I think being a pastor in our cultural context is simply hospice ministry

I think being a pastor in our cultural context is simply hospice ministry

The church is dying. We have a terminal disease, and as a ministry professional, I think our best course of action is to provide incredible hospice care as this generation of Christians and the churches we have built die a slow death.

How is that for a dramatic opening statement. :)

In case you are missing it, there is a gigantic tectonic shift occurring. In fact, it is more than a simple shift, it is a world-altering shift where half of California drops into the ocean sort of shift. Humanism has won the world view war, technology in general, social media and AI, in particular, are disrupting long-held assumptions, and everyone in church leadership has chosen deconstruction as the place to put their best thoughts and efforts.

The result is that all the young and idealistic Christians have been taught not to trust the institutional church, and to expand their theology in ways that have moved them way outside of orthodoxy. Those still working in or connected to a functioning institutional church are having to change their ministry model to stay relevant in a fully consumeristic and shallow society. And without even knowing it, we have traded orthodox faith rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ for Moral Therapeutic Deism.

What movies best reflect your life and ministry?

What movies best reflect your life and ministry?

We recently remodeled our offices at church. A complete teardown and rebuild. This means that all of us go brand new desks, furniture, and most importantly clean walls. The biggest question for me as I have been trying to make my new office feel more like me is what to put on the walls. And then a friend inspired me; Why not put up movies I love or that have shaped me in my life and in my ministry.

So that is what I am going to do. I have spent the last few days thinking about what movies I would highlight on my office walls, which ones have defined me, shaped me, and inspire me to run after all that God has called me to do and be, and I have come up with 5. (The problem is I only have space for 3)

Here are the five movie posters that I would post in my office and why. (I would love to know what movie posters would populate your walls.)

Cheap Justice is the new Cheap Grace.

Cheap Justice is the new Cheap Grace.

In my formative years of my Christian faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of my favorite voices. I loved his prophetic voice, and even more than his voice, but the power of his voice matched by his incredible integrity. In his famous book, Cost of Discipleship, he talks about cheap grace.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace with Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

The church has wrestled with this idea for almost a century. In our fleshly nature we will always slide back to cheap grace, and we need the prophetic voices to call us to true grace. In the same way, there has been a transition over the past 50 years where the church has increasingly worked towards having a faith that takes the work of justice seriously.

But, in the same way as grace, as time moves on, once strong movements get tweaked and deformed. And I am afraid that the important work of Justice is being co-opted by a shadow version of Justice, Cheap Justice.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO gave an acceptance speech, which on the surface was awesome. I was like, AMEN! And good for you! Here are a couple of statements that got the most applause:

  • "From the earliest days of iTunes to Apple Music today, we have always prohibited music with a message of white supremacy . . . Why? Because it is the right thing to do."

  • "We only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division, and violence: You have no place on our platforms . . . You have no home here."

  • "If we can't be clear on moral questions like these, then we've got big problems. I believe the most sacred thing that each of us is given is our judgment, our morality, our own innate desire to separate right from wrong. Choosing to set that responsibility aside at a moment of trial is a sin."

You can watch the entirety of his speech here.

Sabbatical: Week 12 (The End!)

Sabbatical: Week 12 (The End!)

Well, this is the end. As quickly as it began, my sabbatical is coming to a close. It is pretty crazy that it has been three months and my time of rest, restoration, professional development, and fun are coming to end. From here on out, NO MORE FUN!! HAHA.

Actually, from here on out, I am thinking way more fun, way more joy! And I think that is actually a possibility. If joy is a fruit of the spirit, a fruit of our expectant advent prayers, then maybe there is a chance that this next season of ministry can be marked by joy. As I round the final corner and begin to prepare for my life back in the saddle of ministry, I am leaning into a ministry marked by expectant prayer, connection to the spirit, and expressing itself in joy!

How am I going to pull that off? That is a good question. After three months of sabbatical, I have a couple of reflections that I will want to unpack and live more fully into in a normal work life rhythm.

Sabbatical: Week 11

Sabbatical: Week 11

Ok, I am about to barf up some serious first world church problems. I found this last week to be really challenging. It seems like such a luxury to be on “vacation” for three months. And the truth is, that it is. But sabbatical is not vacation. It is a really strange and unique discipline.

