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Transparency Is Not The Goal

transparent1One of my mentors in ministry is in his mid 50′s and he shared something about leadership and the various generations that has messed with my head a wee bit. He was taught in seminary by the generation above him that he should never get too personal in a sermon. If he needed to use an analogy, then he should quote a poem or some Shakespeare. This friend is a baby boomer and his generation made a shift and started to allow the congregation to hear some personal stories and a bit about their personal life. The following generations ( Gen X and Millennial) not only want to know their pastor, but they want to know how they have failed and messed up.

The Silent Generation: No transparency
Baby Boomer: Not afraid to open up a bit.
Generation X: Tell us more, let us in
Millennial: Tell us how you’ve messed up

Pretty interesting to see this change over the past 80 years or so. It appears that transparency seems to be on the rise, yet I do not believe it is the goal of Christian leadership. Laying all my cards on the table, I am a sucker for a transparent, vulnerable and authentic leaders in the church. Folks like Brennan Manning, Anne Lamotte, Mike Yaconelli and Henri Nouwen have always grabbed my attention for their brutal honesty and lack of spiritual posturing. Each of these authors simply appear as train wrecks in need of a savior. I kinda feel that way too.

Having said this, a pastor or Christian leader who simply spills their guts doesn’t necessarily qualify as a great spiritual leader. My generation (Gen X) and the one younger than me (Millennial) have almost worshipped transparency to a fault, as if it is the end and not a means to an end. 

If a Christian leader lacks transparency , I question their leadership.
If a Christian leader who is transparent
fails to continually lead beyond themselves and to Christ,
well I question their leadership as well.

The Gospel of John is my favorite book in the Bible and for one main reason. John is a strong leader who talks little of himself, is deeply authentic and continually points his audience to Christ and the coming Kingdom of God. He moves beyond transparency.

Leaders lead.
Christians leaders lead to Christ, transparently. 

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Dear Church, You Hired Me and Not My Wife, But…

As I was interviewing with the church I serve now, a Godly man made a statement that recieved quite the reaction from me. He said that in hiring me, the church was really getting a 2 for 1, referring to my wife. I put my pen down and kindly said that they were getting a 1 for 1 and my wife would be involved in the life of the church in a way she feels God leading her. The man respectfully understood what I was saying.

shutterstock_140861110Watching my mom play the role of pastor’s wife and observing some of the expectations placed upon my own wife and other spouses (male and female) in the church, I have been prompted me to write this post. Like any “issue”, there seems to be a ditch on either side of the debate and I am in search for the middle.

In one ditch,  churches can have some unreal expectations on the spouses of ministry leaders. A dear pastor friend of mine told me a story about the time the ladies of the church planned a retreat and demanded that his wife play the hymns on the piano. Well the rub was  she had never played any instrument in her life and the women were floored. In youth ministry it is a classic assumption that the spouse will volunteer to head up the guys or girls youth ministry, depending on the gender of their spouse. Again, this is not a fair assumption.

In the other ditch, spouses can occasionally hide and have minimal presence in the life of the church. While all stories are different, I can remember seeing youth pastors and ministers whose spouses rarely showed up. As a kid it made me think that they really didn’t want to be part of the family that their spouse told me each week I should be actively involved in. Something didn’t line up for me. Today I would say there are some high costs when a youth pastor is trying to live out their call and the spouse is just not on the same page. While some of you may argue with me, becoming a pastor is a unique call. I completely champion the fact that selling insurance can be ministry in God’s economy, yet the insurance business requires different support from the spouse than the church does. The fact that the church is the place of employment and worship for a pastor’s family can make things tricky. When I first started in ministry, I had no idea how my call would one day impact my wife and kids, both fruitful and challenging.

For me, both of these ditches reflect a lopsided ecclesiology. So what is the church anyway? Following Jesus is a communal event. As I read scripture, I see that all followers play an integral role in the life of this holy community. As I see it, the spouse should play the same role as any other worshipper in the community. They should feed and be fed. They should be given room to struggle and space to rejoice. They should be welcomed and welcome, just like anyone else. If a spouse is too far removed from the community, then loneliness and bitterness can seep in. If a spouse is the crazy volunteer person, then others may feel permission to not engage or be threatened. Furthermore,  marriages in ministry can often suffer when both the husband and the wife are working their tales off at the church.

When I met my wife, she was volunteering in Young Life, the church youth ministry and teaching 2nd graders at a local school. We both loved ministry, Jesus and young people. As we began to have kids of our own, some things changed. I think I pushed Kim too much at one point to disciple some teenage girls that would have eaten most grown men for lunch. One day she told me that her heart and abilities really led her to love younger kids. I had to swallow a pill, knowing I was losing a volunteer, yet the church was gaining from Kim’s decision to live into her calling to young children. So today I am still on staff attempting to serve College aged folks and teenagers while my wife serves elementary aged kids. We both love our church in different ways and ways in which God has knit us.

One thing I have learned in this transition is that I need to over communicate with my wife. It is super beneficial  when I remember to tell her stories about the students I work with. She still deeply cares about teenagers, but from a different seat in the stands.

