MLCI Blog

Love Goes on Forever but Ministry Takes Effort

IMG 2682 300x180 Love Goes on Forever but Ministry Takes Effort

Glen

by the Reverend Dr. Glen Miles, Senior Minister of Country Club Christian Church, Kansas City, MO, and Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; Emmanual Christian Seminary, M. Div., 1988; Claremont School of Theology, D. Min., 1995

I preached my very first sermon when I was 17 years old. It was delivered to a group of my peers at a Wednesday evening service. There were about 125 teens and adults gathered for the event. My text was 1 Corinthians 13:8. I was crazy mad in love with the cute girl who always sat on the front row. I looked right at her as I began the sermon, proclaiming, in what may have been the sappiest voice ever used in the pulpit, “Loooooove goes on forever” (The Living Bible).

Man, was I smooth or what?

Immediately after the service many, mostly the adults in the room, overwhelmed me with kind comments about my work. Later that night I sat with the cute girl from the front row and shared a Pepsi. I said, “This preaching stuff ain’t so hard. I could do this.”

I had no idea what I was talking about. I grew up in the church and as the son of a preacher I had a clue about the kinds of things that Dad had to do as part of his job but I did not understand the daily rigors of ministry (let alone the weekly discipline of preparing for the pulpit). Thirty-eight years later, through the help of many great friends and mentors and the welcome (and occasionally not so welcome) advice of the people in the pews, I’ve discovered some wonderful means of maintaining a healthy and spiritually alive focus for my work as a pastor. These discoveries have come as the result of many missteps and mistakes along the way. I submit them to you not as the final word on what may work but as an example of one pastor’s simple desire to serve God.

First and foremost, the pastor must find a routine that works for her or him. Mine is very simple: it begins with coffee and at least two hours of quiet per day. I could survive without the coffee but not without the quiet. Each day begins with a quick review of the headlines on the New York Times, followed by a time of quiet meditation and prayer. Sometimes my prayers are guided by the news of the day. Lately my supplications have been short ones like: “Lord, In Your Mercy: Ferguson, Missouri.” In other moments I’ll simply be quiet and listen for the rumblings of the Spirit. The rest of the time is focused on sermon preparation and study.

The second thing that helps me stay alive is constant contact with friends and colleagues in the ministry and in the congregation. You may be surprised to see friends in the congregation listed. I used to be very nervous about becoming too close to the people in the pews. Growing up in a preacher’s home I had seen my mom and dad hurt by church relationships too many times. Over the years, however, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and the lay people God puts in place to help lead the church. I recall a conversation with a very good friend in the congregation I now serve. He challenged me about some of my preaching. My initial reaction was defensive but as he shared his concerns I realized he was right. His advice was insightful and I know that my preaching has been greatly helped.

Listening to and sharing with other pastors has been unbelievably beneficial in my ministry. My wife and I are in a small group made up of four pastors and their spouses. We meet at least once a month over bread and wine to share about our ministries and our lives. Our friendship with these couples has created a safe place for us to relax, knowing that because we are friends we do not have to be “on.” We can just be ourselves.

I’m in another group of pastors who get together once a year for a retreat after Easter. We share many similarities and backgrounds. Again, this is a safe haven, one where we are free to challenge each other knowing that at the end of the day our love and support is never ending.

Finally, I am almost fundamentally rigid about taking time to get away. My day off each week is Thursday. I know, who takes Thursday off? It’s a little weird but it works for us. On that day I’ve discovered that whether my wife and I are making a trip to Costco, taking time for a nice lunch or a drive out to the country in search of a real, all-American piece of apple pie, the time together is priceless. It reminds her that she is still the single most important one in my life.

We are also careful to observe all of our vacation days. One of the unhealthiest things I have seen pastors do is fail to take a vacation. If the church cannot function without you then you are doing something wrong. A vacation helps to keep you refreshed and, honestly, it gives the church a break from you, too.

This is not a foolproof methodology for thriving but I have found that when I take time for quiet, find space for friendships and make sure that I have at least one day a week focused on nothing but my wife, my ministry is fresh and alive.

