31 Days/2 – Gift Payments

I think better when I am doing two things. The first is that think better when I am regularly involved in challenging conversations with those I love and respect. Pam and I have the best, challenging, conversations. Really you should hear our bedtime conversations. They usually involve us sharing a quote with each other from whatever we are presently reading and then discussing that subject with each other. It is wonderful “pillow talk.” I do the same with friends around coffee or lunch (except that isn’t “pillow talk”, because that would just be plain weird. This is one of the things I loved about working at Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. I was in an office suite with people who held the best conversations. Over the past seven months I haven’t had as many such conversations with friends. Life was hectic and I was doing my best to just to stay a float. Thankfully one of the reasons for the busyness has ceased and life is back to at least a sense of normality.

The second thing that helps me to think better is writing on my blog. I’m not a great writer (just ask Pam who generously read all my M.Div & D.min papers and corrected them), but I do believe that regularly writing something on the blog helps me to think deeper about the things going on around me. It helps me to observe the world, rather than just walking through it. I write about the things that I have spoken with Pam and others about and things that I’ve seen or heard about that make me wonder. That’s where I believe my problem has been lately. The thing that I have been thinking about and talking with Pam the most about over the past six months is something that I don’t believe I can write about at this moment. I’m not “vague booking” here. I’m talking about my dad’s cancer. It just isn’t my place, at the moment, to write down any of my thoughts concerning his illness.

What has happened instead of writing about this is that I have basically stopped posting anything on my blog. I’ve maintained this blog for 10 years and I don’t want to stop writing on it. I enjoy posting things, from the meaningless to the at least meaningful to me. So I have decided to steal form my genius wife and do one of the 31 days things that she does with many others each year. The goal is to get me back to writing about something. I believe it would be stupid of me to try posting 31 days in a row after basically not writing anything for months. Therefore, I am going to try something every other day. We’ll see how that works. This will still probably be too much after this break. Succeed or fail, hopefully the attempt will help me to get back into the groove of writing something regularly.

Today’s post has to do with this photo of Thule Commuter Bicycle Panniers.




This is what I received as payment for the wedding I officiated last Saturday. I use italics on the word “payment” because I tell members of Tapestry that they don’t need to pay me anything for doing their wedding. I ask that they cover my expenses if the wedding is somewhere other than the Point region, but other than those expenses there is no need for them to pay anything. You see, I LOVE doing premarital counseling. I really enjoy helping couples think through what a good marriage looks like. I regularly tell young couples that I don’t care that much about the ceremony (really I’ll do anything they want as long as it is moral and ethical) but I care a great deal about their marriage. So I focus on the marriage instead of the wedding. I usually do around five 1 1/2 hour sessions of premarital counseling (if you want to see what we normally talk about you can view them in reverse order here). I don’t want to ask young couples who are a part of Tapestry to pay for that, nor do I want to ask them to pay for the time writing the ceremony or doing the ceremony. So I do the opposite. I ask them not to pay me anything and tell them that I am doing their wedding as a friend.

But most people still want to give me something to say thanks. I’m okay with that. Saying “thanks” is a great thing. So what has often happened are gift payments for me officiating the weddings of people connected to Tapestry. I LOVE this.

First, I love it because it is so much more relational than a check. The gifts usually reflect who the couple is and also my relationship with them. Take the above photo above as an example. This is a couple who loves to bike and with whom I have had a lot of conversations concerning good quality bicycle panniers. They have loaned me various panniers for me to try out, in hopes of me determining the next set of bicycle panniers I should purchase (when you have two kids who like to bike you tend to “lose” any nice bicycling equipment you might own). When they gave these panniers to me I smiled so much that my face hurt. I have received many such gifts. From journals, to Chuck Taylor All-Stars, to a single fishing lure that had a World Vision fishing kit sponsorship attached to one of the hooks. These gift payments are some of best pay I have ever received, because they reflect a knowledge of who the couple is and who I am. They are so much better than a check.

The second reason I love these gift payments is because they make me feel like an old time, small town pastor. Seriously, it is like someone stopping by the house and saying “Pastor, I want to thank you for that ceremony and thought you could possibly use some eggs or a slab of beef.” It really floats my boat because I think gift economies are pretty cool and very inline with the kingdom of God. One day I hope someone gives me a chicken or a goat … though I have no idea where I would keep such a payment.

Anyhow the above bicycle panniers have been used multiple times since the wedding last Saturday and I am very thankful for them.

