Jesus Calm this Storm

A few weeks ago I taught on a Sunday morning to our church about Jesus calming the storm.  It’s a typcially familiar story in church circles.  On this particular day I tried to draw out the relationship that seems to exist in God’s Kingdom regarding rest and power.  It strikes me that Jesus rested in the boat and had to be woken up.  The storm all around him, he rested in the back of the boat.  To be honest, this is not so much the Savior we would expect.

And yet, the rest posture seemed to allow him to enter the moment of power in which he would still the wind and the waves.

Last week I found myself, as often happens, a bit overwhelmed with the circumstances so prevalent on local and national newsmedia.  The next county over from us had a gunman enter a school (thankfully everyone was okay).  An estimated 400 pastors names showed up on the Ashley Madison hack list.  Thousands of migrant refugees continue to die entering Europe.  And the main coverage given for newsreports concerns another billionaire politician seemingly bent on his own self-interest and frenzied fame.

It is so easy to get lost in this type of cultural environment.  I get lost in a few ways:

Fear.  I watched the news from the next school district over and worried for my kids.  I worried about the day that the gunman shows up in their school.  I worried that my wife is a teacher and whether or not she’d ever have to offer her life for a student.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to protect them.

Anger.  I hate that moral failure seems to permeate church world.  I hate that the church continually gets a black eye because we celebrate religious leaders who are isolated enough that festering darkness takes root and leads us into situations such as Ashley Madison.

I’m angry that we continue to have national conversations about immigration reform in the halls of power and make it sound so easy (on either side of the aisle) without shedding a tear that 71 individuals were left in a refrigerator truck to die while they were simply seeking a place to call home.

Cynicism.  I grow more and more cynical about the political leaders who are pushed to the front of our democratic system.  I want to see someone to believe in and yet those who might carry a sense of humility and integrity seem to take a backseat to the power players and best entertainers.

Shutting Down.  And then of course, I turn it all off.  I disconnect.  I go back to my social media feed and live in my own little bubble where I don’t have to engage any of this.  It’s like the child plugging their ears and screaming, “I can’t hear you!”

 

Jesus, calm this storm.

That’s the prayer.  That’s the point.  In all of this, we choose to rest because we trust he is powerful.  We take a backseat and realize that life is not dependent on us (REST) and it is dependent on Him (POWER).  We look at our children and once more surrender their futures (even their very lives!) to the God who gave them breath.  We watch the news and pray for God to cause advocates (maybe even us!) to rise up and pursue justice.  We pray for leaders but recognize our hope is not in any of them.  And we refuse to shut down because God is the God of a Kingdom that will one day bring the promise of life and hope and truth and salvation to all the world.

Jesus, calm this storm… but don’t ever remove us from it.

Leadership for the Underdog

 

“Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.”  Psalm 41:1

“Jesus said, ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  So watch yourselves.'”  Luke 17:1-3

You can’t fight those moments.
From the time I was 12 years old and truly started paying attention to professional sports, I’ve felt them.
Deep in my bones I’ve experienced that sense of conviction.
It is the moment that something within me knows exactly who I’m cheering for.

The underdog.

Tom Brady could deflate his way to 17 Super Bowls.  LeBron James could win 23 finals with 23 different teams.  And they are amazing athletes.  But they are not, nor will they ever be, the underdog.

It’s the image of Jim Valvano sprinting wild-eyed down the court after his team won the national championship that I will never forget.  It is the moments when someone, some team completely unlikely to win suddenly wins.  These are by far my favorite sporting moments.

In the story of God, we seem to find a special place in God’s heart for underdogs.  (Perhaps that’s why we love them so much.)  God seems to reveal a special “regard” for the weak and the cast-asides.  Jesus spent time with lepers and prostitutes.  Children (who in his day were less than the least).  Those written off and pushed to the margins–these were the people Jesus formed around himself and began to lead.

I wonder how our organizations and cultures might change if we led for the sake of the underdog.  I wonder if we stopped looking for the traditional skills, expertise, winning personalities, or attractive qualities, and began to centers ourselves on the ones Jesus called to himself–the weak, the lesser, the cast-aways.  I wonder if leading the underdogs just might offer to us the Jim Valvano moment when everything that seems unlikely suddenly becomes incredibly present and real under our watch.