Oh, and by the way, that first sermon was pretty cheesy but it must have worked because I’ve been married to that cute girl for 35 years now!

Grace and peace to you.

Finding Rhythm

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

DKG Profile Picture Finding Rhythm

Don

Clergy Health and Well-being: Finding Rhythm

–by Rev. Dr. Donald K. Gillett, II, East Second Street Christian Church, Lexington, KY

I believe that we live our lives following a conscious or unconscious pattern that plays out over and over in the way we live. And, it’s in the living that we become a part of God’s great symphony. It’s in the living that we develop habits and practices that help us find peace and balance as part of God’s great symphony.

A few years ago, I awakened to the bright sun shining through the window, the sound of birds chirping and the sight of squirrels busy doing whatever squirrels do. I was struck by how right all of that seemed. I was struck by how the rhythm of the moment seemed to be exactly as God intended it to be. The writer of Ecclesiastes rang in my spirit “there is a time for everything….”

Ruth Haley Barton, in her book, Sacred Rhythms – Arranging our lives for Spiritual Transformation, suggests that we must have “a pattern of attitudes, behaviors and practices that are regular and routine and are intended to produce a certain quality of life and character…in other words a rhythm that represents the ebb and flow of life, the creativity and beauty, the joy and giving.”

Prior to my Lilly-granted sabbatical in 2007, my ministry had a common one-beat rhythm– joy and sickness, happiness and sickness, success and sickness. It was a rhythm that led to numerous hospital visits followed by periods of enforced rest. This was the only rhythm I knew. I ministered unto God’s people until I fell ill. I was actively sinning by not practicing the rhythm of Sabbath. Clearly a new pattern was needed and with the help of family, friends and my congregation I found one. Since 2007 I practice a weekly rhythm of Sabbath by taking off one day a week to rest from the demands of ministry. It helps in the restoration of my health and in caring for important relationships. However, the daily, weekly and yearly demands of ministry still take a toll, and interrupt the beautiful rhythm of life.

I knew more was needed to tend to the central relationship that guides and sustains my ministry, that is, my relationship with God. Thus, the Elders and Board Chair of my congregation decided to give me one month annually as Sabbath in addition to vacation and sick days. This month of Sabbath allows a recalibration of the rhythm that is out of beat. This month of Sabbath allows me to maintain and care for connections with family, God and myself. In this month of Sabbath, that occurs in May, I read fictional books, play golf, attend ball games with family, and engage in DIY projects.

I guard this time zealously because it gives me life! I not only want to feel the sun, or hear the birds, or watch the squirrels do what squirrels do, I want to connect with God’s symphony in ways that make me not just aware of the symphony but part of rhythm and part of the great symphony we call life. I believe in God’s call upon his servant to seek Sabbath. Sabbath is an important part of the rhythm and pattern of my ministry.

Friends, is your life in balance? Have you experienced the joy and peace that come from being a part of God’s great symphony? Are you in rhythm? If not, this may be your season for Sabbath.

On Rejuvenating

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Penwell 267x300 On Rejuvenating

Derek

Clergy Health and Well-being: On Rejuvenating

–by Derek Penwell, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, Louisville, KY, M. Div., LTS, 1993, D. Min., LTS, 2000, Ph. D., Univeristy of Louisville, 2010

If you’re in ministry and you haven’t woken up in a hotel room on vacation with your heart racing and a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach, trying desperately to remember whether or not you asked sister Evangeline to cover for you tomorrow at the communion table, you’re better at this than most of us.

Ministry, because we often deal with such profoundly personal and important matters, induces its own special brand of stress:

I agreed to call this meeting to start this new thing, but I don’t like meetings, and I don’t like calling, and so I sit here swallowing the acid that seems perched just beyond the door of my esophagus.

This person who is a real pain in my butt is giving the office administrator problems, and if it were just me, I might be tempted to suck it up, but because it’s someone for whom I’m responsible, I can’t let it go. I’m going to have confront somebody who could easily make my life miserable … well, more miserable now.

