Provisional Member Retreat

If you’ve followed our journey, you probably know that we are Provisional Elders in The United Methodist Church working toward ordination. As part of the process, we attended a retreat Sunday evening through Monday afternoon. On Monday, Revs. Greg Myers (Wilkes-Barre District Superintendent) and Mark Webb (York District Superintendent) each led us in a discussion about transformational leadership.

Being → Doing
The event amplified some things that I have been feeling challenged about recently, specifically the importance of being, not just doing. A few weeks ago, I wrote the following in my leadership paper (presented to the Board of Ordained Ministry in preparation for next week’s interview) …

Maintaining the connection between being and doing … is vital for me as a Christ-following leader. I want my doing to naturally flow out of my being. As my spiritual gifts develop and strengthen, it becomes easier for me to rely on myself and less on God. In other words, sadly, it’s possible to go through the motions of performing the work of ministry without being vitally connected to God.

In light of this challenge, I am committed to following Christ faithfully, to maintaining a vital connection with God, and to growing in my relationship with God. I seek to maintain a vital connection with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines.

Monday afternoon, Mark Webb specifically talked about being and doing in a session that was especially meaningful/challenging for me, personally. Here are some statements from the day (direct quotes and/or personal reflections on what I heard) …

The old model of ministry leadership emphasizes doing while the new model (i.e., transformational leadership) emphasizes being. Truth is, only leaders who are personally being transformed themselves can help others experience transformation.

God has called you to be a leader!

Churches often expect leaders to be a …

  • Leader
  • Manager
  • Chaplain
  • Hospice Worker

While pastors will perform each role at times, leader is the primary call! However, many times, leaders are simply not willing to lead (fear, lack of confidence, unwillingness to change, etc.).

On the call to lead, I love the statement at the beginning of the article, “The Work of Leadership” (Harvard Business Review), which we were asked to read in preparation for the retreat …

Followers want comfort, stability, and solutions from their leaders. But that’s babysitting. Real leaders ask hard questions and knock people out of their comfort zones. Then they manage the resulting stress.

On the importance of the spiritual formation of a leader, Mark said, if you are spending all of your time visiting, preparing Bible studies, writing sermons, attending meetings, you will not be the leader God called you to be.

The role of the leader is to REPRODUCE (see the Easum quote below).

Finding the big YES: What has God called us to do and be about, primarily? Say no to other things. (You control your calendar!)

God ➞ Family ➞ Church
The order matters. Too many clergy who have made the church first, then God, then family, which has negative consequences. Getting the order right helps to put being before doing (so that doing can flow out of being), which leads to one of my favorite statements from the day. Mark said …

Being must lead to doing. Doing must be based on being.

Mark also discussed a “plan for personal growth,” which was adapted from John Maxwell’s plan in Your Road Map for Success (formerly, The Success Journey). But I need to write another post on that.

During the afternoon break, I took a brief walk and reflected on what I sensed God was saying to me, then wrote …

I am committed to my own spiritual formation. When I leave my current appointment (and/or any other place I serve), what will my legacy be? What will I be remembered for? While I certainly want to be productive/fruitful (doing), I want my legacy to be something like, I really grew more like Christ (i.e., experienced ongoing spiritual transformation) in this part of my journey (being) and I helped a lot of other people experience spiritual transformation as well (beingdoing).

Throughout the day, there was a statement running through my mind, a statement I heard Bill Easum make on the early-September event, The Nines (which I wrote about here and here). Easum, who was making the point that leaders must set their own agenda, based on their call and their vision, said …

I can’t tell you how many pastors reach age 55 and look back over their ministry and they never have done what God called them to do, they did what the church wanted them to do.

That’s a regret I want to avoid!

Incidentally, The Nines videos were just posted today. For more on being, David Foster’s video on preparation is a must-see!

Well, as I said, God must be trying to get my attention about this being/doing stuff! 🙂

Eat This Book 2.0

I am still making my way through Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book. Earlier, I wrote about the first three chapters, and in this post, I’ll reflect on the last couple chapters of part one.

In chapter four, Peterson talks about story and suggests, “Story is the primary verbal means of bringing God’s Word to us” (40). Peterson writes, “Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites our participation” (40).

This has implications for preaching, of course. Since the Scriptures are primarily story (narrative), then preaching should be storytelling.