Sabbatical has been a time of refreshment and renewal. I feel like Jesus has met me in some really sweet ways and has done some new things in my soul as I get ready to embark on a new season of ministry. This has been great!

But what hasn’t been great has been being cut off from my church community. Something one of our pastors prayed over me on my last Sunday at church has stuck with me all sabbatical. He prayed that the church would have a sabbatical experience as well as they manage without me. And he is right, our church, and especially the staff I supervise should have the gift of not having a boss for three months. Now, as the end is in sight, I am starting to wrestle through the complexities of returning.

Sabbatical: Week 10

Sabbatical: Week 10

This was the week I have been looking forward to for my entire sabbatical. This was the week of our family road trip.  I decided for this blog to not really reflect on the deeper meaning of this time, but to simply share what we did for my own records.  

 It was our family road trip.  For Thanksgiving week, we rented a car, and drove it through desolate and open country.  It has been a really long time since I have intentionally gone on a road trip.  I guess it makes sense once you have kids that the less time in the car the better!

But now that my kids are old enough and we have the technology to keep them occupied, it seemed right to load up and hit the road.

Our trip began with me picking up a Nissan Quest mini van. We have never been a mini van family, or a new car family.  I never thought much about that until my daughter commented on how luxurious this car was with all the power outlets and leather seats.  Well, you know me, I am all about the luxury.  So we loaded our things and hit the road. 

Our first stop was Reno.  #notluxury.  But we had a cheap hotel and goofed around circus circus, and just enjoyed decompression from hectic weeks at school and poor air quality from the fires.  We watched movies, got late night pizzas, and soaked up having nowhere to be or nothing to be accountable for.  

Instant Family is the best picture of what the gospel looks like in a post Christian context. #fosteradopotion

Instant Family is the best picture of what the gospel looks like in a post Christian context.  #fosteradopotion

I just finished watching one of my favorite movies of this year. Instant Family has got to be one of the most relevant, heartwarming, holiday movie of the season. But more than just the funny dialogue (which earned its PG-13 rating) or the beautiful story that tugs at all the feels, this movie is the best picture of what the gospel story looks like in a culture that is entirely post-Christian.

Christians, since the time of the apostle Paul, have used family identity as ways to communicate the implications of the gospel. In Christ, we are adopted in, and our identity is as sons and daughters. We have a new identity as a daughter or son of the King with all the rights and responsibilities that come along with that. When we say yes to the adoption invitation we are grafted into the family and away we go! A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme. :)

But in a post-Christian context, the story of adoption may have many similar elements, but the implications and applications are entirely different. You see, in a more “Christian” environment, being adopted into the family of God is pretty easy, and the assimilation process is quite painless. Most people have a good sense of right and wrong, are well acquainted with the pillars of the Judeo-Christian world, and now with this new sense of identity, forgiveness for their sins, and their newfound identity with adoption into the body of Christ is icing on the cake! This story runs parallel with stories of adoption where parents adopt babies and have their entire lives to assimilate them into the family, clarifying that all the rights and responsibilities are theirs because of their adoption.

The adoption invitation in a post-Christian context is not the same picture that many of us are used to when we think of adoption. Instead, adoption in a post-Christian context is much closer to the story of foster adoption. Here are a few reasons why:

Sabbatical: Week 9

Sabbatical: Week 9

I woke up early last week feeling like we are living through the apocalypse; Our national discourse has gone totally off the rails, our entire state seems to be up in flames, and some tragic situations are happening close to some people I love. With all that is going on, I have found myself clinging to Jesus in a deeper way than usual.

It is easy for me to live in my head and distance myself from difficult situations and tragic events. But in this season, rather than disengage, I am choosing to lean in. As I do, I have found that I have fewer answers. I have no idea why some people seem to be magnets for tragedy, why some communities get destroyed entirely, why some people are so much more impacted by situations happening in the news. And having no answers have left me in a really new and unique space.

Sabbatical: Week 8

Sabbatical: Week 8

Just like that, another week is in the bag. This last week was really special. It was 7 full days of doing nothing other than trying to love my family. A few weeks ago I went to New York with Kenzie, and this week was Katie and Noah’s turn.