Being Offered A Beer

While I was not raised in church, when I became a follower of Christ I pretty quickly became a part of a Southern Baptist church in Alabama. There is a lot of a specific culture that goes along with such churches. To be honest it is easy to criticize much of that culture because I have been on the inside of it and still have a lot of links to that culture (after all, I am a Southern Baptist minister). Yet the reality is that with all the flaws of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) it still represents so much of how I understand the good news of the kingdom of God. I am a fan of Southern Baptists . I love the racial diversity that is now so much a part of who we are, even though we started out with very undiversified rationales. I also love the diversity of styles of church that are manifest because of the fact that Southern Baptist believe in a very limited number of essentials to faith. These essentials are known as the Baptist Faith & Message. Anyhow there are many others things that I could mention that I love about Southern Baptist but that isn’t the point of this post.1

Instead this post is about something that isn’t Southern Baptist belief but is generally SBC and Evangelical church culture (at least in the South). Te cultural element I am writing about has to do with the reality that as an Evangelical minister I was rarely offered a beer by the people I spent time with, until I moved up North and started a church from scratch with people who weren’t raised in church or at least in a Southern Baptist church. This isn’t a condemnation on the church (well maybe it is, but I’ll let you decide that), rather it is me jumping on myself. The Baptist Faith & Message has nothing in it concerning drinking alcohol. There’s a pretty good reason for this and that reason is that there is nothing in the Bible against the responsible use of alcohol. Yeah there have been SBC resolutions about alcohol, but if you know the way Baptist churches work (the local autonomy of the church is very important to us) then you know as Granny Hawkins from “The Outlaw Josey Wales” would say that those resolutions are worth “doodly squat.”2 They are words that make someone feel good at the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, but don’t have any effect on the churches (though they do have some effect on the convention employees). The point is that a statement against alcohol isn’t a part of basic Southern Baptist faith, though it generally is against typical Southern Baptist culture.

And being engulfed in that culture is why I believe I wasn’t offered a beer. Not because people in the churches in which I pastored didn’t drink beer, I know that many did, but because people in the churches I ministered within knew the basic Southern Baptist culture and therefore knew that you shouldn’t offer the church’s pastors a beer, even if you had them in the fridge. The reality is that in every other church I have ever ministered in the nature of the ministry required me to spend the vast majority of my time with people who were already in the church, thus knowing the basic Southern Baptist culture and therefore not offering me a beer.

The fun thing is that I don’t even like the taste of beer. I much prefer sweet tea and Diet Coke. My Diet Cokes not only tickle my taste buds, but they also usually come with free refills, and that tickles my cheapness “taste buds”.

Now up here in Wisconsin when someone finds out that i don’t like beer they generally respond by saying “that’s just because you’ve never had a good beer” and then they offer me whatever beer they prefer. I’ve tried a lot of  different beers since moving up to Wisconsin and the result has been that I am even more sure than ever that I don’t like beer. Thus I still don’t drink alcohol but I am now regularly with people who don’t think anything of offering the Southern Baptist preacher a beer. That wasn’t true at one time in my life in ministry.

That’s real the point of this post and it is about me no one else. I don’t know if all my friends who are Evangelical/SBC ministers are regularly around people who aren’t so entrenched in the culture of their church that they would never offer their “preacher” a beer, or not.3 I suspect some are and some aren’t. What I know is that until I moved to Wisconsin I spent most of my time around “church people.” People who knew the cultural expectation and weren’t going to even acknowledge the existence of alcohol, let alone offer me a drink. I loved and still love these “church people,” but the reality is that I should have been spending far more time than I did with people who weren’t “church people.” I regret now that I didn’t spend 70-90% of my time around non-church people. While I know God did some good through the ministries that I was fortunate enough to lead, I do wonder how much more good would have been done if I was around people who were constantly asking me if I wanted a brewski.

I think this is one of my new measures whether I, as a minister, am spending my time with the right people or not. If I am not regularly being asked if I would like a beer or something else,4 then I am probably not spending my time with the people I need to be with. Waitresses and waiters don’t count. That would be cheating. I think this may be my new question for my friends who are Southern Baptist ministers, or if I ever get to ask a question of a SBC candidate for president of the convention, or if I ever have fellow staff members at Tapestry. We’ll begin the meeting by asking “When’s the last time you were offered a beer by someone you were spending time with?” If it hasn’t been recently then I’ll ask “Are you sure you are spending your time in the right manner?”

