A Prayer From the Psalms

Last summer (2017), I participated in a community prayer for Brody, a 6 year-old from Centre Grove. I decided to draft a prayer completely from the Psalms. I trust this prayer be will helpful for all who experience trials!

Psalm 27.7-9
7 Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—have mercy on me and answer me! 8 Come, my heart says, seek God’s face. Lord, I do seek your face! 9 Please don’t hide it from me! Don’t push your servant aside angrily—you have been my help!

Psalm 22.1-2
1 My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? Why are you so far from saving me—so far from my anguished groans? 2 My God, I cry out during the day, but you don’t answer; even at nighttime I don’t stop.

Psalm 13.1-6
1 How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? 5 But I have trusted in your faithful love. My heart will rejoice in your salvation. 6 Yes, I will sing to the Lord because he has been good to me.

Psalm 31.2-3
2 Listen closely to me! Deliver me quickly; be a rock that protects me; be a strong fortress that saves me! 3 You are definitely my rock and my fortress. Guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name!

Psalm 61.1-4
1 God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! 2 When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am 3 because you have been my refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. 4 Please let me live in your tent forever! Please let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings!

Psalm 70.1
Hurry, God, to deliver me; hurry, Lord, to help me!

Psalm 86.3
Have mercy on me, Lord, because I cry out to you all day long.

Psalm 91.2
I say to the Lord, “You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God—the one I trust!”

Psalm 42.11
Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God.

Psalm 34.1-3, 18-19
1 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be in my mouth. 2 I praise the Lord—let the suffering listen and rejoice. 3 Magnify the Lord with me! Together let us lift his name up high! … 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed. 19 The righteous have many problems, but the Lord delivers them from every one.

Psalm 138.8
Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord! Don’t let go of what your hands have made.

Psalm 121.1-2
1 I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 27.14
Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!

Amen!

“Wild Goose Chase”

On summer vacation, I read Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. Batterson is one of my favorite writers and I love this book!

The title for the book comes from the name Celtic Christians have for the Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose. It denotes adventure. Batterson makes clear, “nothing is more unnerving or disorienting than passionately pursuing God” (2).

The book addresses “six cages,” or ways we cage the Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose …

  • the cage of responsibility
  • the cage of routine
  • the cage of assumptions
  • the cage of guilt
  • the cage of failure
  • the cage of fear

Here are some of my favorite quotes in each section …

Responsibility

We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Christ followers ought to be the most passionate people on the planet. Pursuing God-ordained passions isn’t optional. It is an essential part of chasing the Wild Goose. And the adventure begins the moment we start pursuing a God-ordained passion. (17)

Batterson encourages us to pray.

Start praying. Prayer makes us spiritually fertile. And the more we pray the more passionate we become. Our convictions grow stronger, and our dreams grow bigger. (26)

Prayer is necessary, but don’t use it as cop-out. At some point, prayer must lead to action.

Pray about everything. Then pray some more. But at some point, you need to quit praying and start acting.” (28)

Batterson notes the early church was action oriented.

When Christianity turns into a noun, it becomes a turnoff. Christianity was always intended to be a verb. And, more specifically, an action verb. The title of the book of Acts says it all, doesn’t it? It’s not the book of Ideas or Theories or Words. It’s the book of Acts. If the twenty-first-century church said less and did more, maybe we would have the same kind of impact the first-century church did. (29)

Routine

When we get into the routine of life …

… the sacred becomes routine. And we not only forfeit spiritual adventure but we also start losing the joy of our salvation. Chasing the Wild Goose is the way to get it back. That means coming out of the cage of the routine. We need to change our routine, take some risks, and try new things. And if we do, we will find ourselves coming alive again. (44)

Batterson offers a great reminder about the importance of Sabbath. He notes, “The word Sabbath means ‘to catch one’s breath'” (54).

It’s counterintuitive, but the way you speed up is by slowing down. A Wild Goose chase isn’t a mad dash. It’s more of a triathlon. And pacing yourself for the journey is the key. (55)

Assumptions

… We make far too many assumptions about what is and what is not possible in the physical universe. We do the same thing spiritually. And those assumptions become eight-foot ceilings that limit our lives. (75)

It can happen to all of us. Batterson says, “We stop gazing at the stars and start staring at the ceiling” (77).

