Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Friendly Church

Most of us think we are. I have never had anyone say “You should come to my church. We are very unfriendly but you would love it!” Makes us smile to even think about it doesn't it? I even was at a church once that had on the sign in front and on their bulletin “The Friendly Church!”

I put together a seminar years ago on seeing ourselves as others see us and have offered it over the years in different places I have served. One of the things I work to help churches I serve either as a pastor or consultant is how they are perceived in the community. When I was teaching marketing years ago I used to talk about in the eyes of the customer “perception is reality” even when it is not what we want it to be. That is true with a product, a service, a church or even an individual.

A few days ago I received the following message from a former member of a church I served. “Thought of you yesterday. How you always told our Church to be open and welcoming to people walking in for the first time. Ben and Kim bought a house outside Anywhere.  They had been going to a very welcoming and loving Church in Sometown since Sam was born and was baptized there. They decided to try the Methodist Church in Anywhere this Sunday. Kim works weekends so it is Ben usually alone with Sam. Not a good experience, Sam is 18 months old and talked sometimes during service, people turned and stared at him, not smiling or welcoming. After service a few older couples came and welcomed him. No young couples or middle age couples. I'm very sad about it, he said he won't go back, felt very uncomfortable. I pray so hard my children will raise their children to know and love God with all their hearts and then something like this happens. Thank you for opening my eyes years ago to being welcoming to others coming into the Church for the first time.  :( “

I wish I could say this is an unusual occurrence but the fact is that this is the most common experience people have when they visit our churches. So much of what we do is focused on those that are already “inside” the church we don’t even notice it would be meaningless to someone “outside” the church. The problem is that we sometimes welcome people into our buildings but not into our churches. The building is always the place where the church, the people, gather and even if we do a great job of inviting people into the building, integrating into the people is far more difficult usually unless we are intentional about it.

Of course this is an unusual occurrence in another way in that someone entered the building without being invited by someone that was already there. Would the experience have been any different? We need to be prepared to build relationships with people as soon as they connect with the church in any way. Today that is more likely to happen outside the building than inside. Remember, the church is a gathering of follower of Jesus wherever you are.

Are you prepared to extend a welcome to your church? 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Special Interest Leadership

I like most leaders have always said I have special interests. The main interest is leading people to know Jesus Christ. The great commission in Matthew 28 is “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I have spent the last 40 years of my life learning about and helping others learn about Jesus.

In my work on the fringes of Conference leadership I have always said that I believe we need renewal in two areas, renewal in our churches and in our families, and that will only come when we point people to the teaching of Jesus. As I have studied John Wesley over the years I see a man of many interest but his ministry was grounded in the scripture of the Bible. Using the traditions of the church, his experience with faith and works he used reason to bring a message of hope and reconciliation to the world. That hope was always Jesus!

Today in one of the denominations that came from the roots of Wesley, The United Methodist Church, I see a church often led by those with a special interest that they are willing to point to at all costs even when it points away from Jesus. Think about how we elect leadership! Do we look at those that have a relationship with Jesus Christ and that shows in their daily life and leadership? Do we look at those that have taught us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and how to grow in our faith? Or do we elect based on their willingness to support our special interest, whatever it is? How many of our General and Jurisdictional candidates will be elected because they represent some segment of the church, rather than how they reflect Jesus to the church and the world. Will those elected leaders than go on to rewrite our Book of Discipline to make it possible to invite people into discipleship in the life and resurrection of Jesus or will they need to represent their special interest? Will those same representatives go on to elect new Bishops because of their leading in making disciples of Jesus or will they elect based on the color of their skin, gender, nationality, or their support for some special interest group?

Over the last 20 to 30 years I have watched us continuously to elect delegates and leaders so that we look like we are a diverse denomination and claim it is so that voices can be heard. Is that really the reason? Shouldn’t the voice that we focus on be the voice of Jesus heard through the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t we be electing leaders that will lead us toward Jesus?

Let me be clear, I still like everyone have special interests, I have spent my life studying renewal of the church and the family. I understand what it is to be passionate about something and I hope you are too. I hope our first passion is our relationship with Jesus and how everything else in our life will come to reflect him to the world. The cost of that will be great! Jesus told those that were wanting to follow him and be his disciple that they would be set apart. In the Sermon on the Mount he said “11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

John Wesley knew what it was to live out this verse and he left this world with the final words “Best of all, God is with us.” I am praying for you my friends, that you may be drawn deeper into the love of God through Jesus Christ and that wherever our paths take us in the end each of us will know that “Best of all, God is with us!” Be blessed my friends.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Elders – Called to Wherever, Whenever and into Whatever

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the role of the elder in the United Methodist Church. When I started the journey to becoming an elder at the age of 38, after 20 years in management, I decided that I was willing to fully commit to the sacrifices and challenges of living out the life of an elder. I started out as a local pastor serving a small country church and for eight years I served that congregation while working full time including 7 years on our Conference staff and going to seminary. As I think back on those years as a local pastor I realize how much my ministry was impacted by the elders that had been the pastors of the churches I attended and then while serving at Emory Chapel I was surrounded by a number of elders with many years of experience and wisdom. While I believed the work I was doing was important and I thought of myself as committed to the church,  I knew that with the bulk of my income coming from other sources, living in my own home in the community of my choosing and living more than 30 miles from the church I was not connecting to my church or community in the same way that many of the elders around me were able to.

I am very aware of the cost to a church or group of churches to have an ordained elder as their pastor. There is a minimum salary, a reimbursement account for ministerial expenses, hospitalization, pension, a parsonage including the utilities, office space in the church and the parsonage. Today the cost in many places is close to or more than $80,000 a year. That is a lot of money. We are finding it more and more difficult for a church to support this kind of pastoral care in many places. Is the problem the cost of the pastor or the faithfulness of the church to make disciples for Jesus Christ?

