Monthly Archives: May 2013

About Young Adults, the Church, and God

Well, this blog will be short; it’s really a shameless promotion of my post & thesis on The Center for First Third Ministry site.

So here ya go: the link to my blog post. There’s a link there also to my thesis paper which you’re welcome to read. But if you want to spare yourself, there’s also a link to my thesis presentation there too. That’s much shorter, and probably more interesting.

Either way, I’d love to hear any feedback and comments!!!

To head over to the post, click here.


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Filed under Children, Youth, Family & Young Adult Ministry, Leadership

Memorial Day….the day after.

Reposting this….for the day before, the day after, and every day….


I’m always interested in the day after.

It’s always the day after a holiday that catches my attention the most. I wake up in the morning, and for the most part, not a whole lot has changed. Take this morning for instance. I got up, went for my morning run, and now I’m about ready to head off to work at my internship church for the day. A pretty routine day if I must say.

But, when I think about what we were observing, what we were remembering and celebrating yesterday, is any day routine? I always have an affinity for Memorial Day….honor, duty, integrity, commitment understood through the eyes of personal sacrifice will always draw me in. It’s what drew me to go to the Naval Academy and spend 8+ years in the U.S. Navy. And on a day like Memorial Day, I’m naturally drawn to give thanks, to…

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A word on “Changing the World”

This morning, I was reading a post from Nadia Bolz-Weber, a copy of her “State of the House” address to her congregation at their congregational meeting. And, there was one little paragraph that jumped out at me, that really struck me:

“This week Barbara Brown Taylor, a wonderful preacher and writer, took me out to coffee and when she said “tell me about the church you serve” she said that when started talking about this congregation my face lit up. ‘You are obviously in love’ she said and she’s right. Not that you don’t also make me totally crazy, of course you do. And I make you crazy and somehow we seem to all get over it pretty quickly.”

Let me highlight the part that really got me: “You are obviously in love.”

Yesterday (Sunday) was a whirlwind of a day for me: I preached and led worship twice on Pentecost, and also said goodbye to my internship congregation, St. Barnabas Lutheran, as it was my last day with them. Then, in the afternoon, I graduated with a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary.

The speakers at graduation gave what I would consider typical graduation speeches, with of course, the expected faith/mission/gospel/Christian emphasis, whatever you want to call it. We got a “pep talk” from the student speaker, a call to “not be boring” because “God is not boring,” as leaders in the church, “we gooder than that,” and “now get to it!” (Yup, she referenced Kid President) In short, to go out and be God’s agents to “change the world.”

Let me say this: it wasn’t a bad message (and I happen to like Kid President too), but it left a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach. Maybe because for the most part, I don’t know if I can be “gooder” at “being awesome” and “not being boring.” I don’t know if I can change the world like that. I don’t know if I can proclaim the gospel like that (and I sure as hell know I can’t preach like her…she really got the place rocking). I don’t know if I can proclaim a gospel like that.

But, I do know I can love people. I can love people because God in Christ loved me first. If I can love people, I can have the courage to hear the hard things and say the hard things. If I can love people, I can have the humility to allow them to love me, and allow myself to learn from their wisdom. If i can love people, I’ll stop worrying about schedules and tasks and take the time for conversation, and to pay attention to them. If I can love people, I can trust they understand and accept that I am not perfect, and neither are they….but we keep on moving and living together anyway. If I can love them, maybe they’ll come to know something about this God who truly loves them, and does all things for them out of that love.

I think, like Nadia, if my face lights up when I tell people about others – like when I talk about my Augsburg College wrestlers, the folks at St. Barnabas Lutheran and other congregations I’ve been a part of – if it’s evident that I truly love them, and not in some co-dependent, shallow, self-serving sort of way – then maybe I’m on the right track.

PS: I have to share this picture….Tony Fair, a friend and seminary classmate, died this past winter after a long battle with cancer. The seminary awarded him a degree posthumously, and his boys were present to receive it. Easily the best moment of the ceremony…you’re missed Tony, always!


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Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics, Missional Thinking & The Church

On the Mat & In the Church: “The Offseason”

I got a call from one of my former athletes the other day, wanting to workout next week. It’s the “offseason,” the time during the year outside the competitive season, the time in which both athletes and coaches focus on other things that build and assess their programs, and also take a break from the grueling and draining pace of the competition season.

Most of the time, the offseason gets used to work on weakness and hone strengths. Athletes like the one who contacted me want to work on their technique to stay sharp and more importantly, to develop and improve areas of weakness. Because we’re not competing, it’s a perfect time to do so, because the pace is much slower, and it allows for time to pause when necessary and break down technique – why things work or don’t work.