I started this week on the coast in my pajamas for 4 days straight. Katie and I got some some great time together and she got some much deserved rest. The back half of the week was spent with Noah at Universal Studios in Orlando. It was a full week!

I have to say that these mini vacations with each person in my family is quite a unique experience. Usually I give Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation a run for his money in outsized expectations that get run into the ground. And vacations that I have high hopes for to present like super dad, end up crashing and burning and instead of super dad, I end up the Incredible Hulk.

But these trips were nothing like that. And if I can remember this, I will be set for life!

How is a Christian supposed to navigate election day?

How is a Christian supposed to navigate election day?

Today is election day, and it seems like the whole world is freaking out. But, before you jump off the emotional cliff, as Christ followers, let’s take a step back.

First, let’s recognize that we have bought into our media’s scaremongering.

What I mean by “our media” is that each side no longer listens to news outlets that dissent from their own political worldview. And because of this, we have made the other side into characters. If you have Democrat leanings and are informed by mainstream news outlets you are convinced that Trump is basically Hitler and that his supporters are racist, bigots, homophobic rubes who want to make America white again. And if you have Republican leanings and informed by rightwing outlets and online media, you are convinced that the Democrats are Antifa without masks, a crazy mob of socialists, intersectional baby killers. What is a Christian to do?

Sabbatical: Week 7

Sabbatical: Week 7

As I cross the halfway mark I am finding myself at peace.

To be honest, to share this gives me such survivor’s guilt. I can not believe that it has taken 7 weeks to decompress, work through my anxieties, let things out of my control go, truly enjoy the moments I find myself in, and sit heavy with my family. What a luxury. Also, what a disaster I ended up being in this last season.

I can not be more thankful for my church to give me this opportunity and long to be faithful in caring for my body and soul so I can be the pastor, even more, the follower of Christ that our church deserves. I am continually humbled by God’s overwhelming grace and mercy extended towards me. And instead of feeling guilty about it, or sheepish about the amount that God has to heap on me, I am trying to live in response to it. Gratitude, and heaps of grace and mercy towards others.

I know this all sounds like christiany gobbledygook. But that is why I am processing this on my blog and not in real life, in front of people. With a heart of gratitude, I wanted to reflect back on this last weekend and a true highlight.

Sabbatical: Week 6

Sabbatical: Week 6

This week, halfway through, had it all. I had the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles and visit Hillsong LA Church, enjoy true rest as I watched an entire series of an unredeemable show, and then flew to New York with MacKenzie for our special, one on one date.

And in this week, with these three markers, I got to experience the full range of sabbatical:

Reflections on Hillsong, LA: This is the 5th different church I have visited while on Sabbatical. And with each new church visit, I am finding more and more joy simply attending another worship service, a worship service that I know nobody and am not in charge. I have been proud of my lack of judgment or cynicism as I have joined other congregations, and in the case of Hillsong, movements in the unique work that God is doing in and through them.

A diminished church is not going to make us more tolerant.

A diminished church is not going to make us more tolerant.

For my entire adult life, I have heard nothing but how awful the church is. We are judgemental, self-righteous, hypocritical, close-minded, a$$holes! We are racist, bigot, homophobes, and we must be put in our place. And, in fact, the larger culture has done such a good job at this, that even fellow Christians love to get in on it as well, calling out the small slights they see in Christian tribes that are different from their own, hoping to get some cultural street cred in the process. And the result?

The Church has been diminished, mission accomplished. But at what cost?

This last week there was an incredible article in The Atlantic called, "Breaking Faith." The tagline says, "The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse." It is a great article and I highly recommend it. The basic premise is that as church attendance has gone down what has taken its place in our culture is a more toxic tribalism that has almost no common values or aspirations.

Sabbatical: Week 5

Sabbatical: Week 5

Have you ever found yourself walking out of your house into your garage and not sure which BMW to drive, or opened up your wine cellar and bummed you have to open a Silver Oak because you have to make room for your next shipment, or that third night at the all-inclusive resort and having to decide between steak or lobster and feeling a bit of anxiety about that situation? I have never had any of those feelings, but I am feeling a little too bored and wondering if I have just too much time off. How jerky does that sound? :)

After 5 weeks I have accomplished all I wanted to accomplish in terms of my professional development. It was like training camp for my job and I loved it! But with my tasks being over, I have found myself spinning out. I mean there is only so many Burt Reynolds films one man can watch.

