a breakout seminar on leading through change. I love this gathering and this association of churches, it is so healthy and refreshing. The way of the future of the church is flat without hierarchy, but with deep connection and support. The LCMC is a perfect model of that and I am honored to be a part of it!

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15 Sep

Gatherings

Posted in Uncategorized on 15.09.18 by Merlyn

Today was our regional gathering for NALC (North American Lutheran Church) churches for Indiana and Kentucky. I am on the council and spoke twice today. I got to share two sessions on technology, one on discipleship and the other on marketing. It was an interesting experience. I am not an expert on these things but was willing to speak. I enjoy speaking and I enjoy many of my colleagues. It may not be the most life giving environment, but it is always an honor to speak to colleagues and to build up other churches.

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27 Jul

Reflections on Mission

Posted in Uncategorized on 27.07.18 by Merlyn

This summer, we as a couple had the privilege of giving a chunk of the short summer (our summer here is only about 10 weeks long) to missions. Over the course of June and July we served 17 days on two different trips.

In June, we led a team of 9 from our church on a mission trip to Kenya. We patterned with a missionary with connections to our church. For the first time, she received guests from her home church and her family. During our time there we visited people in the slums of Kenya and provided food as well as spiritual food. We also had the chance to work with children in the schools of the slums, connecting with them, serving them, and leading activities for them. Another aspect of our mission trip was to do a Bible study together in a rural area with women who have HIV. They have been ostracized from their families and villages and valued not only Bible study and a meal, but healthy emotional and physical attention that they do not get. There were many other aspects to this trip and it was so powerful to watch a diverse team, people of privilege from age 14 to 82 give their time to serve.

In July we went to Calcutta India to serve together. It was just the two of us and the focus of our tie was to teach and evangelize. We led a conference for 150 current and future pastors from India and Bangladesh. These are pastors who in comparison with US pastors have little to no formal training and do not have a regular opportunity to gather for education. We provided the content for the conference and they led the worship. It was a beautiful time in the Kingdom of God as we were joined also by students from the seminary (for us, an associates at a Bible college) that are pursuing their call to serve the Kingdom in a nation that is not primarily Christian. We were blessed by this time and honored to teach on leadership, discipleship, teaching and more. 

We have always recognized that we have a call to serve, not just in our own town. Jesus was clear that we are called to our town, region, state, country and the world. To the ends of the earth. While we could focus on what we do not have, we have so much and we have been blessed with resource, opportunity and education. It is a gift to serve others and it is humbling to find that we often get more out of serving than we feel that we have given.

We do not see ourselves as missionaries, but we are certainly called to missions. We love where we live, but we love culture and the world. We worship and serve a global God.

Serving in the second and third world is eye opening as it is a reflection of how most of the world lives. It is bittersweet in many ways. We find thankfulness for all that we have both in possession and opportunity. We are thankful for new relationships and connections. We find ourselves humbled by a people that are more gracious, kind, warm and hospitable than the people of resource we encounter every day in our own country. We are energized and embarrassed to find that the people in this country that by comparison have absolutely nothing are far more happy and joyous than we whom have so much. We are challenged to see a faith that is much deeper and more mature than the faith we find in Christian churches and people in the United States. The culture shock is not found in being in poverty, it is found in coming back to a place of resource that lacks joy ad depth, to find a church and faithful that are often more focused on personal preferences and comfort than the Gospel of Jesus. That is the hard truth and the gift of missions is that we can confront it and we can learn from our brothers and sisters who have a faith in God that is so deep because without God, they truly have nothing. Perhaps their inclination to start with God instead of our tendency to go to God as a last resort is our first step in learning to have a deeper, more mature faith even in the midst of our resources. We are given much and we are to use that not for our own comfort and gain, but to serve and bless others. That is the Gospel. As Jesus notes, it is certainly hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. 

We are neither great nor special because we have given or served, we are simply trying to be the people who Christ has called us to be. In doing so, we have found more reasons to live and thinking differently, more things to learn, more ways to grow. We have found few reasons to pat ourselves on the back. Our hope is that what we have experienced may be shared, after all, not everyone can go to Africa and Asia, but we can all learn from our brothers and sisters around the world.

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22 May

Name that Disease

Posted in Uncategorized on 22.05.18 by Merlyn

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…)

 

Cancer

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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12 May

Perspective: If we only knew…

Posted in Uncategorized on 12.05.18 by Merlyn

They say that if children came out of the womb as teenagers, nobody would have more than 1. Being the father of a son and daughter in the throws of the adolescent journey, I tend to agree with this statement. Another phrase that has been on my mind lately is, ‘death by paper-cut.’ Its kind of self explanatory, it is the slow, annoying, painful death by thousands of little paper cuts. 

