Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

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


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


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


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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14 Jun

Staff Management

Posted in Uncategorized on 14.06.17 by Merlyn

Many ministry, church and non-profit leaders face the joy and challenge of managing staff. I was speaking with a colleague and friend yesterday about the nature of staff management. It is a gift and an honor to manage, care for and lead a staff of any size. Working as a team is difficult when you mix gifted and flawed human beings with varying personalities, skills and talents. It is important to communicate, to be honest, to be supportive and to not surprise those you work with so that you may build a healthy culture of trust that leads to the whole team living up to their God given potential.

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14 May

Kingdom Picture

Posted in Uncategorized on 14.05.17 by Merlyn

Today the three pastoral staff from our church went to Indianapolis to lead a seminar on children, youth and family ministry. It was a good time with a small group of people from Lutheran churches in Indiana and Kentucky. It truly was a blessing to be a part of something like this, lead something and share in ministry with other like minded folks. We are also thankful to do something meaningful that can have a kingdom impact. I am deeply passionate about growing the Kingdom of God. I am not worrying about growing my or our kingdom, but the kingdom of God. Anything I can do do to be a part of that is a gift and blessing.

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11 Apr

Another Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on 11.04.17 by Merlyn

At a recent council meeting, one council member offered another prayer that struck me as honest, mature an healthy as each member takes a turn leading us in a devotion and prayer. I thought it worth sharing:

Tonight as we are gathered together, we have have our own hopes, dreams, visions and concerns about the future of St. Mark’s. Please help us to remember that we have been elected to be stewards of this church and stewards of our Kingdom. Help us to push aside our own personal agendas and to focus instead on what is best for your Kingdom. Help us each day to strive to be more like you so that when people who don’t know you see and interact with us, they can say without hesitation, “I want what that person is having.” We pray these things in your name, Amen.

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11 Mar

A Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on 11.03.17 by Merlyn

At a recent council meeting, one council member offered a prayer that struck me as honest, mature an healthy as each member takes a turn leading us in a devotion and prayer. I thought it worth sharing:

Dear God, thank you for allowing us to come together in your name.  We give thanks that we meet in Christian love. Thank you for the willingness to serve of those gathered here. Please help us to know that you will give us the resources and gifts (whatever they might be) to do that which you wish us to do. Help us to know that personal preferences are OK, but not to stumble over them. Please give us wisdom and good judgment to lead this congregation as you wish us to do. We ask you to fill us with your grace and tip us so it pours into the lives of others. In the name of Christ, Amen!

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11 Feb

Vision Brings Life

Posted in Uncategorized on 11.02.17 by Merlyn

“Those who do not have vision will perish.” These wise words from the Bible help me think about ministry and leadership. Without vision, my leadership will fall short. Without vision, the church will perish. Without vision, there cannot be great life. Yet, in the midst of vision comes challenge, hardship, anger and hatred. This may be the greatest challenge to vision, that not everyone is always on board with it. It causes me to often question and doubt, yet every time God comes to my rescue, comes to show me the way. For that I am deeply thankful.

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