So Many Options, So Much Time

When Beth and I knew that we wouldn’t be sticking around at our previous ministry, needless to say we began seeking out whatever God had laid out next. Even in the midst of the beginning of the transition, I was still hoping down deep inside that there would be a miraculous change, and that we would be able to see something amazing happen. It probably wasn’t fair to myself or my family to let hope linger, but I will always trust in what God can do beyond whatever I might see. But all the signs said it was time to move on, and so we began looking at what those new opportunities & options might be and where God might lead us.

IMG_1133.PNGWhen you pray and ask for an adventure, then there are a multitude of options that can open up in front of you. We were looking at Oregon, Washington, Texas, the Atlantic coastline, and we even had someone talking to us about going to work & serve at a refugee camp in Sicily. There were so many options that there were too many options. It became daunting.

As we looked, we considered, and as we considered, we dreamed, and when you start dreaming dreams in different directions, you’re going to wind up feeling very, very torn. You’re going to feel directionless. And that’s a tough place to be.

We spent many nights having discussions about the pros and cons of this area over that. We researched churches with open positions. We debated the merits of large congregations and small congregations, and knowing how to negotiate the purpose of each in their environments. We talked about the areas we simply didn’t want to go to, and where there might be the greatest need within the kingdom. There were so many options, and our wait within those options seemed to be a very long one.

Granted, we were still wrapping up our final season in that ministry, and we are always subject to the timing and will of God. We wanted to leave quickly, but God had intention for keeping us around just a little longer. Waiting isn’t often fun or pleasurable, but God always has something in store for us in it.

During one of my many meetings with other local ministers, I was talking about this time of transition, and our waiting within it. And I told him that I knew that God was doing some refining of me and my heart through this whole process, and that I didn’t want to miss out on it. I didn’t want to lose something that God might raise up within me. Again, it didn’t make the waiting easy, but knowing that there was growth to look for within it brought some measure of comfort.

In a previous post, I talked about the breadcrumb trail that God would lead us to, that helped to define this waiting for us, but it was still a struggle to deal with this amount of time and with this degree of feeling directionless.

In these seasons of transition, we must come back to trusting in God. There is a temptation to begin to doubt ourselves, to doubt our call to ministry, there are ample opportunities to listen to voices of discouragement, and to let the whispers of the enemy creep in. This is what he’s prone to do. Where we see options, he speaks into difficulty. Where there are decisions, he sows doubt. Where we are presented with the goodness and mercy of God, the enemy present us with insults that detract from where He is calling us and what He is doing in those moments.

You see, there is a deep degree of trust and faith that comes with a life in ministry. There are people who do not understand it, who disregard it, and who will act as agents of misery in that time. The enemy likes to sow division, to breed hurt and to create wounds as we wait, and there are people who claim Christ who gladly add to that burden. As tough as it might be, we still pray for them, over them, and we continue to do our best to point them toward Jesus in all of our actions, words and example.

Waiting is hard, searching can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that we have reason to live in a way that dishonors Christ in the process. As we look in the Bible, we find ourselves in excellent company when we consider those who wait. We see Moses, Joshua,   David, Ezekiel and other prophets who had to wait to see God’s next steps come about. There may have been choices to make, but there was waiting within those choices. This happens with Jesus, Paul, John and others in the New Testament, too. So don’t despair in your waiting. Don’t think that you are alone, or listen to the lies that God has abandoned you, or that He is somehow being cruel. God has purpose in our waiting, there are considerations to weigh, and lessons to learn in the choices laid out before us. Seek Him in them & trust in His timing.



Looking at Opportunity

When you’re in ministry and you enter into a new position, you’re meeting new people, learning their likes & dislikes, getting familiar with their patterns. It’s likely you’re seeing them at their best, too. People are still getting to know you, they’re asking you questions about yourself, and there’s this mutual “I’m interested in you” focus to the conversation. It’s a lot like dating, oddly enough. We like it when people talk to us about us, and they like it when we keep asking questions about them. It’s a unique place to be.

IMG_1131Nobody begins their position in ministry thinking about transitioning out. If you do, that’s probably coming from an unhealthy experience, and there’s fear already creeping in where it doesn’t belong. Most of us who begin a new ministry position, depending on our philosophy of ministry, might plan on one day retiring from some position within that body, many, many years down the road. We might think about transitioning within, but we aren’t thinking about leaving. We look at an opportunity, we zero in on that opportunity, and something in us tells us that this is the opportunity, and that this is the only thing that God wants for us. We convince ourselves of it. This is ‘our‘ opportunity.

And that’s a fair thing to feel. The interview process takes a little while. It’s a dance, it’s a waiting game, it’s a pursuit of conversation, and maybe an avoidance of other things. We ask what we want to know, we might delve into some sensitive topics, but we don’t dig as deep as we might want, for fear of crossing some arbitrary line. And so we set our expectations from that set of questions and answers, and then we build from there.  Some of what develops from that spot is fair, and there are other things we would never have thought to bring up that only time will reveal. We learn this way, and people learn us this way, too.

Opportunity develops over time. We are mistaken when we look at them as singular points in time, as individual appointments. We begin conversation with a church about an opening, we work our way together through the processes of interviewing and hiring, voting and introductory lunches. When that process wraps up and we begin in that new place, we describe that whole process as -an- opportunity.

But what happens after that?

Are we still within that opportunity? Are we between opportunities? Do we see opportunity as stand alone events? What is opportunity? How frequently do opportunities come up? Only when we seek them? Only when they are thrust upon us? We have all had opportunities pop up that we weren’t expecting, right? Opportunities to meet someone for lunch. Opportunities to go to an event, to see a movie, to catch up with someone over the phone. Opportunities are everywhere.

What do we make of opportunity? What do we make of these openings into the life of the body of Christ? What do we do with these invitations to come and minister, to share love and light? What do we do with the host of moments that are laid out before us? How do we view their weight and significance?

What if we started looking not at events, not at hiring and firing/resignations as the boundaries of an opportunity (these opening and closing moments of an opportunity) but that every day, every choices are opportunities?

Every day, you and I are met with a whole host of decisions. How do we greet this person? Do we act proactively here? Do we wait to react until something else happens? What is responsible? What is good? What is right? Do we wait and let things happen to us, or do we stand up and address things, people, situations as different opportunities? Do we see the things that happen in this life as a series of individual opportunities that either work toward the growth and advancement of the kingdom, and toward our growth in Christ, or do we view them as unavoidable circumstances that we have no power over?

If we want to have a healthy view of opportunity, then we need to view them as Jesus did. That new church position? Whose opportunity is this? That difficult conversation that feels like it might bring the end of your current opportunity? Whose conversation is it? That person who keeps popping up in your heart & mind, located in that inconvenient nursing home miles off your radar today? Whose are they? Which opportunity do you take? How do we view the plethora of opportunities that are presented from day to day? How do we handle dealing with responsibilities where people, hearts and eternal consequences are involved?

Without oversimplifying, it all begins with prayer. It begins with asking. And it all begins with understanding that opportunity doesn’t just ‘knock once,’ it doesn’t just show up at major points of life transition. Opportunities come up every day. How we respond to them shapes our character, and is shaped by the character we have developed so far in Christ. It speaks to our trust, to our faith and to our weaknesses.

Big decisions or small, we need a healthy sense of perspective, a measure of faith and an understanding that big opportunities are often shaped by the small opportunities that come up day to day. We don’t need to feel overwhelmed by them, but let faith guide us through them, seeking God-honoring counsel where needed, and being present in them so that we can be mindful of acting as Jesus would act. Every opportunity is His, so let’s wait for Him in them, let’s bless and be blessed in them, and let’s remember that each and every opportunity He provides serves as an opportunity for us to open up new opportunities for others to see Him at work. That is the beauty of ministry, whether new to us or a decades long series of opportunities with one family of faith.

Always Ask. Seriously. Just Ask.

Being in ministry teaches us a lot of different lessons. We learn how to wear so many different hats and have to be able to switch gears at a moments notice. Over most other professions, we are taught to be self-starters, resourceful, and we develop a Swiss Army Knife approach to our daily work and weekly expectations. We have to learn sound & video editing, stage setting, how to create environments, and other creative exercises, not including public communications, speaking and presentations. We often have to handle physical work around the building, learning electrical & plumbing work, janitorial skills, how to patch and repair a multitude of materials and even how to sort & are contractors to handle bigger tasks. We learn how to organize and activate small groups and large crowds, we can organize events for whole communities and incorporate outside agencies, resources and companies. We can counsel people dealing with loss, help struggling couples navigate the difficulties of married life, and bring people together to celebrate the hidden wins of life. As you know, if you’re in ministry, I could go on and on and on….because we’re mostly good at that, too.

