Category Archives: Resurrection Lutheran Church

Beginning the Transition

Recently I posted on my decision to leave as Lead Pastor of Resurrection.   Today I am writing about my decision to train for interim ministry.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end
Semisonic’s  “Closing Time”

I was introduced to transitions twenty years ago with William Bridges book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life Changes.   Bridges describes every transition as having three parts.

1.       An Ending
2.       An In-between  Period of Confusion/Distress
3.       A new Beginning.

"So long, partner" Woody, Toy Story 3

“So long, partner” Woody, Toy Story 3

Each part needs attention.   For example, right now I am in the midst of an ending as I prepare to leave Resurrection.  Ending always have some element of grief and pain, even when they are chosen endings. Bridges writes “Those who had chosen their transitions tended to minimize the importance of endings, almost as if they felt that to acknowledge that an ending was painful would be to admit that the transition was a mistake.”  Leaving a group of people who you love is hard.

question

The second part of a transition is often neglected in our instant society.  People and congregations like to rush immediately to the new beginning.   “Let’s call a new pastor as soon as possible!”  Sometimes a congregation is ready to call a new pastor.  Often they are not.

Before rushing to the new beginning, individuals and congregations need to pause and assess where they are and what God is doing.  Bridges calls this time “The Neutral Zone.”   I prefer to call it “The Wilderness Time,” remembering both the wilderness stories of Exodus and Jesus.   The Israelites spent forty years between the time they left slavery in Egypt and prior to their new start in the land of Canaan.  They wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. His was a time of intense prayer as to what his ministry would be.

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy

And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)

The wilderness period can be an intensely spiritual time because the armor of daily routine and thought are cracked wide open.  The Spirit has new ways to penetrate the hardness of our hearts.   It can also be a time of darkness and temptation, yet such temptations can be points of new wisdom as well, “for angels waited on him.”

Intentional Interim Ministry is for the wilderness time in a congregation’s life.  When a long-tenured pastor leaves, an interim pastor is hired to serve a short contract (6-18 months) to shepherd the congregation through a time of assessment as it prepares to call a new pastor.   These “temporary shepherds” may need to deal with certain issues (past conflict, neglect, staff concerns to name just a few) as well as help the leadership prepare for their next pastor.

I sense a call to this kind of intense but short-duration ministry.  My own prayer life is centered on the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.  During an interim a congregation needs to be still and discover whose they are.  I believe I have the wisdom, experience, patience and pastoral skills to assist congregations during their transition.  Time will tell.

I will start the specialized training for Intentional Interim Ministry on Monday, October 26.  Prayers appreciated.

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Thankful For Resurrection

Even though I have resigned from Resurrection, I am so very thankful for the partnership we share together for five years.  I want to share a few of the memories I cherish.

I remember the Saturday before my first Sunday, November 14, 2010.  It started to snow heavily.   As I watched the snow I began to wonder, “Should I be worried about this?  Who plows the parking lot or shovels the walkways?  Do I need to contact them?”  After fretting for about an hour, I decided to call Tom Hansen, the interim pastor prior to my arrival.  He quickly reassured me, “Don’t worry, John.  Larry will plow the lot and clear the walks.”  Sure enough, when I arrived the next morning, Larry was finishing up the parking lot, clearing away the ten-plus inches of snow.   I have never worried about snow removal or property maintenance since.

Baptsim croppedBaptisms have been a blast!  I love holding each new member of the congregation and instructing the congregation that we have made a promise to the child: the promise to raise the child in faith in Jesus.

However the baptism that will always stand out for me was my first one.  It was for an adult, Jill Blissenbach.  I made sure the water was in the font, the baptismal promises  were on display slides, and the family was ready.  The only problem was that when it came time to do the actual baptism I completely forgot Jill’s name.  Fortunately she did not and graciously laughed with me at my mistake.

