Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

19 Nov

Next Season

Posted in Uncategorized on 19.11.19 by Merlyn

It is a season of change and transition for me, one that is clearly from God. 

On October 10, I submitted my resignation as Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Auburn, IN. It was a painful decision, but the right one.

Since arriving at St. Mark’s, our commitment has been that we would not move before the kids graduate. We are keeping that commitment and not moving. While our hope was for me to be I that role for 10-25 years, we also knew that God ultimately was calling me to something broader. The question has been for the last couple years, what that is, when it is to be and whether or not that is in addition to or instead of my role at St. Mark’s.

As for a rationale for my decision and its timing, here is what I shared with the church: ‘The council has asked me to be fully transparent about the rationale for my decision and I want to honor that request. While there have been a number of problematic things over the last 6-8 months, ultimately, I decided to resign because I was not able to get the tangible support that I needed in the way and timing in which it was needed for me to continue here and honor my own well being and the well being of my family. It is not the outcome I had hoped for, but it is the right decision for us. Please know that there is no controversy and for me there is no anger or blame at all, simply sadness, hurt and certainly some fear. I love this church and you, its people, sincerely. We have many people here who will be our friends for the rest of our lives and who have been a source of comfort, support and love.’

My last official day is January 15, 2020 and my last day in the office will be Sunday January 12, 2020.

Ultimately this decision was the decision that was best for my health and the health and well being of my family. God speaks to us in a variety of ways; through the scriptures, through others, through suffering, through circumstances and more. In all my life, never have I heard God speak more clearly before, during and in hindsight than I have on this decision. It’s been laughable in many ways. I have also had a ton of support from family and friends. Jessica and I have seen a dramatic drop in blood pressure, positive change in the disposition of our kids and more interest in faith from both kids than we have seen in at least two years. I leave with no regrets at all and for that I am thankful.

Certainly there is some sadness and grief and a little bit of fear as well. That said, we also have some excitement and most importantly a great sense of peace. We remain thankful and ask for your prayers for our family as we trust God and seek clarity out what is next.

As to whats next, stay tuned for more about that soon. Exciting things ahead!

Much Love,

Marcus

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19 Oct

Support Matters

Posted in Uncategorized on 19.10.19 by Merlyn

One of the major issues for pastors, especially in terms of longevity is receiving support. Support is important to all leaders. It needs to be seen, heard and experienced. Support has to be tangible especially in seasons of discouragement, high stress and high expectation. October is pastor appreciation month in an attempt to help with support. I think fewer than 5% of people in a church recognize this at all. This year, I have decided to post a word of support for a different pastor or ministry leader I know each day in October. Support and encouragement matter. We all need it. This is especially true in ministry where expectations and demands are high, encouragement and positive feedback are minimal and stress and trauma are a part of the job. Be sure to show the pastors and staff in your church tangible support in any way that you can!

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20 Sep

Revitalization

Posted in Uncategorized on 20.09.19 by Merlyn

One of my deep passions is the revitalization of existing churches. Revitalization is not easy, but it is important and is of great value. It is not as attractive or fun as planting churches, but throughout the United States we have many wonderful churches of varying sizes and traditions filled with people who love Jesus and the church, but have no idea how to proceed in reaching people and being the church today. We have found that most of our requests for consulting services and seminars have been coming from churches desiring revitalization and as always we design our service to any church around what they need, not based on a particular formula, package, program or approach. Every church is different and at the heart of our mission is to see churches amazed by what God can do in and through them as the Holy Spirit brings life to the church they love. As always, feel free to contact us with questions.

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16 Sep

Kids are off Limits

Posted in Uncategorized on 16.09.19 by Merlyn

When you are a leader, you are always under a microscope. While aspects of this are unfair and wrong, most of it is legitimate, necessary and important. When you are a leader, people are looking to you for….leadership.

Whether you are a leader in government, church, military, education, the non-profit or corporate world, people will always be looking to you for leadership. Whether you are a person of faith or not, as a leader you need to be a person of character. Character matters deeply. Character is what you say and do, most significantly when no one is looking or listening. If you are a person of faith, character is even more important and the Bible makes it crystal clear that the standard and expectations are higher for leaders. This is the reality of leadership, people rightly expect more of you. If you cannot handle this or do not like it, do not lead. 

As a leader, the microscope can be hard, intimidating, hurtful and frustrating. It can also make you a better person and a better leader. While as a leader, every area of your life is under a microscope and that is right, it is not always reasonable. 

For the leadership microscope to examine your behavior, your character, your words, your morality and your leadership is entirely reasonable and fair. For the leadership microscope to examine your hair, clothing, your weight, your wealth, race or gender is unreasonable, unfair and is not right. 

