Monthly Archives: November 2012

What Young Clergy Need to Know – Redefining what it means to be “Peers”

I’ve been meaning to reflect on a blog post I read this past summer.  It lifts up the concerns of young clergy, people entering into the ministry in a world much different from those a good 15,20 or more years into it.  The basic message is that in short, young clergy are feeling and experiencing that their entry and contribution to pastoral ministry is being dismissed, and that their lack of experience and youth is a hinderance.  The author makes the case that it’s quite the opposite, and that we need to take them seriously in a church that is dying.  The blog post is worth a read. (Yes, I put it in there twice, it’s that important).

A couple things first: I fit into this “young clergy” category.  Or, I am about to, as I’m still have a half year of seminary left to complete.  I get the point he is making in this article.  I want to lead and take on the challenges of the church in today’s world just as much as the next person getting into this.  But I do have a few things to say to my “peers” and in response to the blog.

Young clergy/seminarians/leaders/pastors:

  • I get that you care deeply about the church, are committed to it, and that you are creative and offer a much as a leader.  You should be thinking that way.  Be confident in that.
  • I also get that you want to be heard and understood, are frustrated at the hyprocracy of standards among younger and older pastors, feel they can’t challenge people on existing understandings and expressions of church because their job depends on it, and want to be respected for their own authentic style of leadership.  Stop it; get over it.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh – yeah, I probably am being very harsh.  But such a mindset, and the response is that the older establishment simply should put us in positions of influence and voice, doesn’t solve the issue.  Moreover, if you seek out persons who only affirm and make you feel comfortable, and expect them to be the voice of change you desire, that doesn’t solve the issue either.  It just puts you more at odds with the people you’re frustrated with – namely older leaders who hold “power.”  And being at odds with them inwardly while trying to “play the game” and be cordial outwardly doesn’t help either.

So is there another way?

I think there is – and that’s working to create a “peer relationship” with those you feel at odds with, namely older clergy and lay leaders.  We often look at peers as only those of the same relative age or experience.  But, peer relationships are really ones of mutuality – mutual respect.  There’s a saying, “In order to get respect, you have to give respect.  Respect is earned, not granted.”  And I 100% agree with that statement.  One has to see older folks as possible peers, and vice versa.  And that’s not easy by any means.  It takes work and time.  But it can be done – because I served in an organization that has been doing it since its existance.

The United States military has a system in which its commissioned junior officers are usually in their early to mid 20’s, straight out of college and an indoctrination school to get them ready for the environment they enter into.  They are given responsibility in the form of positional authority right away, with little experience on the job.  However, when they come to their commands, they are often taking charge of platoons and divisions in which there are senior enlisted personnel, lower ranking, who have more experience doing the job, and often have more technical knowledge and leadership ability then the junior officer coming in.

It’s a tough situation for everyone; a young junior officer is expected to lead, but with little experience.  The senior and more experienced enlisted person is expected to take direction and orders from this person.  Seems like a disaster waiting to happen.  And in some circumstances, it is a disaster.  When the junior officer sees their position as an entitlement, or the senior enlisted views the junior officer as unnecessary, the whole division or platoon breaks down.  Basically, there’s no sense that either sees the other as “peer.”

However, the beauty of this system is that what the junior officer brings is a set of fresh ideas and eyes to the unit.  They bring their creativity and innovation, and critical thinking skills gained through academic study (hopefully).  The senior enlisted person brings their wealth of experience, their technical knowledge, and own leadership experience to the table.  What happens when this system works is that the junior officer understands they cannot hope to lead without the knowledge and experience of the senior enlisted person.  The senior enlisted person sees their role in not only offering their knowledge and experience to the junior officer, but also seeing the benefit of a new perspective.  In a sense, they become “peers.”  They learn to respect what each has to offer.  The unit starts to then run better than it ever could without one or the other.

So what does this have to do with young clergy and leadership??  I agree with the author of the blog on some points, and you probably can see where this military model has some parallels with his thoughts.  But I think he missed one important element in this thoughts:  Young clergy must begin to respect the experience and knowledge that older clergy and laypersons possess through their years of ministry.  Maybe they are outdated; maybe church decline is happening because they failed to understand and adapt to changes in culture over time.  But they care just as much about this church too.  There is much young clergy can learn from their experiences in ministry.  They have much to offer you, young clergy, you just have to see it that way.  And it is those who may not accept you upfront, especially those folks, that you need to foster a peer relationship with.