As I reviewed the book again, this is one of the statements that especially struck me …

Faith is not logical. But it isn’t illogical either. Faith is theological. It doesn’t ignore reality; it just adds God into the equation. (79)

Guilt

Guilt can be good or bed.

When we sin, guilt is a healthy and holy reflex. Thank God for the conviction of the Holy Spirit that drives us to repentance. (95)

There’s good news. God’s grace is available to us.

The moment we confess our sin to God, our sin is forgiven and forgotten. But for most of us, it is far easier to accept God’s forgiveness than it is to forgive ourselves. (95)

Batterson describes the role of the enemy.

Scripture says Satan ‘prowls around like a roaring lion.’ Satan is also the accuser of the brothers. … He wants to remind you of your greatest failures over and over again. Why? Because if you focus all your energy on past failures, you’ll have no energy left to dream kingdom dreams or pursue kingdom purposes. (97-98)

But it’s all about God’s grace.

The grace of God is the difference between drowning in guilt and swimming in gratitude. (115)

Failure

It’s so important we handle failure well.

Failure handled improperly can be devastating, but failure handled properly is the best thing that can happen to us. Failure teaches us our most valuable lessons. It keeps us from taking the credit or taking for granted later successes. (118)

Batterson describes “closed doors” as “divine detours” (122). And they can “actually turn into the best things that can happen to us” (123).

Bad things happen to good people. You will experience some shipwrecks and snakebites along the way. But when you give Jesus complete editorial control over your life, he begins writing His-story through your life. (126)

Fear

Fear can keep us from doing what God wants.

Most of us are far too tentative when it comes to the will of God. We let our fears dictate our decisions. We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we make no decision. And we fail to realize that indecision is a decision. And it is our indecision, not our bad decisions, that keeps us in the cage. (144)

Too often we think it should get easier as we go along.

I think we’ve made a false assumption about the will of God. We subconsciously think it should get easier the longer we follow Christ. … spiritual growth prepares us for more dangerous missions. As we grow, God gives us more difficult things to do. (150)

God calls us to action!

… selfish ambition is bad. But godly ambition is good. I’ve never met anyone who was overly ambitious for the things of God. We need to dream God-sized dreams … they’re the only things that will drive us to our knees and keep us living in absolute dependence upon God the way we were designed to. (160)

Great book! My hope and prayer is that we will rediscover what it means follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I pray it will become an adventure as we chase the Wild Goose!

My Stroke

I suffered a stroke on September 19 around 10:00 p.m.

It happened very quickly. I was pretty calm, but I didn’t know what was going to happen. At the time, I was frustrated I wasn’t able to tell my family, including my kids who had gotten out of bed, that I loved them, possibly for the last time. In fact, I delayed the ambulance trying to get the words out but couldn’t. I was very disappointed!

Thankfully, Joleen was able to call 911 and get help. Moments later, I remember waiting in the ambulance in front of the house but don’t remember anything after that. I was life-flighted to Altoona and then onto to Pittsburgh where I spent the next 15 days at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

I don’t remember the first few days at the hospital, but I gradually became more aware. It was a pretty surreal experience. The nights seemed especially long; I described them being three times as long as the days. I sometimes wondered where Joleen was because I didn’t see her for so long, or so it seemed.

Doctors suspected a brain bleed, but it wasn’t until a second angiogram revealed the cause of the brain bleed, an AVM (arteriovenous malformation). I underwent surgery on September 29, a craniotomy, which went well. The surgeon described the brain bleed as “severe”; he later said it was the size of a lemon.

A few days later, I was transferred to HealthSouth (Altoona) for therapy and spent 25 days in occupational, physical, and speech therapy. I would have stayed longer to make the most of my inpatient therapy, but that was as long as our insurance would allow. I appreciated my time at HealthSouth. I enjoyed visiting there six weeks after I was discharged for a routine appointment with the rehab doctor. I got to see my three therapists. It was especially rewarding to walk in without a wheelchair or a cane!

