I spent last weekend participating in a church renewal workshop. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tend to be a little ambivalent when it comes to these kinds of events. Whatever “church renewal” is or might look like, it seems like the sort of thing that resists easy formulas or clever strategies. Also, I hate group exercises. But desperate times call for desperate measures. These are hard times for the church in Canada. The litany is familiar enough by now: shrinking, aging congregations, dwindling budgets, the evacuation of younger generations, the perception of irrelevance (or worse) out there in the broader culture, etc. The wearisome data piles up. Something, clearly, must be done, even if many of us have little idea what that “something” might be (or whether, indeed, it is all the church’s frantic “somethings” that are part of the problem). Read more
Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category
It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is a strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.
— Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light
Christian Wiman writes sentences that sound so good that you’re convinced that even if they’re not true, they probably should be. Like that last one: “Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.” I laughed out loud the first time I read it. It brought to mind the many eager beaver pastor-preneurs I’ve encountered over the years, people who so obviously craved the stage and all that went with it, people so utterly convinced that they could save every lost soul by the sheer force of their own conviction (and often volume). Or the people who are just a bit too desperate to plaster themselves and their causes all over social media, as if almost to overwhelm people with the innumerable exciting things that they are presently catalyzing. I have rarely found such people credible. Who are you trying to convince or impress? I often mutter unholily under my breath. No, I have never much appreciated the fevered sales pitch, religious or otherwise. Read more
He’s sitting in his chair when I arrive. That’s it. Just sitting. Not watching TV, not reading. Just vacantly staring up at the ceiling. The curtains are drawn and the window closed, even though outside it’s a pleasant October day. The air is stale, sad, heavy. Read more
I was forwarded an email yesterday about “Pastor Appreciation Month.” I think I vaguely knew that this was a thing, but I had no idea that it was upon us. Apparently, one of the ways that my church can show appreciation to me is to give me a gift certificate for a discount on books. It’s a nice gesture. But honestly the last thing I need is more books. I already have a dozen waiting to be read and I have probably reached that stage of life and ministry where I am less optimistic than I once was that a book holds the key to whatever intellectual, pastoral, or administrative deficiencies I daily inflict upon my church. But, again, a nice gesture. And it got me pondering a rather simple question: Why appreciate a pastor? Read more
There’s this mildly irritating phrase that I have encountered with some frequency over the course of the decade or so that I have been a pastor. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like it in your own circles, particularly in these post-Christian, post-church, post-everything times. Oh, I don’t mind church, but, you know, I encounter God best in creation. That’s where I worship. Nature is my sanctuary. Indeed. When I am on the receiving end of this phrase, I usually smile and nod in as gracious a fashion as I can muster. Inwardly, I am often thinking very un-Christian thoughts. Of course nature is your sanctuary. A rather convenient justification for avoiding this one, I would say. Read more
So today I’m setting out into some unfamiliar territory. This summer will mark seven years in my present pastoral role, and my church has generously offered me a three-month sabbatical. I’ve seen friends and colleagues take sabbaticals over the years and always wondered what one of these actually looks and feels like. I’m about to find out. It felt a bit strange when I turned out the lights and walked out the church door yesterday afternoon. It was a good strange, don’t get me wrong! It had been a lovely service where I was blessed on my way with good words, warm hearts, and delicious food. But still. Strange. Read more
Richard Beck is a blogger that I have been reading for quite a while now. He’s a psychology professor and “progressive Christian,” although he seems to have a level of distaste for the term that approaches my own. He has, in my experience, an ability that is rare among progressives—the ability to be unflinchingly self-critical and to acknowledge the challenges and inconsistencies that are bound up with many forms of “progressive Christianity.” His recent nine part series “On Tribes and Community” should be required reading for anyone interested in how faith communities are formed and maintained, and how our cultural and ideological context works against this. Read more
His eyes rarely leave the floor, even as he’s baring his soul. He’s young, tough-looking, brown skin marked with tattoos, black hair slicked back over the middle of a mostly shaved skull, rosary around his neck. It’s the first time he’s showed up at a group I participate it in at the local jail. He’s looked wary about the whole thing since he walked through the door. But he mustered up the courage to begin a sentence like, “I think I wanna say something…” And the story comes pouring out. Read more
We pray all of these things in the name of your son Jesus, who had the guts to love…
So concluded a prayer spoken together by a handful of inmates and a few of us volunteers at a support group at the local jail that I am a part of on Monday mornings. The guts to love. What an interesting phrase, I thought. I suspect the word “guts” conjures up for us ideas of courage or resolve or a willingness to keep going even when it would be easier to turn back or a refusal to care if others think love is weak or impotent or whatever. It evokes this image of someone who has dug down into the deepest part of themselves and of the world and emerged with love. The guts to love. Yeah, I like that. Read more
In the course of a given week, I consume and produce a lot of words. I read books and articles, newspapers and blog posts, denominational publications and the detritus of social media. I send and receive what feels like roughly a billion texts/emails/messages per day. I pour forth my own stream of words via this blog and other forums. Many days, it feels like I am drowning in words. I suspect I am not alone in this. To say that in the digital age words are cheap and ubiquitous, disposable and forgettable is to simply add a few more to the pile. We have become grazers on words, rarely pausing to let them affect us in the ways that they should or could.