That’s probably not the answer you were looking for.  And I agree, there are times when you come across some folks who simply don’t want to ever see you as a peer – and that is going to happen.  But if that results because of your failure to respect their years in ministry, then that’s on you.  There is a time to challenge and question thoughts and ways of doing ministry – but first, take time to give them respect they have earned through their years of ministry.

Back to the model above – I think for the church leaders, it’s understanding what each brings to the table that’s beneficial.  The difference is that as young clergy, we don’t have positional authority right away.  But I don’t see that changing – so we have to deal with it.  Be firm on your commitments on your sitness to the gospel, ministry, and leadership.  But seek to create a genuine peer relationship with those who have positional power; earn their respect.  I think you can do it without having to compromise your own commitments; in fact, I’m sure of it.

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Giving Thanks….Keeping Things in Perspective

I had this great conversation this past week with an old wrestling training partner and friend. We caught up on what’s going on in our busy lives – coaching, family, dealing with the reality of physical limitations as we get older, and reflecting on what it means to be a life-giving person.

Anyway, I asked him about his little daughter and how she was, and he said this (at least to the best of my memory): “You know what? Having my daughter is awesome. Being a parent is so hard man, and you know, it puts everything in perspective.”

Amen, brother…..wise words indeed. My friend hit it on the head: there are things and people in life, things and people we need, that put things in perspective for us. Remind us of how hard and difficult managing life can be, but also reminding us what’s precious and valuable about it.

So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for things that put things in perspective. And I hope you do too. I’ll list of a few of mine, I’d love to hear yours.

– A God revealed in Jesus Christ who extends daily mercies and grace through his presence every day.
– My wife, who I get to wake up next to and come home to every day.
– Friends who push my thinking that allows me to be honest with myself.
– The many youth and young adults who have endured tragedy and hardship much more difficult than mine, and with more courage and faith than I have.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and thanks to all of you who take time to read my thoughts. Thanks be to God!

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“Buying In” – On the Mat & In the Church

This past weekend, the wrestling team I coach competed for the first time this past weekend.  And, as with most opening season competitions, the results were mixed – some turned in great results; others’ performances left room for improvement.  One thing I noted though, was that our wrestlers who performed best have “bought in” to the training and system we have here at Augsburg College.  That is,

  • They’ve committed themselves to using and perfecting the technique they’re taught;
  • They put maximum effort into the workouts and training demands placed in on them;
  • They take care of things academically & perform well in the classroom;
  • They behave responsibly in their personal and social lives;
  • They manage their diet and nutrition to maximize their performance on and off the mat.

In short, the wrestlers who are “buying in” seem to be doing everything right and are reaping the benefits of it.  And while I’m happy and proud of the athletes who experienced success this weekend, and will hopefully continue to do so, the primary question that comes to my mind is,

“What makes an athlete ‘buy in’ at all?”

 For as successful as this program and coaching staff has been over the years, not every athlete has reached their full potential.  Some quit the team; some quit school and never get their college degree.  Some come in with tons of accomplishments in high school, yet never achieve what they are capable of in college.  On the flip side, we have kids who have come in with less accomplishments, and who seemingly will never be more than a backup or 50% winning wrestler for us, and they’ve gone on to win All-American honors and even become National Champions.  I wonder, why do some wrestlers choose to “buy in” –  do everything that is asked of them by the coaching staff, and believe wholeheartedly in the principles and philosophy of the wrestling program here at Augsburg. 

The answer for me comes down to trust.  Those athletes that “buy in” choose to trust the coaching staff and what we communicate and challenge them with.  Those athletes choose to believe in the principles of the program.  But they don’t do so blindly, nor do they do it out of fear of failure, out of coercion, or even out of the promise of success.  I believe they do it because what they have decided to place their trust in has shown itself to be trustworthy.  In other words, their trust has been earned – both by the integrity of our wrestling program, or what values and commitments it stands for, and in the efforts of the coaches who are embodying and communicating the values and commitments of the program. 

