Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Three years and counting...

Three years ago today, on a blistering hot day, Sara and I exchanged vows of love and faithfulness and began the adventure of marriage. It was an intimate little service with 350 of our closest friends and family members, at First United Methodist Church of Hudson, where I was serving as pastor, with 12 pastors officiating (all of them family members and close friends -- that was our wedding party!), lots of music, Holy Communion, and many special elements, followed by a dessert reception (chocolate fountain and all!) at Rolling Ridge.

We're headed out to dinner in a few minutes to celebrate (we have a babysitter and everything!), and tomorrow, while Rachel plays with her grandparents, we're taking the day to relax and enjoy each other. We don't know what we're doing yet, but it doesn't even matter, because we'll be together.

I am blessed to have a wonderful wife, life partner, and partner in ministry.

Friday, June 20, 2008


As I think about my ministry as a pastoral leader, one thing is abundantly clear to me: there's a big difference between being a leader and being a manager.

It's a tension in ministry that almost every pastor I know faces. So much of day-to-day ministry demands effective management: keeping track of all the finer details of ministry, day in, day out; making sure tasks are completed, worship is developed, a sermon is prepared, people are cared for, records are in order, budget numbers are reviewed, phone calls are made, e-mails are read and composed, and all the required forms are completed and submitted according to deadline. These are important aspects of ministry. Each of them helps to ensure that ministry continues, and yes, ministry is about impacting human lives.

Most of the time I'm able to stay on top of the management responsibilities -- sometimes very well, sometimes adequately -- but I'll confess that in my less effective moments, I can feel like little more than a machine churning out ministry, without passion or conviction and with hardly a nod to God. I note that I've used the passive voice to describe these tasks, and that's significant because there are days when I can check all the boxes on the task list and still remain fairly passive. Too often I get caught up being a manager and find there's little time for the real stuff of leadership.

Management is important for any effective organization, but the church calls out for leadership! There's the old expression, "Leadership is doing the right thing; management is doing things right." It seems to me if our primary focus is on doing things right, we might easily manage our way into extinction.

If management is about reducing risks, leadership is about pursuing opportunities. If management is about managing tasks, leadership is about leading people. If management is about seeing the present clearly, leadership is about articulating a vision for an improved future. If management is about tracking progress, leadership is about initiating change. If management is about reacting to perceived needs, leadership is about taking a proactive stance. I'm convinced it takes both effective management and visionary leadership to enable the healthy, growing church God calls us to be.

My prayer: God, help me to grow in my leadership abilities, and kindle in me a passion to pursue opportunities, to lead people, to articulate a vision for the future, to initiate change, to take a proactive stance, to lead with my head and my heart, for the sake of your church and your Kingdom!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back from Annual Conference

We returned on Sunday night from our New England Annual Conference, held at Gordon College in Wenham, MA from Thursday night through noontime on Sunday. It's always a joy to be part of a worshiping congregation of 1,000 voices, and to celebrate some of the ministries around our New England Conference which are impacting lives with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I'm still processing all that took place... There certainly were frustrating moments, but also many joyful moments. A few highlights:
  • great energy around the Nothing But Nets campaign, with something like $50,000 raised during Annal Conference to purchase bed nets, which will help to alleviate the spread of malaria in Africa, which causes such suffering
  • the report that $6.3 million has already come in through our "Together for Tomorrow" capital campaign, supporting congregational development, camps and retreat centers, pastoral retirement support, local church ministries, and our covenants with the churches of Nicaragua and West Angola
  • Eric Dupee winning the Ziegler Preaching Award and sharing a fantastic sermon challenging us to simply love God and love our neighbors
  • Saturday night's ordination & commissioning service - congratulations, Rick!
  • many opportunities to connect with old friends
  • having Rachel's four grandparents there all at once!

Check out some of the news from Annual Conference, courtesy of our Conference communications staff:

News from Friday, June 13
News from Saturday, June 14
News from Sunday, June 15

Monday, June 09, 2008

What kind of church do we want to be?

What's This Really About? - an excellent post by Jan Edmiston on her blog, A Church For Starving Artists

... and from Mark Batterson, lead pastor at National Community Church, some really helpful thoughts in a post called Random Firings of the Synapses.

Monday, June 02, 2008


The other day I went to the hospital to visit a member of the congregation, whom I'll call Lucy. When I walked in, right away, I noticed her husband sitting next to her and a woman I didn't recognize standing at the foot of the bed. It turned out this visitor was the hospital chaplain, who had stopped by to say hello and offer her services.

"Oh, this is my pastor," Lucy said to her visitor. "And this is the hospital chaplain," she said to me. "Isn't it nice that she came to visit?"

We shook hands, and I thanked her for coming to see Lucy.

I was glad for the chance to visit with Lucy and her husband. Both have been dealing with some serious health issues, as well as a number of complicated life situations -- really a lot on their plate all at once.

"I was just telling her," Lucy said, "how my minister is always saying, 'God never gives you more than you can handle.'"

Ick. How to respond?

I promise, I have never said those words to Lucy or to anyone else. I detest those words.

I couldn't tell if those were words of comfort in that moment.

I wanted to scream, "Who are you talking about? I have NEVER said those words to you!"

What is the implication? That God gives us challenges, and then challenges on top of challenges, because God knows we can handle them? That somehow God pushes us to the breaking point, because God knows it'll make us stronger? That God is somehow orchestrating all the details of our lives -- orchestrating the tragedies, sending us pain and sadness and then piling on more, for some greater good?

I don't believe that. In fact, I'll be the first to say that sometimes I think the situations of life force people to face more than they can handle, and it's downright unfair.

Oh, I do believe that God works in powerful ways in the midst of challenge and tragedy, giving people the strength they need to weather the storms of life. I've seen some truth in Romans 8:28, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God..." I celebrate moments when I've seen God transform despair into hope, hatred into love, misery into joy, and conflict into peace. That's the miracle of Easter, isn't it? But that's not the same thing as saying that God causes our pain, orchestrates the challenges we face, or trips us up to make us stronger. I don't believe in that God.

I'm tired of platitudes. God never gives us more than we can handle -- but sometimes it seems like life does. I've walked with too many people through life's pain. I look around and see too much suffering. Frankly, I think there's a lot that happens in life that's completely beyond God's will, and in those situations, I think God wants to be a source of love, hope, joy, peace, and strength.

I have a long list of questions for God, and I suspect there are no easy answers, but I hope God gives me the strength to be present with people in the midst of their suffering and without offering shallow explanations that ring empty, allow them the space to wrestle with the biggest questions of life, which always seem to start with "Why?"