While many around me saw the call on my life to pastoral ministry I fought that call for more than 20 years. The truth is I liked having some semblance of control over my life, where I worked, where I lived, who I lived near, the people I spend the bulk of my time with. One of the things I liked most was the ability of people around me to see me for more than the work that I did. They seemed to be able to separate my work, be it managing a business or non-profit or teaching, from the many other things I did in my life. I was involved in a local church, lead many Bible studies, coached and officiated for numerous sports, became active in local politics as a candidate, public servant and campaign worker. I belonged to numerous organizations and groups that brought richness to my life that usually were unrelated to most other areas of my life.

While I was involved in many other activities I have since I was a teenager tried to live my life to have an impact for the Kingdom of God in every one of those areas. Since I decided to offer my life to God and follow Jesus and his teaching at the age of 16 my life has traveled many paths, some I am proud of and some that I wish I had made different decisions. For years I studied the Bible, lead Bible studies and served my local churches in many ways. I belonged to two United Methodist churches before I entered the ministry, a mid-sized urban church and a large rural church. I was raised in the country in the midst of the steel industry and the heart of unions when they were extremely strong. My dad was a steel worker for more than 35 years and one of the hardest working men I have ever met and a union member. As I began my faith journey as a young teenager I was surrounded by Christian people that struggled with what it meant to follow Jesus on a daily basis. I can still remember my grandfather poring over his Bible at the kitchen table and debating what passages meant to daily living with many that entered his home. Interestingly I can never remember him going to church. His wife, my grandmother, on the other hand never missed a Sunday and took her two daughters, including my mother, with her and the church would shape their lives in many ways that I would only come to appreciate years later.  I was impacted by the faith I saw lived out.

As a child growing up in my rural community we were C&E Christians, Christmas and Easter attenders in church. While we did not attend worship regularly my mother taught me the Bible stories and read to me from the Bible before bed many nights. I grew up with the stories of the Bible. When I was 14 we began attending church but that is another story! Not only did we begin to attend church but I was required to attend Sunday school and MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship)! We had an Associate member of the Annual Conference as our pastor and He continued to challenge me to give my life to Jesus and follow Him and at the age of 16 I knelt before that congregation and offered my life to Jesus. On that day I didn’t know what that would mean. It began my journey of faith that continues to evolve and grow today.

That fall a young man, Walt Hehman, a seminary student, would become my pastor. We would travel with him as he completed seminary and was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. Walt would guide my journey in faith, get me started in District and Conference activities, and become a vital part of my life. For 7 years he helped to mold me in so many ways. It was through him that I began to see the cost of being an elder and pastor. He would tell me that I would one day be a District Superintendent. I would laugh and tell him that I wasn’t going to be a pastor so he never had to worry about that. I wasn’t willing to set aside my goals, making money and gaining power, to serve a church that required you to go wherever, whenever and into whatever you were sent. For the next 20 years I would go to college, begin a business career, get an MBA, teach at the college I graduated from and continue to minister and grow in my faith through those avenues. During the whole time I was doing ministry in the name of Jesus as I attempted to live out what he had taught.

After fighting the call to ministry for more than 20 year my pastor ask me if I realized that I would never accomplish what God was calling me to be and impact the world until I was willing to give up my life and follow Him and he saw that as a call to full-time ordained ministry. Believing that there had to be another way I agreed to start the process of exploration into the ordained ministry fully expecting to reject the call. The truth is I tried to find a way to being ordained without giving up control of my life either to God or those placed in authority over me, DSs and Bishops. I have learned that I cannot serve the church until I am able to give up that control and allow God to work in and through me. Over the next 9 years I would serve a small church, go to seminary, work on our Conference staff and join the struggle to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In 2004 I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. On that day I vowed to go wherever, whenever and into whatever God called me through the direction of my DS and Bishop. At that time I was serving two churches as pastor and on the staff of a third in my home community and felt I was effectively building the Kingdom of God through that season of my ministry. Then I received the call to go to the City of Erie, PA and pastor an intercity church. I was a country boy and felt most comfortable in rural and small town settings but because I had said I will go wherever, whenever and into whatever my Bishop called me to I went. In response to a challenge from that Bishop I worked diligently to make disciples there and build the Kingdom of God. To say that they were the three most difficult years of my life might just be an understatement. The cost to serve there was high but I believe God called me to that place for a season so that both I and the church could grow.

Now that I am back in a rural and small town serving two churches I have been doing a lot of thinking about the cost to the church and to me and my family of serving the church as a full-time elder and member of the Annual Conference. Most people don’t realize that when we are ordained we no longer hold membership in a local church but in the Annual Conference. We are appointed to the community in which we serve so that the “world is my parish” can be lived out. When I go to an appointment I have to be willing to go into whatever community my Bishop wishes me to touch, go whenever they send me, and serve whatever community to which I am sent. I do not get to choose where to go, what my income will be, what kind of house I will live in, what school my children will attend, and I am usually called to be far from my family and friends. Others decide how the house I live in will be cared for, what they are willing to do to help the church and I will be evaluated on their willingness to follow the Jesus. The cost to me as and elder to go wherever, whenever and into whatever I am sent is a cost that most will never see.

As we enter General Conference there will be discussion as to if we should keep the “guaranteed appointment” or not. I would gladly give up the “guaranteed appointment” as long as I get to give up the wherever, whenever and into whatever! The question will be whether the authorities, Bishops, District Superintendents, and churches are willing to give up this power and right to have a pastor that is willing to go wherever, whenever and into whatever.
We need to make sure we look at the costs for every decision we make.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Contemplative Mood

I am sitting on the front porch this morning after reading for an hour or so and feeling the need to contemplate many things in life this morning. I have been thinking about family, marriage, children, the challenges of step-parenting, the role of pastor, ministry today, Annual Conference, Ordination, recovery from surgery, the start of PT, summer and the need for renewal.

There is a fresh breeze blowing this morning after a couple of extremely hot days and it feels good to enjoy the breeze. Just as the breeze coming across the porch brings fresh air and cooler temperatures I am reminded that the wind of the Spirit brings fresh ideas and thoughts when I spend some time with God and contemplate what He is doing in my life and the world around me.