And where’s what funny to me: I think the same is true for the church.  Faith essentially comes down to a choice – a decision to trust in the integrity of the gospel message and in the efforts of the church community in communicating and embodying that same message. Or, in more theological terms, the integrity of our proclamation and witness is at stake.  The challenge for the church is nurturing faith in people – getting them to “buy in.”  And if church leaders are really honest, that’s what we want from the congregations, communities and people of faith we serve – to make the decision to choose faith in God, to trust in the relationship with God through Jesus Christ – that it has shown itself to be trustworthy; that it is life-giving and transforms those that trust in it.

And I think this raises some very important questions for both wrestling coaches and those who lead in ministry.  First, I think it forces us to think deeply about our own integrity as leaders: what we will be committed to and what will we value that we pass along to those we serve?  I think we have to consider what those commitments and values are communicating – both positively and negatively.  Is winning most important?  Is growth strictly understood in church membership size most important?  Or is there something with more substance, more meaningful, that we ought to be committing ourselves to?

And the second question I think we as leaders need to be asking ourselves: “How hard are we working to communicate and embody those commitments and values?”  It’s an important question, because if we’re not working hard in these areas, then simply, you won’t create the “buy in” I’m talking about here because those around you simply won’t believe you.  They won’t trust you. If you’re not invested, then there’s no reason to expect they will invest back.

I know for me as a coach, I know if I want my athletes to “buy in,” I need to spend a lot of time forming a personal relationship with them.  I need to be honest with them about their performance, but also honest when I make mistakes as a coach.  I need to listen to them, how they’re feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally, and making time for that.  And, above all, I try to stress character as the most important thing in life – because that will carry them on well after they leave the mat.

In my pastoral role, I know if I want people to “buy in,” whether a part of the faith community or not, then the same is true.  I need to be honest with them about the world they live in, but also honest about this God made known through Jesus Christ.  I need to be honest about the mystery of God as well – our religous traditions are limited, and in the end, one has to step out primarily in faith.  And, I have to listen and care for them – physically, emotionally, and mentally – and always make time for that, even when I’m “too busy.”  And above all, I try to stress the good news of the gospel, God is present with us always, is the most precious thing in this life – because it will carry them in all times of life, even when their faith and trust hangs on a thin thread.

So there you have it.  How do you get people to “buy in?”  You create and nurture faith and trust in others by being a leader of integrity and being faithful and trustworthy to them first.  For me, it sounds a lot like this God who in Christ has shown to be faithful and trustworthy to us first….and perhaps, just maybe, that’s enough for us to “buy in.”

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Observing Veteran’s Day in Worship: Yes or No?

Earlier this week, Text this Week.com posed this question on their Facebook page: “I’m also thinking about “Veterans Day”/”Remembrance Day” this coming Sunday, and the many, sometimes strong and sometimes dismissive, thoughts and experiences people bring to this particular day in different countries and cultures. Any thoughts about what we do as communities of faith?”

The answers varied, and rightly so, on such a tricky subject – Do we or don’t we honor men and women who ultimately, participated in wars?  Wars….with violence and innocent deaths, started and carried on with political/religious powers and agendas behind them, highlighting the ugly side of humanity.  To recognize these people ultimately leads to a recognition of what they did, what they were participating in. 

Two choices are either don’t recognize them at all, or find some way to recognize them in a “love the sinner, but hate the sin” sort of way.  Both ways fall short, and honestly, avoid really addressing the issues at hand.

I think talking about Veteran’s Day, and talking about war and military service is a chance to be honest – honest about the world and how we live life in it.

I think vocation is the place we start.  Not vocation in the “calling” sense, but rather from the sense of participating in something, carrying out a role or job because at the time, you think it is the right thing to do, but, in a messy and unclear world.  We do so in less than ideal situations and environments.  But yet, we act, we act in faith and by faith.  We get it wrong at times, but the call of the person of faith is a call to vocation – to do something because at the time, you think it is the right thing to do and so you enter into it with good faith that it is. 

When I think about the military service, we are people who are serving and sacrificing because we believe what we are doing what is right – defending an ideal of freedom for all, and protecting and defending those who cannot stand for themselves. Those who choose military service do this even if the action they are called to has political agendas or questionable ethical undertones that are less than honorable.  We do the best we can despite how messy, unclear, or violent serving in that vocation may be.

