Category Archives: vocation

“My own congregation”

Christ the Servant 170630

Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Vadnais Heights, MN

I am wrapping up my second interim this week and will probably start another interim later this summer.  What a joy to serve among the people of Christ the Servant and I am excited to see how they move forward in ministry with the leadership of their new pastor.

On Saturday, I was conducting a funeral and had a brief conversation with one of the attendees.  She commented on what a lovely congregation Christ the Servant is and how I must enjoy serving there. I told her yes it was a joy. I continued, “I am the interim pastor and tomorrow the congregation will vote to call a new settled pastor.”  She said, “Do you like doing interim ministry?”  I responded, “Yes, I do.”  Then she said, “Well, don’t you want to have your own church?”

Her question plucked a emotional string within me.  At one time in my ministry I definitely wanted to have “my own church.”  The thought appealed to my ego and my desire to be in charge.  However, when I had the opportunity to lead a congregation, I discovered that though I liked the title and some of the challenges in leading a congregation, my heart was restless and troubled.  Upon prayerful reflection, I learned that I was “over-identifying” with the congregation and tying my personal worth into the successes and missteps of the congregation.  When the congregation felt good, I was good; if the congregation felt down, I was down.

When I stepped into interim ministry I was able to detach these emotional strings that I had created.  As an interim pastor I have a “lighter” touch on the congregation, relying heavily on the lay leadership to guide the congregation.  I am both a consultant who comes from the outside and can observe the current behavior and mission of the congregation while also being a pastor who steps into the community to shepherd them during the interim. As my trainer said, “An interim pastor has one foot in the system and one foot outside the system.” Also my heart is not as restless and my mind is more fully engaged in the community.  I believe that this is my calling from God for this stage of my ministry.

I am thankful that God has provided a variety of gifts within the church.  I am thankful for those pastors, deacons and lay professional who can faithfully serve many years in one congregation, guiding them into deeper levels of vital ministry. I am also thankful for the calling I now have, to guide congregations through the transitions between such settle pastors.  The body of Christ needs all the gifts to be healthy and vibrant.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but the God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit in everyone.  1 Corinthians 12:4-7

How are you using your spiritual gifts?

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.

The Call of the Cobbler

Martin was a cobbler, a man who made shoes. Most of us take shoes for granted, especially if they are work shoes or everyday shoes, the kind Martin made. Oh he could make your fancy dress shoes, your party shoes, your “lets-get-everyone-to-notice-me” shoes but he preferred to make simple, dependable  shoes. Now don’t get me wrong, his shoes were not ugly. In fact they were quite beautiful in a simple, unadorned way. And they were popular. Martin had plenty of people coming to his shop everyday to buy his shoes and he enjoyed his work.

In the evening he would walk home and he would get a kick spotting his shoes on the people he passed. “There is a pair,” he would say to himself “there is another.” He felt a certain satisfaction that his work kept people happy.

On Sunday, Martin would go to church with his family, as was his custom. He sang, he prayed, he talked with fellow members. Occasionally he would spot a pair of his shoes. Martin was grateful to God for this community of faith. He found strength and comfort in being with other Christians.

the-crossOne Sunday, while in church, as he listened to the sermon, he felt a sudden inspiration. He had always wanted a way to express his faith in Jesus in a more tangible, direct way. Words were always awkward for him. He knew he was no preacher. Still he wanted to do something for God.

As he was listening to the sermon, he looked up and saw the cross at the front of the church. The cross! The idea struck him hard. “I could put a cross on every shoe I make, so people will know that I am a Christian. And it will remind them to follow God everyday.”

db woodnecklace001The next day he got to work. He tried different styles and materials for the cross. He tried copper and iron, wood and leather. He tried big crosses and little crosses. He put them on the front of the shoe and the back of the shoe. He wanted the cross to be perfect because he wanted to express his love of Jesus in that cross.

As he added the cross to his shoes, he expected his customers to comment or ask questions about the shoe cross. Only a few did. Most customers asked about fit, comfort and durability, questions they always asked when they bought shoes. Still Martin would not be deterred. He continued to invest time and thought into the crosses he made. He wanted to make a good impression.

But as the weeks and months went by, he discovered that he had fewer and fewer customers. He thought to himself, “The crosses must be costing me business. Well, Jesus said we might suffer persecution when we follow him. I guess this is the cost I will have to bear to follow Jesus.”

But he was particularly struck that many of his fellow church member were not wearing his shoes. Were they offended by the cross? This gnawed at him for several weeks, until finally after church one Sunday, he asked one of his former customers , Pete.