Leaders certainly need to have thick skin and have to accept the reality of the leadership microscope, but they also are called to speak out against the places where the microscope does not belong. As for the fair and reasonable parts of the leadership microscope, embrace them. Allow the examination of your life to build your character and humility. Examine the comments you receive for they all have at least a kernel of truth, even the most ridiculous, uninformed and unfair comments. 

While there is much debate about the nature and the place of the leadership microscope, there is one area where we can all agree it does not belong, is on the children of leaders. Kids are off limits. They are children and need to be protected from the leadership microscope. It is not the job of the the people and organization you lead to judge your kids or your parenting. While it takes a village to raise a child, your children are off limits to the leadership microscope. The village should only help where invited or where a deeper relationship exists.

The children of leaders are not leaders, they are children. When I say kids, I do not mean those 18 and under. When I say kids, I speak developmentally, those who are 25 and under because its not until that age at the earliest that the brain is fully developed. Children are off limits. Its not right or fair to criticize or attack the children of leaders for their behavior. Children tend to act like, well, children. Adolescents tend to act like—adolescents. They are just children. They did not choose to be children of leaders. They do not belong under the leadership microscope. They are to be left alone. They are off limits whether they are children of leaders in government, church, education, military, non-profit and the corporate world. Children are off limits. They already are forced to live in the limelight of leadership, being known by far more people than they could ever know, constantly being watched, constantly being evaluated. It is incredibly destructive. They are just children, leave them alone. They are off limits. 

Recently, I intentionally dyed parts of my hair bright orange. Orange, because it is my favorite color. I used a color that is not a natural and normal hair color to make a point. The point was simple: as a pastor and a leader, I am not community property. Its not anyones business what my hair style looks like. My children are not community property either. The second reason I did this to my hair was to protect my children. They were getting too much of the leadership microscope. They were experiencing a lot of judgment about things that do not matter. My 11 year old, sensitive, adolescent daughter received some snarky and hurtful comments about her hair from some that I lead. It happened in a place that is supposed to be a safe place. After too much of the leadership microscope, both my children don’t want much to do with that organization I lead and that is a tragedy. So I am using this opportunity to make a point, to stick up for my kids, to distract from them, to remind them that I love them more than my leadership, my work or those I lead. I am also doing it to make a point about where the leadership microscope does and does not belong with me and with the rest of my family. 

Children, children are off limits.

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16 Aug

Sabbatical Reflections Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on 16.08.19 by Merlyn

This summer, I had a 9 week sabbatical. Actually, it was technically 6 weeks with 2 weeks continuing ed and 1 week vacation. Nonetheless, I thought it helpful, if only for myself, to take some time to reflect on both my sabbatical and return on this blog.

What I Realized on Sabbatical Part 1

One of my first and most significant realizations was that I need to be less emotionally invested in my ministry, in my full time work. That doesn’t mean I should not care or be emotionally invested at all. It does mean, that while my identity is not rooted in ministry, I am too emotionally invested in the challenges, outcomes and drama in my full time ministry call. While I can separate on vacation and sabbatical, I recognized a need to separate some each evening in order to recharge and give my full self at home. While I have worked hard to have good boundaries with my family and spend meaningful time with my kids, I recognized I needed to think less about work at home to give more emotionally to my family.

What I Realized returning from Sabbatical Part 1

Returning was not easy and I knew that would be the case. I also knew that if I came back to negativity instead of positivity, it would be especially difficult. Good leaders work themselves out of a job. Good leaders lead in a way that if they get hit by a bus, there is sadness, but life goes on. Good leaders lead in a way where when they are gone, things can function but they are missed enough to know they are needed.

The most important lesson that I learned in my return is the leadership matters. We underestimate the value of leadership not just in terms of the daily function, but also in terms of vision and managing conflict. While others are capable of leading we lead best when we lead together. Leadership matters. Its easy in the church to get caught up in the joys or challenges of the moment and not gain a perspective on the bigger picture. One of the first things I needed to do upon my return was paint a picture of the bigger picture, especially in this season of staff transition in the church I serve.

That may seem like a lot, but it also feels like the tip of the iceberg as I continue to reflect on sabbatical and adjust to my return. More next month!

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28 May

Sabbatical!

Posted in Uncategorized on 28.05.19 by Merlyn

On May 29 at 2pm, I begin sabbatical. It is the first of my career and something I have been waiting for and looking forward to for a long time. I need it. I deserve it. I have earned it. I will be gone 9 weeks total, 6 weeks of those sabbatical, 2 of them continuing education and 1 vacation. 