But, have no fear, just when my survivor's guilt was reaching its peak, I was able to spend some time on the golf course with a dear friend. This man has just retired, had his hip replaced, and brought his old guy wisdom to bear.

The false hope of growing your church by simply copying other churches

The false hope of growing your church by simply copying other churches

When I was a kid our homework was not on google drive, or even on xeroxed pages. We had math handouts printed on mimeograph machines. I don't even know if you know what that is. It is an old skool copier.

The way it works is simple. You have an original copy and then make a copy of that original onto an inked page. Then that ink page is put in a machine that prints a copy onto blank pages. For its time, it was an incredible technology and perfect for math pages. But as you could imagine, with every copy the integrity and quality would diminish. And I am afraid that is what is happening with the church today.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had the privilege to attend a number of different churches. And one of the things I found happening in me was comparing my church to theirs. I immediately found a half dozen things they were doing better than us and scheming about how to improve the quality of our church ASAP. But after have the same experience over and over again, I realized I am getting caught up into a brutal and unhelpful death spiral.

Sabbatical: Week 4

Sabbatical: Week 4

I can not believe I am one month down. This last week I spent some time with a dear friend and attended his class at the University of Miami on entrepreneurship. Then I attended the Oceans conference. It is a faith-based conference for entrepreneurs. Seth Godin was the headlining speaker and he rocked my world! (Down the road, as I digest all that I have been learning, I will look forward to writing more about that as I process what this means for me and my ministry.)

With 4 weeks behind me I have had three big epiphanies:

Sabbatical: Week 3

Well, it seems like my sabbatical is finally underway. I got caught up on my sleep, had some professional development, and this week was a week of sitting heavy. I didn’t think much about it it until some dear family friends made a comment at a picnic. My wife and I were just visiting with our friends and enjoying some good food, when our friend commented that we both look so rested and in love. And you know what, she is right, I am rested and in love.

If I had to sum up this week of sabbatical I would sum it up as marriage restoration. It was a week full of great conversation, special dates and a glimpse of some of that empty nest lifestyle. I am not going to lie, it is pretty nice to have some intentional time with the wife and realize we have plenty to talk about, to dream about, and to enjoy together.

I could not be more proud of my wife and the woman she is. I know you probably say the same thing about your wife, and you should. But for me, I can not believe what an incredibly deep, reflective, and godly woman she is. I love the way she does the hard work and love that I get to be the recipient of all that hard work. Because she has continually worked it out for the last 20 years, our family, our kids, our marriage, and me as a person are all better off for it.

I am sad I don’t have more to say, but this has been a week of personal care and family love. Everyone had school and I spent a lot of time in my jammies and watched some great movies. But the rest week is over and it is time to get after the next couple of things on my sabbatical bucket list.

This week I head off to Ohio for an entrepreneurship conference and staying with some dear friends. We will see how the rhythm of family fun, then personal development, then family fun will work out. As of today, the end of week three, I feel rested, in love, my heart is full and my faith is strong. I love my job and miss it terribly. So now it time to see what God has to teach me in this discipline of time away.

Catch you next week!


There is no prophetic voice without character

There is no prophetic voice without character

Watching the debate and protests of the last two weeks, the last two years, the last 20 years, I am starting to see some common themes:

1) Humans are naturally self righteous people.

2) We all think we are on the “right side of history.”

3) Turns out we are actually just tribal and only defend our side, our view with total blinders to our side’s shortcomings.

4) Because most of us live fully into these first three statements, we are totally blinded to our own hypocrisy and naturally spin out when others don’t take our view seriously.

The church has, in the past fully lived into this reality, most notably in the religious right’s power play in the culture war of the late 20th century. In our effort to defend traditional marriage, slow down and stop the coarsening of our culture, pushing back on the rampant promiscuity and drug use, we joined together used our voices, our votes, and our money to fight the culture war. AND WE LOST HORRIBLY!