So here’s the honesty: That is what all of us who serve in our vocations do – we do the best we can, trusting that God is calling us and we are listening faithfully.  We are called to live in this world, not separate ourselves from it.  That means engaging in its messiness, yet not accepting it.  We as people of God serve through vocation in this world of sin and brokenness, but do so even when it’s unclear what we’re doing is God’s Will.  We do so because we’re people acting confidently out of faith, but also crying, “Kyrie elision; Lord, have mercy.”

And another bit of honesty: If we who serve in ministry, or as Christians think our vocation more noble, more righteous, and more Christlike than other vocations – especially the more messy and complex ones like military service – than we all deceive ourselves. 

I hope for those of you in the pulpit or leading worship this weekend, you’ll find a way to be honest – honest about both the gift of service amid tragic realities in our world. Engage in it, just as God engages deeply in our world through the cross.

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What does your sport teach you? – Part 2

So, as I mentioned, before,  I’m reflecting a bit on what values/benefits I get out of the sport of wrestling.  You can check out the previous post here.  Anyway, here’s #6-10.  Again, I would love to hear your own “list” on what you get out of “your sport,” or just get your general comments in general! 

6. Passion.  If there’s one thing you’ll find about wrestlers and wrestling fans, they’re pretty crazy about the sport.  There are those of us who still physically wrestle well past what our bodies are capable of, and for many, everything ties back to the sport somehow.  (To those that know me, you know I’m never guilty of this! ha!) But why?  It’s because we’re passionate.  Wrestling is in our blood….it’s what gives us life – the sport, the community, the experiences, and on and on.  And that passion spills into other areas of our lives.  Wrestling makes us better people, life-giving people, in other aspects of our lives.  And I think if we look at the world in general, I wonder if such passion was present in everyone….what would that mean for life, life as God intended for us?

7. Honesty.  There’s nothing more honest than standing face to face with another human being, with no advantages, no special equipment – just you and the other – and both wanting the same thing.  One will triumph, one won’t.  I think the honesty in our sport, in my successes and failures, has enabled me to be more honest about other areas of my life.  It’s made me seek such honesty from others in my relationships.  Honesty does something: it frees you from denial, and allows you to grow and flourish.  1 John 1 says, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.”  This isn’t about moral sins, but rather, the acknowledgement of who we are – human beings, with limits and faults, but with great gifts and potential.  If we deny that, we miss out on certain things.  Wrestling is about dealing with limits and faults, gifts and potential, honestly.

8.  Inclusiveness.  The church I belong to (ELCA) is always talking about “inclusiveness.”  We need to include others, acknowledging and celebrating their diversity and what it brings.  We have to provide an environment for that diversity to flourish.  Wrestling does that better than any other sport.  Body type, size, strength, flexibility, race, age, socio-economic background, religion, political belief…..it doesn’t matter.  If you put great effort into it, you can wrestle.  If you ever look at some of the best wrestlers in the world, you’d never believe what you’d find.  Fat chubby kids, 98-pound skin and bones, and everything else in between.  Wrestling is the embodiment of inclusivity!

9.  Toughness.  Maybe I should say this another way: resiliency.  That’s what being “tough” is about – being able to withstand difficulty, adversity.  And that mean you may not be able to overcome it, but you can withstand and endure it – it won’t destroy you.  Wrestling’s taught me that, being resilient in the face of failure, injury, personal tragedy, uncertainty, anxiety, and so forth.  As a good friend of mine commented, “But, the reality is that MANY things in life will be harder than wrestling (parenting, disease, loss, etc).”  My friend is right.  Wrestling teaches us to push on in the face of adversity, regardless and uncertain the outcome may be.  That’s resiliency.  That’s toughness.

10. Grace.  I think this might be the most important thing I’ve learned through wrestling.  It’s made me a better person of faith, and a better person in general.  I’ll be honest, my wrestling career is marked with a lot of failure, more than I’d like to admit.  And there’s a lot of guilt and shame as I’ve thought through the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” of all those experiences.  But it’s taught me to deal with myself with grace.  That stuff doesn’t define me.  Today, even as a coach, I’ve learned through being gracious with myself that I don’t need to be an All-American, National Champion, or even a full-time starter as a college competitor to be a good coach.  Thankfully, I’ve had good friends and mentors in the sport tell me the same thing, because they understand grace is essential to enjoying the sport of wrestling.  We will all fail, fall short.  But, grace allows us to see those things don’t define us, and shouldn’t diminish our lives and the way we live them.  And for me, that is central to my faith in God through Jesus Christ.  Grace allows me to see the gift in things each and every day – like the gift of being able to be a part of such a great sport and community like wrestling!!