“Pete, I feel strange asking this, but I’ve got to know. I noticed that you stopped coming to my shop to buy your shoes. Is it because I put a cross on them?”

Pete responded. “The crosses? No, I don’t mind that you added a cross. ”

“Then why did you stop coming?”

Pete, looking a bit sheepish, replied. “Well to be honest, your shoes don’t seem as comfortable as they use to be. Your shoes use to be the best in town. Lately they seem just average.”

And then it dawned on Martin. He had become so focused on making crosses for his shoes that he had cut corners on the shoes themselves. He checked this out with other former customers and they concurred with Pete. Martin’s shoes were not as good as before.

That afternoon Martin shared his insight with his wife. “I am so confused. I thought I was doing God’s will by putting the cross on the shoes. Instead I seemed to be ruining my business.”

His wise wife listened and said. “You know Martin, you were doing God’s will all along when you made good shoes for people. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves? What is more a practical way to love your neighbor than to provide them with good durable shoes? “

The next day Martin took all the elaborate crosses he had made and put them in a bottom drawer. He refocused himself on making simple, comfortable, durable shoes. And inside each pair, hidden from view, he sewed a simple leather cross, to remind himself that as he served his customers he was serving Jesus.

Sarah’s On the Bus

2000 SS Visit to Care CenterWhen I was called to Resurrection Lutheran Church two and a half years ago, the call committee had a key question for me, “how will you handle the present staff?” They were concerned that as the new lead pastor I might want to make immediate radical changes to the staff.  I told the call committee that I wanted first to discover the staff’s unique gifts and contributions to the congregation before any changes.

I quickly discovered that the staff was and is talented and dedicated. They each had something to contribute. Perhaps the most notable was the only other full-time employee, Sarah Storvick.

1998 VBSSarah started working at Resurrection part-time as the Director of Children’s Ministry in April, 1998, overseeing the Sunday School ministry. She brought great creativity and compassion to her work. She cared about each of the children who attended, calling them by name and encouraging their growth in grace. She coordinated Vacation Bible Adventure, First Communion instruction and Camp Wapogasset participation. Over the years her responsibilities grew and she has expanded into confirmation and adult ministries. She not only embraced the mission of calling all people to a Vibrant Life of Faith in Christ, but exemplified what the Vibrant Life looks like. She became a full-time employee in 2010 and was most recently commissioned as the Minister of Congregational Life.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins defines several key decisions an organization’s leader must make.  The first key decision is “who to keep on the bus.”

The executives who ignited transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it (Good to Great, p. 41).

The first thing the apostles did after Jesus ascended into heaven was to select who would take Judas’ place as one of the twelve apostles (Acts 1:12-26). They needed to determine who was on the bus of Jesus’ continued mission.

Sarahweb.jpgI am so thankful to have Sarah on the bus of Resurrection. Her steadfast commitment, her dry sense of humor, her compassion and vibrant faith all contribute so much to the ongoing mission of Resurrection. She has even gracious written for my blog when I was away. Tomorrow (Sunday, April 21) Resurrection will celebrate Sarah’s ministry during our Sunday morning worship. Thank you, Sarah, for faithfully serving our Lord Jesus among the people of Resurrection. We are blessed to have you in our midst.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the ministry of Sarah Storvick.

5 Reasons I Support Youth Sunday

Youth Sunday WorshipYesterday was Youth Sunday at Resurrection and I was a very thankful pastor as I watched our youth sing, pray, read, welcome and preach. Here are my top five reasons for celebrating Youth Sunday.

1. The opportunity to celebrate talent. The youth of Resurrection are blessed by God with incredible talent that needs to be shared. Like any member, they could do this any Sunday, but Youth Sunday gives them the excuse or reason to do this with their peers’ support. The whole congregation, young and old, can celebrate together.

Youth Worship Band2. Parents can rejoice with their children. Parents of high school youth know that their children need to start the process of differentiation – separating from their parents. This includes making their Christian faith their own. But this can be painful for the parents to watch. The celebration of Youth Sunday gives parents a moment to see the faith being handed down to a new generation without directly pushing their children into it.

3. Young children are given aspirations and models. Young elementary age children see older siblings/peers/teenagers participate in a special way within the life of the church. This participation can spark such aspirations in them to perform in the worship band or read scripture or present the children’s message. Also parents of young children see and hear how the ministry of this congregation has impacted its youth, giving them reasons for their family to be actively involved.

