Archives For Reflections


It is Tuesday, almost a week after Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t cleaned up from the Ash Wednesday service.  Well, that’s not all together true; the table cloths are put away, the food stored and the floors swept, but the ashes are still out; so is the olive oil and the glass jar I used to wipe crosses on people’s foreheads.  I want to put them away; I like a tidy office, but something urges me to keep them out.  Maybe it is laziness, or maybe it is a sign of the season of Lent, or maybe it is a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

We say those words each Ash Wednesday.  Then, like the post-service clean up at home, we wipe away the ashes from our foreheads, brush our teeth and crawl into bed, prepared for the season of Lent.  Our focus turns to our dreams, where we live out the potential nightmares of how we’ll cope without chocolate or alcohol for the next six weeks; or we have beautiful, fantasy dreams of becoming a whole new person because of all the good food we’ll eat instead.  Some of us are trying one of the new trends that invite us to add something to our lives this season.  And those of us with kids are attempting to explain how this season works and why we give things up or add things to our lives.  So we give our children “Good Deeds” charts and ask them to collect money for a worthy charity—all of these remind us that this season of forty (let’s be honest, forty-six) days is different.

I’m also looking at a book on my desk called Becoming Who You Are by James Martin, SJ.  In it, Martin explores insights on the true self from Thomas Merton and other saints.  It was a suggestion from Amazon so I picked it up as Lenten reading.  What I’ve realized is that I like the participle in the title, “becoming”.  We aren’t ever there.  We are works-in-progress.  So the ashes still sit on our forehead, even after they’ve been wiped clean and we’ve curled up into bed.

I think I want to keep the burnt palm branches and the olive oil and the glass jar on my desk for Lent because I’m not ready to put an ashen cross on my forehead each day—that would invite too many questions.  I’m becoming something in this season; we all are.  We are always becoming something that God intends.  I don’t know if you are like me, but I get caught up in becoming who I want to be, or who I think God wants me to be, or who I think the best advertisers or my favorite people think I should be.  I’m particularly fond of following ministers whom I want to emulate so I find myself trying to become a younger version of them.

We are all dust.  And that means we’re blown around by the winds of life.  We are all dust.  And that means we are created from the materials God used to enliven creation.  We are all dust.  And that means we are brothers and sisters walking a path worn down by our Lord so it is just a little easier.  We are all dust.  If you forget or need a reminder, come by my office and you can see the ashes, olive oil and glass jar; I’ll even mix them up for us if you want.

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?