(dis)organiZed: Gleanings from TIM Summit 2015

A month ago, I had the privilege to return to Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI for a 6-month check-up and continuing education. This year’s Transition into Ministry (TIM) Summit theme was ominously titled “(dis)organiZed.” According to the invitation trailer, the premise for the Summit is that ministry is sometimes like playing with LEGOs. (I’m already 100% in, by the way. I love LEGOs!). Imagine buying a massive bin of LEGOs, only to pour it out all over the floor, and discover there are no instructions!

disorganizedsetsBeginning in ministry can be like that: you may have a picture or example to work from, but there are a lot of little pieces that don’t seem to fit with that picture you have in your head.

And there is very little help available to begin to get organized and start building. So you start to lay out all your pieces, hoping that making piles will help you see where to start.organized

The Summit set out to give us further training in getting organized, and specifically, to start to see how the day-to-day administrative work in ministry can itself be ministry when shared with others.

After just over 6 months of ministry here at Emmanuel, I feel like I extrasunderstand the basic pastoral responsibilities pretty well: preaching, planning worship, visiting in the hospital, and leading consistory — although, I know I still have a lot to learn in all of these. But some of the day-to-day pieces of ministry are slipping through the cracks, and mostly because I don’t know how to make them feel like ministry, and not just busywork. So this Summit was right on time for me, and I was eager to attend. I am also very grateful that Emmanuel was gracious enough to let me go for a week. Thank you, ERC!!!

Scuba Sal

Meet “Scuba Sal,” my TIM Summit “Flat Stanley” character.

When we arrived at WTS, the registration table was filled with LEGO minifigures. As we signed in, got our name tags and meal tickets, and picked up our schedules, we also were asked to select one of the minifigures that we felt said something about where we are at in ministry. I chose this minifigure, who I named “Scuba Sal.” He was holding a trophy and standing on a victor’s podium, and that echoed with the celebration I feel for God’s good work in calling me to a church that fits me so well. I have been so thankful for so much these last six months, and I praise God often for his grace. As you can see, “Scuba Sal” also has a snorkel on his mask, and I have realized the past month or so that I have been floating on God’s grace, allowing him to carry me in my ministry. But “Scuba Sal” also has an oxygen tank and diving fins. He’s clearly equipped for the deep waters, and I have been called to ministry to go deep with people. I am celebrating God’s goodness, but now it’s time for me to dive deep and explore the depths of ministry with Emmanuel. My prayer is that the TIM Summit can be that turning point as I begin in ministry.

The Summit was Monday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, and over the course of those three days, we explored several facets of ministry:

  • how we are received by the ones we lead, using a simple personality diagnostic, and how others’ perception of us can be an obstacle to our leadership
  • which of the five key Leadership Practices of adaptive leaders — Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart — we need to develop in our leadership
  • how to lead and facilitate a strategic planning process.
  • how to welcome and receive and learn from three kinds of feedback: appreciation, coaching, evaluation
  • how to work with a board (consistory) to lead an organization
  • how to organize finances and build relationships with the generous people behind them

Overall, the Summit delivered what it promised: namely, helpful tips and insights to help me begin getting organized in the administrative tasks of ministry. And on top of the learning that took place, this week was also a blessed time of retreat, of reuniting with friends, and of refreshing my spirit. More than just a learning conference or seminar, Summit was a chance to reconnect with colleagues and peers in ministry and rediscover my calling and my passion for ministry. Thank you, WTS/Journey, for your work in putting this event together, and thank you, Emmanuel, for giving me time off to attend.

Lessons Learned or Ideas Gleaned:

  • As a leader, I don’t have to have all the skills all the time; I do have to be aware of how I impact people — positively and negatively — and make sure I don’t get in the way of my own leadership. I was reminded that I tend to work slow and deep, which easily frustrates others who are eager to work more quickly (for instance, my wife.)
  • I excel at the Leadership Practice “Challenge the Process.” That wasn’t on my radar at all, but the feedback I got from my leadership team showed me that I have been doing that often/well these past six months. The Leadership Practices I need to develop most are “Inspire a Shared Vision” and “Enable Others to Act.”
  • As a church, we must not talk about our money as taboo, but sacred. If how I use my money as an individual can show me where my priorities are — i.e., my spiritual health — then how our church uses our money can show us our spiritual health as an organization!

And as always, I can’t leave any class or conference without adding to my long and lengthening “to read” list:

A month after the Summit, I am still ruminating on how to lead others with all my LEGOs organized and my instructions laid out. But just this weekend I was playing LEGOs with my nephews, and they reminded me of the crucial piece of this analogy. The best part about LEGOs is that, even though you buy them as sets with instructions, you really aren’t playing until all the pieces are laid out all over the floor and you ask, “What should we build next?”

Holy Spirit, guide me and Emmanuel as we ask together, “What should we build next?”






Political Theology

If this story of Jesus is the story of Israel reaching its climax, it is inescapably political and will raise questions the Western world has chosen not to raise, let alone face, throughout the period of so-called critical scholarship. The post-Enlightenment world was born out of a movement that split church and state apart and has arranged even its would-be historical scholarship accordingly; and that same Enlightenment insisted that Judaism was the wrong kind of religion, far too gross, far too material. Rejection, from the start, of a “political” reading of the gospels and of a “Jewish” reading went together. Fortunately, genuine history–the actual study of the actual sources–can sometimes strike back and insist that what a previous generation turned off this generation can at last turn back on. It is time, and long past time, to reread the gospels as what we can only call political theology–not because they are not after all about God and spirituality and new birth and holiness and all the rest, but precisely because they are.

