Preacherly Sorrow

"There is no good preacher who is not moved almost to tears after each sermon at how poor it was" (Charles Haddon Spurgeon).

Falling Upward

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life is the first Richard Rohr book I've read--though I had (of course) heard of him and his books for some time (he's written roughly a whole bunch). I'm encouraged to read more.

His way of writing and expressing himself was new, and a bit off-putting at times. He leans heavily on Jung and Homer, employing The Odyssey as a framework for understanding the two halves of life. He turns to the teaching of Jesus, frequently looking at Jesus' words in new ways and applying them (and in at least one case, in my view, misapplying them) to his thesis.

While I think he paints with too broad a brush, his message is well taken. He says that many people, regardless of age, never truly enter--let alone successfully navigate--the second half of life, and I think he's right. He suggests different priorities and strategies in life's second half, which ring true in my experience. And he points out that most human institutions (including the church) tend to focus on "first half" issues rather than "second half" priorities. Again, I think he's right.

As someone who is well into the second half of life (a thought that came as a surprise to me), I think (or at least I hope) that he's close to the mark when he writes:
In your second half of life, you can actually bless others in what they feel they must be doing, allow them to do what they must do, challenge them if they are hurting themselves and others–but you can no longer join them in the first half of life. You can belong to such institutions for all the good they do, but you no longer put all your eggs in that basket. This will keep you and others from unnecessary frustration and anger, and from knocking on doors that cannot be opened from the other side (pp. 141-142).
Falling Upward is worth reading, regardless of your age or assumed level of maturity (spiritual or otherwise). It will make you think. It may perplex you in places. And it might even focus you, your life, your walk with God, and your ministry.

Church of the Week: Long Point Camp Tabernacle

This past weekend I had the joy and honor of teaching and preaching at The Salvation Army's Long Point Camp on Seneca Lake in upstate New York. The camp's setting couldn't be more beautiful, nor (to my soul, anyway) more conducive to worship.
The tabernacle, where the large worship gatherings were held, is the centerpiece of the camp, which has been in operation here for about sixty years, situated on 138 acres bordering Seneca Lake, the largest of New York's Finger Lakes.
The tabernacle is a spacious, beautiful, and breezy spot, illuminated in part by two circular cross-etched windows at either end. Sunday morning's worship was preceded by beautifully and thoughtfully planned prayer stations around the tabernacle's perimeter. It was a blessing to not only participate but to see so many people approaching worship in that way.

I don't expect to forget that weekend in the Long Point Camp tabernacle. God's Holy Spirit and his responsive people made it a holy place for me.

If You Are Frustrated With a Leader

Thirty years ago, I thought I knew a thing or two about leadership. Now I know that most of what I knew then was crap. I have failed as a leader far more than I have succeeded. But one thing I do know: It is so much easier to "know how to lead" (or think you do) than it is to lead.

So, if you’re frustrated with someone in leadership, here are a few things I would strongly and passionately urge you, please, to consider:

Show some grace. I'm constantly amazed by how critical and graceless people--who claim to follow Jesus--can be. I understand that your pastor, boss, leader, or coworker may be driving you crazy. But, while you may be frustrated, keep in mind two things:
(1) No leader can lead without disappointing SOME people (even Jesus; see John 6:66). In fact, part and parcel of leadership is anticipating and managing people's disappointment with leadership decisions.

(2) You have no idea what the leader is facing, or dealing with. You may think you do, but you don’t. You don't know if her teenager is struggling. You don't know if he stayed up all night helping a junkie through the night. You don't know if he or she is losing sleep praying for YOU!
So PLEASE give a little grace. Leaders need it, just like you do.

Ask questions. Engage the leader in conversation. I have often been told "facts" people "know" about decisions I made or actions I've taken that bear absolutely no resemblance to the truth...because that person or group never came to me seeking understanding; they simply assumed they knew something. This happens way too often. So please don't make assumptions. Don't come to conclusions about a decision or about a leader until you've actually gone to that person, asked questions, listened, and sincerely tried to understand.