4. Mentors share their gifts. Yesterday was a real celebration for John Moore, a member of our worship team, who for the past six months has coached and directed the youth band as it prepared for yesterday’s worship service. He and the band did an outstanding job. Our youth director Hannah Koehler also had the opportunity to directly mentor students as they participated in leadership roles in worship.

5. Pastor try-outs. This one is personal for me. As high school junior I had the opportunity to preach at my home congregation. Though my preaching on the “Population Bomb and Environmentalism” was strange and controversial, the affirmations I received were part of my process of discerning my call as a pastor. Though our youth can serve God’s kingdom in a wide variety of vocations (see here), the church will need good pastors, youth directors and music directors in the future and I am praying that God will call some of the youth of Resurrection Lutheran Church to serve in this way. God continues to call forth his servants to serve among us.

What are some others reasons to support Youth Sunday?

Lord Jesus, I am thankful that you call all ages to follow you, including our youth.

Faith in Action

Yesterday was Resurrection Lutheran Church’s annual Faith In Action Day. Over 200 volunteers worked on a wide variety of service projects. From making snack kits for children-in-need and kitchen packs for families in transitions to serving meals at local food shelters, we honored and celebrated one part of our mission statement: To Serve the world God loves. I wrote about my first experience with Faith In Action day here.

Preparing Sandwiches at Dorothy Day Center

Preparing Sandwiches at Dorothy Day Center

It was a day that both encouraged and humbled me as a pastor. I was extremely proud to see children, youth, and adults using their gifts, talents and dependable strengths to help their neighbor. I felt like a cheerleader, supporting all the good works. I was also humbled because I realized that so much of the good that members do does not require a pastor, but rather the power of the Holy Spirit. I am so thankful for the team of lay members, led by Terri Dokken, who coordinated the fifteen projects we worked on.

Earlier in the morning I preached on Ephesians 2, especially verse 10,

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Faith in A 2013 bIn my sermon, I talked about two kinds of good works. The first is the kind we experienced on Sunday, volunteer good works. As volunteers we do something directly to help our neighbor in need. We pack food at Feed our Starving Children or pound nails at Habitat for Humanity. These are valuable experiences where we learn about the needs of others and actually practice service in a tangible way. Plus it builds a sense of community and identity as old and new member work side-by-side.

Faith in A 2013But there is the second kind of good work, the daily good work, where we love our neighbor in our daily activity. A mom or dad who taxis the children to their daily activities, a nurse or doctor who treats patients, a social worker who aids families in caring for an aging parent: all of these can be considered good work. Some good works become our vocation or career. Hopefully as Christians we see our career as a way to serve others, either directly or indirectly. I have written regarding daily work on other posts: here and here.

Both volunteer and daily good works are valuable and productive. One of the values of volunteer work for youth and families is that it helps youth begin to discern their vocational callings, so that it can become “our way of life.”

Lord Jesus, help us to walk in the good works you have prepared for us.

Work, Play and Worship

This week starts a new ministry at Resurrection called Four Square, named after the popular playground game. The four squares of the ministry are explore, play, serve and grow. The children will explore the Bible, serve various needs in the community, play games like four square, and grow in their faith and relationship. Today they actually painted a Nine-Square court in the church parking lot for all to use.

The “play” part of Four Square made me think of a comment that I explored somewhat last year. The idea is that in our American culture we confuse worship, work and play. We worship our work, work at play and play at worship. I know that I can be guilt of each attribute at times.

First we tend to worship our work. Especially men in our society can make their careers the center of their lives. Our whole identity can revolve around our careers and how successful we are within it. Careers often have a clear hierarchy of who is moving up the ladder and who is not. Though God calls us to work in God’s creation, God does not call us to place our career success at the center of our lives. I confess that I can place MY pastoral status ahead of my faithfulness to God’s mission and calling. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Second we can work at our play. In our American culture, we can turn our leisure into a new work obsession. Whether it is fishing, hunting, golf, running, tennis, gardening, woodworking or biking, we can turn what is meant to be restful and renewing into competitive, stressful work. I know that I have at times turned my love of running into an obsession when I am training for a marathon and my whole life begins to revolved around a rigorous training schedule. I have this elusive goal of qualifying to run in the Boston Marathon someday, but my fixation can rob me of the joy of simple running. My recent use of the Phil Maffetone training method has helped me slow down and to enjoy the playful act of running.

Finally we can play at worship, or, in other words, turn worship into entertainment. We measure how effective worship is by how popular the worship service is or how people felt during the service. We get confused about the focus of worship. Worship is not about the worshippers, but about God being central to our lives.