Here’s to the underdogs and those courageous enough to lead them.

Deflategate :: 4 Depleted States of Leaders

This past week, the media journey toward the Super Bowl decided to commit itself to the issue of footballs and air.  Deflate-gate, as it has been so creatively titled–has consumed the ESPN feeds like the weeds in my garden.

At the same time, I’ve been engaged in a class called Vocational Excellence.  Our conversations have centered on the loneliness and failure of so many in the pastoral vocation, and why it is so common.  During the week our instructor made this powerful statement:

“Violations of a healthy lifestyle come from a depleted state.”  

Over the next few days I want to talk about what our instructors labeled as four potentially depleting states.  Because I think they are so important for leaders of any realm to understand, I’m going to give four posts to talk about each one of them.  He used the acronym H  A  L  T  as the explanation of each depleted state.

The first is HUNGERS.

We all have cravings.

Our cravings are the darker parts of our lives. They are the things we are in love with taken too far. The things God has designed for goodness and the glorifications of himself (such as our sexuality, achievements, identity, etc.) become the twisted thorns of sin if the craving takes over our appetites. Sexuality becomes lust. Achievement becomes pride. Identity becomes an obsession.

Every leader faces hunger.  We hunger for success.  We hunger for achievement.  We hunger for status and recognition.  We hunger for things that we don’t even quite fully understand.

The problem is when our hungers are being filled by things that are not quite filling.

All week, as I’ve been in Denver, I’ve fought hard to eat healthy.  Typically atthese conferences, I find myself gorging on carbohydrates and sitting all day long, so that I have zero energy at the end of the day.  Not so this week!  Being in the midst of a city consumed with health (eh, maybe not so much with the marijuana, but you know…), I’ve taken advantage of multiple food options with lots of greenery.  And I’ve felt great.

But yesterday I decided to try a well-reviewed breakfast spot.  I had pancakes.  Okay pancakes.  Then, about 2 hours into class I felt like I desperately needed a nap.

When our hungers are filled by non-filling “foods,” we will be left hungry for more.

Left unattended, the hungers of a leader can lead to gorging on non-satisfying elements.  We can be led into unhealthy and unguarded relationships, endless pursuits, and workaholism that leaves our families decimated.

So where are you hungry?
What are you craving and how are you filling it?
What would it look like to step away from your ravenous cravings and simply find contentment in the meaningful things?

You are enough.

What I Learned on a Flight to Denver About Relationships

Not to be dramatic, but hurtling through air thousands of feet over the midwestern plains states listening to passengers beside me chatting about their incredulity over poor people and how they just don’t get “democratic generosity” is not a preferred setting for three hours of my day on a Wednesday.

I’m on my way to Denver. I’ll gather with about a thousand other pastors and ministry leaders for a denominational gathering. The majority of them will sit through sessions and seminars, gathering around new (or renewed) ideas about how to share this thing we call Good News with those in urban, suburban, rural, and changing communities.

I’ll take two classes over the course of nine days. These are a part of a sequence of four that create a pathway to me being ordained. I will be invited to a stage, prayed for, and sent on to the work of sharing this thing we call Good News.

In the meantime, I sit introverted on a plane, eavesdropping into the political and social leanings of two strangers who have struck up a better conversation than I could have imagined.

On the jetway to the plane I stood behind another tandem of conversants. Each carried a shoulder bag–men purses–emblazoned with the emblems of major oil corporations BP and Chevron. Clearly they were headed in similar directions, and found camraderie in each other at this very moment.

