Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

20 Feb

Generosity

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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18 Jan

The Other Side of the Curtain

Posted in Uncategorized on 18.01.20 by Merlyn

One of the strangest things to experience as a pastor is looking for a new church. Like most pastors, I have primarily attended the chruches I have served other than weekends off or a couple Sundays here and there. For the first time in a long time, my family and I are searching for a church to attend. Other than a couple months between jobs, we have not done this at all before. 

Visiting chruches as a pastor is interesting. I am not a consumer, nor am I finding myself making comparisons or critiques. That said, I know a lot about various chruches and churches in general and so that makes things tricky. What is nice is going to a church and not worrying about any of the details, sleeping in, showing up 10-15 minutes before it starts and simply sitting and worshipping.

Listening to a good sermon is a great gift and a meaningful experience. Simply put, it is wonderful to worship with my family.

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21 Dec

Leaving

Posted in Uncategorized on 21.12.19 by Merlyn

No matter the reason, leaving a ministry position is hard. For most pastors and ministry leaders, at least those who are professionals who care, a lot has been invested. Leaving comes with grief. Grief comes with a lot of feelings. Sadness, hope, excitement, loss, anger, shame, denial, guilt, frustration and blame just to name a few. I have yet to perfectly handle leaving, but even though I left due to some concerns, I am working hard to make this my best departure yet. I love the church and its people and want nothing but the best for it. I have invested nearly everything that I have and am into this church for the last 6.5 years and want to do all I can in the final month to leave well and to leave it well. A key part of leaving well is recognizing that everyone, even those who are happy about a departure struggle with fear and grief. Fear and grief make us do, believe and say the strangest things. I am reminded of the words of Jesus, ‘love covers a multitude of sins.’

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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.

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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