~ from How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright

New Year, New Resolve

With the new year, fresh energy and renewed interest in self-discipline and self-improvement always come. January 1 came with the perennial commitments to working out, eating healthy, watching less TV, and reading more. I also woke up to January 1 with a counter full of leftover Christmas cookies, a fridge full of soda, a wintry day begging to be enjoyed from inside with hot chocolate, and a shelf full of new superhero movies begging to be watched from my pajamas. Inertia is a powerful force.

And this blog has been an incredible source of accountability and incentive to write regularly, to read deeply, to continue. The last few months I have focused on my new call as a solo pastor, and have chosen to let this be one of the commitments that goes in order to commit fully to my work as a pastor. The last three months have been incredibly rewarding, and exciting, and challenging, and with this new year’s arrival, I recognize that my blogging has been a source of re-creation for me, a place where I can develop and hone my thinking, share my reading, and continue to grow in the gifts that God has given me. Blogging is an essential part of my rule of life, my program of life-giving spiritual disciplines. So is reading.

So, knowing this is aspirational, I have set the personal goal to read 35 books this year. And in order to continue learning what I need to know for ministry, I picked out books in a few major categories: worship & preaching, mission, leadership, Reformed faith and practice, and personal devotions.







Reformed Faith and Practice


Personal Devotions

Last year I set out – ambitiously – to read 45 books, and I managed it: partially because I was finishing up seminary, and reading was a great deal of my workload, and partially because I discovered the public library’s comic book shelf, and those apparently count as books now. I reined the goal back for this year, and I recognize that 35 is still an ambitious goal, but my hope is that aiming high means I strive high. And posting this here is my way of giving myself accountability.

I will most likely quote and comment on what I’m reading here, hopefully fairly regularly, so stay tuned. Thanks! and Happy New Year!


Lectio: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.

Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Meditatio: “Opinions”

What if that’s all they were, just opinions? How often we have communion; what songs we sing during worship; which clothes we wear on Sunday mornings (or Sunday evenings, or Saturday evenings, or Saturday mornings, or…); whether the preacher is behind an ornate pulpit or an old music stand. What if that’s all they were, just opinions?What if that’s all they were, just opinions? Whether the small group should spend the first fifteen minutes praying, or talking about the football game Friday night; whether the women’s circle should give their money to the church fund, or to the woman down the street whose husband is in the hospital; whether the youth group paints the home of the neighbor who doesn’t come to our church, or paints the youth room? What if that’s all they were, just opinions?

The Christian college I attended was a dry campus, no alcohol or drunkenness permitted. This, of course, was a great comfort to many concerned parents, and a great bother to many of my peers who insisted that “freedom in Christ” gave us license to participate in any sort of behavior we wished. But does it? Does our “freedom in Christ” really permit us to behave any way we wish? I’m not sure, but I do have an opinion. I’m sure you do, too.

Paul doesn’t give us his opinion. This sort of surprised me, because he hasn’t been afraid of giving us his opinion all letter long. But he does instruct us to not judge one another, nor to quarrel over opinions. There is a Judge in heaven whose job it is to condemn those He will, and to pardon and welcome those he will. Our job, then, is simply to “live to the Lord,” and “die to the Lord.”


Lord, remind us always of your wide embrace of the sinner, the poor, the outcast, and the weak: of us. And let the memory of our adoption drive us to welcome and care for our outsider neighbors. Grant us the patience of your provision and the peace of your protection to welcome and love people as they are, and to live and die to You.

Contemplatio + Incarnatio

The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ

“The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ,” by James Bryan Smith. The second book in the “Apprentice of Jesus” series.

There are two primary reasons we judge others: to fix people or to make us feel better about ourselves. (These two often occur at the same time.) Though we may say we have good intentions, when we judge others we demonstrate that we care more about ourselves than the person we are judging. If we really cared, we would adopt another approach…

Condemnation engineering. When we see someone who is at fault, caught in sin or behaving badly, we often turn to the method the world commonly uses to “fix” people: condemnation engineering. A verbal assault, we think, will set them straight, and it appears to work. We reason, If I give so and so a good talking to, they will shape up. It is a very powerful weapon in our arsenal. The people we judge or condemn often shrivel, get angry or cry when under our judgment. Once in while a person makes some changes, which reinforces the narrative that this method works.

Seeing it work increases our confidence in the power of condemnation as a means of correction, and it has become the primary method people use all over the world. Parents, educators, coaches and bosses take this route to fix the people under their authority. Many people believe it is the only way to help others change…

Condemnation engineering fails because it doesn’t come across as loving, it doesn’t allow the person to own the need for change, it doesn’t offer help toward change, and it may be entirely inaccurate…

If we really want to see people change, we have to be willing to come alongside them and participate with them, to make sacrifices of our own time and energy. I am so thankful that I have the privilege of prayer and the resources of the kingdom of God.

~ from The Good and Beautiful Life, by James Bryan Smith