I haven’t really had a day off in weeks. It’s mostly stuff I like, but my spouse and kids continue to remind me of my failings as a family member—so I feel torn between stuff I like to do at work and stuff I like to do at home, like no matter what I do, I can think of five reasons why I should be doing something else.

Sound familiar? Take all that and sprinkle the ever-present pressure to know more and more stuff (which you’re supposed to write down, then stand up in public and talk about once a week), and you’ve got a recipe for crazy-making.

How do I deal with that stuff? Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I ignore it until something threatens to pop—until my wife threatens to have me knee-capped, or the church’s operations manager threatens to beat me about the head and neck until I get done what I said I’d get done, or until I just can’t stand the pressure anymore, and I start doing the productivity stuff that helps me get done what needs to get done.

But here are a few of things I do when stress is the tail wagging this particular dog:

  1. I stop letting all these amorphous demands that have commenced a full frontal assault on my sanity spend anymore time in my consciousness by getting them out of my head and onto a computer screen. I do a mind dump of my responsibilities (from setting up a meeting with the woman who wants to start a new skateboard ministry to the article I promised to write to the appointment to have the oil changed in my wife’s car). I dump it all out, and I then start making a list of the first action I’d have to do to get it done. I try to let the stress of demands live somewhere physical outside my head.
  2. I actively start looking for things to say “no” to. Much of the stress in my life stems from having said “yes” to too many people, committing to too many things. So, I let go of what I can let go of, and I say “no” to just about everything else until the coast is clear. (Then, usually, I start the whole process of over-committing anew. But, at least, I’m more aware of the cause of my stress, and I’m a little less apt to let it get so out of hand next time.)
  3. I try to spend more time with people who help me be the man/husband/pastor I want to be, and less time (and energy) with people who suck my soul. I have to be careful here: Sometimes, the people who distract me from being who I want to be are the nicest and most impressed by me, and the ones who help me become who I need to be are the ones who challenge me most.
  4. I try to spend my time doing things I think are interesting and important. Look, I know there are some things that are boring and awkward. But often the story I tell myself about what I’m doing as a pastor allows me to frame those things I like to do least as necessary for the larger work, which allows me to do them with less mental anguish. But if there’s no way for me to fit something into the narrative of my work as significant, I find out a way to quit doing it.
  5. I read and write a lot. If you work with your head, you need to find a way to have something interesting up there, and a way to get it out.

These are the things I (try to) do. I encourage you to find a list that works for you.

Designate a Day

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Carolyn Reed 211x300 Designate a Day

Carolyn

Clergy Health and Well-being: Designate a Day

–by Carolyn Reed, Associate Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana
Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, M.Div., 1984

It seems so simple that it is silly to suggest. And yet, I know many ministers who do not regularly claim a “day off.”

I designated Fridays as my day off very early in my ministry. I don’t really recall why it was Friday. It just seemed like a good day for me. Mondays were spent catching up from Sundays and days in the middle of the week just didn’t feel “off” to me. So, I settled on Fridays. I have done this for the last thirty years in each of my ministry settings.

When serving as a congregational pastor, I knew I needed a day designated for time away from the work of ministry. Ministry is tiring—emotionally and spiritually. It is also demanding—of time and energy. As an introvert, I also need “down time” to just be by myself and refresh.

To be truthful, in some ways, I found this easier to do when I was serving a congregation and was also a mom of two young boys. Before they were in school, it meant a day spent just with them and when they didn’t have to go to daycare. It was easy to justify the time. Hey, I was a mom spending time with my sons.

As the boys got older, I used Fridays as a time to catch up on grocery shopping and other errands that were more easily accomplished alone. And, I enjoyed the time doing something that felt normal—just like other people!

Since my sons have become young adults and on their own, and I have moved into denominational work, I still have chosen Friday as my day to just have for myself. Being married to an educator has meant that I would have Fridays (except during the summers!) to myself. Husband at work and children not at home. Hours of quiet. Or doing things I just like doing by myself (still my preferred mode of grocery shopping!).

Here is what I have discovered: Having Fridays as my day away from ministry (at least most of the time) has given my life rhythm. Thursday nights are more relaxing for me because I know I will have the next day as my own. This rhythm has likely kept me sane in the midst of overwhelming demands on my time, emotions and energy. Ministry is challenging. We listen to and often take on the burdens and pain of others. We need space to refuel ourselves so we can get back at it.

The break, the pause, the recess is what keeps me going and keeps me able to function in as healthy ways as possible. It provides perspective.

And perhaps, a day off is a reminder that we are not superheroes after all, that we need and deserve a space that is our own, where we are not addressing the needs and desires of others. That fast-food chain’s slogan used to be “You deserve a break today.” You do. Give yourself the gift of day off. I do.

Running to Renew

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Kory 214x300 Running to Renew

Kory

Clergy Health and Well-being: Running to Renew
by Kory Wilcoxson, M. Div., Christian Theological Seminary, 2001, Senior Minister, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington, KY

I remember the first step. It was a slow, stuttering one, but a step nonetheless. I had been walking on our treadmill everyday for about six months as a way of getting exercise that was a bit more rigorous than typing sermons.

On this particular day, as a way of fighting the intense boredom of walking in place and getting nowhere, I remember thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I ran?” So I kicked the treadmill up to brisker pace and began running. After about a quarter-mile, I shut down the treadmill and stumbled upstairs, thinking, “Well, I’ll never do THAT again!” When my wife saw me, she had already dialed 9 and 1 before I could tell her that I was going to be OK.

I concluded that running on the treadmill was about as exciting as walking, only more pointless and painful.

But the next time I was on the treadmill, I did it again. This time, I ran a half-mile. After a few more times of that, I built up to a full mile. I felt like I’d just run a marathon! Once the winter weather cleared, I moved my running regimen outside and discovered that running wasn’t as boring as I thought it was. I could take in the local scenery, listen to music and podcasts, and even start mentally outlining my next sermon.

As I continued running, I found that it offered much more than exercise and distraction. It became a discipline. This was a revelation for me because I’ve always struggled with this part of my faith. From seminary forward, I’ve been told that a vibrant spiritual life consists of things like sitting quietly or praying internally or even – gasp! – spending time in silence. No can do. I’m an extrovert and my spirituality is lived out, not kept in. I am fed through dialogue and conversation, praying with others and faith in action.

Running became a natural spiritual activity for me. Not only was I getting exercise and de-stressing, I was discovering within myself a capacity for focus and conversation with God that I had always struggled to attain through more traditional disciplines. I was, as Paul exhorted, running the race that was set before me (Heb. 12), and I was discovering new ways to connect with God: through the beauty of the creation around me, through a renewed focus on the rhythms of my own body, and through an internal dialogue that, ironically, I could never hear when I was being still.

Being a goal-oriented person, I was also tapping into a new source of energy. As my runs grew longer, my overall energy for work grew stronger. I was more motivated to tackle ministry tasks, knowing that a good run was waiting for me at the end of the day. I figured if I could survive a three-mile run, I could handle a sermon on one of Paul’s thornier theological statements.

The race I was running in ministry and the race I was running on the road began to meld together, and an accomplishment in one race was fuel for the other.

I use an app on my iPhone to track my runs, which helps me measure my progress. I can look back and see the first time I ran five miles (January 6, 2012) and the point at which I passed the 1000-mile mark on this running endeavor (on my 295th run). Just as my spiritual journey is marked with significant benchmarks, so is my running journey.

Last week, I ran my first half-marathon. If you had told me three years ago that I was going to do that, I would have laughed. But if you had told me in college that I was going to be a minister, I would have had the same reaction.

Isn’t this gift called life such an amazing journey? Who knows where God is calling us to go? Wherever it is, I know this: it starts with a single step. Have you taken yours?

 

That Which Gives Life

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Brown Pic That Which Gives Life

Julie

Clergy Health and Well-being: That Which Gives Life
by Julie Richardson Brown, LTS Advancement Associate, M. Div., LTS, 2002

“Even Jesus, Julie, went up and away to the mountain to pray.”

She said it to me often during my first 5-10 years of ministry. Well-versed in scripture, she knew both the truth of the statement and how difficult it was for me to pay attention to that truth. I was, then, it seems, set on outdoing even the Energizer bunny.

But even Energizer batteries eventually wear out. It might take longer than any other battery on the market, but they do. And when that happens, you need either new batteries or a really good charger. Either way, what’s true for those Energizer batteries is true for us—for clergy—and we far too often neglect what’s true.

We cannot offer the life of love that God created us for, and that Jesus invited us into, without our own lives first being filled. And while there are many parts of ministry that are life-draining, there are also many that are life-giving. Sometimes getting a boost is as simple as spending your workday doing that which is life-giving.

What makes your heart sing? On the days when you feel like maybe it’s all for naught, do that one thing until you remember the melodies that led you to this call in the first place.

Sometimes, though, it’s okay—and even necessary—to walk away for a while. To spend some time doing things not directly related to your work so that you can keep doing the work. Sometimes you have to retreat—in whatever form that makes sense to you—so that you can return refreshed.

I know. I know how hard it is to walk away. I know how it can feel like the salvation of the entire world is resting on your shoulders. I know how difficult it can be to separate yourself from the cries of need. I know.

But y’all? We’re kidding ourselves if we think we really can’t be done without. Because we can. And what’s more, sometimes we need others to do without us so that we can all move forward together again one day.

This summer I’ve asked five Disciples pastors to reflect on how it is that they find life again, how it is that they reboot, recharge, and renew. They are involved in varying ministry contexts and have been at it a while—all of them. And they are still at it, engaged in vibrant ministries and ticking and thriving. I look forward to what they’ll have to say. And I invite you to check back every week or so, to learn from their reflections.

Blessings–now go do something that brings you life!

Mentors, Part 6

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.

Kimberly Proctor White 199x300 Mentors, Part 6

Kimberley

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, 6
by Rev. Kimberley Proctor-White, M. Div., Lexington Theological Seminary, 2011

When I think of the word “mentor,” I think of someone who has the ability to teach people how to carry out certain gifts, talents, and potential that lie within them.

While the Bible does not use the word “mentor,” there are examples of how someone invested time, knowledge, and wisdom into another person in order for him/her to become all that God created him/her to be. As part of my testimony, I often share how I was raised in a very reserved church, in which women were taught how to be good wives, Sunday school teachers, and missionaries.  I cannot recall hearing that I could be anything besides those three things when it came to ministry. That was a man’s job, and I was to become like Eve was to Adam, a good helpmate to my husband.

But somewhere along the way, I felt like God was calling me to ministry.

Because of my background, I needed a lot of reassurance and confirmation to take this huge leap of faith. While watching TV one day, that confirmation came from a woman named Paula White, who is the pastor of Without Walls International Church in Tampa, FL. While Pastor Paula and I have never met, I have watched her TV ministry, attended her conferences, and truly consider her to be the first female to be a great influence for me in ministry. Not only is she a dynamic preacher and teacher, but she has helped me to realize how some areas in my life were so fragmented that it hindered me from moving forward in my God-given potential.

I mean, how could God use me when I did not feel worthy or confident enough to inspire anyone?

Pastor Paula taught me that everything I have experienced in life, good or bad, has a purpose.  People need to see that ministers are human and far from perfect. Because of her, I can share my tragedies and triumphs with confidence and boldness in ways that can save lives.

While in seminary, I really appreciated the love, support, and care that I received as a student minister at East Second Street Christian Church in Lexington, Ky. I was grateful for the leadership and laid-back personality of the Rev. Dr. Don Gillett. I always tease Pastor Gillett that I want to be like him when I grow up! He wears a lot of hats, yet he always made time to sit with me and allow me to just vent about the stresses of school, work, ministry, or whatever other difficulties I was facing. Not only would he provide great insight, but he knew how to lighten the mood with his big personality, contagious laugh, and his overall love for God and for God’s people. I was grateful for the example that he set, and for his support whenever I preached, led worship, taught the children, etc. Even after I graduated and moved away, we kept in touch. Because of him, I am reminded to always be myself, to remain humble, and that God will continue to be faithful to provide the support and encouragement I need to reach my goals.