I have been thinking a lot about Annual Conference as we prepare to head to Grove City next week and at one point I was wondering if I would be able to go as I recover from shoulder surgery and have found it much more difficult than I anticipated. I was expecting a few days off and to be back in the saddle and running and now almost three weeks after surgery I am still not allowed to drive and starting PT today with what I now think might be a painful experience. It has made me slow down and given me a lot of time to think and reflect on what is going on in my life. Annual Conference has always been an important time to me to reconnect with friends and colleagues from across western PA and beyond and the idea of not being able to go brought out mixed emotions in me that I didn’t expect.  While I look forward to seeing friends and colleagues I don’t find myself the least bit interested in most of what else goes on during those days. Don’t get me wrong, I love the worship with 2000 people and the sense of once a year being connected to my United Methodist brothers and sisters in Christ in Western PA but really wonder if time and resources we spend there is good fiscal and time stewardship today.

This morning I have been thinking a lot about ordination. My first experience with ordination goes back to the 1970s when Walt Hehman, my pastor at the time, was ordained and we took a bus load to support him at one of the churches in Pittsburgh. I still have pictures of that day and remember the sense of God’s Spirit in that sacred place and time. Over the years we have moved from the multiple ordination services to one at AC and from the chapel to the large meeting space. When I was commissioned in 2004 the service was on Saturday night and my family and friends came, but I was in a new appointment and the fact that it was at Annual Conference and Grove City College I think made people from the churches feel it was not important to be there.  I distinctly remember during the communion service my station being at the back of the hall and if my family and friends had not come back there would have been no one to serve because there were so few people there. Now we require the clergy to be there so there is a large crowd but still limited participation from the laity. Is it time we ask the question “Is this the right place to hold ordination?” We spend an extra day at Annual Conference, at least those that are required to be there, most of the laity still go home, and while I am still touched by the service I really wonder if that is where it belongs. What would happen if we took it back to multiple locations, maybe three, and encouraged or even required clergy from the area to be there, would we get more participation from the laity that matter most to our ordinands? I wonder how many feel that same sense of the sacred place that I felt at Walt’s ordination.

I am thinking about those that are retiring after a lifetime of service to God, the church and the Western PA Conference and the need to move from having a retirement service to giving them a few minutes to share a reflection to save time for what? Maybe there should be a retirement banquet that family and friends were invited to that would celebrate this momentous occasion in the life of those that have given their life for the church. While it would not likely draw thousands, would it draw those most important to those whose life is being celebrated?

I guess what I am really contemplating is what needs to change to meet the needs of Christ’s church today? I know that for some I am stepping on holy ground! Sometimes I wish the Holy Spirit would just allow me to be a follower and go with the flow but that has never been where I felt lead.

I am contemplating my personal journey as well. The truth is today I am tired and would like to rest but there is a disruptive Spirit moving in me that says that I need to continue to reflect on how God is working in my life in this season and what is God calling me to change as well. When I think of the changes that have occurred in my life over the last three years I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving and a sense of awe while wondering where it is all leading. Three years ago at Annual Conference I met Kerry, my now beautiful bride; just going to show that something good can come out of Annual Conference. Two years ago I moved on June 30th to Cambridge Springs and on July 10th Kerry and I were married so we could start our life together here in a new home. It also meant that I had two teenagers in the house again including a teenage girl for the first time in my life. You talk about the stress inventories. I think I had them all!

The move here to Cambridge Springs has been a tremendous blessing to all of us. The kids have settled into a new school and are doing very well inside the classroom, in athletics and with new friends. Neither of the two churches I serve have a history of being pastor centered so they both have wonderful ministries that go on and allow me time to connect to the community.  It has also made it more difficult to get them to look at new ways of doing things and I am learning to go about ministry in different ways. It is hard to believe how social media has impacted my ministry here and the role it is playing in ministry to the community. I would be content to retire from this place of ministry as I see God work in and through His people here.

I have never been afraid to try something new and risk it failing, at least in the eyes of some. I am finding that traditional ways of doing ministry just simply don’t work anymore. I am struggling to discover what those changes are that God is calling me to make in order to serve Him and to make and grow disciples for Jesus Christ. I know that I need to make changes, but sometimes that is hard when you have been doing something for so long. As I look for new ways to preach, teach and disciple I find many that still want the old ways to work, and age has nothing to do with who wants that, and there is a fear about what making changes will mean for us. I am finding that younger generations don’t put the same value on face to face contact, want most things to be personalized for them, and I don’t know how to be most effective while meeting the needs of a diverse community.

Now ending my second year of marriage and being a stepfather has opened my eyes to a whole new world that is out there that the church has often ignored or made to feel unwelcome. As I have read and attended seminars on step-families I find that we are not prepared to meet the needs or understand what happens when the nuclear family is broken by death or divorce. I have had my eyes opened in ways I never imagined as I learn to build new relationships with people that I am now related to and responsible for and the unique challenges that presents. I am blessed by a wife that is willing to learn on this journey with me and we are growing in so many ways. Some statistics say that 85% of those under 18 today will be a part of a stepfamily in their lifetime. At the same time only about 5% of those in our pews is a part of a stepfamily. I am spending a lot of time thinking about what that means and what I can do to change both of those situations.

As I sit here recovering from surgery two years after an accident I have had a lot of time to think and reflect on what is important. God continues to amaze me in the blessings I experience each day while at the same time realizing that my body isn’t what it used to be. I heal slower and seem to add a new doctor each year. Some parts don’t work like they used to and some hurt far more than they used to. I find it harder to lose weight each year and finding time to get the necessary exercise gets harder and harder. I have also learned when I get that exercise and eat right I feel better and some of those parts work better.  Finding the balance between ministry work and personal needs is always a challenge as it is for everyone. While I try and practice what I preach, at times it is very difficult to live a healthy lifestyle. I am looking at my life and asking what I need to change and what the costs of those changes are likely to be.