From early on, I discovered I was “fiercely independent” (a phrase used by a speech therapist at HealthSouth). I quickly learned to dress myself, including socks and shoes, and open my own food, all with one hand.

With the stroke I lost the use of my right side and my communication. Thankfully, my communication has come back pretty well (I was recently discharged from speech therapy), and my right side continues to get stronger. I continue to go to Drayer Physical Therapy for occupational therapy and physical therapy three times a week.

The toughest part is the daily battle. There’s no time to settle. There are always new accomplishments to achieve. This is how it’s going to be for a while!

I’m so grateful to God and the many people who have helped with my recovery, including surgeons, doctors, nurses, and therapists at Presbyterian Hospital (Pittsburgh), HealthSouth (Altoona), as well as the physical and occupational therapists at Drayer (Clearfield) and a speech therapist Penn Highlands (Clearfield). I’m especially grateful for my family, friends, and the prayers of God’s people!

Well, we wish that was the end of the story. However, a routine follow-up angiogram revealed some “residual AVM.” Hopefully, this will be addressed in the next few weeks with different procedures.

If you’d like to follow the journey, visit my Facebook timeline. We continue to put our trust in God’s hands!

P.R.A.Y. God’s Word!

I have a prayer idiosyncrasy, which I’ve written about before, where I pray laps around the church sanctuary. I often use the acronym, P.R.A.Y., to guide my prayer at the church.

P.R.A.Y. stands for Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield.

Several months ago, I felt led to ramp up my praying. So, I prayed more laps. In the process, I started writing down a long list of Scriptures, which I pray through periodically. Here is a slightly scaled-down list, which I keep in my Notes app so I can refer to it easily.


P.R.A.Y. God’s Word
Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. (Colossians 4.2, NLT)

PRAISE

Deuteronomy 7.9 (CEB)
Know now then that the Lord your God is the only true God! He is the faithful God, who keeps the covenant and proves loyal to everyone who loves him and keeps his commands—even to the thousandth generation!

Psalm 50.14-15 (NLT)
14 Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. 15 Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.

Psalm 59.16 (NLT)
But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.

Psalm 108.1 (NET)
I am determined, O God! I will sing and praise you with my whole heart.

Psalm 111.2 (NET)
The Lord’s deeds are great, eagerly awaited by all who desire them.

Psalm 117 (CEB)
1 Praise the Lord, all you nations! Worship him, all you peoples! 2 Because God’s faithful love toward us is strong, the Lord’s faithfulness lasts forever! Praise the Lord!

Psalm 118.24 (NLT)
This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 138.8 (CEB)
… Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord! Don’t let go of what your hands have made.

1 Corinthians 15.57 (CEB)
Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

REPENT
Psalm 139.23-24 (NLT)
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 51.10 (NLT)
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.

ASK
Matthew 6.9-13 (NLT)
Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today the food we need, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

Psalm 5.8 (NLT)
Lead me in the right path, O Lord, or my enemies will conquer me. Tell me clearly what to do, and show me which way to turn.

Psalm 25.4 (NLT)
Show me the path where I should walk, O Lord; point out the right road for me to follow.

Psalm 27.11 (CEV)
Teach me to follow, Lord, and lead me on the right path.

Psalm 32.8 (NLT)
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.”

Psalm 37.34 (NLT)
Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act! Travel steadily along his path. He will honor you, giving you the land.

Psalm 90.12 (CEV)
Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.

Psalm 143.10 (NLT)
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.

1 Corinthians 2.4 (CEB)
My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

1 Thessalonians 1.5 (CEB)
… our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction …

Ephesians 4.27, 30-32 (CEB)
27 Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. … 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.

1 Thessalonians 3.12 (NET)
And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all …

James 1.5 (NLT)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

Yield
1 Samuel 3.10 (CEB)
“Speak. Your servant is listening.” (Samuel)

Psalm 27.14 (NLT)
Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Proverbs 3.5-6 (NET Bible)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.

Matthew 6.130b (NLT)
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Luke 22.42b (NLT)
… I want your will to be done, not mine.

Luke 1.38 (CEB)
I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.