However, I wonder how much during the offseason we tend to other matters – psychological, emotional, and spiritual – that affect performance. I wonder if during our offseason time, if it also wouldn’t be time well spent to address areas of our life that focus on developing our resolve and self-understanding; our ability to relate and communicate with others; and our character and vulnerabilities. I think those areas are just as crucial to success as an athlete, and more importantly, as a human being.

Just as the grind and pace of the competition season doesn’t allow us to break down technical issues to the extent and depth we want to, I think the same is true with adaptive issues – our ability to adjust, accept, and adapt to stress, anxiety, adversity; our ability to handle both failure and success. And perhaps we’d do well as coaches to assist our athletes with addressing these issues, because I’ve found that they have a huge effect on an athlete’s performance and life – more than we probably care to admit.

And, it’s ironic that this coming Sunday the Church recognizes the day of Pentecost, which lasts into the summer and through fall. The season of Pentecost is the Church’s “offseason” as well…a a slowdown in pace from the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Perhaps, for both pastors and leaders, it is just as good of a time to address adaptive issues – our own and in the places we lead and serve.

So, this “offseason,” whether you are in the church or are an athlete, continue to work on those technical areas…make those gains towards doing it better. But, don’t neglect the adaptive areas, building a capacity to live well. Take advantage of the downtime of the offseason – and perhaps you’ll make some real gains as a person as well!

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Filed under Missional Thinking & The Church, Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

Management vs Leadership

Lately I’ve been pretty obsessed with issues surrounding leadership. As the seminary I’m graduating from this coming weekend takes on the task of fulfilling its mission to “educate leaders for Christian communities,” some questions have been raised that are simply just fascinating, not because I’m interested in being a part of the revisioning process at Luther Seminary, but because it forces me to think of the implications of my own attitudes towards leadership in context.

One of those issues is the issue of leadership vs management. First, it’s widely understood that they are linked; they both have intersection points. However, what most fail to grasp is that they are distinctly different things. I’ve heard it said one way by Peter Drucker: “Management is about doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.” In short, management is about planning and execution; making sure things happen successfully and efficiently to produce a result. Leadership is fundamentally a different thing. I’ve said this in previous posts, but leadership is primarily about integrity and character; relationship and self-differientiation.

Here’s my question though, do we usually train and expect people to be strictly good managers by default?”

We ask for and say we want leaders….however, if you think of most job descriptions that are tabbed as “leadership” positons, what they are looking for are good managers, people who can get the job done and get it done right. Additionally, we train and teach people skills necessary for good management, passing them off as leadership.” I read a recent blog post about managers and it contains some descriptors about what leadership is, and what management/supervision is.

Here’s the partial list from the blog….

Planning to get the work done
How work will be broken down into steps
How much time each step will take, the sequence of the steps, and what resources are needed
Monitoring the plan to see that the work goes according to plan
Taking corrective action on anything that deviates from the plan in an unconstructive way.

Be a role model
Accept responsibility
Offer creative ideas for change
Genuinely respect people
See through others’ eyes, meet their needs
Do your job with consistent excellence
Make people you work with more successful
Make difficult decisions that make a difference
Place priority in developing others

Where do you fit with respect to these descriptors? I think for most, if they’re truly honest, they function more as managers than they do leaders. That in itself isn’t a bad thing either; we need both, and a measure of each is needed in order to be successful in either role. But here’s the rub: Are you functioning as a manager when the role/position requires leadership, or vice versa?

I’ll extend that into the contextual reality I mentioned above: educational institutions. Some state they are training people for leadership, but what they’re really doing is training people to be managers. They’re teaching skills and tools to complete tasks efficiently and successfully when they should be forming character, integrity, and the ability to relate and communicate well.

I think the leader versus manager issue is important for those at the head of their organizations, groups, and institutions today: which way are you functioning, and is that really what the situation and role calls for? Self-reflection and self-awareness are always key, and so I leave all this up to you to wrestle with, whether you’re a pastor, church leader, or head coach of an athletic team!

Your discernment on leadership is where I believe, both faith and life intersect most fully for folks like you! God is working in the midst of discernment over such things, because they lead to revelation of vocation. As Fredrich Buechner has said, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” It begs the question, “Is this the place where God is calling me to use my skills and be my authentic self?”

Blessings along the journey!

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Filed under Leadership, Wrestling Devotions & Reflections

Conversations continued…….words of wisdom.

It’s funny how lately I’ve been having great conversations in the unlikeliest of settings lately. Conversations about leadership, ministry, mission and the church….all stuff I love talking about. It’s what I’m about to go do (hopefully, if there’s a church out there that wants me!), and honestly, it gets me fired up.

I’ve also been doing things out of character for me….like attending a dinner for those who donate to the seminary’s scholarship fund. Let’s just say I’m not a big fan of the usual conversation and “wisdom” that gets passed at events like that. But this time was a little different, because I got a great dose of wisdom from a really wise woman.

This lady is in her 70’s, and we had a lot of connecting points between our lives. Her father and brother were Naval Academy graduates like myself, and her husband was a pastor, as is her son now. So needless to say we hit it off, and she had so many good things to say and so many good questions, both about life and the church. But the best words were when she recalled something that the pastor at her husband’s ordination ceremony said.

“Remember, first you’re a man [human being], next you’re a Christian, and then after those things, a pastor.”

One of the things that has always bothered me through seminary is the ability some people have to over spiritualize things. They make bigger theological deals out of things that for the most part, are not matters of doctrine, confession, theology or bringing religious language into the conversation. They do this, and all the while forget about one basic thing: we’re all human.

I wonder sometimes, actually most days, if God/Jesus is more concerned with us being good human beings toward each other, preserving the dignity of another, and living in ways that promote rather than destroy life. And as I think over my life, that’s not something I’ve learned from a book, ever. It’s something I’ve learned from my dad, my grandpa; from getting my ass handed to me, and sticking my foot in my mouth; and from moments of joy and triumph too.

I think faith reminds us that we’re never really that good, but we’re never really that horrible either. We’re human….we fall down, get dirty, we screw it up. But faith reminds us that it’s always an option to get back up and keep moving. That’s simply what it means to have character, and while it is a theological thing, it is first and foremost a human thing. And that makes sense to me, because God is in the business of being in relationship with human beings, not notions and labels, ideologies and doctrine that are largely therapeutic in nature and feed the ego.

So, I pass this little bit of wisdom on to you….something to ponder on what is turning out to be a pretty nice spring day.

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Conversations pt. 3….a weekend of ideas.

This past Saturday, I spent the day with fellow seminary students enrolled in the Children, Youth, and Family (CYF) program at Luther Seminary. We all were presenting our thesis papers, the culmination of 2-4 years of thinking deeply about ministry with people in the first third of life, the church, and our role as leaders in ministry and the church. I will just say, there were a lot of ideas sparked in my head as I listened to classmates – really smart, passionate people. These are ideas and questions I will carry with me as I head into pastoral ministry in a church this year (I hope!), and I want to share some of them with you:

– Stewardship needs to be the lens at which we look at congregational life and ministries, especially in a world of consumerism that drives people to value competition out of scarcity (take what’s mine mentality).

– Should milestone-based ministries be linked to biological events (pregnancy, for example) in our lives just as much as liturgical/religous ones (baptism, comfirmation)? If so, parish nursing becomes a crucial member of a church staff, and in pastoral care ministry.

– Do children’s ministers, directors, and pastors need to adopt a chaplaincy model of ministry to young children (before adolescence) rather than an educational one? Do they need to redefine their commitments to children’s ministries to promoting care and imagination of life, rather than inculcation of information and belief?

– When we use the word “discipleship,” what do we mean? What implications do those definitions have for how the faith is proclaimed, witnessed to, shared, heard, and experienced by those inside and outside the church? (or, in a more provacative way: is disipleship a “dead” word in a post-Christandom church?)

– Do we need a completely new expression of church for young adults (not married, no children, no long-term career), and do we need specific young adult pastors and ministers to do ministry for and with them?

– As Lutherans, what if we looked beyond the confessional understanding of “proclamation = preaching/hearing” and saw it more expansively? What would it mean that a ministry of presence is also a ministry of proclamation, and actually lived that commmitment out? Does community simply mean a space of vulnerability, where our shame is worked through and we are made whole?

– Is there something “unnatural” about Christ, Christianity, and the cross up an against the natural order of the world? What does it mean then that our lives as story are not just merged, but swallowed up by the cross, so that our particularities as humans isn’t wiped away, but rather revealed? Do our current models of congregational life and leadership in the church hinder and hide such particularities?

Lots of good stuff that I wanted to share with you all, so that you may wrestle with it as well, just as I am. I’d love to hear your comments on one, two, or all of them!

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Filed under Leadership