And finally, I appreciate the ministry of Minister Damien Durr, who is the youth and young adult minister in our church. He truly understands what it means to meet people where they are. From him, I continue to learn that there are people who need God in such a strong way that they are not interested in debates or big theological words, or whether I have a degree at all. In other words, using my life experiences, I can do some things in ministry that textbooks could never teach me. I ask myself, “What can I do or say to keep someone from jumping off the ledge–literally or figuratively?” Minister Durr understands that we are living in a world in which people are not looking for complicated access to God, and those in leadership have a responsibility to lead the people to an authentic relationship with God.

As I continue to strive to become who God created me to be, I constantly reflect on the mentors I have had and their continual influence. I know that with God’s help, I can continue to be an extension of Christ’s hands and feet, and be a beacon of light and hope for every person on the path to self-discovery.

Mentors, Part 5: Wisdom Bearer Extraordinaire

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.

Wayne Bell sm 240x300 Mentors, Part 5: Wisdom Bearer Extraordinaire

Dr. Wayne Bell

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 5: Wisdom Bearer Extraordinaire
by the Rev. Joanne VerBurg, retired Disciples pastor and LTS alum

It was 1974. It had been less than two years since we first said hello, yet the time had come to say goodbye.

I stood in the doorway of his office gazing at a man of grand stature, Dr. Wayne H. Bell.  After completing 14 years as Sr. Minister of Vine Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, TN, Wayne was called to be the President of Lexington Theological Seminary. I couldn’t have been prouder, but was quick to let him know that I was already secretly plotting to somehow get even with him for leaving me so soon after I began serving Vine Street as the Minister of Education.

(I succeeded in “getting even” by enrolling at LTS a few years after he became President!)

I was new to ministry and new to the Disciples of Christ, and in our brief time together he had become my touchstone for any and all aspects of ministry. While confident in what I had learned and experienced about church programming from my educational pursuits, I quickly discovered that I had so much more to learn about ministry.

I knew from the first hello that he was going to be the best mentor in ministry anyone could ever have.

Wayne taught me about the importance of being “fully” prepared for any task in ministry. Right down to the most minute detail, he offered practical advice like remembering to look where you are about to sit, lest you sit down on a box of pencils and call too much attention to yourself!  Or make sure the words to the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution are taped to the back of the cross, knowing that the most familiar of words during Communion can escape your memory at any given moment. He was also quick to add how it isn’t necessary to know everything about the building, i.e. setting thermostats, how to fill the baptistery, how to run the dishwasher, etc.  When you know how to do these things other people let you do them!

It’s a huge understatement when I say I have learned so much by his example.

Wayne was, and continues to be, a wisdom-bearer, bearing witness to his love of God, his belief in Jesus the Christ and faithfulness to his teachings, and his commitment to the Disciples of Christ and its quest for not only Christian unity but for finding common ground within other faith traditions. Very much on the frontline of social justice issues, Wayne was found at the heart of the civil rights movement within the community, leading the congregation through those turbulent years, guided by faith, arriving at the understanding and belief that ALL people are welcome at the Table.

Early in my ministry I sought his wise counsel, something I continue to do to this very day.

Once I asked, “How does one discern when it’s time to leave a particular place of ministry?” He began by emphasizing the importance of first seeking God in prayer and meditation.  I then reminded him that I was one who looks for signs, physically or otherwise, and he indulged me.  “If you can get up most mornings, excited about some aspect of your ministry, then there is still work to be done there.  When you begin to lose that momentum, that excitement, perhaps the time had come to update your profile.  Regardless of whatever sign you receive, deep down, you WILL know…you will know….”

Another time, as I was weighing the pros and cons of long-term ministry, already being 12+ years in a former new church start, I again sought his advice.  He began by repeating his earlier wisdom related to knowing when  it’s time to go, and then added another layer of insight about the necessity of using the ensuing years for leadership development and congregational awareness of its mission and ministry.  Continuing to gain the trust of the congregation in response to one’s pastoral leadership helps to ensure the success and strength of these areas and enhances the overall health of the congregation, he reminded me.