Romans 12.12 (CEB)
Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.

Ephesians 3.20 (CEB)
Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us …

1 Thessalonians 5.18 (CEB)
Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


You may have noticed the emphasis on praying for direction and “the right path” in the Ask section, especially in the Psalms. I’ve been collecting and compiling Psalms like these for about twenty years, which I wrote about nearly ten years ago (Prayers for the Journey).

I’m sure this list will continue to evolve and grow over time. What Scriptures do you pray regularly?

Shaping a Discipleship Culture

I recently had the honor of leading a workshop at the 3D Discipleship event held in Williamsport, PA. The event was sponsored by Growing Effective Churches of the Susquehanna Conference of the UMC. Here are some of my notes from the workshop.

Centre Grove’s Story
I shared a little about what God has been doing at Centre Grove, especially in recent years since engaging the Matthew 28 Initiative in 2011 and beyond (see my 2012 post). I talked about what has gone well (outreach) and ironically, our current challenges (shaping a discipleship culture).

Discipleship Puzzle
There are a lot of pieces to the discipleship puzzle. Thankfully, several of them were discussed at the 3D Discipleship event. What follows here are some pieces I want to focus on (but it’s not the whole puzzle).

Developing a Discipleship Culture
Having a discipleship culture matters. A discipleship culture helps people follow Jesus! A discipleship culture maximizes the quality (and quantity) of disciples of Jesus!

There are several components of a discipleship culture.

CULTURE
Culture is hard to define. Culture is everywhere. It’s all around us! It’s “The way we do things here” (Deal/Kennedy, Corporate Cultures). “Culture is to the church what the soul is to the human body” (Lewis/Cordeiro, Culture Shift). Culture is important because it ultimately determines behavior!

DISCIPLESHIP
There are no cookie-cutter approaches to making disciples!

Discipleship is about building and growing disciples of Jesus. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, someone who has responded to Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me!” By definition, a disciple is a student, learner, and an apprentice of Jesus. As such, a disciple is teachable and coachable!

Interestingly, the word “discipleship” itself does not appear in the Bible. My favorite word in the Bible for discipleship is “training,” which I’ve written about before (see this post). In one of several uses in Scripture, Jesus told his disciples, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40, NET). I love the word training because it conveys that discipleship requires effort and is a process!

DISCIPLESHIP CULTURE
Many churches, especially churches that are plateaued or declining, do not have a discipleship culture. Many of these church cultures could perhaps be described as a “membership culture.” While membership isn’t inherently bad, it’s come to mean certain things in today’s culture (i.e., it needs redefining/reenvisioning).

In a Membership Culture, people tend to be self-centered and inward-focused. There is a consumer mentality. There’s apathy. And, “It’s all about me!”

On the other hand, a Discipleship Culture is all about Jesus. Disciples grow to become more and more like Jesus. People experience spiritual transformation. People are growing servant’s hearts and becoming more active as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world!

SHAPING A DISCIPLESHIP CULTURE
Shaping a discipleship is not easy because it involves significant change. Member values and Disciple values clash; they cannot coexist!

The leader’s job is to cultivate the culture as a gardener cultivates the ground. Here are some things to cultivate in order to help shape a discipleship culture …

Model Discipleship
First and foremost, leaders must model discipleship. If we’re not growing as followers of Jesus ourselves, others will not grow, either. We model discipleship through our attitudes as well as our actions. We must be lifelong learners!

Teach Discipleship
We must talk constantly about discipleship, training, growing in Christlikeness. This is certainly part of our Wesleyan Methodist tradition (sanctification, works of piety and works of mercy). At Centre Grove, we often say, “Stay humble! Stay hungry! Stay in tune with God!”

Plan Discipleship
We must model and teach discipleship, and there must be practical ways for people to grow: Sunday school, small groups, women’s and men’s fellowship groups, etc. Bishop Robert Schnase writes in Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a book which we’ve spent a lot of time in at Center Grove in the past …

Growing in Christ-likeness is the goal and end of the life of faith. … This growth in Christ spans a lifetime. … Christian faith is not static but dynamic. It requires cultivation (64).