God is not my “cosmic therapist” who makes me feel good about myself, but rather my Creator, Savior and Guide before whom I bow in wonder and adoration. God is God, ruler of the universe. True worship helps me remember and live with God at the center. “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

So today, let us live with God at the center, in our work, play and worship.

Lord Jesus, remain Lord of my life in my work, play and worship.

End of the World?

The end of the world evokes strong emotions. Current books and movies play on the theme that the culture/world/civilization that we know is ending and a new one is replacing it, usually more horrific than our current culture/world/civilization. The roots of the transformation are in our current society and will bear fruit in the coming years. The fear of global nuclear war spurred such writings from 1950s through the 1990s. The book and movie Hunger Games is a contemporary expression of such apocalypses and their aftermath.

Mark 13 is also an expression of apocalyptic literature. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Jesus would be arrested and executed by the Roman officials in a few days. Jesus warned the disciples of coming tribulation and devastation. The magnificent temple that was central to Jewish worship would be destroyed in less than forty years by the Roman Empire. The early Christians would face frequent persecution for their faith. These trials might cause the new church to despair, yet Jesus said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:8).

Birth pangs, though painful in the moment, result in the beginning of a new life. Jesus was teaching his disciples to persevere, to stay hopeful, in spite of the troubles they face. He then goes on to say that to speculate on the exact day or time of this new birth is wasteful use of time. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son of Man, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Instead he says to be engaged in our daily tasks with a watchful heart, that God is near. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on watch” (Mark 13:34). God has given us each tasks to do in this world, to love our neighbor in word and deed. We do not abandon those tasks to run and hide on some mountain because we fear the “world” is ending. Rather we continue to serve God and God’s world, knowing that someday the master will return and put things right for all people.

Tomorrow I will explore how the “world” has already ended for Christians (Mark 13:35-36).

Lord Jesus, help me not to slip into despair, but to be faithful in my service.

Hospitals and Churches

I have been sitting at the hospital today, watching my mother as she recovers from a nasty fall.  Mostly she is sleeping and when she is awake, her dementia limits conversation.  Still I am thankful that I can simply be with her.

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Churches are often describes as hospitals for sinners.  I want to push the metaphor as I sit with my mom.

1.  The hospital staff cares:  they use my Mom’s name and explain what they are doing even though she has dementia.   Do the people of God show as much care for the stranger who visits?

2.  The staff knows their roles and strengths.  The Personal Care Assistant has a different role from the Nurse.   Do the people of God know their strengths and gifts?

3. The staff will push my mom at times.  The Physical Therapist had to challenge, cajole and push my Mom to stand and take a walk down the hall.  Are the people of God willing to challenge one another in compassion, generosity, and service?

There may be other lessons to be learned.  What do you think?

Lord Jesus, bring healing and hope to your people.

Remembering Dr. Kari Egge

Dr. Kari Egge was a saint, though she would never use such a title.  She lived her faith in her vocation.  Her death this week stirred all kinds of memories for me, since she was active in the high school youth group at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi when I first came on their staff. Kari’s brain was always working, asking deep questions that I could rarely answer.  Yet she had a passionate heart that saw the needs of the world. She went off to college at George Washington University and then into Humanitarian Aid work with such diverse organizations as the Peace Corp, Catholic Relief Services and the American Red Cross. She played key leadership roles in responding to various disaster’s world-wide from the drought in Southern Africa to the tsunami in Indonesia. She received her doctorate in Public Health from Tulane where she studied HIV/Aids and how to treat it in the developing parts of the world.

I remember one particular conversation with her when she was home visiting her parents. I had an idealistic view of her relief work, thinking how wonderful it must be to help people in need.

Her response brought me back to reality, “Much of what I do is simply handle the bureaucratic mess. I am often tired and overwhelmed; we are usually short of key supplies or personnel and the local government often restricts everything we try to do.”

“So, Kari, what keeps you going?”

“I am not sure, but often some good comes. Some people are helped . . . or lived who would have died. I sense God has a hand in that.”

Kari could have lived a very productive, meaningful life here in the United States. She had a sharp mind and wit, a fun spirit, and caring heart. Instead of staying here, she heeded the call to meet the critical needs of people in distant lands. She lived out Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she did not dwell on her approaching death (though she did make some rather grim jokes about it), but rather how it affect her two young children, Dylan and Isabelle. She loved them, her parents and the many friends she made around the world. I will miss her.

Lord Jesus, grant comfort to all who grieve the death of Kari Egge.  Thank you for her faithful witness of compassion.