This afternoon as I start physical therapy to restore my shoulder I anticipate there will be a certain amount of pain I will have to go through in order to rebuild my shoulder and it will be up to me how long that will take. While I can’t rush the process I also can’t get lazy and be afraid to work through the pain to get where I want to be. Isn’t that true of so much of life?

God is doing a work in me right now. I am praying each day that I will receive a little more insight in to His ways and feel the Spirit moving in me an stirring my spirit so that I continue to grow in my faith and relationship with Him. I thank God for this time of contemplation and while I am not sure where it will lead or if anyone will be touched through me I will continue to seek to serve Him with all that I am and all that I have.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Disconnected Leadership

I am laughing! This morning in my inbox was a connection to my Conference with a weekly e-news email. The title of one of the articles was Disconnected Connection?, and guess what, the link to the article didn't work! It is hard to stop laughing as I sit here thinking about it.

I spent many years in management and teaching at the college level before becoming a pastor. I went to a Christian College, Geneva College, where I learned that my faith needed to be lived out wherever God took me. I graduated with an Accounting, Business Administration degree and went into the world of management for a small family owned business. As I think back on it the collision between my faith and what I saw in the business world challenged my faith in many ways and for me made it stronger. I failed many times to live out my faith but every time I learned something from it. First I was invited back to Geneva as a speaker and after completing a Masters Degree in Business at Robert Morris I was invited to become an instructor there. I had the opportunity to challenge my students to go through the same struggle I did between living out their faith and living in the midst of what is often an evil world. The one thing I learned well there, both as a student and an instructor, was that I needed to stay connected to the world if I wanted to influence others for Jesus Christ.

I have spent my entire career working diligently to connect people to meet their needs wherever they are and to connect them to an awesome God that I have been called to serve. Over the years I have learned that I must always be willing to listen to many voices and at times most closely to those that are telling me what I don't want to hear. Leadership that fails to listen will fail to lead.

The article I was trying access was about our denominational Call to Action and the "recommendation to consolidate general agencies and the perceived disconnect between the agencies and local churches." Thus my laughter at a broken connectional link! When I was teaching marketing I often used the phrase that in the marketing world "perception is reality" and taught my students that if you wanted to sell your product much of your success would be based on the perception of your product and that would be the reality that you had to work from. My perception in my denomination is that the connectional links at all levels of leadership are so broken that those at the top are clueless about the perceptions in the pew.

Every day it seems the demands of our leadership conflict with the perceived needs in the pew and are completely out of touch with the view of those that are not sitting in pew. Several years ago when I moved to a new community I did what I thought I should do and began to spend time connecting to those that were not a part of the church I was serving. I began hearing two things very clearly. The first was that they continually referred to the church I was serving using the phrase "that is the church that used to" meaning that they were connected in some way to that church by what it used to do but no longer did. The second phrase that I heard was "we don't want to be a part of organized religion" and it took me awhile to figure out what that meant. I learned that it meant that they didn't want to be a part of an organization that its leaders said one thing but that their perception of what they did in their daily lives in reality didn't match up with what they said.

Many books have been published outlining what this means and I won't go into that here but the gist is that the local church is out of touch with the perception of it in the community. The sad thing is that I believe that many of those perceptions are the reality. We as leaders at all levels most of the times don't want to hear about those perceptions. We say "they are not reality" and "That is not who we really are" but, my friends, it really doesn't matter, perception is reality.

My perception of our denominational leadership is that they will develop a "Plan of Action" and demand that we execute it no matter how connected it is to the communities in which we serve. My perception is that many of those leaders are so busy developing ways to "teach us" how to be the church that they have lost touch with not only those in the pew but those that they are demanding that we reach for Christ. I am sure that many of my perceptions are wrong and I know that every one of those leaders is working as diligently as I am on what they see is important. What I also perceive is that what we have been doing as a denomination isn't working to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, out mission as a church.

I am very aware that these are my perceptions and that I don't have the full picture that the leaders have. My prayer is that we will begin to see a breakdown of the endless meetings, paperwork and time consuming demands that keep all of us disconnected from the communities we are called to serve. It seems to me that we have a call to action
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leaving FaceBook?

This morning I just finished reading a blog post that one of my FaceBook friends posted on why they were leaving FaceBook. I often question if the time I take for FB every day is time well spent and thought maybe this would provide me with some more reason to leave a world that at my age is not in my comfort zone much of the time. As I read the article it struck me that the very reason they were leaving were the reason I feel compelled to stay.

The truth is that I never wanted a MySpace page or a FaceBook account that would become one more thing I had to do each day or monitor. Several years ago one the youth in my church ask about having a MySpace page for the youth group and since I knew nothing about this media I thought I should at least check it out and see if it had any value. I went out and created a personal account and then began to connect to the other people that I found had pages as well. With those from different generations, especially the younger ones, I started to see the world in a new light. It began to open my eyes to how they connected and how thin many of those connections were. I began to realize that I had lost touch with what was happening in the world outside the church and I started to become very aware of why my church was not connecting to those outside the church building. I sure didn't like much of what I was reading but it did make me think, and for me that is always a good thing.

I started with a MySpace account and when FaceBook became popular I opened one of those accounts too. I have found FaceBook far more valuable today than the several other networking sites I am also on. I have just under a thousand "friends" on FaceBook. The interesting thing to me is that when I look through the list there are only a few, less than 20, that I couldn't tell you how I know them and where we made our first connection. Not that I am under any illusion that they are close friends or in some cases more than an acquaintance that I made somewhere in my life. Some are professional connections or people I have met through others.

This morning's blog had me asking if I was on FaceBook for me or for those that are my "friends." As I thought about it I have eliminated many of the things that I find as simply distractions for why I joined in the first place, the games, the applications that are for fun and all the question or survey stuff. I simply block all those apps as soon as they appear on my screen and I don't even have to see them anymore. All that I have left for the most part is the posting written by my friends or links that they find interesting. I also ignore any link that doesn't tell me why I should look at it in a personal note from that person since I have found that helps me stay away from virus type problems.

There have been two times that I have been encouraged to continue using FaceBook even though I often wonder if anyone is paying attention to the stuff I post. First, last year at the churches Annual Conference, a gathering of pastors and lay people from our more than 850 churches in Western PA, many people came up and told me that they made decisions on what to read based on my book reviews that I usually post and several mentioned appreciating the links and articles that I pass on from my friends. The second event was my class reunion this past weekend. Several people came up to me and told me that while we were not close in high school they really enjoyed reading my posts to FaceBook and the information that I passed on. Each of them mentioned that they had never commented or said anything on FB but that they wanted me to know that I had touched their life in some way.

I have spent my life trying to help others connect to one another in ways that will help them grow in many ways, their faith, their profession, their family or their joy. I have found FaceBook to be an excellent way to help others in that way and so I will be staying on FaceBook until there is a better way to touch the lives of my friends in an interesting way.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Visitors

Today I am thinking about the many training events I have done over the years to help churches become more welcoming. I was at a cluster Charge Conference the other night and heard a member of a small discussion group talking about that training to the others. It caught my attention because it had been years ago that she had attended the training and made me wonder if it had made a difference for her church. Later that evening I ran into her and she told me that someone from her church that was there had talked about how welcoming the church was when she came and that was the reason she stayed. The former seminar attendee had said that it was the result of the work they had done after attending the seminar and that was why she had mentioned my name in the group.

I was reminded of an experience that I had while serving one of my earlier appointments that I may never be able to get out of my mind. One Sunday morning as the congregation gathered in the sanctuary for worship and I was in the pulpit getting something settle I looked out and noticed two visitors entering the sanctuary a the about the same time. One was a gentleman that had made a very substantial donation toward a project that we were working on and his gift allowed that project to be completed. The other was a young lady that attended an Alcoholics Anonymous group that met in the church and I had made contact with while she stood outside smoking a cigarette one night and invited to join us or an event that was happening there that evening. Each had a very different background and story.

The gentleman had been a child of that church when he was a boy. His mother had played the piano and given him a love for music and many of his memories where of running around that church while his mother rehearsed or played while he was a small boy. That had launched him on a career that had taken him as a professional musician to many exciting places. He had played with some of the biggest bands in the country, for network TV and on movie scores that many of us would recognize. He had apparently done very well financially and now in his mid 90s had returned to the place of his childhood and the place where he had roots. He had wonderful memories of that building and the place he remembered it being. One day he stopped in the church office after returning to live in his childhood community and expressed a desire to make a gift to the church in memory of his mother. Over the next eight or nine months I visited with him and he attended church a few times when his friend would bring him and we built a relationship that I realized was for him based on the memories he had as a child. One day his financial advisor called and asks me to visit with them that he was ready to make a gift in memory of his mother. When I arrived we had a brief conversation and then they presented me with a check for $20,000 in memory of his mother towards a project that had been on the boards for a long time but the funding was not there for from the congregation. His gift made the completion of that long time dream a reality and the project was completed.

It was during this same time that I first met the young lady under very different circumstances. As I mentioned I had met her while she was attending an AA meeting in the church and I learned that she was in a half way house after being released from a court ordered drug treatment facility. She had made many bad decisions in her short life and had been separated from her family and friend and was struggling to overcome several addictions. She was living in a room at the housing facility where she had very little in the way of possessions and even her freedom of movement was restricted. I had learned that she wanted to know what it meant to be Christian and if she could still have a relationship with God and if Jesus could still love her with all the evil that she had done. I had invited her to come and experience God's love for her with us in worship.

On the Sunday morning that they both appeared I watched as a group of leaders of the church surrounded our gift giver with lavish attention and escorted him to a seat, praised him for his gift and made sure he was made comfortable. At the end of the service he was invited to the area where a fellowship time was held and refreshments where available and several people again made sure all his needs were met and he was the center of attention.

At the same time the young lady entered the sanctuary and almost no one greeted her and some looked at her with a look that made it pretty clear they did not approve of her appearance. She sat quietly and observed the attention being paid to the old well dressed man a few rows in front of her. I noticed at times throughout the service that she would have tears running down her cheeks as she silently wept and it was very obvious that she was struggling with her emotions. At the end of the service she wondered alone down the hall and into the fellowship area where again she was ignored or at most a brief greeting and then a turning away as if her disheveled unkept appearance might rub off on someone. After a few minutes I noticed that she was gone from the fellowship room and went to look for her. I found her sitting alone quietly in the back of the sanctuary weeping. As we talked my heart broke for her as she talked about the need for human connection and a friend during these difficult days. That was the last time I ever saw her in Sunday morning worship.

I have often thought since that morning about which one was more likely to be Jesus visiting our time of worship of Him. How many visitors are we getting that I or the pastor or anyone else in the church knows what their story is? How many times does Jesus visit with us and we are distracted by something?

What would happen if this scenario played out in your church? What would happen if Jesus entered your doors as one of the hungry, thirsty, sick or poorly clothed people of the street? It will always be food for thought for me.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Do They Call Me Pastor?

Sometimes I find it fascinating when someone refers to me as their pastor that I have so little connection to. The last couple of days have really gotten me thinking about this.

Yesterday I had a phone call from a woman that was crying and when I answered she ask, "Is this the pastor?" She then asks the question "Where in the Bible does it say that I can't commit suicide?" How would you have answered that question? Several times during a lengthy conversation she referred to me as pastor. I am not even sure where she got my number or if she had any idea who she was talking to. She would not identify herself because she told me she didn't want me to send someone to her that would put her in the hospital. I did my best to help her connect to a God that loved her enough and still loves her beyond her wildest imagination.

Webster's Dictionary defines a pastor as a priest or minister in charge of a congregation. What does it mean to be in charge of a congregation? How can I be in charge of a congregation if I don't even know who they are?

This morning I got a call from a lady that first contacted me several months ago because her and her husband had been married in the church I now serve many years ago. At that time he had lost a leg and there was a question as if he would even survive. He did survive and the people from four local churches got together and built a ramp into the trailer that they lived in so he would be able to come home. This morning's call was to tell me that he had been taken back to the hospital, would have surgery this afternoon and may lose his other leg if they cannot get blockages opened up. She ask me to come to the hospital and see them, which of course I did. While I was there relatives came in and she introduced me as their pastor.

Over the years of my ministry I have been introduced by many people as their pastor. Some because they belong to one of the churches I serve, some because I have spent extensive time with them and some that I feel that I have just had a passing acquaintance with. What makes them think of me as pastor?

As I have reflected on this I think of John Wesley's words that "The World is my Parish!" and that as a United Methodist pastor I have always said that was how I felt as well. If that is true then everyone in the world is a part of my congregation. When we are appointed at Annual Conference our bishop always talks about the "communities" to which we have been appointed. I work hard to connect with that community and am often called on to minister to people that sometimes I have never met or had very little contact with.

I remember one time getting a call from a local funeral director asking me to do a funeral for a lady because the family said she had requested that I do her service. When he gave me the name it was not one I was familiar with and I ask if he was sure it was me. He assured me that they had asked for me by name and church. I agreed to do the funeral but did not know who she was till I arrived at the funeral home and realized that my only contact with her was when she came to eat dinner with some lady friends at our fundraising dinners. I was touched but felt bad that I had not connected with her in a much deeper way.

The world is my parish and I am humbled to think that so many may think of me as their pastor with so little interaction with them. I am finding that many are crying out for a spiritual leader that will help them find a connection with a God that they often time find elusive, and that we as pastors represent that connetion for them. I pray that I may continue to touch the lives of those in my community, "world," and that many may see me as pastor, a link to a God that loves them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Where Have All the Leaders Gone

There has been a lot of talk lately about the lack of leadership in a number of organizations I am involved in including the church. I hear complaints about the lack of those that are willing or able to step up to be effective leaders. In our Conference we talk about our pastors needing to be faithful, fruitful and effective leaders but at the same time we complain that there are so few. Is anyone asking the question "Why are there so few leaders today?"

During the fall sports season I have been watching our kid's football and volleyball teams, professional baseball and professional and college football teams. The thing that I notice that is different between the victors and the losers is that there is a leader on the field of play for those teams that stay together and win. After years of coaching a number of sports as well as often being asked to provide some kind of leadership in many of the organizations I have been a part of I have been asking myself why some step up as leaders and others seem to fear that role. The truth is that the coach can teach and encourage but at some point must leave the team in the hands of the on field players that are in the trenches and the leaders must take the risk of stepping up and leading from the middle of the action.

It is very clear to me that all leaders are not the ones that show up on paper, are asked to be leaders by the coach, pastor or Bishop, but those that are willing to take the risk of failure, embarrassment or even their way of life. If we want to make a difference in the place in life God has brought us to then we must be willing to step up and lead and develop other leaders along the way.

Webster defines a leader as "a person who leads." To lead means to "direct by going before or along with, to guide by influence, to show the way by going before." When I think back over my life I have experienced many leaders, most of whom I didn't think of them as a leader along the way. They travelled the journey of life beside me or lead the way as I learned new skills or ways of doing things. Many times that meant that they had to at some point allow me the freedom to do it my way and to allow me to fail without fear. I have found that many of those that provided me with the greatest leadership were not those that were placed above me in a position but those that were willing to invest in me as a person. I can think of many I have learned from that worked for me, were my students, or that I coached as I encouraged them to challenge me and make me think in new ways. I continue to learn from the churches I am called to lead as pastor by continuing to listen and encourage questions and feedback even when it is difficult to hear.

I believe there are far more leaders out there than we are willing to admit at times. I have heard a number of those that are placed in leadership positions complain that there just aren't enough leaders out there today. At the same time I hear many complaining that they are not given the permission to lead. I think both are simply wrong. Too many of us are waiting for permission when real leaders take the risk to lead even when it means that others are upset or there is a cost to that leadership. Others of us are afraid to allow someone to lead when we think we may not be able to control what they do and again what it might cost us. The mark of the true leader is the one that takes the risk and leads the way and is willing to pay the cost of leading. Each of us has the opportunity to provide leadership wherever God takes us. Are you willing to be all God wants you to be and take the risk of being a true leader today?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Triple the Number of District Superintendents

Ever wonder how a DS could be better connected to their churches and pastors? How about if we tripled the number of DSs so that in Western PA they would each serve about 30 churches?

Now before you get to excited and start talking about how we could never afford that hear me out.

What would happen if a DS actually served as one of the pastors in a cluster of churches and was expected to preach at least 40 Sundays a year? Even with 4 weeks' vacation and a week of serving at a camp for a week they would still have 7 Sundays to be in other local churches or travel for connectional business. What it would do is mean that not only was the DS living in the community in which their pastors were serving but they would have opportunity to know the churches and pastors at an unheard of level. They would also be able to keep in touch with what it means to serve at the local church level and meet the demands of local church ministry.

I have joked for years that when a new DS goes to Lake Junaluska for training in August after they start their sentence, I mean term, that they get a lobotomy and when they come back they no longer know their colleagues, friends or remember much about what it is like to serve as a local church pastor. Having spent many years in management before I became a pastor I understand the need to draw lines and separate yourself from those that work for you. I also know how important it is to keep in touch with those same people and to find ways to remain connected to those in the trenches.

Years ago when I was teaching management courses at the college level and managing a chain of auto parts and hardware store, there was a management technique that was being promoted that was called management by walking around. It meant that even senior level management would go out to the work place and talk to those closest to the customer or the production. While managing the chain of stores I made sure I practiced what I taught in my classroom and spent a lot of time talking to the people in the warehouses, on the sales floor and talking to my customers. I often learned things that I would have never learned sitting in my office or in meetings with other management staff.

The money we would save on housing and part time service as a DS would help us bring a new level of commitment to the local church that would have strong leadership of some excellent pastors that are often put in this leadership role. The Conference would no longer have to be in the parsonage business. It would mean that there needed to be more on line communication between the Cabinet but I believe that they would be far more effective when they did gather around the table if they were in intimate touch with the pastors and churches they supervise.