At Centre Grove, we encourage people to prayerfully choose a One Word each year to focus their spiritual growth for the year. We use the Events feature in the Bible App to share sermon notes so people can refer to them throughout the week. Find practical ways to help people grow.

Pray Together
I also believe it’s important for disciples of Jesus to talk to Jesus together. A few core prayers have developed at Centre Grove over the years, including …

  • God, give us hearts like yours!
  • God, break our hearts for what breaks yours!
  • God, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable!
  • God, please use us to make your name great!

I think these are some prayers disciples of Jesus should pray, and I think it’s important we spend quality time praying together. Let’s pray for the cultures of our churches, that they will be discipleship cultures where people grow more and more like Jesus, and reach out and engage their community as the hands and feet of Jesus!

Sabbatical Reflections

My last post shared hopes and plans for our summer sabbatical. We are grateful to God, and to our congregations, for the gift of this time!

Sabbaticals are often called “renewal leaves.” And, this time was certainly important for our renewal both as pastors and as followers of Jesus!

During our sabbatical, our main goal was to REST, PLAY, and STUDY. Overall, we did pretty well in these areas. We got some rest (as much as we were able to with 7 and 9-year-old kids). We played a lot, and we were able to do some study, mainly reading some books and attending the Global Leadership Summit, which we have been doing for the last several years.

We also enjoyed worshiping together as a family in several different United Methodist congregations. We are grateful for these rare opportunities to worship together. They were also opportunities to observe and learn from other churches!

My primary learning during the sabbatical can be stated this way …

Create space for what matters most!

Actually, while this idea began forming at the beginning of the sabbatical, it wasn’t until the end of the sabbatical that I was able to put it into a short, simple phrase!

As a pastor, the activities that matter most to me are mainly Time With God, reading and personal growth, sermon prep, and visioning. Going forward, I want to create ample space for these critical tasks so that God can work in and through me more effectively! Of course, making more room for these things will also necessarily mean removing, or minimizing, some other things from my plate. I’ll have to figure that out as I go along!

In the near future, I plan to post some reviews and reflections on the books I read during sabbatical. As expected, I didn’t make it through all twelve books on my list, but I got through seven of them, and will continue reading the others!

Now that we’re back, we’re looking forward to the next leg of our journeys here. At Centre Grove, I’m especially looking forward to deepening our commitment to corporate prayer and being more intentional about our discipleship strategy, as well as focusing on our ongoing commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus!

Sabbatical Growth Plan

As I shared recently, Joleen and I are both taking a short-term sabbatical (one month, plus two weeks of vacation). We’re seeking physical and spiritual renewal and growth in ministry leadership.

Physical & Spiritual Renewal
Spiritual health is vitally important. Lance Witt, in his book, Replenish (see my post), argues, “We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul.”

Witt writes, the …

Great Commission will not be fulfilled by human ingenuity or innovative thinking alone. This God-sized task will only be completed by Spirit-filled, spiritually healthy churches. And these churches will not be spiritually healthy unless their leaders are spiritually healthy.

My regular daily disciplines, including daily time with God (prayer, journal, Bible reading), exercise, rest, and sleep, will help with physical and spiritual renewal. The sabbatical will give us an opportunity to be more intentional about replenishing our bodies and souls!

Growth in Ministry Leadership
For growth, we’ll visit some vital churches, read some books and articles, and watch some videos. I have no idea how many books I will actually read (I’m not necessarily expecting to read twelve; I just couldn’t whittle the list down any further), but I have settled on the following list. I’ll simply start at the top and go as far as I can …

  1. Grave Robber (Mark Batterson)
  2. Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life (Tom Rath)
  3. inGenius (Tina Seelig)
  4. Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)
  5. Ways of the Word (Sally Brown/Luke Powery)
  6. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect (John Maxwell)
  7. Praying Together (Megan Hill)
  8. Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God (David Platt)
  9. Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders (Reggie McNeal)
  10. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Travis Bradberry)
  11. Leadership 2.0 (Travis Bradberry)
  12. When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box (John Ortberg)

We’re grateful for this opportunity to be replenished. We trust that God will renew us in body and soul, and that he will help us grow to be stronger, healthier leaders!

