Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Being restored

    38 and counting. That’s 38 in addition to. I made my commitment to Christ at age 6 in a church that my Dad was pastoring. I waved the white flag of ministry (better known in those days as “surrendering”, appropriately so) at age twenty on August 8, 1974. If you count the time that I spent as a PK, that qualifies me to an opinion about life in the glass house of ministry. Allow me to ramp up to today’s epiphany.
    For generations, Americans have been influenced by the Puritan work ethic. While believing that prosperity was an evidence of God’s pleasure with a person or group of persons, the Puritans none-the-less subscribed to a life of hard work. Small wonder that they did so well. Unfortunately, austerity was the hallmark of their journey, including but not limited to their worship practices. In a very old volume appropriately titled The Sabbath in Puritan New England are accounts of the primitive nature of the Puritan church meeting place and the retrospectively entertaining sagas of benches, endlessly long prayers, dry preaching and the debate over providing a source of heat during the brutally cold New England winters.
    While making his way from truck driver to Pastor my Dad encountered the salt-of-the-earth kind of folks who believed in hard work for everyone, including the preacher. We had that joyful experience of living in housing provided by various churches known as a parsonage. The good church folk treated it as a great favor to the Pastor, especially by conveniently locating it next to the church building. And because the Pastor was so favored with such accommodating living arrangements, he certainly didn’t need as much income to survive. What they never admitted to was that this living arrangement allowed them to “keep an eye on the Pastor”. Many a Pastor has lived under this kind of microscope in which the Deacons all had keys to the parsonage and felt no need to announce themselves upon arrival. Oh, how I miss those romantic days. NOT!
    Scrutiny. Good word so long as I am the scrutineer. Not-so-good word if I am the scrutinee. How a Pastor spend his time is important. The Puritan work ethic scrutiny expressed itself over time as making certain that the Pastor “puts in his time”. Churches historically have expected the Pastor to be working when they are (8-5) and then ministering when people are available (5-whenever). While offering him vacation time, there have always been those who have “watched the clock” and “watched the calender” to insure that he has “put in his time”. It’s almost as though there was an unwritten rule: “we have to punch a clock to get paid, so should you.” Need anyone wonder why my call to ministry was a “surrender”?
    38 and counting. That’s 38 in addition to. My journey has never been about whether I “put in my time”. I’ve been a workaholic. I don’t doubt that the long days, weeks and months of self-denial have paid huge dividends to church growth, including our success in church planting. I know what it is to go weeks (made up of 14 hr days) without a break. I know what it is go months without a week off. Frankly, I can’t second guess whether I was right or wrong during those stretches. After all, when you bring the baby home from the hospital, you do what you have to do, when you have to do it for the sake of the welfare of the child. That was then. This is now.
    In 38 years there have been a lot of casualties. Very few that began their ministries at the same time as I are still “pulling at the oars”. While some crashed and burned under the strain, other went down in flames to immorality, impropriety or infamy. It’s been tough learning how to “take it easy” but I’m working on it. The predecessor in my previous church didn’t buy into the expectation of others. When criticized for not “being in the office” enough, he responded with, “You don’t even know what I am doing when I am there. For all you know, I could be playing video games.” Of course it didn’t hurt that he was retired military. I plan on serving until I don’t, not going down in flames.
    I think that I finally get it. 38 and counting. The first Deacons were enlisted to allow the preachers plenty of time with God and the Word. When was the last time that anyone complained, “Preacher, your not spending enough time with the Father!” Over the last 19 yrs, I have set my own schedule. In the last few years I have been allowing more “God time” than “ministry time”. Then, while sitting here today, it occurred to me that the phone wasn’t ringing, I had no pressing engagement, the sermon was ready (relatively) for next Sunday, I wasn’t expected anywhere by anyone for anything. The Spirit brought to my mind the words, “He restores my soul.” We all know where that comes from, but do we permit ourselves the luxury of having our souls restored without feeling guilty over the expectations of others? No one came screaming, “Pastor, you’re working to much”, or “Pastor, we need to pay you overtime”, or “Pastor, we need to send you and your wife on a cruise” during the first three decades. Now that the Good Shepherd wants to “restore my soul”, I’m not going to feel guilty. I’m sort of liking this....

Monday, July 9, 2012


    I ride a motorcycle and not just any motorcycle. I’ve been riding since 1973. Mine is probably a familiar account. Growing up, my mother was as opposed to the idea of her children ever owning a motorcycle as any mother might be, until. The big ‘until’ was when Dad bought one. “Thank you Dad!” Climbing onto the back of a motorcycle cured our Mom of any anti-motorcycle thinking. Even today, at age 79, she loves riding as much as anything else in her life. Dad and I began with Honda 350s and worked our way up. I’ve never owned anything but a Honda. Never needed to. My current ride is a 2002 Honda Gold Wing. What makes a Gold Wing so special is that it is super smooth, super quiet, super quick and it really loves curves.
    If you’ve never ridden, chances are you can’t appreciate the appeal of curves to a motorcycle enthusiast. My greatest riding days are when I see a road sign with the familiar “Curves Ahead” symbol. I guess that the appeal is that you can take curves at a much greater speed on two wheels than on four. There is an adrenalin rush that comes from left, right, left at high speeds feeling the tug of gravity that does it. Perhaps the most famous curved road in America for bikers is known as the “Tail of The Dragon” at Deal’s Gap, North Carolina: 318 curves in 11 miles. While I may love the curves, my wife does not. Obviously, curves aren’t for everyone.
    Church work and especially church planting is about dealing with curves. While it may be theoretically possible for someone to go from 0 -1000 in church growth in a straight line, I haven’t met that person. In Kingdom work, curves are those unexpected challenges to a perfectly good plan of getting from here to there. It all looks so easy and simple on paper. It all sounds so effortless in the books and at the conferences. The book that needs to be written and the conference that needs to be offered is “Curve Management in Kingdom Strategies”. There is a famous Tree of Shame that stands outside the Deal’s Gap Hotel decorated like a Christmas Tree with various parts of motorcycles that have been recovered from the bikes that didn’t make a curve.
    When we were looking to plant in 1993, our first curve was a law making it illegal for churches to occupy commercially zoned space. I didn’t see that one coming. Along the way another curve was the Life Safety requirement for a voice evacuation fire alarm system that added another $7000 to an already over-extended budget. I didn’t see that one either. The biggest curves have become County Inspectors who have their own set of rules, not even on the books, that have to be met before they will approve construction. If you haven’t figured it out yet, curves can make you or break you. While I may love them on a motorcycle, I don’t love them in life. How many church planters crash and burn because they can’t take the curves? The solution?
    Major League Baseball is all about hitting. If no one hits, no one wins. The greatest hitters in the game do so by anticipating the pitch. Most big hitters love fast balls because they are straight pitches and require the least amount of solid contact to clear the fences. A good curve ball or slider may be the hardest to hit yet some have made it their bread-and-butter. Casey Kotchman plays first base for the Cleveland Indians. While the average player aspires to a .300 hitting average over a season, he has raised the bar. In 2011 Casey hit .453 against slider and curve pitches. When you figure it out, a curve can be an asset. If you wonder why it’s been two months since I last wrote, just think c-u-r-v-e.