Continuing to work backward…

In the airport waiting area our little band of travelers for this particular flight were herded to group boarding zones–I was a group 3–and invited to board at appropriate times. (It never fails that I attempt to figure out the logic of these logistics and can NEVER understand the process. For a strategy thinker like me this is incredibly frustrating.) I don’t like the waiting. So I sit in the seats and wait till things clear out and I can comfortably find some space before boarding the plane. But not today…

As soon as I stand and enter the herding pen, two women funnel in behind me. Loud. Abrasive. Complaining that they should have brought more shoes. One nearly pushing in front of me because I’m not being aggressive enough in getting to the tight tin can plane we’ll all be hurtling across the sky in in just about 30 minutes. These two women–one telling her friend she’ll have to help her load her bag–get each other. I don’t get them. But they get each other.

The opportunities in an airport are endless. Every one moves with purpose. Every one has a destination. Some are traveling with tears–on their way home to grieve the loss of a father. Others are laser-pointed to business purposes. Many are simply moving away from the everyday and into a space set for vacation–rest, relaxation, and over-spending. But all are moving with intent.

And yet…

And yet we all brush up against each other in the midst of our intents. In our trajectories consumed with purpose and vision, we cannot help but move in relationship.

Strangers find other strangers and build conversation on the way to the goal.
Friends support the weaknesses (and annoyances) of each other.
Husbands and wives drag four kids and two tons of luggage at break neck speed simply hoping to make sure they don’t leave something (or someone) behind.

The lesson here (lest I stop moving with purpose)…

Don’t go alone.

Organizationally.
Strategically.
Family-ly.

Don’t do it.

We are so intricately wired down to our smallest circuits that we can’t help but connect. We are made for relationship. We are–at the base level–lonely beings seeking to alleviate loneliness.

Even the mavericks in the airport–the ones like me who bury headphones in our ears (the more nose cancelling the better) and consume facebook feeds and streaming video–even we are only hiding because we don’t want to feel alone. We are seeking to connect.

Leaders…

Don’t miss this. Don’t miss the opportunity that this (secret) knowledge reveals. If you want to succeed–no, really truly succeed–then take others with you. Move toward vision and with purpose, but connect along the way. Touch someone. Speak to someone. Invite someone. Then move forward. Find the ones who are moving in similar directions and take them with you. It’s all better that way.

4 Tips for Inviting Your Friends to Church

Today I shared these thoughts with our church.  What I’m super interested in is if you’ve ever had an awkward invite to church?  If you’re not in church now, how have people tried to get you there?  Share in the comments section!

1 – Ask.  Ask.  Ask.  Ask….  you get the idea.
Don’t be obnoxious.  Don’t be annoying.  But at least ask them.

Statistics show that 86% of those who attend church came because friends or family invited them.  If you don’t ask, personally, they won’t come.  And keep asking graciously if they turn you down.  My guess is it takes about 10 invitations for someone to finally respond.

2 – Make the things we’re talking about at church part of your daily conversation.
Find a way to engage further conversation without dropping the “Jesus Bomb…” 
You know what that is right… it’s where you feel the pressure to plug Jesus into every conversation rather than allowing spiritual conversations to emerge naturally.  Here’s an example of good and bad:

Conversation 1:
Person 1 – Hey, have you ever thought about why it’s so hard to love some people?
Person 2 – Not really… but I know a lot of those people!

Conversation 2 (a la the Jesus Bomb):
Person 1 – Hey, did you know that Jesus makes it possible to love everyone.  Even the hard people?
Person 2 – Um…

See the difference?

3 – Utilize the tools of Social Media
Take notes on Sundays.  
Tweet or share those notes on Facebook.
Make your profile picture our “We Love Vampires” pic.
Share the New Community events to friends pages and personally invite them.
Get creative and have fun.  But be nice and be personal.

4 – Ask again.
Seriously, don’t give up because someone says no.
(Or says yes, and then doesn’t come.)
Be sincere, authentic, and genuine.

5 – Pray.
A lot.
Pray for God’s Spirit to draw others to Himself and for you to be faithful.
Pray for awareness of opportunities to invite.
Pray without ceasing.

Maxine Williams :: The Seamstress

Just about 4 months ago I had the privilege of leading the memorial service for my grandfather, Fred Williams.  Then, just a few weeks ago, my grandmother, Maxine Williams, passed away as well.  As hard as it has been, as a family we’re trusting that both of them are in a much better place.  Here are the thoughts I shared for my grandmother’s memorial:

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It feels like we were just here, doesn’t it?