10 Years of One-Point Preaching

Ten years ago, I made a big change in my preaching approach, switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching. I did so in June 2006 after reading the first couple chapters in Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. In 2007, I wrote my post, One-Point Preaching, which is still the most-read post on the blog. In 2011, I reflected on 5 Years of One-Point Preaching.

Much of what I’ve said before is still true. I appreciate the emphasis on building an entire message around a single point. It brings greater focus and creativity, but it also helps me preach with fewer notes (if any).

Back at the five-year mark, I noted that I had just started reading Resonate by Nancy Duarte. The book is great alongside Stanley’s book and I actually wrote a series of posts reflecting on the Duarte’s book (see “Resonate”: Bringing It All together).

As I begin a short-term sabbatical in a few days, and I plan to review both Communicating for a Change and Resonate, and also read Ways of the Word, which looks good. As I said in 2007 and 2011, and throughout my preaching journey, I’m very much a work in progress!

The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

In 2012, Centre Grove UMC’s church council read Winning on Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Edmund Kaiser. At the time, we were transitioning from a traditional United Methodist multi-committee structure to an alternative single-committee structure.

In the book, Kaiser shares Paul Borden’s somewhat humorous metaphor of the board, or council, as a group of tribal leaders …

Paul Borden, author of Hit the Bullseye, compares the board to a group of tribal leaders in the rain forest. The chief of the tribe climbs the tallest tree in order to direct the establishment of the village in a new location. From this high vantage point, the chief can see the big picture and call out where to build the huts, where to plant the crops, where to post lookouts, etc. At the base of the tree stands a circle of tribal elders with long pointed spears. If the chief tries to climb down and deny the village the benefit of the chief’s guidance, they point their spears upward to send the chief back to the high vantage point. If any tribespeople leave their work and try to pull the chief down, the elders turn their spears outward and send them back to their duties. That’s a picture of no-nonsense accountability and support. (113)

Years later, this description has stuck with us!

This is how healthy councils (or Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees) view their role and their working relationship with their pastors. Council (or SPRC) members hold the pastor accountable by encouraging them to focus on their primary leadership role. Kaiser describes the pastor’s leadership role in three key arenas: inspiring council, directing staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders), and teaching the congregation. Healthy committees also support and protect the pastor when others attempt to pull her or him down.

This metaphor still comes up from time to time at Centre Grove. I’m grateful for all those, past and present, who carry spears (metaphorically speaking!) on behalf of the ministry at Centre Grove!

Short-Term Sabbatical

United Methodist pastors are encouraged to take sabbaticals on a regular basis. Our conference allows for one-month sabbaticals once every four years (longer sabbaticals are available, a little less frequently). This will be our first sabbatical since beginning ministry in the UMC in 1998.

The appropriate committees from both Centre Grove UMC and West Side UMC, as well as the Bishop and District Superintendents of the Conference, approved a one-month sabbatical for each of us (plus, we’re adding two weeks of vacation). We trust this will be a time of growth and renewal, which will benefit us and also our congregations!

What is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is not a vacation. It’s a scheduled time of rest, reflection, and renewal for ministry. According to Alban Institute, a sabbatical should have a balance of four components: 1) spiritual renewal, 2) physical rest and refreshment, 3) emotional recharging, and 4) intellectual stimulation.

What will we do on sabbatical?
Our basic goals are to renew our relationship with God, to retool for pastoral leadership through engaging in study, to seek spiritual renewal, and to experience physical renewal through a focus on healthy living.

The sabbatical will include time for intentional study, focused prayer, conversations with mentors, time at a clergy retreat center and visiting vital churches. It will also include our annual attendance at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit.

It is said that healthy pastors build healthy churches. We pray this focused time will benefit our congregations as we return with renewed vision and passion for ministry!

We will do our best to “unplug” from phone, email, and social media, and will look forward to catching up with our congregations upon our return. We also hope this will be a time of renewal for our churches, as God’s Word is preached by different voices.

Please pray for us during this opportunity for spiritual growth and renewal. Pray for Centre Grove and West Side that God will continue to do great things in and through us!