Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

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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19 Nov

Next Level Conversation

Posted in Uncategorized on 19.11.18 by Merlyn

This weekend we had our church council (our leadership body) yearly retreat. of all these types of events and meetings that I have been a part of throughout my career. Its not that it was deeply profound, rather our time together was quite simple. The thing that made this retreat great was the level and depth of conversation. There was tremendous thought, prayer, ownership and depth. It was a turning point in our ministry in my mind as our leaders took their thinking to the next level. It was a simple moment that I am quite thankful for and makes all the effort to get to this point well worth it.

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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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