May 1st, 2014.  We gathered in this same spot to remember Fred Williams.  And today, one day short of September 1st, we are here again.  Just four short months, and the combined 172 years of life that Fred and Maxine Williams shared together are complete.

All week long I’ve battled—again—exactly what to say today.

What I’ve come back to you again and again is this simple verse from Psalm 30:11-12:

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!”

The past year or so has been difficult in many ways.  For us, as a family, to watch the physical decline of grandpa and the mental and emotional anguish of grandma, it may have felt like standing under a weight that seemed to grow heavier and heavier.  I know for the family, to remind grandma again and again that grandpa had passed was like opening a wound a hundred times.

This feeling, this weight, I believe, is what the Psalmist describes as the clothes of mourning.  And we continue to wear them right now, in these moments.  We grieve and experience sadness because of the loss of grandpa and grandma.  The loss of parents, grandparents, in-laws, friends, and more.

These clothes of mourning, as with any other type of clothing, have a sense to them.  They have a feel and a look, and as family and friends we have shared them together.  We know this feeling—this often-indescribable feeling—that seems to envelop us and change the way we approach the day-to-day moments of our life.  The clothes hang on us whether we acknowledge them or not.

But today, I want you to hear this as clearly as can be.  The clothes of mourning are TEMPORARY.

And even more importantly, Grandma and grandpa no longer wear those clothes.

In the past four months, perhaps no one has carried the clothes of mourning with greater weight than grandma did.  While her mind and body deteriorated, she was never unclear to any of us—Grandpa was her life.

I want to say the same thing I shared at grandpa’s memorial service.  From January when Grandpa entered the hospital until the day that grandma passed, I learned more about what it means to commit to marriage than at any other point in my life.

These two people, these two individuals, personified what love is truly meant to be.  There was never a moment where their passion and commitment to each other could have been called into question.  There was never a minute where their dependence upon each other and the journey they traveled ceased to have meaning.

The two—in Fred and Maxine Williams’ marriage—had truly become one.  So perhaps the statement that grandma continued to make about grandpa—that he was her life—was more than just an expression.  Perhaps, instead of a simple statement, it was the literal bonding of their sixty-six years of marriage that began to surpass physical limitations and actually bring them to a deeper unity than most ever glimpse.  If this was the case, when her life passed in grandpa, grandma was surely not far behind.  Several times after grandpa’s passing grandma made clear that she wished she could just go with him.

At Grandpa’s memorial I attempted to share with you his personification for me as “The Builder.”  He built not only with physical materials and tools, but with the relationships, emotions, values, and commitment that it takes to build a legacy.

So, if he was The Builder, then who was grandma?

To me, it seems simple.  She was The Seamstress.

My best guess is that each of us, somewhere in our homes, has a quilt hand sewn by grandma.  Somewhere, whether hanging on a wall or covering a bed, the work of grandma’s hands touches each of us and each of our families.

Again, I believe this goes beyond any physical cloth or thread.

My earliest memory of grandma is a picture that I used to see in one of mom and dad’s photo albums.  It was a picture of a piece of equipment on a playground.  I was climbing on something that looked like a half dome spider’s web made out of metal, and grandma was right there with me, at the highest point.  I remember thinking—I don’t know when but I know I thought it—how cool it was that my grandma was willing to climb and play with me.

Sewn within me is a sense of adventure, of life, and of joy—a spirit that says there are moments to work and work hard, but there are also moments to play.

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Grandma knew well what hard work looked like.  Most of you can attest to that better than I can.  But she also knew what it meant to be fully present and fully engaged with the people she surrounded herself with.  She sewed into me a simple ability to know the importance of taking time to play.

The food she cooked sewed love and hospitality—a sense of welcome and comfort.  Just think about the biscuits and venison if you don’t believe me.  In grandma’s house, there was always another spot at the table.  Always.