Peterson rounds out the chapter by discussing exegesis, which he describes as “focused attention, asking questions, sorting through possible meanings. Exegesis is rigorous, disciplined, intellectual work” (50). Peterson writes, “exegesis is an act of love. It loves the one who speaks the words enough to want to get the words right” (55).

But exegesis does not mean mastering the text, it means submitting to it as it is given to us. Exegesis doesn’t take charge of the text and impose superior knowledge on it; it enters the world of the text and lets the text “read” us. Exegesis is an act of sustained humility: There is so much about this text that I don’t know, that I will never know. (57)

Exegesis isn’t just for preachers and teachers, it’s for all disciples (i.e., students). This section challenges me to be a better student of God’s Word. Peterson writes, “All our masters in spirituality were and are master exegetes” (50).

As part one of the book nears an end, Peterson discusses the difficulty of reading the Bible. He notes, “eating the Bible gave John a stomachache” (63). That is, “There are words in this book that are difficult to digest” (64).

But it is not just the hard sayings, it is the way the Bible comes to us. There are moments when it strikes us as totally strange, impossible to fit into our scheme of thinking and living. We try our best to domesticate this revelation, to fit it into our version of the way we would like things to be. (65)

The Bible is the most comforting book; it is also the most discomfiting book. Eat this book; it will be sweet as honey in your mouth; but it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands. (66)

Peterson concludes this section with good advice …

Eat this book, but also have a well-ctocked cupboard of Alka-Seltzer and Pepto-Bismol at hand. (66)

Bishop Schnase Visits Pennsylvania

Last week, Bishop Robert Schnase (Bishop in Residence of the Missouri Area of The United Methodist Church) came to teach on the Five Practices in our conference.

Since we’re working our way through the Five Practices at Centre Grove, the event was partly review for me, but it was also good to hear Bishop Schnase teach on the practices live and in person.

Bishop Schnase divided the day into three sections: (1) discussion of the five practices, (2) congregational systems, and (3) personal systems.

Bishop Schnase began with a summary/overview of the practices, then discussed how systems within the church are conducive (or not) to fruitfulness. The day concluded with a discussion on individual responsibility, from leaders modeling the practices to the members living as authentic followers of Jesus in the world.

I won’t say much about the summary/overview since I’m blogging the five practices elsewhere, but here are a few statements (which may or may not be exact quotes) that especially challenged me:

Mission happens at the margin. Where does my life intersect with people at the margins?

Imagine if one-fourth of your congregation had a spiritual conversation once a month. We can’t make those conversations happen; we just have to be receptive. When we become attentive to God’s calling (what God wants us to do), doors open.

Doing these things doesn’t guarantee that growth will happen, but it won’t happen without them!

Good stuff. Bishop Schnase noted that the Five Practices are not a church growth strategy. Rather, it’s about living out our theology. It’s who we’re called to become.

Centre Grove began discussing the Five Practices in January 2009, and it’ll probably take us most of 2010 to get through all the practices. In 2010, I plan to devote an entire sermon series to the Five Practices. By then, a lot of the practices will actually already be in place or well under way, and the series will (hopefully) help to shape the spiritual/missional DNA of the congregation.

Embracing God’s Kindness

In her book, The Organic God, Margaret Feinberg talks about the abundant kindness of God. She writes …

I must not just accept that God is kind, I must embrace his kindness as my own.

Feinberg says that kindness is largely learned: God displays his kindness through people who give us mini lessons of kindness. When we grow close to God, we can’t help but encounter his kindness.

That kindness invites us to recognize the needs of others and take the steps necessary to meet those needs.

Feinberg recognizes that there are people in the world who are “unappreciative, difficult to be around, or down right obnoxious.” How are you kind to these people? How are we to “love our enemies” (Luke 6.35-36). She gives some pointers, starting with looking inward. “I’m forced to reflect on just how kind or unkind I really am.”

The full text that instructs us to love our enemies goes on to say, “do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”

Feinberg adds …

The hard truth is, when I show kindness, I expect something in return … a sense of satisfaction, a smile on a person’s face, or a word of thanks.

Feinberg’s first word of advice is, “Drop your expectations,” and her second word of advice is, “People cannot give you what they do not have.” She goes on to explain that there is a freedom in realizing that people cannot give what they do not have.