  1. For example, the Cooperative Program. I love supporting mission work through the CP. 

  2. Interestingly looking up the Granny Hawkins quote I saw a quick link to the etymology of “doodly squat” and basically since doodle and squat are both slag terms for excrement the phrase “doodle squat” is basically crap squared. Not important, but it made me laugh. 

  3. This excludes my friends who are Lutheran, who are probably offered a beer at ever church potluck. 

  4. I have been offered pot at least twice in the past year. 

Ministry Poker Chips

One of the most memorable lessons in ministry I was ever taught came from a conference I attended where Leith Anderson spoke about poker chips. This wasn’t the illustration that I was expecting to hear at a meeting full of ministers, but it was brilliant and I have tried to minister by it since I learned the lesson from Dr. Anderson.

Leith said that whether a minister realizes it or not each minister has an account of “”chips” that determines whether or not the people in the church will trust and follow him/her. Those chips are given by the parishioner and earned by the minister’s actions.

Wear a nice suit during your introduction to the church, earn a chip. Preach a great message during your first weekend as a minister at the church, earn three chips. Preach a good message when a parishioner invites a friend to church and the friend brags about the message, earn five chips. Preach a bad message that goes long on top of being bad, lose seven chips. Forget to visit someone’s great Aunt Gerdie when her dog is sick, lose five chips. Visit Aunt Gerdi when you are sick and everyone thinks you should be in bed, earn ten chips. Visit her on your birthday and earn twenty chips.

An account of “chips” tell people they can trust you.

The point is that all these small events are adding or subtracting “chips” to the trust account of a minister. Over lots of time and lots of small events and trustworthy moments a minister build up a substantial account of chips and that equals a substantial amount of trust. You get to make big changes and survive big mistakes when you have built up a lot of trust.

Unfortunately, many ministers want to make the big change without ever spending the time building up the chips in their account to enable people to trust them with the change.  Then when things go wrong they often blame the church, rather than considering if they had built up enough chips to make such a big change. After all, Jesus told us to “count the costs” (Luke 14:28). You need to consider if you have the resources to finish the change that you are leading the church through. If you don’t have the resources of trust then spend time building them up before you start that big project. Sometimes parishioners think “You’ve never had a conversation with me longer than 30 seconds, why should I trust you when you say we are going to make big changes in the church?” Build up your chip account and that opinion very well may change.

One of the other things that Dr. Anderson said concerning these trust chips that really struck me is that the best ministers learn that they receive a greater number of chips if they learn to give away their initial chips. What does this mean? Here’s an example.

“Pastor, I really appreciated the Tenebrae service. It was very meaningful.”

“Thanks, I appreciate you saying that. You know George & Brenda really brought the whole thing together. They put a lot of work into the evening to make sure people connected with God. Could you tell them how much the night meant to them?”

There are some that you need to guard your chips from.
There are some that you need to guard your chips from.

See that is sharing the chips, also known as directing credit to other people.  When a minister makes sure and points to others, that is a chip multiplier. It shows parishioners that the minister isn’t just going to bogart all the attention and credit for him/herself. I’ve known a few people who you had to watch out for, because they were not only trying to selfishly make sure all the credit was directed toward themselves but they might also try to steal your trust chips for themselves if they could. I learned very quickly to guard my chips when I was around them.

Anyhow you can, and should, read Leith Anderson do a much better job of discussing this HERE.

Pastor or Preacher

As a pastor I typically have one of three interactions with people when they want to schedule a meeting with me to talk about something important.

  1. Someone without a church background typically just says “Hey can I talk with you  sometime?” Simple, and straight forward. I like this.
  2. Someone who has previously been a part of the church world and has consistently heard stories of how busy pastors are (often from the pastors themselves) will usually approach me by first saying “I know how terribly busy you are and I promise not to take too much time, but could we meet sometime?” I know these people are trying to be nice, but it crushes me that often their experience has been that pastors are too busy to be bothered. This isn’t the person’s fault. It is the fault of a misconception that has gotten into ministry. The idea that busyness, either real or perceived, is some how honoring to the God Who actually said that keeping the Sabbath is how He wants to be honored. ARGH! It drives me nuts.
  3. Someone who is involved in Tapestry and wants to talk just usually asks “What time are you going to be at Emy J’s tomorrow?” I think they know that I am there because I want to be available to them, and if for some reason I actually am too busy to talk at a certain moment I will be honest with them, tell them I can’t talk right at that moment, and then immediately schedule another time. I love this.