My aunt told me yesterday that grandma never gave a sense of regret for being a homemaker and raising her family, although she may have regretted that mom and Kay never learned to cook like she did…  While that may be the case, and dad and Chet may soon miss those mashed potatoes, biscuits, venison, and more, I know that in Kay and mom, and the rest of our family, the stitches of welcoming homes have been well passed on.

Grandma also sewed pride into her family.  Through her words about each of us over the past couple of months, as grandma got sicker and sicker, even as her mind slipped it seemed that in the moments of most clarity she wanted to be sure that we all knew how much we were loved and how proud she and grandpa truly were of each of us.

Through her last hours, grandma spoke of the pride she had in her family—how she had married the best man in the world and they had raised the best kids and grandkids and great-grandkids in the world.  The last time I spoke with grandma she held my face and said the same things.  I know I feel that pride, and I carry it with me—I am proud of the family I’m a part of, and much of that is because of grandma.

Grandma also sewed the importance of order and structure within the home.  If the cooking lessons didn’t take for mom and Kay, the cleaning ones did.

To this day, I swear there is a genetic strand of DNA deep at work within mom and Kay that causes them to straighten rugs and keep things clean.  It’s a bit scary, but it is there nonetheless and I believe it comes directly from grandma’s genes.  And while we laugh at that, how else would she have managed a house of five children so well?  How could a walk through times with toddlers, adolescents, joys and pain, have been so well led without order?  Those seeds were planted and they continue today.

In Scripture, in 2 Corinthians 9:6, we are told this:
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Now, of course these verses are referencing seeds and agriculture, but I believe the art of stitchery, the quilting together of thread and cloth, the fine work of a needle, is applicable as well.  Grandma truly was the Sower, and in each of us she saw the potential—even when we didn’t or couldn’t—and she committed to the task of handcrafting her legacy in each of our lives.  We are here today, better mothers, wives, daughters, husbands, fathers, sons, and grandchildren because of the marks of grandma’s stitchery in each of us.

And there’s one more thing I believe grandma sewed into us and continues to sow today:  FAITH and JOY.

You see, I described to you briefly the clothes of mourning that we have each felt so heavy in the past weeks and months.  But notice again the transformation taking place in Psalm 30:

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!”

When grandma passed away, Carrie and I again had to explain to our girls what had taken place.  Even as they shed tears, Pressley put beautiful and creative words that began to help me shed the clothes of mourning.  She said she wondered how close heaven was to the moon because she thought grandma and grandpa were probably walking across the moon, holding hands, with grandpa’s shirt unbuttoned and drinking a beer.

I like that.  I think that’s kind of prophetic.

In those words, I recognized that in grandma’s death, she no longer wears the clothes of mourning, and therefore we can be courageous enough to shed them as well.

Grandma’s mind, and grandpa’s body are no longer suffering.  There is, as Revelation 21 says, no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  The old order is what each of us observed these past few months, the clothes of mourning that weigh our world down with sorrow and sickness.  But that is no longer true for grandma and grandpa, and we stand with them in faith today.

Grandma held that faith.  On a visit I made to Serenity a couple months ago I sat with her as she sang along to the hymns, and told me repeatedly how much she liked each song.  Kay told me that she found a certificate of baptism for grandma dated October 28, 1945… when she was 16 years old.  And I will never forget as mom walked through a bout with Bell’s Palsy visiting grandma and her telling me that she and grandpa were praying for mom.

Today, we stand in amidst the seams of grandma’s faith and joy.  I simply want to say to you, grandma is today enacting that verse from Psalm 30… she has shed the clothes of mourning and replaced them with joy as she sings praise to God for the rest of eternity… perhaps the same songs she sang at her own baptism in 1945.  She is dancing with grandpa in praise of their Creator.  Her mourning, her confusion, her sorrow and loss, are no more.  She is experiencing the promised restoration of God’s Story.

Today we simply say goodbye, but perhaps in laying grandma to rest we say and experience something a bit deeper.  Perhaps today we shed a piece of the clothes of mourning in order to be clothed with rejoicing.  Perhaps we move away from the old order of things and toward the new.  Perhaps, in these moments of remembrance and hope, we gather once more around a table for a meal and continue to sew into each other and those we brush up against the beauty, love, faith, pride, and joy that so personified Maxine Williams as a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend.