Every once in a while, though, a few good words will penetrate the fog of dull half-attention and listless consumption that is so easy to default to. Read more
He’s sitting at the table when I arrive, half a smile tugging on the corner of his lips, eyes staring vacantly forward. There’s a woman beside him scrutinizing the glass of milk sitting in front of her. She, too, has a hint of a smile on her face. I watch the two of them for a few seconds. I wonder if they will say anything to each other. But they don’t. They just sit there, half-smiling. I guess half of anything isn’t bad in the dementia ward. Read more
Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more
I spent last week in Vancouver attending a conference at Regent College, the school that I was making my way through around a decade ago. It was a good opportunity to learn, to worship, to take a breath, to connect with some old friends and, as providence would have it, to drop in on the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour (the concert was fantastic, if perhaps not as memorable as past shows… a highlight was being told by a couple of spectacularly drunk Irishmen in the concourse that I looked like The Edge 🙂 ). All in all, a nice few days away. Read more
“I have a complaint to make.” The comment was made by a member of our church who periodically drops in on me Tuesday mornings. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face signaled that this “complaint” was more of an observation or a conversation starter than an actual grievance. “We must have been the most “crossed” church around on Easter Sunday morning,” he said. “I counted at least four!” I thought back to our service and found that I couldn’t disagree. Read more
I am usually quite suspicious of oft-repeated expression, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Actually, “suspicious” might be putting it rather mildly. I have something bordering on a pathological loathing of this phrase. It’s possible that I have even visibly shuddered in disgust in the various contexts where this expression makes its predictable appearance. I usually encounter it in people who either refuse to consider church in the first place or who have left it behind for the usual assemblage of real or imagined grievances. Or people who can’t be bothered to think very hard about what they might believe or why but like the idea of seeming a bit deeper than they in fact are. Or people who imagine that they have grasped the deeper truth that all religions are inadequately and intolerantly pointing toward. Or people who like yoga. Or people who think that all religions are neat and cool and inspiring except for when they say things that don’t confirm what they already think. Or when they infringe upon personal liberties and preferences… or sleep habits… or weekend plans or… well, when they infringe upon anything, really. “I’m spiritual but not religious” very often seems to me to be among the more vacuous statements that a human could utter.
Oh dear. I did say that “suspicious” was putting it mildly, didn’t I? Read more
I received two pieces of rather severe correspondence before I poured my first coffee this morning. One was an online response to something I had written here that was picked up by another website. I had portrayed God as too merciful, I had ignored some of the more severe things Jesus said, I had failed to take Scripture seriously, I was dangerously misleading people, etc. I’ve received comments like this quite regularly over a decade of blogging, so it wasn’t particularly surprising. The other was a handwritten letter about the Canadian political situation from a stranger in another city (There was a time when, upon receiving letters like these, I would ask questions like, “Who is this person? Why are they sending this to me? What’s the connection here? I’ve since learned that these questions are very often futile…). This, too, was rather familiar in content and tone, and could be crudely summarized as a “sky is falling” type missive. Secularism, pornography, Shariah law, feminism, gay agendas, communism… The list was long, it was dire, and it required my immediate action. I sighed, and reached for my coffee. Read more
It was cold last Sunday, and it started to snow minutes before the morning’s activities at church were to begin. I threw on a hat and some gloves and went outside to shovel the entrance to the church and a few of the closest parking spots. I like shoveling snow. My job requires little of me physically, and I enjoy expending a bit of energy. I had also been struggling to tie up a few loose ends in my sermon and I figured getting a bit of fresh and frosty air might clear my head before church began. Read more