This is one of the things I love about chaplaining too. People assume that I am there for them and therefore they aren’t an interruption. If I ever reach the point that I am too busy to be involved in what God is doing in individuals’ lives then please don’t call me a pastor. I might be a preacher, teacher, or speaker but I won’t be a pastor and shouldn’t be called one. Pastoring implies shepherding and shepherding involves intimacy with people.

What Peterson Would Say To Seminary Students

A friend of mine linked to this long quote from Eugene Peterson concerning what he would say to new seminary students desiring to be a pastor:

“I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.

“The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.”

Oh how I love Eugene Peterson.

ht  Geroge Mason / lucidtheology / Jonathan Merritt

Big Little Acts

While listening to a “To the Best of Our Knowledge” podcast I heard the segment “Life Inc“, which is an interview with Douglas Rushkoff. In this segment Rushkoff talked about the history of corporatism and made some specific small recommendations for changing some of the negative effects of what he sees happening in our present economic situation – i.e. not paying off debt by creating value but paying off debt by convincing other people to go into debt. He focuses on specifically small acts.

I believe we tend to perceive important things as usually being big. Big acts are impressive. Big acts talk about being movements, and movements look good and make the people in them feel like they are doing something important. Big acts have cool graphics, logos, catch phrases, and good looking leaders. Big acts have their own insider vocabulary. Big acts spawn t-shirts and other merch. Big acts look good on resumes. Big acts lead to their leaders talking at conferences and getting book deals. The church loves big acts and the people who have a “vision” for them.

I’m tired of big acts because I feel like they usually don’t usually last, though they do create a large number of t-shirts and other swag. They last just as long as they are cool and then are quickly forgotten when the next big movement comes along. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a place for big acts. That place just doesn’t have the prominence that I believe we tend to give these “movements.”

I like small acts. I think Jesus does too. Many of His miracles were small (personal) acts. A wedding runs out of wine and Jesus provides more wine without anyone but the servants and His mom knowing about it. Many, if not most, of His healings were “small” acts. They weren’t spectacles. They were huge in their impact but small in scale and the fanfare around them. When you really get down to it few of Jesus acts were big.

Actually it might be cool to write a theology of little acts versus big acts. I think it would be come apparent quickly that Jesus was much more about little acts than He was big acts. His big acts seem to flow from lots of small acts. i thin that’s another post.

I realize there is a danger with small acts. Sometimes we can think that small acts mean there is little, if any sacrifice, involved. For those of us who claim to be followers of Christ we can pervert the idea of small acts into just being nice. I believe Jesus wants us to be nice to people, but that isn’t what following Him is all about. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and He sacrificed Himself for others. He did this in some big ways, and lots of small ways. Jesus’ little acts were big in sacrifice. They cost Him a ton. I believe He calls us to act in little acts that are big in sacrifice. Small acts toward our neighbors that are more costly than most people can imagine. Little tasks for those who hurt us, that are huge in their grace and impact. Little acts that leave your worn out at the end of the day because they took every bit of energy that you and I have.

Francis of Assisi had huge impact on the church, but that impact began with what I think was a relatively small act. He believed God was calling him to rebuild His church. Francis took that very literally. Not in some grand scale, but an actual, local run down church building. He gather stones to rebuild it. One stone at a time. One little act after another.

The prayer typically called The Prayer of Saint Francis (though he probably didn’t write it) is full of such little/big acts. Here it is:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Those are little/big acts.

These little/big acts don’t result in t-shirts, books, logos, or movements. They do result in God being glorified. Our culture loves big things. It loves movements. So when the church does them we are actually just doing what the culture already does. Little/big acts are counter-culturally. Little/big acts reflect living in the kingdom of God.

This week I will try to do little things that are big in sacrifice.

Busy Day, But A Good Day

Today was a busy day and it was a great day. One of the things I love about being a pastor is that I get to do a variety of things, from the mundane to the dramatic. From the administrative to the impactful.  Basically on any given day I get to do a lot of different things. Today was one such day.

Here is what my day looked like.

  • Continued studying for the Resurrection sermon series I am doing for Tapestry.
  • An hour of prep work for the jambalaya for tonight’s Place of Peace meal.
  • Drive 40 minutes to a funeral, attend the funeral, drive back home
  • Cook the jambalaya.
  • While I let the jambalaya simmer I deal with Tapestry administrative stuff, making contact with two couples for premarital counseling, getting all the initial stuff taken care of (I use the Prepare/Enrich survey with couples and ask them to read a few books), and scheduling our sessions together, and finally dealing with chaplaincy administrative stuff.
  • Answering a ton of texts concerning the Place of Peace meal (I love answering these texts because they are all about getting people involved in helping others).
  • Finishing the jambalaya.
  • The Place of Peace meal – serving food and eating with people who look a lot like Jesus. A pretty awesome night, as always.
  • Getting home and cleaning up.