(Would love for you to share your thoughts with me and share this post with others. I am in process and love the dialogue involved in blogging)

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Should You Love Your Job?

Below is a casual conversation between 2 youth workers. I’m pretty sure my friend Duffy didn’t intend to get really deep with his post, he eventual does. As a Christian, what are your thoughts on your job? This little banter really got things churned in me about the “promise” we make as professionals. And yes, youth ministry is and should be a profession. -Nate

Duffy
My orthopedist reminds me of youth pastor who likes everything about youth ministry except for teenagers. Dude, if ur bored w ur job: Quit.

Kathy
I know you were just messing around, but not everyone has the luxury of loving their job… in fact, most people don’t

Duffy You’re right, Kath. But, like you and me, that guy is a professional, and at the heart of the word “professional” is the notion of a “promise” (ie,to profess). It implies a promise we make to our field and to those we serve regarding the way we will deal with them (Eugene Peterson has some great stuff on this in his book, The Contemplative Pastor). And stopping twice in the middle of the exam to answer the phone, and not bothering to check the patient’s file to see which is the injured leg (he started examining the wrong one!) is NOT professional. It’s okay to be bored, and you’re right; a lot of folks are bored with their jobs. That’s not dishonorable. But to be so bored with your job that you cease to keep your promise to your field (in his case, medicine) and your clients (in this case, me!, THAT IS DISHONORABLE. And, if it’s not possible for him to recalibrate his perspective toward his work and his patients, he should quit. That’s the honorable thing to do. Otherwise, it’s like a teacher that hates her students or a youthworker that hates kids. That teacher, that youthworker are breaking the profession that they make by taking on the title of “teacher” or “youthworker”. Nobody’s holding a gun to my orthopaedist’s head, although they may be holding the mortgage to his house. I don’t accept that he HAS to do that job. His obligation, my obligation is to keep promises. That’s all I was trying to say. I probably didn’t say it well.

Thoughts? Rebuttals?
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Dear Senior Pastor, would you please…

Whether you call them senior, lead, brother, apostle, bishop, El Jefe or prophet, the primary leader of your church can embrace or alienate the youth in a few small steps. Clearly the pastor is to care for the entire flock, and we sheep will never know the enormity of that calling.

Yet a busy pastor can make consistent small investments in the lives of students that will yield great fruit.

 

1. Come to a mission trip/retreat send off to pray for us and stay behind to tell our moms that it’s all gonna be ok.

2. Tell stories from your teenage years as you preach.

3.  Stop saying, “In the Hebrew this really means…” or “a better translation of this is…” When you do that from the pulpit, you take the Bible out of the hands of the teenager and add to the distrust of Scripture.

4. Come to four youth gatherings a year. Don’t just go and speak, but allow the students to ask you questions. This not only builds trust with students, but the youth ministry staff and volunteers as well.

5. Randomly pop in to a youth gathering. Interrupt the program quickly to bless the youth minister and volunteers in front of the kids.

6. Get on the bus! While going with the youth on a week long mission trip can be tough, I know a pastor who rides on the bus with the kids to camp and then flies back the next day. This builds incredible social capital.

7. Teenagers don’t want to hear just how you did it right. They want to know how you messed up and then they need to hear how you moved forward.

That said, I need to address my youth worker friends with two thoughts:

1) We have a great role in playing the “agent” in this necessary endeavor. As we look down the road at our calendars, let us find ways for our pastor to spend time with our young people so that the interaction builds trust and yields fruit.

2) At heart, lead pastors are either theologians, missionaries, evangelists or youth pastors. So we must be aware some pastors will be as nervous coming to youth group as home-schooled 6th grade girl. Teenagers intimidate people. We as youth workers can lessen the intimidation.

What have you seen pastors do to bridge the gap between them and the students of the church?

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Loss.

In the last  4 weeks:
-A beloved mentor and cheerleader, Cliff Anderson went to be with Jesus.
-As Cliff was dying, the fires in our community raged. Over 300 homes burned.
-Many were killed up the road in Aurora, CO as they waited to see Batman.
-A great friend and pastor left our church to teach at a seminary.
-Our HS mission group tried to save a man trapped under a car. He died.
-Friends of ours just lost their full-term unborn child. Her funeral is today.

Loss sucks. Literally. It takes something away from us and we often scramble to deal with
that which is no longer with us.

I’m not the greatest griever in the world. I generally keep really busy to numb the emotions. And then in a few months, like it always happens, I break down. This is generally the time when I begin to see the heart of God. I see the same Jesus that Mary and Martha saw. The one who sobbed over the loss of his friend Lazarus. Jesus thinks loss sucks as well, but..

I’m beginning to realize that Jesus sees loss as gain as well. In the midst of tragedy, I have noticed new blooms popping up here and there in our community. I have processed all of the tragedies above with those in my community, and we see sprouts of life after death. These sprouts of life do not cover up the very real pain of loss, they just offer you and I hope in the middle of loss.