This realization can set us free to be kind again. There’s “a renewal or restoration” that “takes place when I give up the sense that I am owed something. … I can give freely, not expecting anything in return. I can put aside the fear of exploitation” (that I am being taking advantage of).

I believe Feinberg has discovered the gold mine of kindness. As we set out to offer kindness to others, we will be tested. Sometimes our reservoirs will seem depleted. But these two tips will help us grow.

And we must remember to draw on the reservoir of God’s kindness, “the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3.3-4).

See You at the Pole 2009

I participated in this morning’s See You at the Pole event at Clearfield High School. This is what I shared.

Engage: Go and Pray
“Go and pray to God for me and for the people …” (2 Kings 22.13a, The Message)

Israel and Judah had a history of waning back and forth in their commitment to God. Sometimes they followed wholeheartedly, sometimes they didn’t follow God at all.

During the period of the kings, the people’s commitment to God could be traced to the king’s commitment to God. If the king followed God wholeheartedly, the people followed God wholeheartedly. The books of 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles, chronicle the reign of the kings. Some did right in the sight of God, some did evil in the sight of God.

Along comes Josiah. Josiah is in the family succession to become king and becomes kings at the age of 8 years old. (If you have any little brothers or sisters at home, that kind of a scary thought, isn’t it? An 8 year old leading a nation.) But the Scriptures tell us that as Josiah becomes 16 years old, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father, David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22.2).

Josiah was on fire for God. He had all the idols and places of worship to gods other than the Lord God, torn down and destroyed. He was rebuilding the temple, the place of worship of the Lord God. And as they were reconstructing the temple, the workers found a book, a long forgotten book, The Law of the Lord, The Bible.

The Scriptures say of Josiah, “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.” Tearing one’s clothes was a sign of grief, of mourning. Josiah was saddened that they had not been reading the Word of God and furthermore, they had not be obeying the Word of God.

It was at this time he sent word to the priest to “Go and pray for me and the people.”

Engage: Go and Pray.

Engage means to make a connection. It describes two pieces fitting perfectly together as in a gear or two puzzle pieces. An engaging personality, someone you like to be with, someone who upon first meeting them, you feel comfortable around. Engaging the audience (something I hope I’m doing right now.) You get and keep their attention. Engage in conversation. Those participating in the conversation are interested: interested in one another, interested in the topic of conversation.

This year, this school year, you are challenged to engage.

  • To engage with God in prayer.
  • To engage with God’s Word and grow in your relationship with him and your obedience to his Word. To passionately pursue God and his will.
  • To engage others. To, like Josiah, not only tear down the idols in your life, but as you live as wholly following God, you will impact your world around you. Josiah wasn’t concerned just for his own life and his own family. He was concerned for all the people. He asked the priest to pray not just for him, but for all the people. He desired that everyone have a heart for God. Therefore, Josiah not only engaged with God in prayer and engaged with God’s Word. Josiah engaged with others.

Engage others with your unique personality, that is a reflection of Christ’s love for them. Engage others as a speaker engages an audience. That doesn’t mean you have to speak a word; let your life speak volumes. Engage others in conversation about God, about the difference God makes in your life. Engage God in prayer for the others your life can and will touch!

Stewardship Quality: Compassion

In Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation: Stewardship, Phyllis M. Bowers has outlined twelve qualities of the Christian steward. Rev. Bowers is the Executive Director of The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of Central Pennsylvania. It is an honor for her work to be published in a denominational guide. Over the next year, we will take a look at each of the twelve qualities she has detailed. The first of these characteristics is compassion. She states:

A Christian steward is compassionate. Christian stewards are caretakers and caregivers. They concern themselves with the distribution of gifts and resources so that all might benefit (Genesis 2.4-9; Matthew 14.13-21; Matthew 25.31-46; 1 Corinthians 12.12-28; James 2.14-17).

While a caretaker is one who has been given the responsibility of caring for something or someone, a caregiver always refers to the care of someone. Stewards recognize that their finances and possessions belong to God and are only entrusted to their care. They are given to the steward to be used in ways faithful to God. The creation passage in Genesis 2 expresses this in telling how God created the earth, placing humankind in the midst of it to care for it (Genesis 2.15).

God calls his stewards to be compassionate, distributing their resources to care for others in their time of need. Jesus did this as he fed the five thousand (Matthew 14). Jesus says when we do this for a stranger, we do this for him.