Right not I smell like pig fat (from the ton of sausage in the jambalaya) and I’m tried.  I am also happy as I sit beside Pam watching Parenthood and blogging together. I have known some ministers who complained pretty frequently about how busy they were.  I have mentioned before that minister complaining/bragging about being busy drove me nuts and it still does. Why? Well for two reasons: 1) Because the variety of what I get to do is awesome and significant, and 2) my schedule is amazingly flexible.  I am blessed to be a minister and the ministerial schedule, both during busy times and slack times, is a part of that blessing.

I will take a sabbath sometime next week but tonight I am thankful for a busy day.

Psychopath? Well, At Least You Can Trust Me More Than My Dad

I listened to the Relevant podcast this morning while driving to Tapestry’s monthly Leadership Team breakfast. During the podcast they talked about a list of of jobs most likely & least likely to attract psychopaths. Here are the two lists.

Most likely:

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (Television/Radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Clergy person
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant

Least likely:

  1. Care aide
  2. Nurse
  3. Therapist
  4. Craftsperson
  5. Beautician/Stylist
  6. Charity worker
  7. Teacher
  8. Creative artist
  9. Doctor
  10. Accountant

The list comes from a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths (which I haven’t read). This article on the list and book mentions that the “why” behind the attraction probably has something to do with the ability to connect and really empathize with people. That actually surprised me a little at first because I think one of the main attributes of a good minister is the ability to connect and empathize with people. I am sure that my Dad (a salesman at heart) would say the same thing about good salesmen. Of course, I also know clergy and sales people who are able to take an ability to connect with others and use it for their own power motives rather than empathizing with others.

I guess that is why some of the best people I know in the world (people who are giving, creative, sacrificial, passionate, etc) are ministers and some of the worse people I know in the world are also ministers. When those talents are focused on other people it is a wonder to behold and amazing things happen. When those same talents are focused on one’s own motives they are destructive and terrible. I think my dad would say the same thing about sales people.

The good news is that Pam is a therapist at heart and thus on the least likely list. So the boys have at least one good role model. :)

Conference Suggestions

I typically go to a conference each year to steal … I mean borrow … ideas from people who are doing cool things. Because of a busy year I didn’t go to one in 2013. Before that I had attended the Q conference for 4 years and I loved it.  I do however feel it is time for something new. I typically prefer to go to conferences that are outside of the popular, mainstream ministry practices. I feel like they usually push me a little more.

Any suggestions? I’m all ears.

Theology Group & I Stink @ Names

Thinking through new small/bible groups for 2014 while also designing a temporary ramp for the front door of the Terrell abode for “Hot Drink Night.” One of the members of the Leadership Team (who will remain nameless because while I am sure this person wouldn’t mind me mentioning their name, I don’t have their permission so therefore I won’t) suggested a theology 201 group – i.e. a more thorough discussion than just “here’s the basics of Christian faith.” I liked the idea and we’ve discussed starting it in January and meeting once a month.

Here’s what I mean by theology 201 – not just defining a theological belief but looking for its implications in our faith and life. One example of this is what I mentioned in yesterday’s post concerning Barth’s focus on the wholly other nature of God. That isn’t just a definition but a discussion of its implication in our life.

Other examples are:

  • What does the nature of the Trinity say about the church as the body of Christ?
  • What does the Incarnation mean for a follower of Christ’s role in the world?
  • What does the Transcendence and Immanence of God mean for our relationship with our neighbors?

There are more and more examples. Good theology should affect life, otherwise it probably isn’t good theology. I guess that would set this group up to be more practical theology, rather than systematic, biblical, or historical theology (though obviously all three of the latter will be a part of the former).

So here are my questions:

  • Anyone willing to say they would already be interested in something like this?
  • If so, any suggestions concerning what day/time would be best to meet once a month?
  • Anyone have a decent name for this thing? All I can think of is “Let’s Talk Theology” which is a dumb name that I promise we won’t use. Little help here people. I really stink at names, mainly because I don’t think they matter that much. I would probably just call the thing the “Wednesday (or whenever) Theology Group” but that wouldn’t tell people much about the group other than when it met. If I could combine “theology” (study of God) with “biology” (the study of life) without it completely confusing people I would do that. Please help me people.