I am just asking us to be looking outside the box when we decide how to fulfill our call to "make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

Friday, March 5, 2010


Last night I attended the Book and Buffet book discussion of Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (I review it in Books Worth Reading Blog) with the PENNCREST school district. This was a part of their anti-bullying program and I was invited as a member of the faith community. It was great to meet people from the district and to know that they are working to deal with the problem of bullying in our school district.

I wonder how many of us are dealing with reality when it comes to the problem of bullying in our schools, athletic programs, and even our churches. This was brought home to me last week one day when I got a call that there was a fight going on down the street and when I drove up there were two young men in a fight and about 40 or 50 kids standing around watching including several that were videotaping the fight. I would like to think that we grow out of that kind of behavior but I am not so sure.

Bullying was not something we heard much about when I was a kid. Sure, there was the big kid that picked on the little kid from time to time but it had to be really obvious for anyone to even notice. Today our kids are learning that threatening remarks like "I am going to kill you" or "I am going to beat you up" are no longer acceptable. Things that we learned you just had to put up with if you were like me and small and weak such as being shoved in a locker or picked on by bigger boys was just part of growing up. Today we recognize that those actions do not have to be part of growing up.

I remember one of the older boys that I rode the bus with would give me a hard time and I would give it right back to him. More than once he punched me in the stomach and hurt me but I would have never thought of telling anyone. There was an older girl on the bus that used to give him a hard time about it but nobody ever said anything to anyone in authority.

Bullying can happen to girls too but it may be far more subtle and harder to see. Many times it is related to relationship issues and isolating someone, teasing or making fun of them.

For this to change in our local schools there will have to be change in some of our homes as well. How often do we treat children that do not meet our expectations or dreams with less respect than the ones that do. How often are we aggravated because our children are not living out our dreams for them.

I will be doing a lot of reflecting over the subject of bullying and hope you will too.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Yesterday I posted a question on FaceBook "does a leader need permission to lead?" This is not the first time I have posted this question either on FaceBook or on some other forum and I am always intrigued by the answers I get to that question. A number of things prompted this question this time. I am often prompted by a young person commenting on young people not being allowed or asked to be in leadership positions. Last week I was in a meeting with my Bishop where he talked about the lack of leadership in our Conference and the need to develop leaders that will take us into the future for the health of our church. I have been reflecting on that ever since and wondering about the number and quality of leaders in our Conference.

The first question I posted asks about who my FaceBook friends viewed as leaders in our Conference. I expected to start getting quick responses with names and maybe a story or two about how that person leads in their local church, District or the Conference or maybe even in the community in which they live. I knew that I would get some of our elected or appointed leaders included on that list such as the Bishop, District Superintendents and Conference elected leaders but was hoping that I would get a list of others that we viewed as leading us. I also hoped to see some names that I didn't know who they were and learn about how there is vast and great leadership in our Conference. It was not to be. There was almost no response and only one name I didn't already know.

This morning I spent some time looking at the definitions related to leadership and they are found at the end of this article if you are interested. While it can be a position or an office I would hope that those we choose to be leaders would be capable of leading! The first definition of the word lead is to guide on a way especially going in advance, in other words, breaking new ground, finding new paths and looking for new ways of getting somewhere or getting something done.

There seems to be a fear mentality that is pervasive not just in our churches but in many of our communities. We are afraid to step out and try something new or that might fail. We are afraid to break new ground, learn something new or take a different route. The fact is if you want to be a leader you can't wait for someone else to give you permission, tell you how or where to go, you have to lead the way!

The hard part is the risk we must take to lead and many of us are not willing to take the risk of rejection or pay the cost of doing something that might fail. As a Conference we are desperate for leaders, clergy and lay, which will take those risks and maybe even fail. It is not enough to call for change, ask others why we are not doing something to bring us to new life, or complain that someone else isn't doing what needs done for the church to be healthy. Believe me, I know how hard it is to lead but I also know that I have no right to complain about others when I am not willing to take the risks of leadership myself.

Years ago when I was thinking of running for school board someone ask me if I really thought I could make a difference very clearly believing I could not. My response was "I don't know but I know that sitting at home on the couch I will never make a difference and maybe it was time I took the chance that I might make a difference."

We call ourselves Christian, little Christ, and Jesus was a great model for us as one that took risks to make a difference in the community. He was often rejected by the appointed and elected leaders, at times by the people, but He made a difference that affects us yet today in so many ways.
How might you be being called to be a leader?

Lead·er·ship Pronunciation: \ˈlē-dər-ˌship\, Function: noun, Date: 1821, 1: the office or position of a leader 2 capacity to lead 3 the act or an instance of leading 4:leaders.

Lead·er Pronunciation: \ˈlē-dər\Function: noun Date: 14th century 1: something that leads: as a: a primary or terminal shoot of a plant b: tendon, sinew c plural : dots or hyphens (as in an index) used to lead the eye horizontally :
ellipsis 2 d chiefly British: a newspaper editorial e (1) : something for guiding fish into a trap (2) : a short length of material for attaching the end of a fishing line to a lure or hook f: loss leader g: something that ranks first h: a blank section at the beginning or end of a reel of film or recorded tape 2: a person who leads: as a: guide, conductor b (1) : a person who directs a military force or unit (2) : a person who has commanding authority or influence c (1) : the principal officer of a British political party (2) : a party member chosen to manage party activities in a legislative body (3) : such a party member presiding over the whole legislative body when the party constitutes a majority d (1) :
conductor c (2) : a first or principal performer of a group 3: a horse placed in advance of the other horses of a team — lead·er·less \-ləs\ adjective.