To be caretaker and caregiver is to recognize that all we have is gift, a gift entrusted to us to use for the glory of God.

We pray, “God, thank you for your good gifts, for your provision. May we be faithful in sharing those gifts to care for one another and to care for the stranger in our midst.”

(This post is taken from my monthly finance letter at West Side UMC.)

Online Image Editors

(This post was updated on April 6, 2016.)

For the first few years of this blog, we posted very few photos. That changed when we adopted children, and wanted to share photos of them here and on social media.

Photos need to be reduced and optimized for the Web for faster page loading. Over the years, we’ve tried several different tools, some which are no longer in service.

The tool we’ve used the most is Pixlr, which is a great tool (WebResizer is a scaled-down tool for optimizing photos). More recently (April 2015), I’ve discovered Canva’s photo editor, which is just as great. And, what’s really nice, is that it integrates with Canva’s image design tool, which I use a great deal.

So, if you’re looking for online image editing tools, I hope this post is helpful!

A Difference 13 Months Makes

Sometimes, when Ethan does something I remember him doing before (especially something we photographed), I think about how much Ethan has grown.

Here’s one practical example. The earlier photo was taken August 21, 2008 and the latest one was taken yesterday, September 18, 2009. The two photos show how much Ethan has grown in the last 13 months.

Images of Summer 2009

We didn’t post a lot of photos over the summer, but now that it’s behind us, we’ll post some images from Summer 2009.

In late June, we spent a few days in Pittsburgh where we visited the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. We also went to the Pittsburgh Zoo on two different days.

On the Just Ducky Tours’ duck boat tour, Ethan (and I) got to be one of the guest drivers on the water. And because of Ethan’s fascination with trains (not to mention, trucks, buses, heavy road equipment, airplanes, helicopters, etc.), we took a train ride on the East Broadtop Railroad. Ethan enjoyed the ride, but fell asleep at the end.

The photo with the polar bear (at the Pittsburgh Zoo) was one of my favorites and spent much of the summer as the desktop image on my laptop. Even though polar bears only spend about 10% of their time under water (according to a sign at the zoo), this bear did laps from top to bottom while we were there. Ethan had a prime location in the bottom corner where the bear made his turn.

At the Children’s Museum, a special Bob the Builder display room was on location during the summer. Although all the characters from the cartoon (whom Ethan has only had limited exposure to, by this time) were in the room, Ethan spent almost all of his time with Scoop (the yellow tractor).

Other shots below are from various other activities and locations taken during the summer. As you can see, Ethan continues to grow! 🙂

More on The Nines

Now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it, I’ll share a few more thoughts on yesterday’s free online leadership, The Nines.

One thing that quickly became clear is that everyone has different passions, callings, and things they’re focused on. Some of those passions and focuses meshed well with my own passions while others didn’t necessarily grab my attention. But sometimes we need to hear those, too!

Interestingly, the communicators seemed to interpret the request to share “one thing” differently than others. Some communicators had one point while others had multiple points. I liked the one-point approach better ( but that shouldn’t be a surprise).

The communicators used their time differently. Some jumped right into their topic while others eased into their topic with introductory comments. While I understand the desire to build rapport with the audience, I think in this format, my favorite communicators were ones that maximized their time and did less introductory stuff.

The worst offender (among the ones I saw) was the one who, except for opening and closing remarks had a good presentation. I appreciate the guy’s leadership and writings, but why he used his opening remarks (part of his precious 9 minutes) to express his pride in being a PC user is beyond me (and not just because I’m a Mac). If that weren’t enough, his final words told the audience that he was going to turn off his Dell laptop. Tragic thing is, the only thing I remember from his presentation is his love for his (Dell) PC. Apparently, he was making a statement, but was that really what he wanted to communicate?

I mention that not to criticize that particular communicator but as a lesson for other communicators, including myself, to make the most of our words and our time. The Nines highlights the importance of words. And perhaps it demonstrates, too, that less is more.

This 12-hour event was different than most other personal growth events. I liked the format. It forced the communicators to focus on the most important things they wanted to say. I’d like to see this format used more. Of course, it’s certainly a more cost friendly approach for “attendees”! 🙂

Finally, it looks like the videos will be available at YouTube soon. I may offer more reflections as I view / review more of them. As always, feel free to chime in.