Leadership Thursday :: Seeing Another’s Full Potential

Last week I started a series about Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, and how it relates to the work of leadership across cultural settings. Continuing this week I want to consider how Jesus not only engages “the Other” in his ministry, but how he engages in a way that sees their full potential.

Continuing the exploration of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, readers see the conversation take a turn from earthly thirst to the first glimpse of heavenly water (John 4:9-10).  Jesus, having shattered the earthly assumptions of cultural and social boundaries, now takes the woman to a deeper issue.  He understands her difficulty of understanding how he could ask her for a drink, but he subverts the conversation by speaking to her of living water.

As previously mentioned, John is interested in the flesh and blood interactions of Jesus.  He knows, therefore, that the idea of drinking from the same cup as a Samaritan could cause ceremonial uncleanness.  Nonetheless, his first mysterious saying causes her to ask several questions.  How could living water—what a literal understanding would have known as rushing water—come from this well?  Who is this man who offers this and what is the gift of God?  In the midst of her questions, Jesus reveals another driving force of life change about to occur in this woman.  He stands with a vision of her full potential.

When Jesus speaks of living water, he speaks of a Kingdom of God ideal—a life centered and fueled by the power of God’s Spirit (John 7:38-39).  NT Wright shows the collision of his heavenly idea with her earthly understanding, saying that, “because God created both heaven and earth… Jesus’ work is precisely to bring the life of heaven to earth.”  For a woman surprised both culturally and socially, Jesus’ first lofty statement to her reveals a divine vision of the full life she is meant to live and the potential to walk day to day with no more spiritual thirst.

Leaders cannot help but read this element of the story and consider the ideas of inspirational motivation as they relate to transformational leadership.  What Jesus does in this statement regarding living water that removes all thirst is dangle inspiration in front of her.  The reader of course knows that this must be a deeply thirsty (in the spiritual sense) woman.  A string of broken relationships, social stigmas, and unanswered theological questions places her in a position where Jesus’ inspiration and vision of the life she could be living leaves her desperate to know more.

Not only this, but contemporary leadership application also needs to draw the connection of Jesus’ vision for her life as a way of building momentum for organizational change.  It is clear that the effectiveness of change depends on “how well leaders communicate the reasons why proposed change is necessary and beneficial” (Gary Yukl).  Jesus clearly taps into this woman’s heart by prodding at her spiritual thirst and offers a sense of the great change this needs to place within her.

As the trajectory of John’s narrative continues to press inward to this woman’s life change after meeting Jesus, the movement past cultural and social boundaries now begins to fracture the woman’s own personal boundaries.  Jesus, in his offer of God’s gift of living water with no more thirst, presents to this woman a vision of her own full potential.  It is apparent that Jesus, as a leader in this relationship, is not only convinced that moving across cultures and engaging “the other” is the work of the Kingdom, but also that every human being carries what C.S. Lewis called “the weight of glory.”  As biblically centered leaders pursue leadership that changes the lives of their followers their commitment becomes clear:  Leadership that changes lives sees the Kingdom potential of every follower.

So the question is this… Who are you developing and how well can they be developed?  Do you see their potential, and their FULL potential?  Do you limit those you lead in your perception of them, or are you leading them toward fruitfulness by seeing past the outer tensions often so visible?  

Leadership Thursday :: John 4 and the Other

I’m trying to build back into a rhythm of blogging more regularly.  So, I’m giving Thursdays to focus on issues of leadership.  It creates an outlet for the schooling I’m doing in a less academic setting (meaning, I can skip all the footnotes) and hopefully builds a discipline into me.

So, for the next several weeks I’m going to start with some reflections on Jesus as he meets the woman at the well in John 4.  One of the beautiful things about this story is that we see automatic transformation in the woman.  Many times, Scripture creates long narratives of people being shaped and reshaped by the work of God in their lives.  Here though, we see quick change, and the power the encounter with Jesus places on this woman with a sordid past.