Examine your expectations. I can't tell you how many times I've had a conversation along these lines:
"I've just been so hurt. No one called. No one cared."
"Did you tell anyone you were hurting?"
"No. They should have known."
"Did you notice if anyone around YOU was hurting?"
"How could I? I was struggling so much!"
"But if you didn't tell anyone, and if those around you could have been struggling as well and you didn't notice THEM, can you really blame them for not reaching out to you?"
"Yes, absolutely! They should have known! They should have seen!"
And so it goes. People often expect a leader or leaders to read minds, to know what they need, to be in several places at once, to meet their needs even if they never call for help, to do all the things the person himself or herself is not doing! Please don't do that. Examine your assumptions. Don't demand from leaders what you don't expect from yourself.

Make charitable judgments. Part of being a leader is placing yourself in the line of fire. Comes with the territory. But it's still shocking how many people--Christians!--feel perfectly justified in maligning and slandering persons in leadership. Please don't do that. Instead, judge charitably. To borrow from the website of Peacemaker Ministries:
Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.

For example, when Anne’s pastor did not visit her in the hospital, she should have realized that there were at least two possible explanations. One explanation was that he was deliberately slighting her. Another was that he had not received her note or had some other valid reason for not visiting her. If she had developed the habit of making charitable judgments, she would have believed the positive explanation until she received facts that showed otherwise.

Believing the best about others is not simply a nice thing to do; it is not optional behavior. It is a way to imitate God and to show our appreciation for how he treats us. God knows everything and judges accurately. He has the final say in criticism (and in commendation). Yet he judges charitably, even mercifully, passing over and putting up with many wrongs. He is kind to ungrateful and evil people (Luke 6:35).
It's easy to be critical of those in leadership roles. But nowhere does the Word of God command us (or even encourage us) to act uncharitably toward our leaders. Quite the contrary. We are told to obey them (Hebrews 13:17), submit to them (1 Corinthians 16:16), imitate them (Hebrews 13:7), and honor them (1 Timothy 5:17). To do otherwise is disobedience....even if they're imperfect leaders--which they are.

The Importance Of An Abundance Mentality For Leaders

A little while ago the Ministry Best Practices blog featured a post entitled, "The Importance Of An Abundance Mentality For Leaders." It's a doozy. It says,
It is important to live with an abundance mentality. When we release and give ourselves away - our resources multiply. Having that abundance mentality is also key for leaders.
Can I get an amen? This was always my ambition as a pastor and leader, but unfortunately was one of the areas in which I failed to adequately impart that vision to others...and lived to regret it.

The author of that post lists four examples of "scarcity" thinking and contrasts them with four examples of abundance mentality in church leadership and ministry. I think he's dead on. Read the whole thing (here). You won't be sorry.

(photo by Nina Hostetler)

The Word That Stoops

One of the perils of ministry, particularly for those who (through no "fault" of their own) are ascending to new heights of responsibility and authority, is to become so wrapped up in delegating, allocating, and managing others that--month by month and day by day--we lose a key part of Christian identity and leadership. This excerpt from my new book, The Red Letter Life: 17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living, in a chapter titled "The Word That Stoops," may explain:
Samuel Logan Brengle was an accomplished orator who had been offered a highly prestigious position in a large Methodist church. So when he traveled to England to offer his services to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, Brengle was surprised that Booth expressed reservations. “You belong to the ‘dangerous classes,’ ” Booth said. “You’ve been your own boss so long that I don’t think you’ll want to submit to Salvation Army discipline.” Worse, on his second day at the Salvation Army’s training college, Brengle was assigned to polish the boots of the other cadets in training:
The devil came at me, and reminded me that I had graduated from a university, had attended a leading theological school, had been pastor of a metropolitan church, had just left evangelistic work in which I saw hundreds seeking the Savior, and that now I was only blacking boots for a lot of ignorant lads. But I reminded my old enemy of the example of my Lord, and he left me, and that little cellar was changed into one of heaven’s anterooms, and my Lord visited me there.
Serve. It is a word easily forgotten. And it is not enough to say, “Oh, sure, I would scrub floors for my brother,” or “I wouldn’t hesitate to serve others.” Jesus didn’t say, “I have set you an example that you should be willing to do as I have done for you.” He didn’t say, “I have set you an example that you should agree in theory with what I have done for you.” He said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15, NIV).

Whether you are willing or not, if you are not serving others, you are not following Christ. Whether you agree or not, if you are not stooping to serve, you are not obeying his word. Jesus says to you, “Serve.”
No matter how busy you are, how much ministry you facilitate, how many people you direct, the call to serve, to stoop, is a current and constant call.