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

I remember with joy the children coming up to the front each Sunday for the Children’s message and their eagerness to share God’s love in their comments.   Several times the worship team moved me to visible tears with a song that touched my heart in a special way.  I remember preaching on the four soils from Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4 and how each section of the church responded to being labeled a certain type of soil.   I particularly remember how excited the “good” soil section responded with smiles and a few “Yeahs!”

P6180395I remember the contagious enthusiasm for Vacation Bible Adventure, Camp Wapo and the High School Mission trip each summer.

Families make school kits during Faith In Action Sunday

Families make school kits during Faith In Action Sunday

I remember the energy and excitement of the Faith in Action Sundays when we served in the community in such diverse and meaningful ways.  “What happens at Resurrection leaves Resurrection.”

New Connections 6 - purpleAnd I remember the New Connections Campaign when we had to raise funds to pay for our connection to city sewer, a sign, and a building study.   The generosity of that campaign demonstrated for me that Resurrection can do great things when the members rally together.

2012-01-10_13-50-08_416I have left the most significant for last: the amazing relationship with staff, members, visitors and friends, each carrying the quantum energy of God’s love.  I will miss them.

The memories are rich and diverse, stretching deep into my life.  My decision to leave is NOT based on some deficiency in the congregation, but rather my changing spiritual focus and call.  I believe Resurrection has a great and joyous dance with Jesus coming soon.  I look forward to watching Resurrection become more fully alive in the months and years to come.

What is one of your favorite memories of your congregation?

Resigning from Resurrection

Monday I resigned as Lead Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  My last Sunday will be October 25, 2015.  You can see my letter of resignation here.

The path to the decision was a long and winding one.  (The twisting path was also a partial reason I have not posted on this blog for six months.)  It was not made suddenly or without prayer and conversation.    Though there have been many contributing factors,  three key events shaped my decision.

Retreat CenterThe first was an eight-day silent centering prayer retreat in June.   Though it was held at a non-descript  wooded camp, the experience was life transforming.  The silence time of prayer and reflection helped solidify my longing for contemplation and deep prayer.   I had a couple of profound experiences that I need to write about in future posts.  I want to go back.

18395_10153362640945266_2272565119671433986_nThe second was the five-day ELCA youth gathering in Detroit in July.   Thirty thousand youth packed into Ford Field, praising, dancing, singing in the joyous, raucous Spirit of Christ.  There were times when I felt like I was 17 years old again, swept up in the celebration.   It was a powerful trip for me, the three adults, and ten youth from Resurrection.

Taken together, the silent prayer retreat and the youth gathering, could be seen as two ends of a spiritual spectrum.  One end  is the quiet, contemplative Spirit of God, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) The other is the joyous noisy  Spirit of God, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4)

Both are good and healthy, but they rarely live together in the same tent.

Still Dance SpectrumThe two are significant in that I see my own spirituality moving towards the quiet, contemplative end of the spectrum, while I see the needs of Resurrection’s spirituality is for the joyful dance.  Neither is better than the other, but they were not working together within me, especially since I am called to be the leader.   Thus for months my own spirit has been restless.

The third event was a private conversation with two trusted leaders of the congregation.  They initiated the conversation in a caring environment.  During the conversation they asked me was a simple, yet profound question, “Do you feel like you still fit at Resurrection?”

praatgroepenLike a skillful politician I hemmed and hawed and dodged the question that evening.  But as I drove home from the conversation, I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I no longer fit.   It was a blow to my ego.  I wanted to be in control, yet I was not.  I wrestled with the question all through that night and several afterwards.  Yet I woke up each morning realizing that the answer was the same.  It is time for me to leave Resurrection.

In the next couple of days, I will post on what my plans are for the future.   For now it is sufficient to say that I am both sad to leave a fantastic congregation like Resurrection and at peace with listening to the call of God’s Spirit.