The truth is that it is not the big things that often get us, but the little things. 

In any given week as a pastor, I deal with a wide range of things from the small to the massively significant, from the normal to the ‘you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.’ I see people hurt by stuff that does not and should not matter and I watch people bravely tackle things that would emotionally cripple most people. I get spend hours with people in the midst of their loss and often even more time with people complaining about not getting their way on something so petty it makes you want to jump out a window.

 

The older I get and the longer I am in ministry the less tolerance, patience, grace and time I have for petty, dramatic bullshit. Every job has it, but in most cases, followers of Christ should know better. If pastors had any idea that amount of petty, selfish drama they would have to deal with, I suspect very few would go into ministry. Petty drama is the ‘death by paper cut’ of ministry. After sitting with a woman in her early thirties, a mother of two young children who has lost her husband suddenly in a car accident, one gets perspective. After spending months walking with two parents my own age as they grapple with the sudden and unexpected death via suicide of their 16 year old son, one realizes how small their problems really are. After walking with people through all sorts of victory, suffering, challenge and joy, one gains a perceive of what really matters and loses tolerance and grace for things that could not possibly ever really matter.

It can be hard to be patient, gracious and understanding reading just one more email from an overly entitled person who is complaining once again that they have not been catered to in the way they would like as it relates to an issue that is so minor, its not worth even mentioning. In the back of my mind, I think of people who have real problems, I think about the things that I could be spending my time on that matter so much more and actually impact lives and the kingdom. Sometimes I want to scream. Sometimes I want to run. Sometimes I want to reach through the computer and… 

…pat somebody on the head and simply say in the most southern way possible, ‘bless your heart.’

 

In ministry, drama is a reality. Pettiness is part of the job. It is something that Christ knows well as the overly religious people in his day acted the same way. It is not the way it should be. It does not deserve our time. It is a tool that Satan loves to use to distract and discourage. Drama is toxic and it will never, ever be worth the time of any pastor who is trying to change lives in the name of Jesus.

Regardless of ones political perspective, its interesting to watch the culture of drama different presidents allow. President Obama was infamously known as ‘no drama Obama.’ President Trump by his own direct admission loves the environment of drama, infighting and competition as a way of informing decision making. While drama might have a place in government, it has no place in the church and no place in the Kingdom of God. 

 

My new goal as a pastor is to find a way to be kind and gracious in the midst of drama while giving it absolutely no time and attention, especially the petty stuff, because thats what it deserves and that is what is right and healthy for the church. I am committed to the things that actually mater: caring for people in deep pain, reaching people for Jesus, making disciples, serving my community and building the Kingdom of God in my circle. There is nothing more beautiful and powerful in the world than watching someones life transformed in Jesus. As for petty drama, it can go back to where it belongs, residing in the fires of hell with Satan.

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26 Feb

Crisis and Care

Posted in Uncategorized on 26.02.18 by Merlyn

One of the things that I am always honored to do, but prefer not to have to do is to walk with people in crisis and loss. There has been a lot of that the past several months in our church and community with many people in need of care. In a one week period, I performed 5 funerals, of which two were 16 and one 30. That is not the way it is supposed to go and it was not easy, nor is it something I would want to do. Yet, in the midst of that, I am humbled, honored and grateful to care for people in difficult times and times of need. Dealing with crisis, loss, pain and suffering is a part of the call to ministry, whether you serve a church or not, are full or part time and regardless of what role you hold in the church. For some this work is natural, for others it is not. For some it fits their gifting, others it is a great stretch. Regardless of where you find yourselves, it is always draining. In fact, we use more energy on our emotional work than our intellection work (2nd) or physical work (3rd). I have seen this in my career and learned this in the process of training my border collies as well.

For me, helping people in these moments is one of my strong suits and whether a combination of natural gifts, learning or experience, something that I have sadly become gifted in doing. I am honored to care for people in this way, though it has led to more frequent hair coloring appointments! We should never be alone in this thing called life, it is just too hard, it is not the way God intended it to be. We need each other. There are few greater honors than walking with someone in the midst of their pain an grief. It is part of the deal with this thing we call ministry.

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13 Nov

Distraction

Posted in Uncategorized on 13.11.17 by Merlyn

One of the things that I have learned and noticed lately is the power that distractions play in a church or any organization and their impact on the ministry and work of the organization along with its staff and leaders. Its important in ministry to address any issues that arise, weather concerns, complaints, questions, conflict, misunderstandings, misinformation etc. Its important that all people are heard and cared for to the best and most reasonable sense of our ability to do so. That said as we do those things and address things that arise, it is easy to allow those items to pile up and distract you from the mission and work of the ministry. It is often so subtle, you do not notice it or see it coming. It takes intentional attention and awareness. This of course is much easier said than done, the line is fine and the balance is awkward. If our ministries get too focused on the small things and the distractions, their health, purpose and effectiveness will be impacted, so it is certainly important that leaders are attentive.

