(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?”






A Prayer for Seminarians, at the Start of a New School Year

Lectio: Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


This week is the first week of classes at the seminary, and the first “first week of classes” I will not be attending in 20 years. It’s strange. I love school, and I excel in that environment, so I am sad to not return. At the same time, I graduated in May: I have achieved what seminary has offered, and the skills and education that I have received have a purpose, a trajectory, an end — ministry. I am somehow finished with formal preparation, and I stand on the verge of entering formal (read “full-time, ordained”) ministry. I am ready and excited and anxious and retrospective.

As I read Paul’s instructions to the Christian communities in Rome, I can’t help but hear them as instructions for the Christian community I am leaving behind (and, of course, the Christian community I will soon be leading).

city of godOratio

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; God-in-Unity,

Let love reign at Western Theological Seminary this year. In classrooms, offices, and library study carrels, let love for you, love for one another, and love for your Word and your people guide and go before faculty, staff, and students.

Proclaim your Good News every morning in Mulder Chapel, through the voices of middlers and emeriti alike, so that all members of the Western community might outdo one another in holding fast to what is good, and persevering through the weekly tasks of readings, papers, grading, and meetings. Send your Spirit upon them all, so they do not lag in zeal, but serve you diligently. Let them rejoice during breaks, be patient during exams, and persevere in prayer for one another always.

Thank you for all those who have been involved on summer maintenance crews, and who are eagerly working to provide housing to new students. Protect and provide for those who care for the buildings, for the internet and other technological resources, and for the coffee in the bookstore. In your hospitality toward them, move the students, staff, and faculty to extend hospitality to the strangers who frequently share this space.

And in those moments when frail human love fails — when blessings turn to curses; when hospitality is withheld; when institution comes before individuals; when grades are a tyrant, rather than a servant — go before and go between those who are hurt. Interpose your grace, that all may receive it, and give it to one another, and forgive one another. Raise up advocates and counselors and listeners, who might rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Let your love guide the members of the body of Western to live in harmony with one another, and live peaceably with all.

Where Satan sows the temptation to be relevant, to go along, to be popular, remind them of the sufficiency of your grace as the font is filled each morning. Let assimilating and conforming cease, and foster by your Word and by your Spirit a community where no one feels they must surrender their differences to belong or be valued.

Where Satan sows the temptation to perform, to compete, to impress, remind them of the sufficiency of your grace as the bread is broken each Friday. Let posturing and presuming cease, and foster by your Word and by your Spirit a community where no one feels they must claim to be wiser than they are.

Where Satan sows the temptation to oppose, to malign, to be against, remind them of the sufficiency of your grace as the cup is poured each Friday. Let gossiping and demonizing cease, and foster by your Word and by your Spirit a community where no one feels they must repay anyone evil for evil.

Surprise Western Theological Seminary with these sacraments, where the wrath of God pours out against all enemies to unity and love in small, simple ways. Overcome the subtle and secret evils among the community with your good gifts.

For all of these things, and for all the ways you stand ready to lead and love Western Theological Seminary, we pray with thankful praise and eager anticipation. In our Lord Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


The Shaping Power of Language

The new semester is well underway, and rather than just give you a list of the classes I’m taking, and the books I’m supposed to be reading this semester, I want to reflect a bit on a powerful undercurrent that is already building into a possible riptide for this semester.

My courses are trying to change me.

Specifically, the courses I am in and the readings assigned in these courses are trying to transform the way I speak. Let me explain:

On Monday afternoons, I am taking a class on the Prophets. The stated goal of this course is to “Increase our prophetic voices for ministry.” We are reading portions of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets, which, more than giving information about the Old Testament prophets, is a complete experience and real engagement with the heart of the prophets. I can already begin to feel my blood boil in prophetic anger when I read their furious, fierce indictments; I can almost feel their emotional weight on my shoulders when I read their sweeping laments. My mouth is being fitted with the tongue of a prophet.

On Tuesday mornings, I am in “Seminar on Contemporary Theologians.” This whole course is devoted to reading and reflecting on David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence. Aside from his fulsome look at what God’s relating to us — as “Creator, Drawer-to-Consummation, and Reconciler” — means for “what we are, who we are, and how we are to be,” reading Kelsey is already making me be as precise as possible in how I speak (as evidenced by this impossible-to-read sentence). I am becoming more and more precise, not only in how I speak about God, but more importantly, in how I speak about myself and other people. This precision could easily be misinterpreted as a desire to sound smarter, but I think it’s more about care. What we say and how we say it are incredibly importantly, especially as people of the Word (incarnate first, written second); we should care.

On Wednesday and Friday mornings I have “Practices of Discipleship.” The readings for this class are going to stretch and grow and fill out my current understanding (assumptions?) about the importance and impact of our shared Christian practices. I am most excited to read James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom. The seminary is literally abuzz with this book: it is currently assigned in no fewer than 3 different classes; the only other book to enjoy that degree of circulation in Western’s community, that I am aware of, is Calvin’s Institutes. It’s a big deal.

And Thursdays are full days: “Christian Ethics” in the morning, and in the afternoon, “The Reformed Church in America’s Standards of Unity.” These are my only required senior-level classes this semester, and I kind of see why. The format and the content both assume that we know what we’re doing. Ethics is really advanced material, with a lot of philosophical underpinnings that I’m not sure I get; however, I do really value that Western requires us to have some moral framework before we enter ministry. My hope is that we can have some very dynamic conversations over case studies soon: discerning the right action through a difficult subject is always easier with others. And Standards is really just a fancy way of saying Confessions. This is a half-semester course on the Reformed Church in America’s confessions of faith: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Confession of Belhar. I will certainly know these confessions theologically, but more importantly, the course is inviting me to see myself as a confessional Christian, meaning I read Holy Scripture with the whole Church, across time and throughout the world.

So, to recap/culminate: I can almost feel myself being conformed to the patterns of all these authors’ best insights and instruction, into a prophetic, precise, practical, ethical, confessional voice. And I am so excited about it! I am excited because I think this is a voice that just might sound more like Jesus’. And that’s the goal: to become like Jesus. Well done, Western.