Heeding his wisdom as I continued to serve Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the highly transient community of Cary, NC, for an additional 12 years, I was able to lay the groundwork for these nuggets of truth in leadership and congregational awareness of their mission and ministry. When I announced my retirement last August, one of my first conversations was with Wayne as he shared some helpful advice concerning interim ministry and my relationship with the Pension Fund.

The very day after cramming into my SUV the remnants of “stuff” the movers wouldn’t take, I headed down the highway toward my new retirement location at Christmount in Black Mountain, NC.  As I was driving, Wayne called and we talked for a long while.  His supportive words still ring in my ears, easing me into this thing called retirement.

I am grateful and will forever cherish his friendship, his loving and supportive spirit, his believing in me and preparing me to be a co-laborer in God’s Vineyard.

Mentors, Part 4: Motorcycles, Guitars and Gospel Music

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being.

 Mentors, Part 4: Motorcycles, Guitars and Gospel Music

Bill

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 4: Motorcycles, Guitars and Gospel Music
by Rev. Bill McDonald, M. Div., Lexington Theological Seminary, 1970

His 750cc Triumph was usually parked in the church basement. He wore turtlenecks three seasons of the year. And at about 11:00 PM many nights he would knock on my apartment door with guitar in hand, “Wanna play for a while?”

His rough complexion and unruly hair went unnoticed as soon as his smile slid from cheek to dimpled cheek, which then turned on the lights in his eyes. He ran off the worship bulletins on an ancient mimeograph in the parsonage basement and made the college-age class think it was fun to fold them while faith discussions rambled and roamed. He was a frequent and quick visitor. “That man can say more in five minutes than most people can say in an hour,” was the way one octogenarian described him to me.

He preached, directed the choir, sang with the Men’s Quartet, and was the Pied Piper of the youth program. One year he organized a fifth-grade ukelele band, tuning the ukes like guitar strings so the knowledge would be useful later on. He was the Campus Minister at Midway College and founded a Folksingers group to sing the songs of peace and love, much needed in the mid-1960’s. Everything he did was new and touched the times in which we lived, helping everyone interpret their place and see God’s face. His name was Rev. Roy Roberson and he was proud of the Rev. part. I was his Student Youth Associate and more importantly his protégé. And I soaked him up like a sponge.

When he stepped into the pulpit, he wasn’t afraid to smile and laugh and carried with him an air of confidence and strength. He preached by outline, laying the pages of type on the pulpit prior to the service. One Sunday he turned page three of a five-page outline only to discover that the last two were missing. For the rest of his life he accused me with a chuckle of swiping those pages. From Roy I learned to preach assertively, applying a heavy coating of humor and goodwill. I learned that the current culture, whatever else it may be, is not the enemy but is instead a resource, a channel through which faith can flow out and in. Following his example, I was never resentful about the heavy lifting of the ministry – the setting up of tables, the shoveling of snow off the steps, the unstopping of toilets, the whatever needed to be done. After all, God’s house belongs to all of us and all efforts in the church are holy moments of ministry and fellowship if we dive into them with energy and laughter. Though he loved being called Reverend Roy, he taught me to disdain the “ministerial image.” Just be yourself and be God’s servant and the image would take care of itself. People don’t want to see your best sport coat; they want to see that you care about them personally.

Though everybody ranked equally in Roy’s sphere of love and attention, the youth were a little more equal than anyone else. He showed me firsthand how traveling together as a youth group can broaden horizons while at the same time strengthening bonds and deepening faith. I spent thirty-five years of my ministry taking youth all over the US. When I connect with them now as adults on Facebook, it is those trips that dominate the discussions. Like Roy, I spent my ministry serving the towns in which my churches were located. “Your church pays your salary,” Roy would remind me, “but you are called to minister to your community.”