The point of sabbatical is to experience renewal. There are a variety of ways that people approach and complete their sabbatical. My approach was shaped most by the great need I have, which is rest and renewal. It was also shaped by not being awarded a sabbatical grant that I sought out. My hope is to deepen my relationship with Jesus and my family who have sacrificed so much for my ministry. Trying to turn a church around is not easy and it certainly has taken its toll on me. Its time to do something selfish for a season and take care of me and get healthier so that I can also move forward in greater health.

For my sabbatical, I will be traveling some, spending a week in Colorado with my family and 4 days in Kentucky with my wife Jessica. The rest of the time will be at home in the area, with maybe some day or overnight trips. In addition to time to rest and reflect, I intend to do a significant amount of reading and will work on projects that give me life. Some projects will be on my property while others will be on the house, cars or a variety of other projects. The most important part will be the change of pace for a season. 

During this time I will not be working and will do all I can to not think about work. My work email will be off and I am turning my cell phone over to my wife so that I do not even so much as see a text message. I will not be in the office or checking office voicemails. I will only be checking my personal email once a week. I will also not be checking social media or social media messages, though I may post from a third party app from time to time. I am teaching one class, so I will check that email more often and work on that a little. I will have a second phone with a private email that I can be reached by my office in an exceptionally significant emergency. I will also be using this email and phone to keep up with my family and friends. We will be avoiding town except to be with friends and if the kids have something. We just know that we will bump into someone and they will not be able to not talk about work. This no contact time will not be easy, but it is important.

The concept of sabbatical is so important given the work and sacrifice of a pastor. The constant demands, the criticism, competing consumeristic interests and the vicarious trauma takes a toll. I am so thankful that I get to do this. 

I am looking forward to how the Holy Spirit ministers to me in this very important season. 

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22 Apr

Pastors as Community Property

Posted in Uncategorized on 22.04.19 by Merlyn

Below is an article I wrote for a church newsletter:

Why do we??…

See Pastors and Their Families as Community Property 

One of the most difficult adjustments in being a pastor, is adjusting to the mindset that most congregations and their members having regarding their pastors and their families. In most settings and in the minds of many members of churches in the United States, Pastors and their families are seen as community property. This means that church attendees assume that they in part ‘own’ Pastors and their families and have a special right to dictate the appearance, personal life, personality, interests and time of their pastors. While the leadership of churches should hold Pastors to a moral standard, this is something entirely different.

Over the years I have seen, heard and experienced this mindset. It is wrong, often painful and unhealthy. In many case, we say things to Pastors and their families that we would never say to someone else: strangers, friends or even spouses. We comment on and critique every aspect of the lives of our pastors and their families: their time, appearance, personality, interests and more. Things are set by those in churches that if the roles were reversed and pastors were to say to congregation members would cause tremendous angst and hurt, yet we don’t flinch in saying it to our Pastors.

So why do individuals and congregations take this approach?

The Personal Servant Mindset. In many cases congregations and parishioners assume that the Pastors and their families exist to be their personal servant. This often means the neglecting of family, marriage and rest in order to meet every diverse need, opinion and expectation in the church. It is the ‘spiritual butler’ approach, but even if it were right or healthy, its impossible to achieve.

The Donation Mindset. The consumer mindset that drives our American culture has also infiltrated our church as a heresy disguised as an improvement to the ministry of the church. Congregations and parishioners across the country assume that since they give to the church that they have a right to weigh in on every aspect of the life of their pastors and their pastors families. Interestingly enough, we do not do this in any other area in our culture and it is neither fair, biblical or healthy. It distorts the purpose of the tithe and joyful giving. There is and must be a difference between the church and Mc Donalds. 

The “Because we Care” Excuse. More than once I have heard someone say something inappropriate or nasty to me and when challenged say to me, ‘I only say it because I care.’ If we were really honest with ourselves, we would admit that while we care, this statement is not accurate. There are many people in our lives we care about and in few instances would we say things to them that we say to Pastors and their families.

As one article notes…“The fishbowl pressures on pastoral spouses and children are enormous and they feel it keenly. Most ministry family members suffer in isolation, loneliness and silence. Few professions scrutinize and criticize their leaders and leader families like the Church does its pastors. These realities alone complicate the marriages and family life of pastors.”

Pastors and their families are not community property. Don’t be surprised if the pastoral team or their families give you a gentle as possible reminder of this reality the needed. We are thankful for the mutual love we share and look forward to growing in this area together.

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12 Mar

Thoughts on Being a PK (Pastors Kid)

Posted in Uncategorized on 12.03.19 by Merlyn

Below is a blog post that my friend and colleague, Dan Bellinger wrote. You can visit his blog page here.