Lead Pronunciation: \ˈlēd\ Function: verb Inflected Form(s): led \ˈled\; lead·ing Etymology: Middle English leden, from Old English ̄dan; akin to Old High German leiten to lead, Old English līthan to go Date: before 12th century transitive verb 1 a: to guide on a way especially by going in advance b
: to direct on a course or in a direction c: to serve as a channel for <a pipe leads water to the house> 2: to go through : live <lead a quiet life> 3 a (1) : to direct the operations, activity, or performance of <lead an orchestra> (2) : to have charge of <lead a campaign> (3) : to suggest to (a witness) the answer desired by asking leading questions b (1) : to go at the head of <lead a parade> (2) : to be first in or among <lead the league> (3) : to have a margin over <led his opponent> 4: to bring to some conclusion or condition <led to believe otherwise> 5: to begin play with <lead trumps> 6 a: to aim in front of (a moving object) <lead a duck> b: to pass a ball or puck just in front of (a moving teammate)intransitive verb
1 a: to guide someone or something along a way b: to lie, run, or open in a specified place or direction <path leads uphill> c: to guide a dance partner through the steps of a dance 2 a: to be first b (1) :begin, open (2) : to play the first card of a trick, round, or game 3: to tend toward or have a result <study leading to a degree> 4: to direct the first of a series of blows at an opponent in boxing.

Definitions in this article can be found at

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Challenge for Church Leadership

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the challenges faced by those that are leading our church today, especially the United Methodist Church in which I serve as a pastor. During this season of appointment making in our system I always wonder what goes on in the cabinet gathering as they look at churches and pastor that either want to have a change or they have determined need a change.

Years ago when I first started on my journey to become a faithful, effective and fruitful pastor my District Superintendent, Glenn Kohlhepp, challenged the pastors and churches of the Butler District to pray and work together to become what God wanted them to be. He said there were too many pastors waiting for that next great appointment that would use their ministry skills and pay them what they were worth and too many churches waiting for that next great pastor that would bring in those young families and meet all the ministry needs of the congregation. It was time to stop waiting and begin working together, praying for each other and becoming all they envisioned for their future and to make it happen. I think that was maybe the best advice I ever heard as a pastor and have tried to live that out in each of my appointments. As a superintendent he lived that out as well, striving to make sure each pastor and each church had the resources they needed to be all they could be. I was always amazed at how well he came to know his churches and the pastors of the District and was not afraid to encourage or hold us accountable. He was also never afraid to recognize his weaknesses or call on others when he needed them.

What would happen if the Bishop and cabinet began holding churches and pastors accountable for fulfilling the mission that is the mission of every United Methodist Church in the world, "making disciples for the transformation of the world?" What if we told every church that in 3 years they could not be spending more than 40% of their budget on pastoral support, were expected to have a mission budget looking beyond their walls that was equal to 40% of their annual budget, the expectation would be for them to take in new members on profession of faith equal to at least 15% of their membership with an equal number of baptisms and that all apportionments would be paid in full?

What would happen if every pastoral move was expected to be a parallel move? In other words, when we move we would move at a salary no more than we are currently making, membership would be similar and the only way to improve our situation was to grow the place we were at, including starting new communities of faith?

While the numbers I used were arbitrary and would need modification I think that we need to start looking in new directions for the church to come alive as only God can do. It would take providing training and support for churches and pastors and we would have to recognize that some churches would close, some pastors would go to other careers and it would cause havoc in many places. Would it be worth those costs if many churches began to catch a new vision for making disciples for Jesus Christ?

I look forward to working on goals like these in my churches that God has given me the honor of being their pastor.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Virtual Church

I have just spent the last hour looking at virtual churches from around the world! Some will laugh at this innovative way of reaching out into the world for Christ but I realize that if I want to expand my horizons I must be looking way out of my comfort zone for ways to connect with the unchurched world. I first became aware of the virtual church years ago when the Methodist Church of England created the Church of Fools. I have to admit I thought of it as an unimpressive video game and moved it to the back burner on my information matrix. Now I know that was a mistake.

I am reading a book called SimChurch by Douglas Estes that is giving me so much to think about what the next horizon will be. I know that many in the church today will decide that the virtual church is a passing fad or small market. Estes tells us that less than 1% of the 70,000,000 people living in the virtual world are being reached for Christ. Somehow that is a segment of the community that we cannot ignore. There are full internet communities out there. Since most of this world is still beyond the imagination of most of us old timers (that was hard to write) we will have to spend time learning about the innovations while at the same time remaining grounded in the scriptural foundations upon which the church was built.

There is a portion of the church community that will want to ignore this opportunity because it is evil or unholy in some way, just as I am sure there where those that wanted to ignore the printing press because the Word was meant to be written by hand. I am sure there were those that found the voice coming over the radio instead of in person as the voice of evil and thought that television would never impact the worship life of the church community. We all now know that these forms of communication are not inherently evil but can and are used to reach people for Christ and still have a tremendous impact on our churches.

Be aware! You will have to learn a new language to enter this world. One you many find more difficult than Greek, Hebrew or even English!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Blog?

I have not written in my blog since December 2008 and that was one entry so it has been almost 2 years since I was writing regularly. When I started writing someone told me that I was being "provocative" and that in reality was the purpose of my blog. I wanted to give us things to make us think differently and outside the boxes we tend to want to put ourselves in. At the time I was serving a church that when I went there told me they wanted to be different and reach out into the community for Christ. They wanted to change and needed leadership to make that change come about. The reality was that those that controlled the money and held the power only wanted to appear to be willing to try new things. They were willing to allow something new as long as it didn't change anything they did or threaten their way of life and allowed them to be comfortable. I was so badly beaten up there that I lost the energy to write and be willing to put my ideas out there for others to read. I guess I feared the additional attacks.

Now that I am serving two new churches that others have led through the painful process of challenging ways of thinking I am starting to feel loved again and ready to take some risks here in my blog so that others can give me feedback and we can challenge one another. I read extensively, follow many on FaceBook, and use many other avenues to try and keep up on what is happening in the world to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Many of the ideas I write about here will be meant to provoke conversation and at times I will know that some people will not like what is here. I am ok with that!

I hope that those that read will think about what I am writing and become a part of a conversation that will further the Kingdom of God by finding new ways or refreshing old ways to make disciples for Jesus. I plan to write at least once a week and look forward to hearing from you.