Sabbatical: Week 2

This last week of Sabbatical was a jumpstart to some of my professional development. I got to spend time with an incredible friend and talk ministry shop and share life, was challenged by my preaching coach, and started my IDEO U class on Design for change. The combination of all three have sparked my thinking and have set the path from my professional reflection moving forward.

GREAT FRIENDSHIP: The older I get, the more I realize how unique it is to have deep friendships that have lasted for a long time. This last week I got to spend time with one of those decade long incredible friends and my heart and soul benefitted greatly.

My friend Erik might be one of the most gifted pastors and leaders I know. His heart for God and the church are contagious and the chance to spend days together sharing our lives, talking shop about the church, and frankly, to be challenged in my own leadership, worldview, and calling. But what I loved most about my time with my dear friend was the way I was simply encouraged to love God more and to find peace in the unique work He is doing in my life. I left my week in MN with a full heart, a full heart for my friend, for Jesus, and for His church.

PREACHING COACH: This last year I had the brutal realization that part of my calling as a pastor is that of preacher. For some reason I never really saw myself as a preacher and just tried to get through the preaching task with as little pain and suffering for me and for the congregation as possible. But as my job has transformed and I am moving from the occasional preaching voice to preaching 40% of the time, I realized that I should probably figure it out. So I called a friend of mine who is a genius when it some to communication and asked him to coach me.

He is also in MN so we got some face to face time, and over some pizza and beer he gave it to me straight. His feedback was not what I was expecting. You see, I have spent this year trying to get more polished in my communication, grow in my narrative structure, and give clear turn signals as I transition between points. And while I am making some progress in these areas, his feedback is that I have lost my edge. In my effort to “grow up” I have given up my edgy, irreverent humor that keeps people engaged and confirms their own questions and concerns. I will do some more thinking of this, but that means in December when I get the pulpit again, it may get a little saucy. :)

DESIGN FOR CHANGE: Part of my sabbatical is taking a 5 week, online class through IDEO. It is a class that is about using design theory for change. I am really far out of my element, but have really enjoyed my first week. Through our introductions I awkwardly entered this class as a local church pastor and get to share space with Twitter execs, marketing directors, and the like.

This week has been an introduction and I am playing catch up trying to learn the vocabulary and translate the assignments for my church context. My brain is already spinning about the kind of change that I might want to work towards in our church and how to develop a staff culture that builds trust and unites around vision so we can be more effective in our vision. This next week starts the heavy lifting so we will see where this goes!

THE PERILS OF HAVING TOO MUCH TIME: On a quick side note, not having to go to work has meant I have had way to much time for reading and watching the internet. And this week did not disappoint. The political theater and the heartbreaking implications of all that went down this week has got me spinning. It is probably a good thing that I am not preaching for a long time, because if I had the mic I could find myself in hot water. So, instead I am just spinning. I am sure there will be a conclusion of some sort and nobody will be happy. What is the role of the church, or the pastor in navigating this. We don’t have a say in the outcome or the process, yet our churches are full of people who are spun out about all that has happened and the implications of it all. For 10 more weeks I have to keep my thoughts private. :) . But, if you would like to grab a bourbon, or give me a call on your way to work, it could be fun to talk shop. My the Lord truly have mercy on us all!

OK, I THINK THAT IS IT!: Week 2 is in the bag. Looking ahead I another week of IDEO class, a couple of surf sessions, and I am unplugging from 8:00 pm to 6:00 am. I bought an old school alarm clock and a kindle, so the ipad and phone are getting put away and we will see how this break from tech will impact me and my family (because they will be doing the same). Week 3, lets do this!


Sabbatical: Week 1

Sabbatical: Week 1

Every 7 years of pastoral ministry, our church gives its pastors a 12 week sabbatical.  This used to be common place for pastors, but due to changing culture, shorter pastoral tenures, and lack of resources, the sabbatical is becoming more and more rare.  Because of this reality, I do not take this sabbatical for granted.  In fact, I have spent much of my first week wrestling with my survivor's guilt about it.  

But more than my survivor’s guilt, what I really feel is an overwhelming sense of love and care from the the church I love and care so much about.  

As I spend these next few months on “break” from my day job as a pastor of a local church, I am jumping head long into some much needed soul care, professional development, family fun, and ministry reboot. Here are my goals: