lent2016cover-200I grew up thinking faith was all about doing the right thing and not messing up. I felt I needed to earn God’s attention, love, and grace. I reduced Christianity to a list of rules and put God at the top of a staircase I was determined to climb. I was quick to judge, was shamefully proud, and constantly feared my own failure.

I was a mess.

I am not sure how or when all of this began to shift in my mind, but eventually I came to realize that I didn’t have to earn God’s love. Time and time again I was humbled by the experience of God’s grace. I fell into new depths of gratitude and discovered that holiness was not good marks on a chalkboard but a gift. This gift nudged me away from the values of the world and toward God’s values of love, gratitude, and faithfulness.

This fundamental shift in my understanding is what brings me to this holy calling this Lenten season.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. We have been in “ordinary time” according to the liturgical calendar, but will soon no longer be the case. We are about to enter into 40 days and 40 nights of preparing ourselves for this long Lenten walk to the cross and beyond.

Lent is a season set apart. Lent is a season specifically set apart for a reason. And I believe the reason for this Lenten season is for us to respond to this fundamental shift as well as our holy invitation issued to us by our Holy God.

The first chapter of First Peter says:

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

I do not believe this is an impossible command beyond our reach. Rather, I believe this is our scriptural invitation to live the life we were created to live. A life filled with joy and wonder. A life filled with purpose and hope. A life filled with belonging and potential.

Whether this is all brand new to you or whether you simply want to be more intentional in the Spirit’s sanctification this season – I would encourage you to join me on this holy journey in this Lenten season.

There are a couple of ways to go about this:

  • This all stems from a book I wrote last year for Chalice Press entitled, BE HOLY. You can order a copy through the publisher or Amazon or B&N or AbeBooks … or you could simply read more about it here and wait for the audiobook to be released within the next month.
  • That book is what led Presbyterians Today to ask me to write their 2016 Lenten Devotional also entitled “Be Holy”. You can order copies of that here or you can read them online each day via twitter or facebook.  Each day includes a Scripture passage, a reflection on what it means to be holy, and a breath prayer to carry with you throughout each day.
  • PC(USA) pastor and author, Mihee Kim-Kort, and I have partnered together to create a special 8-episode series on her podcast THIS EVERYDAY HOLY which begins this Ash Wednesday and goes all the way through Good Friday. You can listen to the episodes here or download them through the iTunes store.
  • I have also partnered with videographer Scott Pardue to produce a couple of videos based on the three main sections of the book that are inherent within our calling to BE HOLY: 1) Find Identity, 2) Find Belonging, 3) Find Purpose. These will be released throughout the coming weeks as they are ready and Lord willing!

I am glad you have begun this journey, and I am honored to go on it with you. Lent is a sacred journey that has been set apart—a holy journey that we are invited to take with our Holy God.

Have you ever…

  • been in a committee meeting when there was total silence because no one in the room volunteered to help with a role/task?
  • worked with a committee or board and heard someone say—with a grimace or shrug, “I’m already over-committed; I really don’t have time to do any of this!”?
  • heard someone whisper to a neighbor, “I was told that this was only going to take an hour of my time each month!”?

I cannot tell you how often I have heard church members utter the phrase, “It’s only an hour each month!”—either in trying to convince someone to join a committee or recalling what they were told when they were asked to serve on a committee, or as a church officer. I don’t think we do anyone justice—the person serving, the committee or board, or the church as a whole—when we set our expectations so low. And I don’t think we’re being honest.

The church is the people! (Remember the finger rhyme? “Here is the church and here is the steeple; open the doors and see all the people!”) Pastors, educators, and other churchworking together staff cannot and should not be doing all of the work for the people. We are called to work as partners in ministry, working together to accomplish the vision and mission of the church. Often, the staff are called to train, empower, and manage the volunteers/church members, and it is the church members themselves who are called to do the work, to be the church.

I get it. Many people are over-committed. The demands on young people and their parents keep growing. We pay the staff—can’t they take care of it? In desperate times, we want to use desperate measures. But having a name on a list “to fill a spot” or a warm body in a chair is not helpful when it comes to doing the work Christ has called us to do… together… as a team. Having church members attend meetings only to pat our backs or offer praise is not really helpful. This is not what it means to be partners in ministry.

We have expectations for committee members, church officers, and other volunteers, but I don’t think we always communicate those clearly and upfront, before someone accepts a position to serve. When we “convince” someone to join a committee or serve as a church officer, we may be getting in the way of the Spirit. We may be forcing something that isn’t helpful or fruitful or honest in the long run.

What can we do differently?

  • Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. None of this is meant to blame or shame people; we need to make it clear that after prayerful consideration, an honest response to a call to service is what we want. I appreciate honesty, and I really appreciate when someone tells me after prayerfully considering a position or task that they are not able to faithfully fulfill that role at the time. Just as there is a time and place to say “Yes,” there is a time and place to say “No.” In his sermon on the mount, while speaking on vows or solemn pledges, Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5:37, CEB). It is ok to say “Yes” to serve when you understand what is being asked and feel called to make that commitment. It is equally ok to say “No” to serve when you just don’t feel called in that time and place. This is truth-telling, and it is a spiritual discipline.
  • Committee Descriptions/Expectations. We should have clear expectations for all volunteers, and this includes committee members. It’s not fair to ask someone to make a commitment to serve if we haven’t told them up front what we actually need and/or expect. Committees should have a description form that might include: the church’s mission statement, the purpose of the committee, the responsibilities of each member (including the meeting time and place, but also including a list of tasks to be completed throughout the year), accountability, and budget. This type of description form can be a tool when recruiting new members; after reviewing the description and expectation, the person can give an honest answer about their ability to serve.
  • Training. We (church leaders) need to make sure we provide training to our volunteers: teachers, facilitators, nursery staff, worship leaders, mission coordinators, ruling elders, deacons, etc. Again, we don’t set ourselves up for success if we aren’t explaining expectations, providing background information, giving examples, and laying out process.IMG_0189c
  • Empowering the Laity. My colleagues and I have often said that our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. If we are truly empowering the people to be the church, then at some point in the future, we may no longer be needed. If people took such ownership in the ministry of the church and shared the burden among the group, what a vision of the kingdom of God that would be! I think pastors, educators, and other church staff do bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, pastoral care and guidance, but the people should be empowered to be the hands and feet of Christ: to minister, to share the gospel, and to use their God-given gifts of energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
  • Let vacancies stand. This one can be really difficult for us perfectionist-types, but it can also be really important. After diligently working to fulfill a position, if a vacancy still exists, allow time to pass for people to see the vacancy and wrestle with whether or not they might faithfully commit to the position. Allow some of the tasks to go undone. This might also create space for a new vision to emerge: should we keep doing what we’ve been doing, or is the Spirit calling us to something new? Sometimes, having less people calls us to open our hearts and minds to God’s presence and to imagine what re-creation might be coming forth. This can be really, really good.

My prayer is that we seek ways to truly serve as partners in ministry. What if we start ed by saying, “It’s only an hour for the meeting each month, and then you can choose what tasks you are able to help with and what projects inspire you to lead between meetings!”?


Advent and Christmas usually affect pastors in one of two ways (or maybe both!): we are drained beyond belief and know January will be tough; or we are riding high because we had big crowds and people loved what we said and how great our choirs sang.

The holidays drained and energized me and I was left wondering what to do with all the excitement coupled with the strong desire to sleep! Given that the New Year offers an invitation to start anew or resolve who you wish to be, I thought about what I hoped 2016 would hold. I had these thoughts while I was holding my six-month-old daughter, Phoebe.

Watching her I realized I had much to learn from her. I wondered what 2016 would be like if I acted like she did? The way she interacts with the world, tries new things and deals with all that comes her way (new toys, foods, family, etc.) made me wonder how much ministers could learn from a developing infant. Here are five things I’ve noticed about her that might aid ministry:


This doesn’t mean she likes everything (see #2), but she is all about a new toy, food, and sitting location. We’ve made it to the stage where we have to watch what is in her immediate location as it will inevitably be in her hands and/or headed to her mouth. How often do ministers find themselves in a routine that works because we are too afraid or lazy to try something new? I’m often fearful of trying anything new because that means I have to step out of my comfort zone or put extra energy into something new. But what if we developed or grew or learned something new because we tried something new?


The girl won’t eat prunes for the life of her parents. This is hard because her older sister LOVED them so we assume she would like them too. But she isn’t going to eat them, come hell or high-water (or another spoonful). How often do ministers keep doing the same thing because it’s easy and we don’t want to upset anyone? What are some things you or your church does that could stop? What holds you back from making those decisions?


January is a tough month because it comes on the heels of a big season. We are tired; we are worn out and believe a few good days of vacation will do the trick. But we all know that isn’t enough. When Phoebe is tired she starts talking (albeit in an unknown language) and it’s a clear sign she needs to rest. I don’t know about you, but I’ve realized that I need to rest (close the computer and head home—no matter what else needs to be done) when I can’t write or my words won’t form. Give yourself permission to rest.


It doesn’t matter whether or not I just left the room for a minute, when I return it is a glorious occasion and her smile makes that known. I know there are times when I don’t feel terribly cheerful, but I also know what it means to be greeted by one of those ear-to-ear smiles that announces to the world, “Welcome, we are excited you are here.” Maybe the church needs to share a few of those for our folks who join us for worship, education or whenever the doors are open.


This has less to do with what she does and more to do with how people interact with her. She (and our other daughter) are greeted with love and affection (as are all children in our church) simply because they show up. And it’s infectious. People see others greeting (or trying to greet!) the kids and then they want to say hi, too. And the best part is parents see how other adults greet their children and they feel loved and welcomed too. To welcome children is to welcome God, in my opinion.

Do you act like a six-month old? How? If not, what holds you back?