In terms of leadership, this relates to Jesus’ ability to engage in relationship.  He is a transformational leader in the truest sense of the word.  The woman leaves her shame and becomes a messenger of Christ’s mission.  This is a powerful image.

So how did he do it?  What were the characteristics that made this encounter so powerful?  Over the next several weeks I’ll be talking about each of them.  Today, I simply want to start with Jesus’ willingness to engage “the Other”.

In John’s narrative in chapter 4, Jesus finds himself sitting by Jacob’s well (Gen. 48:21-22), a place still in existence today.  As he sits by this well during the hottest part of the day and his disciples wander toward town to find food, the writer tells us that a Samaritan woman approaches the well and Jesus asks her for a drink (John 4:6-8).  Clearly, the woman is surprised that a Jew would ask her for a drink (John 4:9) and she lets him know it.  Underpinning this exchange are a number of further cultural issues John expects the reader to understand.

First of all, as previously mentioned, Jews did not associate with Samaritans.  Second, men did not associate with women.  Third, and this becomes apparent later in the passage, the social strikes against the woman were not only that she was Samaritan and female, but also that she had well-known moral failures in her own community (John 4:17-18).  John may have expected the reader to perceive this as she arrives at the well in the middle of the hottest part of the day—an indicator that she desired to avoid social interaction perhaps because of the damage her reputation caused to social interactions.

The issues at hand now take Jesus beyond cultural boundaries and into social ones.  NT Wright makes plain the scandal of Jesus talking with this woman.  According to him, men typically avoided this type of conversation not only because of the cultural difficulties, but also because of the risk of immorality or gossip regarding the relationship.  This is increased by the fact that this woman stood as an outcast in her own community.  Jesus displays a further willingness to shrug off cultural assumptions that, for too long, had limited the nature of the work of God’s Kingdom.  By beginning this conversation with the woman at the well, John’s writing must have shocked the first readers into an awareness that the “way things had always been” was shifting drastically.

In regards to contemporary leadership issues, much of the conversation about leaders often relates to task or relations-based models.  It is interesting, in this passage, that Jesus entails the work of a task (“Will you give me a drink?”) in order to pave the way for a relationship that will change this woman’s life (John 4:7).

This hearkens to current theories of both empowering and transformational leadership.  The nature of this story is about the expansion of the Kingdom; specifically, Jesus wants to reach the Samaritan community in which this woman resides.  He knows the harvest is ripe (John 4:35) and he wants this woman to play a part.  Through his charisma, a key element of transformational leadership, Jesus shocks her with the very fact that he speaks to her in conversation.  Then, he empowers her to a role of participation by asking her to get him a drink.

In continuing to explore the nature of leadership that changes lives, it is critical to understand that biblical leadership has a strong foundation in engaging “the other”.  Who is it that society casts aside as unworthy, un-valuable, or unlovable?  In fact, in the economy of God’s Kingdom, these are the very ones that biblical leaders are willing to engage and develop as the next generation of leaders.  Consider for instance King David, Moses, Elisha, and many others.  Through a commitment to seeing broken lives reshaped, biblical leaders engage “the other” with the same honest opportunities that Jesus presented to this woman.

In your leadership who are you engaging as “the other”?  Who is the unlikely candidate that you are pouring into?  What tasks are you offering to them for the sake of building relationships and seeing God’s continued development in their lives?

Confessions of an Insecure Pastor: The Summer Slump

In church planting world (and probably church world in general), attendance matters.

Sure, we all act like it doesn’t when we talk to others.  We don’t mention numbers too much or try to make someone feel less by asking how many people they have, but from month to month, it matters.  We need a church to grow to sustain itself.  We need to see life and movement as these are the signs of living churches.  A healthy understanding of numbers is necessary in ministry settings today.  If you don’t think numbers matter, go read the book of Numbers in Scripture… or the first few chapters of Acts… and notice how much God counted people.

Understanding this, you need to know that the summer slump in church world is a difficult time for ministry leaders.  The summer slump is that point where school lets out and weekends get consumed with family fun time and camping trips and amusement parks and vacations and general, good-for-the-soul busyness.  Most of this takes place on weekends, so our attendance in Sunday morning worship services tends to drop drastically.

