Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preaching Prep

I am working on my Easter sermon and am trying to access the meaning and power of the story in a new way. As a starting place I transcribed the scripture (John 20:1-2, 11-18) and then began asking questions.  Below are the questions...hopefully the answers will provide the sermon. 

  • What if you've never heard the resurrection story before?
  • What if you've heard it 50+ times?
  • What does it matter?
  • What difference does the resurrection make?
  • So the tomb is empty, who cares?
  • What does it matter that Jesus is alive?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Making the #leap (kid part 2)



That was phase 1: the pre-phase.  It was a stage of anxiety and worry.  It was a time of wondering and waiting to see what would happen.   Phase 2 was the phase.  It was us showing up, in pajamas from Saturday night because she didn’t want to wear a church dress and I didn’t want to force her when her whole world had flipped upside down.  Phase 2 was getting acclimated to 300 people who wanted to say hello to my cute little blonde girl who had no desire to say hello to them.  Phase 2 was preaching my first sermon on my second Sunday without my husband there to watch her and packing a play pack and snack pack to keep her occupied. It was allowing her to sit with me in worship because she refused to do the nursery or Sunday school and I was not going to force her. It was watching her dance during the anthem and hear her plead to stay the second service.  Then hearing her plead to leave during the opening song of second service and looking around trying to find someone, anyone who could take her for me. After all, I was the pastor, this was worship, at my new church, my first “time” for many to see me “in action” and I didn’t think walking out in the middle of the music would be a hit. So I found one of a handful of women whose name I actually knew and asked her to take my daughter to the nursery and then chased her down with the backpack of goodies. Phase 2 was dealing with the complaint following that dance during the anthem hearing that she was “too distracting”—my joy-filled, talkative, very active child, who behaved beautifully in worship and did just what she was told, was too distracting. Phase 2 was having my greatest fear (rejection of my child) actualized in that complaint.  And it was moving forward despite the critiques.   Phase 2 was attending a 7:00pm leadership meeting with child in tow because my husband had to work and then having her melt down because she was dog tired. It was pleading with her to be quiet and not whine. It was bribing her with food, toys, and drink. And finally, it was stepping out of the meeting, scrounging around in the nursery, and finding a stroller and pushing her until she fell asleep in said meeting. 

Admittedly, phase 2 was a little rough. It wasn’t unbearable.  We survived it. All 3 of us. But it was hard.  It was hard to struggle with who to trust and who to turn to with our little one. It was tough to find a new “normal”. It /was tough to see my daughter struggle, and have her not know  what was behind her anxiety,  stress, or fear.  And it was hard to know when to “let go” and let her work it out (even if that meant she was screaming and in tears) and when to hold her close and let her know that despite all the things that had changed in her world, our love and support had not.  

I also have to say that on the positive side, Phase 2 showed me a lot of grace.  The grace of phase 2 came in the form of that woman in the middle of worship who was willing to take my child without question or hesitation.  The grace of phase 2 came in the compassion and care of the lay leaders who were tasked with sharing the complaint but still showed deep concern for both of us.  The grace of phase 2 came when a woman on the leadership team helped me push my daughter home after that late night so I could juggle her and all of our belongings beside.  The grace of phase 2 came from all the people who sought to greet her and say hello despite her reticence at so many new faces.  And the grace of phase 2 came with my parents who helped with the day shift in my first week so my husband and I could both report to work without worrying about Ruth.  

There were struggles as we acclimated to our #leap.  There was heartbreak and there were tears.  And, there was a whole lot of grace shared with us too and for that I am eternally grateful. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Preparing to #Leap (kid part 1)



When I prepared to #leap, I was very aware that it wasn't just me who was moving and transitioning, it was also my husband and my daughter.  When I started at my first two churches, I was single. Starting at a new place with a spouse and a child promised to be a very different thing.  

This is part 1 in a 3 part series:

When I met with the outgoing pastor, we talked about a lot of things.  We had an initial phone conversation that lasted about an hour and a half.  Then a face to face that was nearly 5 hours.  Multiple email exchanges and then about another hour to hour and a half at annual conference.  We did a good bit of talking before the transition. At some points it felt like way too much information and at others it felt like we had only scratched the surface.  We covered church history, leadership, vision, staffing, and finances.  We also covered a multitude of questions I had both as I thought my new place and things I wanted the incoming pastor to know for the place I was leaving.  Some of my questions were related to theory and some were more pragmatic.  

I remember one in particular because I was taken aback by the answer.  I asked, “So, on a Sunday morning, if you need help with your kids, who do you turn to?”  He asked, “What do you mean?”  It seemed like a straightforward and simple question to me, but I did my best to clarify, “I mean, say your wife is sick and you have the girls before worship and you need to do something, who helps with the kids?”  His response, “That’s never happened.”  Now, that may be the luxury of having a stay at home wife, or of being a man, or of some other weird quirk in the universe, whatever the case, I don’t really know how to explain it, or even understand it.  

I am the mother of a three year old, a well-behaved, intelligent, articulate, church-accustomed 3 year old and I can’t even imagine a world where needing help with her on a Sunday morning “has never happened.” From sick days, to tantrums, to unexpected counseling, to regular post-worship conversations, to diaper blow outs, to extended naps, I have had many occasions to need reinforcements.  And, at my last church, the one where I announced my pregnancy and shared my first months with my first born, I had a whole village of support and care.  No matter what the event, there always would have been someone to help with her.  Someone would have taken her at her best and in a screaming fit to help me do my job.  They were our church, but more importantly, they were her village.  They helped us raise our daughter, from time in the office, to time in the nursery, to babysitting at our house when I had Bible study or we had an emergency, they were there and I had a list of folks I could call on.

So, when I was anticipating a transition, I thought a lot about who I might turn to. Who would be there to help? Who would not mind taking a screaming child out of worship? Who could stay late to keep her entertained while I did this that or the other?  This was a big deal for me.  I felt pretty sure I could take whatever the church could dish out, but I wasn’t sure how my young child who only knew one home and one church would fare without “her people.” 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

She Should Dye Her Hair Blue



“She should dye her hair blue.”
“She didn’t make me feel welcome or accepted.”

Those are the two statements I remember from my annual resident review when I worked for Res Life at UCLA my senior year.  Those are the only two statements I remember.  I had 99 residents and most of them filled out the survey and most of them said positive things about me, but these two are the only two that stuck in my mind.  

I don’t know about for you, but for me it’s always been easy to focus on the things I did wrong and was critiqued for instead of the things I did well and am affirmed for.  I could tell myself that there were some 80+ positive comments made.  No complaints from those folks.  But the good isn’t what stuck.  Even 10 years later.  

So, it’s not really a surprise that 7 months of positive feedback from a congregation and 8 years of solid ministry are overshadowed by the skewed complaints of a handful of folks. Hundreds, if not thousands, of affirmations about my preaching, my care, my compassion, my wisdom, my maturity, my leadership compared to a couple dozen complaints and I can be thrown completely off my game.  It’s ridiculous. 
Not that I shouldn’t hear those complaints or do some self examination.   But when I hear them, I tend to quickly accept them as absolute truth and then beat myself up for not getting it perfect, despite all the other wonderful things that have been said about me.  That seems unreasonable, at least when I step back to look at it.  

In talking about it with my uncle, he said, “Someone can call you a tree or a cow, but that doesn’t make you a tree or a cow.”  But my inclination is to take it as truth if they said it.  My rule in ministry has been “perception is 9/10 of the rule.” Perception becomes the truth you have to deal with.  Which by default means that when I’m perceived as “hard to read” “not a team player” or “too negative” that I have accepted those as truth for myself. They are the truth of the perception, but they may not be the truth of my character, my style, or my leadership.  

Going back to the quotes at the top, I can ask, “Did I really need to dye my hair blue or was that one person’s opinion or maybe just their attempt at comedy?”  and for the other “Did I offer welcome to everyone or did I treat this student differently?”  If I offered the same welcome I did other students, then it might be this student’s issue and not my failure.  Or maybe it’s my failure, but 1 out of 99 isn’t all that bad.  Not to be dismissive, but just to put it in perspective.  
 
Regardless of who you are or how well you lead, complaints will surface.  Maybe it’s something you did. Maybe it’s something you didn’t do. Or maybe it’s just that you’re not the last pastor.  Or that someone has an axe to grind.  It is important to be open to feedback and accessible for conversation. It’s also important to remember that just because someone said it, doesn’t mean it’s Gospel truth.  You may have to clean up a misperception, but you don’t have to wear the words that are thrown your way. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Learning to #Leap



A few months ago I sat down with my District Superintendent (DS) to talk about ministry and transitions, including my recent move.  From the outside looking in, it was a big leap to go from a church of 130 to a church of 550.  Who am I kidding, from the inside it looked like a gigantic leap!  To be sure, there are some things about church that are universal and true wherever you go.  And, as I’ve been learning, there are some things that are very different in different size churches.  

After I was told of my new appointment, I spent a good bit of time talking with mentors and friends, particularly those of large churches, about what is different, what to expect, and how best to lead.  One in particular who had grown his church from 70 to over 1200 in the years he was there was very clear, “The large church is not just a small church magnified. They are different.”  I took that wisdom with me when I went to the new place.  And I quickly learned I had no idea what that meant in real terms.  Each week I was faced with something new and something different.  I knew what I knew from before, but wasn’t always sure if what I knew from a medium church would fit with a large church.  I will be very honest that I have prayed a lot for God to cover my shortcomings. I’ve talked a lot with those who I trust to give me guidance and share their wisdom. And I’ve learned a lot. 

In my conversation with the DS he shared that he’s part of a planning team for a conference next fall called “Leap” that’s meant to train young leaders how to make the leap from a small or medium size church to a large one.  They will be calling on a variety of church leaders to teach, lead, and inspire.  He also said they will be looking for those who’ve experienced it recently to share their learnings.  He laughed a little and said it would be too late to help me, but I could help the next person.  

Since that conversation I’ve been noting things I’ve noticed, things I’ve learned, and things I wish I had known before I had taken the leap.  I will be sharing those musings here in the hope that they might be helpful.  Some things I’ve done well and other things I’ve fumbled a bit.  And, of course, there’s a lot I’m still learning. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Proverbs 3 liturgy



Based on Proverbs 3 (The Message Version)

Leader: Beloved ones, don’t forget all God has taught you;
    take to heart God’s commands.
People: God’s commands will help us live a long, long time,
   it will be a long life lived full and well.
Leader: Don’t lose your grip on love and loyalty.
    Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart.
People: Let’s earn a reputation for living well
    in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.
Leader: Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
People: We must listen for God’s voice in everything we do, everywhere we go;
    God’s the one who will keep us on track.
Leader: Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil!
People: We should honor God with everything we own;
    we have the freedom to give God the first and the best.