I have been reflecting on these words from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (page 3)

Experience Maundy Thursday

This evening at Resurrection Lutheran Church our Maundy Thursday worship will include participatory prayer stations where worshipers will experience the story of Jesus’ final hours. The worship will begin in our familiar pattern of singing, call to worship, scripture reading and sermon. The pattern will change during the Lord’s Supper. Instead of simply coming forward for communion, worshipers will have the choice of participating in four different prayer/story stations. People will be free to move about the worship area, engaging in the stations for as long as they desire. The stations are as follows:

communion_elementsHoly Communion
Holy Thursday is the night when Jesus transformed the Passover meal into our meal of Holy Communion. People can come to the altar for the bread and wine of communion. There will be kneelers available for those who would like to kneel as they receive.

 

Washing of Feet Station

Washing of Feet
During the supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, as sign of loving service. Worshipers will have the opportunity to either wash the feet of a family member or have their feet washed by a staff member or others.  Warm water, basins and towels will be provided.

 

 

Garden of Gethsemane stationGarden of Gethsemane
After the supper, Jesus and his disciple went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Worshipers are encouraged to pray for the whole Christian church around the world. They can light a candle and mark a nation on a world map for which they are praying.

 

 

 

christ mocked by soldier, bloch

 

Trail of Jesus
While praying in the garden, Jesus was arrested and taken to the High Priest Caiaphas and later Governor Pilate for trial. He was beaten and mocked, dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. People will have time to reflect on Jesus’ suffering while confessing their own sin and recognizing that our baptism both connects us to Jesus’ suffering while forgiving us our sins.

Silent Reflection
If a worshipers prefer not to participate in the stations, they can sit in their seat and pray while reflecting on a series of audiovisual paintings and photographs are displayed on the video screens.

The purpose of each station is to make the story of Jesus come alive for us, that we are participants in Christ’s story. People can choose to participate in all stations or simply stay at one the whole time (about 12 minutes).

The worship will conclude with a song and blessing. We will gather again on Good Friday evening to remember Jesus’ crucifixion.

Lord Jesus, let us walk with you this day.

Family, Business or Army?

This past Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church had its annual meeting. The meeting is stipulated in our constitution so that we can conduct the business of the church: review and pass a budget, elect officers and hear staff reports. On the surface this can seem fairly dry. Yet beneath the surface, vital vibrant ministry is going on.

For example, the discussion of the budget is really a question of stewardship and priorities. Where do we as a congregation want to invest ourselves? How does the stewardship of our physical church building compare with our stewardship of our outreach and mission in the world?

The Family of God gathers at the Table

The Family of God gathers at the Table

Many people compare the church to a FAMILY, which can be helpful metaphor. We are brother and sisters in Christ (Mark 4:34). As a family we care for each other and support each other in time of need. In a family, the focus is often on the most vulnerable, the “weakest” such as a our children or infirmed. Love is central to a good family.

Stewardship involves opening our wallets

Stewardship involves opening our wallets

But the church is not simply a family. Another valid metaphor is the church is a BUSINESS.  It has finances to raise, property to maintain, staff to hire, and budgets to negotiate. We have constitutions and bylaws to uphold. One thing to remember is that this is a “business” ultimately owned by God; we are stewards or overseers who manage God’s resources for God’s purposes. “It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (I Cor. 4:2). As stewards, we are called to examine the finances as God’s money. Trust is key to good business. 

Feed My Starving Children has unique "helmets" for service

Feed My Starving Children has unique “helmets” for service

But there is a third priority: mission. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Here the metaphor is that the church is like an ARMY, charging forward into a broken, dangerous world to bring the light of God. The church is not simply a country club that enjoys each other company, nor a business that has a balance budget. The church has a mission to carry God’s message of love, grace and justice out into a world that is broken and hurt.  Preparing meals for overseas shipment at Feed My Starving Children is one place our Army serves.  Courage is vital to mission.

At Resurrection we describe that mission as calling all people to a vibrant life of faith in Christ.