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What does your Sport Teach you? – Part 1

A former youth of mine, who is now in college, called me the other day and asked me to help her with a project. She’s doing a survey asking wrestlers and wrestling coaches, “What values do you think you get from the sport of wrestling?” (This reminds me, I need to respond and send her survey back!)

But it got me thinking: What exactly do I value about the sport of wrestling? I’ll do this in two parts, since I have a “Top 10” in my head. But my question to you is, “What values/benefits do you get from the respective sport you follow or participate in?” What meaning do you get from being so passionate about it?

Here’s #1-5:

1. Wrestling = Faith. Let me explain – everyone has something, some experience, ritual, etc. that embodies their faith, that communicates clearly and connects them deeply to their faith. For me, that’s what wrestling does. There are so many angles to take this, but as I think of what it means to be a follower of Christ, to live a life of faith, the sport of wrestling embodies that. Defeat, triumph, discipline, sacrifice. I could use theological words: Death, resurrection, discipleship, the Cross. Wrestling embodies my faith in God, lived out in this world, this life.

2. Dealing with reality. Some of the most sobering lessons I’ve learned about life have been through wrestling. For example, hard work usually pays off, but sometimes it doesn’t. But the effort was totally worth it. We think of things in this world as one big transaction – “If I do this, I should get this.” But that’s not always true. However, the effort itself is about transformation – “If I go through this, it says something about me; I discover something about myself.” Transaction is about control, transformation is about faith. I wonder, if we do things for the sake of learning things about ourselves and how we relate to others, rather than with the expectation of a result, would we have a better sense of reality for what life is?

3. Winning. Because I don’t care what anyone says, winning feels damn good. But not winning at the expense of someone else, but because of everything endured along the journey to that point; what it took to get there.

4. Courage to be vulnerable. You probably don’t think of wrestlers as vulnerable creatures, but if you ask one and they’re honest with you, wrestlers go through a certain anxiety and fear every time they step on that mat. The possibility of losing, when you’re the only one out there – exposed, beaten, defeated – why would you subject yourself to that? I know for me, and for my athletes I now coach, to be able to acknowledge vulnerability and fear, but not to let the risk of failure paralyze or have power over you, that’s life-giving. And that mentality carries over to other aspects of life – relationships, jobs, etc.

5. Friends/The Wrestling Community. Let’s be honest: most of us are looking for a place where we belong. And since we’re being honest, I like being a “guy.” You may not like it, but I do. The sport of wrestling attracts a certain type of people that quite simply, I like hanging around. It may not be your community, but it’s mine. And I need that community, because it gives me life in ways the other communities I belong to (the church, in particular) can’t.

So there ya go: Again, if you’re a wrestler or love wrestling, I’d love to hear your additions to this list. If you love a different sport, I’d love to hear what you value about your sport so much! If you aren’t a sports person, I’d love to hear what you think about all this!

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Moving Forward with Something to Say.

So, after giving it some thought, (and because I’m taking a break from sermon writing) I think I know where I want this blog to go.

Actually, it’s two directions. One comes from what I’m doing now, and the other from where I’m eventually headed here in the coming year.

As you may know from checking out my “about me” page, I coach wrestling at Augsburg College. One of the biggest challenges – and greatest joys – of coaching working with the mental, emotional, and even spiritual, side of the sport. Often times, the battles my athletes, and most athletes face, are not ones of improving technique or execution. Rather, it’s the battle of the heart and mind: the vulnerability and courage to succeed and fail.

So that’s number one. This season, as things come up with my athletes, and with me as coach, I will be writing on those experiences – the intersection of where faith in God and wrestling meet. In short, directed towards athletes, but for all who face similar battles.

And, as I conclude my seminary education and work towards becoming a fully ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I also will write about a subject that’s near and dear to hearts and minds of me and my classmates: Being a new pastoral leader in the church. I’ve blogged on the subject a few times, but I want to do spend more time on it because I think something’s missing from the conversation.

So that’s number two. And well, I’m looking forward to this little venture….and I hope you’ll join me along the way!

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