Friday, April 28, 2017

Falling Upward: Trusting God Into the Second Half of Life

The moment remains vivid in my mind’s eye.  My wife, Susan, and I are sitting in a youth minister friend’s living room on a gorgeous spring day.  The windows are open wide, and sunshine is streaming in through the gauzy curtains that wafted in the breeze.  Three of my youth ministry comrades and I, along with our wives, were engrossed in rich conversation with “Big Don” Williams… a mentor, friend and a member of the first generation of youth ministers within Churches of Christ.

My friends, our wives and I were all in our early twenties in that moment.  And as “Big Don” painted a picture of the possibilities for reaching a generation of students for Jesus, my heart pounded… this is why I had chosen to become a minister with a local church.  I had responded to the challenge of “If you feel you can do anything other than ministry with a local church, you should do it because ministry is hard” with a deeply felt sense of calling to serve a local church as a minister.  That has changed, though.

None of that group of friends I sat with that fine spring day remain in a traditional ministry role with a local church. Nor do I.  And “Big Don” Williams died several years ago. Things changed.

I want to make clear that I am more committed to the possibilities of Jesus’ church than I have ever been.  I deeply love God, Jesus, and the Spirit.  I am enjoying ministry and feel a passion for ministry that I haven’t felt in years.  I’m just not serving as a minister on the staff of a local church.

What changed? Did I get old, crotchety, jaded and cynical?  Did I attend one too many elders’ meeting?  I don’t think so… or at least I hope not (as far as old, crotchety, jaded and cynical). 

What changed for me is that I grew weary of “doing the ministry of doing church.”  Over a span of thirty plus years, that twenty-something version of me learned how to “do church.” And what “doing church” appeared more-and-more to be was less-and-less of what I had felt called to do all those years ago.  For me, the work of a minister had become “don’t rock the boat, don’t disturb the status-quo, keep the church folk happy.”  And the more I pushed against this reality, the more frustrated I became… and the more frustrating I became to many of the elders I worked for.

Therefore, while I no longer serve a local church as a minister… I am experiencing vibrancy in ministry that I haven’t felt in years. I’m re-thinking what it means to be the church.  I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “building-centric” model of church that I supported for over three decades of my ministerial life. I’m seeing church much more as a living, breathing expression of Jesus in our communities and our world, and much less of a place where Christians go once or twice a week to “do church.” 

However, there’s not any sense on my part that I wasted over thirty years of my life serving local churches as a minister.  All of my experiences, good and bad, were formative and have prepared me for my current season of ministry. And my brothers and sisters in Jesus, the people I did ministry alongside (and most of whom have day jobs as electrical engineers, firefighters, teachers, architects, and plumbers), have taught me what Christ-like love, grace, and the Gospel looks like. I’m continuing to learn we are most like Jesus when we care for the lost, the last, and the least. There are no regrets, no “I wish I could do things over differently,” but a deeply held conviction that God is using all of my first-half of life experiences in preparing me for this second-half of my life and a new expression of ministry.

That new expression of ministry for me has taken the form of serving as the executive director of a start-up non-profit called Rwanda Children ( Rwanda Children’s mission is to provide housing, food, family and hope to at-risk kids in Rwanda. I’ve held malnourished children in my arms, I’ve had to turn away children that parents pleaded with me to take, I’ve wept at genocide memorials and heard first-person accounts of the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide that killed over one million people, while witnessing God’s power in bringing reconciliation, redemption and hope to a left-for-dead people and country. It is hard. It has stretched me. It frustrates me due to my on-going struggle to control things that I can’t control. I love this ministry.  It has refreshed my minister’s heart and spirit.  I praise God for His faithfulness.

Additionally, I am in the midst of exciting conversations about what new expressions of church and mission might look like in local communities.  Friends in Nashville have begun two missional coffeehouses, and have planted non-traditional churches in those coffeehouses.  Several of us in the city where I currently live are in discussion with the folks in Nashville about the possibility of our implementing their model in our city.  These conversations are exciting

What’s ahead of me ministry-wise? I don’t really know. I’m optimistic about the future of the church and for God’s expression of ministry through a priesthood of all believers. These God-possibilities wash over me like a fresh breeze and warming sunshine on a gorgeous spring day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bar Church

As adolescents we were warned to keep a safe distance from the lures of the world: alcohol, drugs, and sex. Given our developmental fragility, it wasn't bad advice. Logically, then, we were most likely to succeed if we also separated ourselves from those who didn't keep a safe distance from alcohol, drugs, and sex. This safe distance, however, made the actual practice of loving anyone whose behavior didn't mirror ours more than a little unwieldy.