In a healthy congregation, all three -family, business, army- compete for attention. Some members are clamoring for more dollars spent on caring and educating our members (especially our children and youth). Others are sharpening their pencil to make sure we are not spending beyond our means and that we are being good stewards of our resources. And others will be pointing out the door, wondering how we will become God’s hands and feet in God’s mission for the world. We need all three to converse to function well.

Our annual meeting is the opportunity to have that conversation: how we are fulfilling our mission, managing our finances and caring for one another?

Which metaphor (family, business, army) is your passion?

Lord Jesus, empowers us to work together for your kingdom.

Next: How Worship links all three.

Five Things I Appreciate About Road Construction

Road Construction 2 20131001 croppedThe major intersection by our church is closed to construct a round-about. It closed about two months ago, forcing many people to find new and longer routes to Resurrection Lutheran Church. Though my first reaction is to complain about it, I have discovered five reasons to be grateful.

Woodbury_Dr_-_Camera__2-20131003-145715

1. Plan Ahead: I have learned that I need to plan ahead in my driving so as to make sure I arrive on time. Planning ahead is good in many areas of life.

Road Construction  1 201310012. Boys Like Toys: Like many boys in my generation I grew up playing with toy dump trucks and bulldozer. Now I am fascinated watching the process of constructing storm sewers and road curbs. There is even a time-elapsed video of the construction project here.

3. New Ministry: Since Resurrection is on the corner of the intersection, many people drive into our parking lot expecting to find an exit on the far side of our parking lot, thus avoiding a detour. They do this in spite of several signs that clearly state “No Outlet.” They drive in expecting that by some magical means that a new exit will appear just for them. It does not. So they stop to reconsider their options before they must drive back out the way they came in. In that pause, I pray that they notice they are sitting in a church parking lot and that Jesus promised, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

130_Sign-ThankYou4. Road Thanks: Whenever I grumble about the road construction, I pause to give thanks for the literally thousands of miles of great roads I travel every year. Having visited countries where paved, well-maintained roads are a luxury, I appreciate each smooth mile I can drive. And soon our round-about will be added to that list.

5. Patience Building. Patience is like a muscle: the only real way to build patience as a personal characteristic is to practice it daily. Road construction has given me many opportunities to practice patience. Thanks be to God.

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. Colossians 1:11-12

What would you add to the list?

Lord Jesus, teach me your ways.

Underground Work

Horizontal Drill working at Resurrection

Horizontal Drill working at Resurrection

This week at Resurrection there has been plenty of working going on, but most has been invisible. A horizontal drilling machine was on site and it drilled a 350 foot tunnel under our parking lot so that a sewer pipe could connect our building to the county sewer line. It encountered rocks and layers of stone that slowed progress but the drill eventually broke through and the connection made.

Meanwhile our pumpkin patch continues to flourish and will soon be ready for our annual Harvest Festival on Sunday, October 6. The small seedling that were planted last June have flourished over the summer and more than 500 pumpkins that were once hidden by leafy vines are now visible.   They are ready for the harvest.

Harvest Festival brings much joy.

Harvest Festival brings much joy.

The Harvest Festival is a celebration of local farm heritage and your participation is encouraged, both as volunteers and participants.  Discover how you can help make this day special by volunteering here.

All this underground work reminds me of Jesus’ parable in Mark 4.

Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Jesus’ parable states that the kingdom is growing all around us, often in invisible ways that we do not fully comprehend. Jesus calls us to be faithful in scattering the seed, God’s Word of promise and hope for all people.  The Word is often mysterious in how it calls people to faith in God.  I am one who wants to see tangible results right away, but God’s Word sometimes needs to be like the horizontal drill, pushing through a stony sinful heart. I need to persevere in my spreading of God’s Word.   The harvest of faith will eventually come.  And oh what joy comes with the harvest!

I am confident that all the underground work done this week will eventually bring glory to God’s kingdom. We need to remain patient in our trust of God’s promise of a fruitful harvest.

In what ways have you had to be patient with God’s underground work?

Lord Jesus, work your Word into my life and world.