To be honest, it’s a painful and worrisome time for pastors and church planters.

All summer long I’ve been thinking about this.  It’s not that I worry so much about numbers or how many people we have in the room, it’s actually about energy and momentum.  I miss the critical mass of bodies and the consistency of seeing families week in and week out.  Our congregation feels like an extended family to me, and we miss people when they are gone.  I miss hearing about their lives and what’s taking place.

And  here’s the best part of all this.  Usually, after not seeing folks for a few consistent weeks, I will send a quick message to say, “hey, we’re thinking of you and miss you guys!”  Or, if I run into someone on the street I’ll offer the same thoughts.

What gets me is usually the response.

I don’t wear robes, but I feel like maybe I should because when I say these things it’s like all people can see is the pastor-card hanging out before them.  Almost like they’re thinking, “Oh great, he’s judging us because we’ve been gone too long.”

The fact is, I’m not.
The fact is, I maybe just saw your picture on Facebook and thought of you and wanted you to know it.
The fact is, I’m a little jealous that you can go to the lake on Sundays and I can’t.
The fact is, we really do miss seeing you and we don’t blame you for enjoying your summer as much as you can.

I don’t know what all this says, or if there’s any big lesson, but it has been a great summer.  In the midst of the “summer slump” God has been speaking to me about the nature of ministry being dependent on His efforts and not my own, and maybe that’s the point.  Maybe as people trickle out between June and August, I see more of the Spirit and my own life and a deeper reliance on Him to bring people back in the fall.

Either way, your pastor isn’t always judging you… he’s just a little insecure and hoping you come back in September…  ;-)

 

That Sermon I Preached to Myself

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I spend a lot of time preparing to preach sermons.

In fact, we have one sweet girl in our church who simply calls me, “Preacher.”

Truth be told, I love preaching (teaching for you hipster Christians swimming in the wake of the emerging church lingo).  If I didn’t have to invest time in administrative tasks, I could be content studying and planning teaching opportunities.  It is a great joy to me.

But it’s also a painful process at times.

The crunch of weekly schedules, the insecurities of whether it will connect or not, the sleepless Saturday night before I deliver it… it all adds up to a hard process.

This past week, I preached 10 times in 7 days.
Speaking at a youth camp in Michigan and then coming home to preach at New Community added up to a pretty intense week.  But it’s always good to be back with our home church.  So yesterday morning, I was excited and eager to share with our community from this passage of James:

Chapter 4
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

Chapter 5
1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.6You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

I had read and re-read this passage over the course of the week.  But somewhere along the line I also saw this post from a pastor I admire in Seattle named Eugene Cho:

“We’re all busy but we need to spend more time to sit, eat, laugh, cry, tell stories and most importantly, share how God is at work among us.”

I love this.
And it hurt to read it.

As I wrestled with the passage in James, I began to recognize this was not a sermon I was writing for anyone other than myself.  Where I landed with the sermon was this simple statement:

WHEN YOU RECOGNIZE LIFE AS TEMPORARY, YOU WILL INVEST IN ETERNAL THINGS.

The challenge of this passage is that James is confronting mentalities that place us as humans in charge of our own worlds.  One theologian says the end of chapter 4 is the sin of presumption–believing we are in control of life, prosperity, etc.  And chapter 5 is the sin of oppression–stepping on whoever we need to step on in order to get where we want to go.

Both of these sins fail to understand the temporary nature–the mist as James calls it–that is our lives.

Investing = what we do with the ‘EXTRA’ in our lives… our time, relationships, finances, and more.

What hit me so hard about all of this was how quickly I take over my life, my schedule, my money, and my relationships.  I function day to day in such a way that I’m called to help others journey closer to Christ.  The problem in all of this is that I often function as if its contingent on me.

That’s why Eugene’s quote hit me so strongly–I so often fail to simply be… to sit and enjoy the stories of others around me and the things God is doing in their lives.  So this week I’m working through the sermon again… trying as hard as I can to let it preach to me.

Be at peace friends.