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12 Sep

Biting

Posted in Uncategorized on 12.09.17 by Merlyn

Congregation members are often referred to as sheep, a connection to the Gospel and some of the teachings of Jesus. I have found this analogy to be inaccurate and unhelpful. That said, there are some aspects of it that can be helpful. I was once told that sheep bite. I do not know if that is true or not, but I can imagine it. While the sheep analogy is not helpful and while I do not know if sheep in fact bite, I do know that Christians and church members do bite quite frequently. I of course am not referring to physical biting, but the bitting with words that Christians around the world have become known for. Pastors and other ministry leaders are often the target of this biting. I know as a Pastor, that I have had other Christians and church members say some of the most awful things to me and about me. It always hurts a little, sometimes more. There is the idea that a Pastor is not in fact a person, rather community property. So when someone in a church attacks or is biting, it is not seen the same way by many, as somehow it is ok to treat Pastors, staff and ministry leaders that way. This has happened to me far more times than I can count. Each time it has hurt. Each time I have forgiven. I often seek to understand why someone would do that, never make it about my character and work to let it go as quickly as possible. I cannot remember most of the times this has happened to me, because I do move on. We often take out our issues on the church because we cannot get away with it at home or at work. There in lies the double-edged sword so to speak. On the one hand, it seems so wrong to be nasty at church, to the church and its leaders. On the other hand, the church should be a safe place to let go of all your angst. The church is to be a place of love and pastors and ministry leaders must love their people even when they bite. That has not been difficult for me personally, but I know it can be for many. Rarely do I remember the bites of the past, unless it has become a funny story or God brings it to mind as an illustration for a teaching or a sermon.

Recently, I received an email that was quite biting. In fact, I can say I have never received anything quite like it and those I shared it with agreed that they too had never seen anything like it and that it was mean, inappropriate and crossed a line. After reading it, my first response was anger. My second was hurt. My third was love. I often remind people that love seeks to understand and always forgives. I also remind people that love has boundaries. So I instituted some of my boundaries, but that did not feel like enough. I then decided I needed to respond graciously and clearly, not to stick up for myself, but to explain the background behind the concern in the email, but to name the inappropriateness of the communication and to clearly communicate that it is not something that will be accepted or tolerated. It was not easy and knowing Christians I am not sure what the repercussions were, but of all the emails I have ever sent that had any emotion in them that could be received negatively, this is one that I could not have felt better about. Its hard when people attack and hurt you, especially when you have nothing but love for them and have and desire only to help them. The reality is, Christians can be biting sometimes and our response is always to forgive and love, and sometimes to point out that biting is not ok.

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11 Aug

Continued Learning

Posted in Uncategorized on 11.08.17 by Merlyn

Having spent a little less than a week at the national denominational gathering for one of the denominations in which I am ordained and served, it was a good opportunity to once again evaluate continued learning and the priority it has in my life. It was only my second time at this event as it is costly and often occurs during the Willow Creek Leadership Summit which is a fantastic leadership event. For me, I love learning and I love being with colleagues. It sharpens, encourages and refreshes. Time away from church and family is precious as are church funds and expense budgets. That, in the end often dictates my own decision making when it comes to these events. For me, I have come to want and need a high quality interaction and experience that builds both me and the Kingdom. If it is not, I tend to make a less frequent obligatory experience. I am in a place where I need to plan these things ahead to use my time wisely each year, but am thankful for so many great opportunities.

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14 Jul

Transparency

Posted in Uncategorized on 14.07.17 by Merlyn

Transparency is an interesting and strange beast, especially in the church. In general, great leaders and organizations are very transparent. That said, every organization must have some level of confidentiality and a certain amount of secrets. The balance is not easy, mostly because those in the church or organization do not all agree on what should be transparent and what should not be transparent. The other challenge is that many leaders are afraid of transparency, especially personally. We have a cultural message that showing weakness is wrong. We have a narrative in Christianity that leaders who are transparent hurt their leadership and those they are leading. We have a fear in ourselves of what might happen to us or how our transparency might be used against us if we choose to be transparent. As a result, most either allow the organization to dictate their level of transparency or refuse to be transparent at all. What healthy ministries, leaders and organizations need is a well thought out, clear, intentional level of transparency balanced with appropriate confidentiality. As a pastor and leader, I am learning that this is much easier said than done.

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