Everywhere I have lived, I have gathered musicians and singers around me, forming bands and quartets, folksinger groups and rock-n-rollers, loving the old gospel songs interpreted for a new age, using popular songs to bring out the joy in folks and help them glory in the One who is the Lord of Song. Taking on Roy’s nerve that allowed him to dive into any leadership position no matter how unprepared, I even directed the church choir for ten years – without being able to read music! It is as if my life unfolded from his. To this day, I never place my sermon notes on the pulpit before the service begins!

Sometimes I go by his grave in the Versailles Cemetery and place a toy motorcycle or a guitar pick on the headstone, still trying to give back for all that he gave to me. Maybe that was what my years of ministry were, an offering to God in gratitude for sending me a mentor, a guide, a living path.

Mentors, Part 3

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

 

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

 

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 

RussPeterman2 210x300 Mentors, Part 3

Russ

Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 3
by Rev. Dr. Russ Peterman, Senior Minister, First Christian Church, Concord, CA, M. Div., San Fransisco Theological Seminary, 1995; D. Min. Columbia Theological Seminary, 2004

In 1985, during my junior year in high school, I was given a career aptitude inventory (don’t call it a test!), designed to point me in a helpful direction as I began to navigate the college application process. 

At that point I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but was shocked beyond words when the #2 career that came recommended to me from this inventory was CLERGY.  I had been to summer camp a few times, and participated in youth mission trips, was active in the youth ministry group and a regular on Sunday morning, but beyond that I had very little idea what ministry might entail.  While I didn’t really have any career path laid out, ministry had never crossed my mind.  My initial reaction was that this was, well, comical.

I still remember with incredible vividness the following Sunday when I stopped my minister, Dr. Richard Wing, between services and told him, trying to hold back laughter, the results of this inventory.  He didn’t seem shocked at all.  With clarity and conviction, he responded, “I don’t think that’s funny.  I’ve seen those gifts in you for a long time.”

Thirty years later Dick is still an incredible mentor to me. He’s helped me discern major life decisions, and walked with me through difficult times.  Even now from a distance, he continues to inspire, challenge, affirm, and listen. Despite the fact that as the minister to a large congregation he’s incredibly busy and the demand for his time is high, he’s told me – and shown me – that he’s never more than a phone call away.

Over the years I’ve had others that have served as mentors for me.  People who have helped me navigate through seasons in my life and ministry, and helped me dream and dig a little deeper and reach a little higher.  People without whom I’d be lost, or would have given up long ago.  Some of them are clergy colleagues; some are not.  All of them are worth their weight in rubies. 

The congregation I currently serve has long had a connection with the local seminary and takes seriously its ministry to the wider Church to help prepare future leaders.  Each year we welcome a new pastoral intern and try to help prepare them for this crazy thing that we call ministry.  I have come to love my role mentoring them during this formative time, helping them discover and clarify their gifts for ministry.  It’s an incredible gift for me to be able to inspire, challenge, affirm and listen, just as others have done for me.  In addition, they ask really great questions that force me to think theologically about what we do and why.  This work keeps me fresh as I hear about all that they are learning in the seminary classroom. 

Part of my greatest concern in regards to the future of the church is that we are not encouraging the calls to ministry of the best and brightest candidates.  We’ve seen the seminary enrollment figures; we’ve read how the Millennials are fleeing the church en masse.  We’ve also heard the staggering figures about how around 50% of seminary graduates leave the ministry within the first five years after graduation.  We all know the drill and most of us have ideas and theories as to why all of this is. 

But I think the hard truth that many of us in the trenches don’t want to admit is that some (most?) of it falls on us.  

  • Are we helping young people see the God-given gifts within them?
  • Are we encouraging them to bring those gifts to the surface and share them with the world? 
  • Are we modeling for them helpful, healthy boundaries and practices as pastors, serving with joy and passion, in such a way that inspires other to wonder if they could do what we do? 
  • Do we see that new, young pastor at the church down the street as competition or as a colleague? 

My life is an embarrassment of riches in part because people noticed in me gifts that I hadn’t discovered within myself.  And then they cared enough to journey alongside through some of the important and difficult moments, offering support and encouragement, challenging when necessary, nurturing when needed. 

I’m grateful. And pray that somewhere along the way, I’ve been the same sort of help and support to others.