I’m a part of an exclusive group of people in the world, as I’m a pastor’s kid. Growing up, many of my closest friends were PK’s. The childhood of PK’s is different and weird, for many reasons, mostly because of your parent’s career choice. There are many cool things that came out of my dad’s choice in vocation, primarily my call to ministry. My experience helped me learn to adapt to new situations and helped me meet people from all over the world. But not all pastor’s kids have the same experience.

Many, if not most, of the people I grew up with, had close family and family friends living nearby. I never had the privilege of living near my grandparents. Often many of my friends had cousins and aunts and uncles nearby, I never did. This meant that the holidays were always chaotic, but it also meant that special times, like birthdays, were celebrated away from my home. 

I moved quite a bit as a pastor’s kid. I moved when I was 5 months old, 4 years old, 9 years old, 13 years old. I’m a more reserved person, so this was a difficult thing for me. I remember one time we moved, we couldn’t keep our dog with us, I loved my dog. Another time, I remember the impact of losing all my really close friends, and having to make all new friends in a new town; that was rough. I always felt that I was new and that I didn’t quite belong, at least as much as everybody else. They were “from here”, I moved here.

The house I lived in, was a parsonage. And from a very young age, I had to be aware that my home wasn’t our home. One church didn’t let my dad mow our own lawn. When my brother and I got into a fight and put a massive hole in the wall, it wasn’t a private matter, it was something that had to be discussed with church people, a fact that we were quite well aware of.

Even going to church was weird. Everybody knew who I was at the church, while at the same there were many people I didn’t know. This was a difficult thing, can you imagine people knowing personal details about you when you barely recognize them or remember their name? It’s an unsettling feeling. There could be a group of kids playing, and I would be the one that was recognized. We would all be doing something, but I was the one who’s parents heard about it.

Many people had an opinion about the way that I acted or how I should have acted. They weren’t afraid to share this opinion with us or my parents. Like all normal children, there were times I struggled to follow the rules. Unlike many children, I experienced church in a fishbowl. All of this was because of the career and calling that my father chose. As you can imagine, this pressure and lifestyle lead many PK’s to struggle with church. 

As a pastor, who now is the father of 2 PK’s, I’m a bit more aware of this reality. I get to watch my kids — and Jessica and Marcus’ kids for that matter— grow up with the same awareness that I had. Everybody knows their names and knows about their lives. And like my parents, I get the behavior reports from people in the congregation about my kids. And while I am thankful to be a part of a church who loves and supports them, I hope that their experience is healthy and normal.

With that in mind, here are my tips for how to act around pastor’s kids:

Please pray for our PK’s as their life can be tricky. 

Remember you probably know more about them than they do about you and that this can feel awkward to a child and teenager.

Keep comments about clothing, hairstyle, etc. positive and rare. Making critical comments about how they look can hurt kids and are inappropriate.

Treat them like any other kid in church. They’re normal kids, just have parents with a unique job.

We know they misbehave. Unless they’re hurting somebody or something no need to report. 

Like most kids, sometimes they’re not comfortable talking to adults.

Being critical, mean, and judgmental about a pastor’s kid feels like an attack on their parent.

As a pastor, I am aware that my kids didn’t ask for the PK life that they live. As our families join us in our work, please know we are trusting you with them. Being a loving and supportive church family to our families is the greatest gift you can give any pastor.

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01 Mar

Airline Rankings

Posted in Uncategorized on 01.03.19 by Merlyn

I decided to update my airline ranking from last year given that I have been doing a lot of traveling the last year. My work in ministry has had me traveling all around. I have had the privilege to travel to 40 states, 25 countries (not counting U.S.) and 5 continents since graduating high school. In that time I have flown with many airlines. Some are still operating, others are not. Some were major airlines, others were not. Some were U.S. based airlines and others were not. Below are my rankings for airlines I have flown with that are still operating from best to worst.

1. Qatar

2. Southwest

3. Delta 

4. Cathay Pacific/Cathay Dragon

5. Swiss Air

6. American

7. Lufthansa

8. Turkish airlines

9. LATAM Air

10. Qantas

11. Virigin Australia

12. Kenya Air

13. KLM

14. United

15. US-Bangla Airlines

16. Frontier

17. Allegiant

18. Air Buddha

19. Jet Star

20. Biman Bangladesh Airline

21. El Al

600. China Eastern

666. Air Canada

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11 Jan

The Joy of a Great Team

Posted in Uncategorized on 11.01.19 by Merlyn

I was reminded yesterday how much joy it is to have a great staff and leadership team. In any organization, especially a church, having a diverse, quality, unified team is one of the greatest assets that you can have. Having a great team is more than just hiring well, its creating a healthy, honest culture of freedom, grace and accountability. How is your team and your team culture?

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