December 15, 2009

I’m a MERRY CHRISTMAS kind of guy.

For me, and I know for lots of other folks, Happy Holidays just doesn’t cut it.

Happy depends on circumstances.  If your child is in Afghanistan or a military hospital recovering from wounds, it’s not a happy holiday.  If you have lost a loved one – a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend; happiness is illusive.  If you are facing illness, or walking with someone through illness, it’s probably not a happy time.  Perhaps you are losing or have lost your job.  Maybe you are alone.  The holidays are probably not happy for you.

Wishing someone “Happy Holidays” is not bad and usually expresses a sincere desire of good will.  There is nothing wrong with it by any means.  I believe there is a better greeting to offer people.

That greeting is MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

When I offer this greeting to someone, I am offering the deepest, most significant, intensly personal gift of myself  and all that is dear to that I can offer.

For me, there is nothing more valuable in my life than Christ.  When I tell you MERRY CHRISTMAS it is not about politics or a casual greeting.  I am giving you a gift.

Since the greeting has “Christ” in the center, it conveys the reality of God’s love, presence, and hope to all who receive it.  Whatever the reason of their unhappiness, MERRY CHRISTMAS is about a person, not a feeling.  Feelings such as happiness can be affected by how many Christmas cookies we eat.  They are powerful but unreliable.  Christ is powerful and reliable.

MERRY CHRISTMAS reminds people that Jesus is the reason for the season.  It is a greeting that reminds them that God has come looking for them, to bring them home.  It reminds them that God has not forgotten them and God is with them.

I don’t use the greeting to be in your face.  It is a precious gift from my heart to yours.  To offer any less would be unloving and disrespectful to you.  It would be to offer you less than the very best I have.

From my heart to yours,





December 13, 2009

Sometimes, adversity comes in the form of a church member (s) or leader(s) who believe they have the spiritual gift of “Pastor Pounding.” and do their very best to exercise the gift.

I have a disclaimer confession.  In the first part of my ministry, I took these encounters very personally and emotionally.  Over the years, through learning from responses that have embarrassed myself and Christ, as well as the receiving the input of mentors, I’ve learned, and continue to learn to let it go and find creative ways to block, circumvent, ignore, or try to win over without compromising core values

It usually catches me by surprise.  A meeting opens with prayer.  A scripture is read.  People have their Bible’s on the table.  There are “Amens” over sticking to God’s word.  Then in the course of the meeting, I suggest something,  The missiles are launched.  Sometimes openly.  Sometimes, in the parking lot after the meeting.

The next day, a “good intentioned” person calls or drops by with a “concern” they just have to share.  The concern is that “some of the ones” (who are never named) “are concerned about”, disagree with…”, “are going to leave church if….”.

My response has been all over the map.  It has ranged from panic, and a desperate attempt to placate the unknown concerned persons, or the person who is concerned (this is also known as codependency of which I have been the annual poster child for many years); to calmly commenting that when they find a new church home, I will gladly transfer their membership and accept their resignation from all positions of leadership.  I truly wish them well.  Neither extreme is helpful or healthy.

Because I am a work in progress, my response pattern has changed and hopefully matured over the years.  Here is what I have learned.

  1. I no longer rush to placate. It gives people power over my life and ministry that they do not have the right to have.  I am not hard and vindictive.  I just don’t act out of panic.
  2. I work hard to control my anger, exasperation, and judgmental attitude.
  3. I have come to believe and value what John Wesley called, “Holy Conferencing”.  I try to sit down with concerned persons and have conversation about their concerns.  It is based on Matthew 18: 15.  where Jesus lays out a simple plan for resolving conflict, beginning with conversation between the people involved.  Settle it at the lowest level.
  4. I clearly distinguish between decisions, policies and ministry functions that I am responsible and accountable for through my ordination; and those that the leadership of the church and I are in partnership about.  I do not undermine or nullify legitimate decisions of appropriate church leadership teams.
  5. I keep my Staff Parish Relations Committee (Personnel Committee) informed of conversations and interactions that involve conflict or disgruntled persons.  At times, I include the chair in conversations.
  6. I avoid getting sucked into arguments in meetings. Neither do I try to get the last shot in.  I try to keep an even tone.
  7. I never, never allow my disagreements with persons to limit or affect the quality of pastoral care I offer them if and when they need it.  I never take it to the pulpit and misuse the pulpit by attacking those who disagree with me.
  8. I take my Sabbath, rest, meet regularly with a spiritual director, work at following spiritual disciplines, and have a close group of friends that hold me accountable.  When I am lax in number 8, numbers 2-7 go out the window, and I wallow in number 1.  Then it really gets messy.

Sometimes, just sitting down over coffee, and thrashing things out brings insight on both sides.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes, I discover a new and better way to do something.  Sometimes, they gain a new perspective and become supporters of ministry (not me).  Sometimes, through conversation, they discover that their initial information was wrong, thus leading them to the wrong reaction.  And sometimes, folks just won’t budge.  Sometimes I won’t.  I can’t change that.

Jesus said we would have days like that, and encounters like that.  He was right.  He also said to work for reconciliation.  I no longer try to win.  I try to reconcile.

How do you deal with those persons who seem to challenge you at every turn?  Send me a comment.

Blessings.  Bill


December 11, 2009

I have found that living out my call to be a pastor has seen some adversity along the way. Interestingly enough, the responses closely parallel some responses to the fact that I am a Christian. Adversity surrounding our relationship with Christ is not just a call thing.

My call to ministry was simple. I ran from it until a freshman in college. One Sunday evening, I brought a professor to our evening service. My pastor handed me a sheet of paper with some hymns on it, and said, “Billy, you conduct the service. He’s your professor and guest.” Since I had never conducted a service before, I panicked and said I couldn’t. He said, “Yes you can”, sat on the back row with arms folded, smiling at me. Not wanting to be an embarrassment, I dutifully took my place behind the pulpit beside my professor, and prayed for the prelude to last forever. It didn’t. As I walked to the pulpit to start the service, something resonated deep within me and I had the sensation of a hand, sliding into a fitted glove. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt this was what God wanted me to do. I silently said yes, and with knees trembling, I stumbled through the rest of the service.

My family was thrilled. My congregation was elated. Kudos all around. Then, my first adverse moment. As I was interviewed by my District Committee on Ministry, I shared this story of my call. To me it was pretty simple and straight forward. I discovered later, that one of the members of the committee thought I was self righteous, holier than though, and arrogant in thinking that God could be that specific me about my future. Fortunately, the others saw things differently. It did leave an impression on me though.

I am wired with tenaciousness and did not let the comment cause me to doubt my call. It did set in motion a pattern of reflection that I continue today. I constantly reflect on that moment, mulling over its implications and ramifications. It has also given me a deeper sensitivity in listening to persons share their call to me. As I have heard the call stories of many pastors over the years, I am glad that God doesn’t have a boilerplate call system.

Like the unique Christmas cards that parents buy for each of their children, God calls each of us in unique ways, lovingly tailored to how God has wired us. The call, and the method of the call reflect another facet of God’s gracious love.

In my next post is will discuss, “The Adversity Of The Call 2 – Surviving The Spiritual Gift Of Pastor Pounding”

Blessings, Bill