As we moved into adulthood we understood clearly that loving God and loving people were our cardinal directives. Unfortunately, we simply had no idea how to engage with the people we'd always been warned to avoid.

The Gospel examples of Jesus looked very different from anything I'd ever seen practiced by the religious. Instead of backing away cautiously, the way I'd learned to do, Jesus moved toward those who'd been identified as disreputable sinners. Not only did Jesus not treat them as being worth less than the righteous, the way I'd been groomed to do, he actually went to a lot of trouble to insist that these sinners were worth so much that his Father spared no expense in His dogged pursuit of them. Jesus' unexpected behavior both surprised his closest friends and outraged the religious.

Mirroring Jesus' own unbridled affection for sinners means for you and me living out the confounding reality of a God who, ignoring self-interest, takes on flesh to be with sinners, for sinners.

The Southern Hills church is launching Bar Church on March 23. It's just what the name suggests... a church that meets in a bar. The mission of Bar Church is to take the Gospel of Jesus to people who are unwilling, as a result of feelings of unworthiness or prior negative experiences with a church, to participate in a traditional church gathering within a traditional church setting. We want to go outside the walls of a church building in order to seek out and share the Gospel of Jesus with the unchurched by meeting them in a setting where they would gather and consider non-threatening.

Pray for Bar Church.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Question: So, how are things going?

Answer: Busy.

This is the new common question and answer from me, from friends, from colleagues, from everyone. The common response in the past is to be fine, but now everything is busy. At some point, there was a transitional response that happened from fine to busy. There has been a cultural shift that defined busy was a better term than fine. I think it is a shift in translation that happened in the last three years, since the economy has been hindered. Busy showed that we had work, which too often was a positive answer. But, it needs to end at some point in dialogue with trusted individuals. I say it too much. The truth is that I really am busy most of the time. It can be good, but in many ways I am realizing it also is not.

I am learning that busyness may be my great deterrent to true community. I am busy and many of my friends know that I am busy. What this communicates to my friends is that I don’t have time for them. Friends begin to think that if I am busy, I don’t need them. When you are busy or fine, it is a common answer that says I don’t need you right now. Being busy is a common answer for: "Stay out of my life... I don’t have time for you."

When I am busy, I choose to not engage in community. It is a verbal and chosen time response to friendship. When I am busy, I am actively not inviting others into my life. But, in my head I think that busy is good. In all reality, being busy is selfish.

I know there are times that people really are busy and need to focus on the task at hand to address a given problem. But if we are too busy to engage in relationships, we have a problem. When we respond and tell you we are too busy, too often, we need help. We really need deep relationship, comforting and concern. The result of being extra busy is loneliness and depression. You may not relate with this, but I truly need freedom from being busy. Time is of the essence. If you are not busy, you are setting an example for the rest of us. Please take time to engage people that are too busy. We need you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Be The Church...

“We Are The Sermon” Day, or WATS Day, will take place at SoHills this Sunday, April 17. For the seventh straight year, WATS Day will be an opportunity for Christians across the city of Abilene to honor God by providing works-of-service to people in our community living in difficult situations.

WATS Day = the church is leaving the building.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I don't know if it's that I like change so much as that I dislike doing the same thing when it's not working.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Leadership Basics...

1) Be responsible. If you say you are going to take care of it, then take care of it.

2) Be professional. Arrive on time. Actually be early. And be organized.

3) Be the best. Get better every day at what you do.

4) Be humble. Talk less. Listen more.

5) Be proactive. Not reactive. Respond and initiate before being told to, or asked to, by your supervisor or peers.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sustaining Leadership...

This insightful quote from Israel Galindo's book Perspectives On Congregational Leadership has deep implications for all of us who desire to be Christ-like leaders:

Here is the heart of what it takes to sustain leadership. We move from the impossible--controlling others--to the merely difficult--managing ourselves.

We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.