IMG_1085But for the love of Mike, we are terrible at a few things.
Number one at the top of my list is this: Asking for help.
Am I right, or am I right? Right? How many of us have spent Saturday mornings slogging away at some project that we should have opened up and invited others to join in on, if not hand it over to them? How many times have we stressed ourselves out, set unreasonable personal demands, neglected our family or friendships, rationalized away our own personal soul-care time, and done other varieties of damage to our lives? It’s a lot, right? We probably already have multiple, easy-to-remember instances that pop-up where we over burdened ourselves and it could have been easily solved by simply asking other people to join in, or empowered them to handle it without us.

How often is it pride? How often is it some control issue where “I know how to do it the way it needs to be done” stands in the way of people growing inter service, while stifling our own. Should we feel guilty about this? Yes, of course we should. We are robbing people of their service to God and we are hurting our families and relationships in favor of looking like we can handle everything. And why? Because we don’t ask.

Why don’t we ask? Is it pride? “They hired me to do this, I can’t tell anyone that I don’t know how to do this.” Are we scared of looking ‘incomplete’ or ‘inadequate?’ Why don’t we ask for advice, get someone’s opinion, or look for people who might at least be of help?

What would the kingdom look like, where you are, if you asked for help every time you needed it? What would your relationship with your congregation be like if they knew they were valuable to you, not just for service, but for the relationship that comes from serving together? What would your church family be like, in relationship to one another and for your community, if they lived the example of begin open, asking for help, and being ready to receive it from anyone and everyone? Not that we are seeking to be served, not at all, but that we would be willing to be vulnerable in admitting to our limitations. What if asking for assistance meant people saw we were human, moved us beyond different social barriers that Christians tend to set up for themselves, and started a cooperative movement within our communities, and an attitude of looking out for one another? We normally talk about this from an aspect of being the ones who serve, but there is also the empowerment of raising people up to serve by inviting them to do so alongside of you.

The mindset shift for us comes when we stop looking at our church family members as somehow below us, or like they are a group to be commanded, and when we see ourselves as equals. That removes pressure from us and obligation from them. When we live and act as a true team, then this attitude of shared effort becomes very, very real. This is community. We recognize the skills and talents that Gd has developed in others, we see the potential were He has begun gifting some, and we find opportunities to disciple them into their next steps of faith and Christlikeness. We do this by including them, not just by commanding them. We stand side by side with them, not over them, and we ask them to join us as we join with Christ.

Dare to be humble. Dare to show your need for those God has placed around you.
Dare to ask.

Saturday Something – Ep. 5 – Brag on God!

So, you’ve been excited about things that God is doing in your life, your family, your ministry, but you don’t know how to share it with people without sounding like you’re just bragging on yourself? If you’re thinking that way, it’s highly likely you already have God’s glory in mind.

Just let it out! Brag on God!

Oh, and VBS starts in six weeks.

So, to follow up from the previous post, I found myself at 18 years old and coming on staff at very small church in northeast Tennessee, having grown up in a thriving megachurch about 5 hours away in a larger, mid-sized city. It was a big change in environment, culture and attitude. Again, one wasn’t better than the other…it was simply different.


Coming from the mega church where visitors were expected, there were VHS cassettes wrapped in the latest copy of the church paper and a variety of ministry brochures and other pieces of information that might help a visitor learn more about the church. If you were visiting, there was a point in the service where ushers would walk from the front to the back carrying several of these packets, hand them to those who felt brave enough to raise their hands and that was the end of the immediate contact for visitors. Pretty quick and painless, and it left the impetus for follow up on the hands of the visitor.

Walking into the small church, visitors were given a little embroidered rose stickers to wear on your shirt or jacket. The greeters at the front door always had a few on hand, and as if being a new face in a room of 95 people wasn’t evidence enough, the rose solidified the fact that you were new there. At a point, later in the service, people in the church were asked from the front to identify any guests they brought, by standing and introducing them and everyone would say ‘hello.’

Both gatherings had bulletins, choirs (the small church choir wore robes) and offered Wednesday night meals. Both had Sunday school, youth group and children’s ministries. Both practiced weekly communion, believer’s baptism, and made the sermon the central point of the service, hoping to bring encouragement for following Jesus to everyone in attendance. Both ended with an invitation, and a song. But the small church sang the same closing song every week. “The Family of God.”

It was different and still rang of elements from home. But the people were nice, they few us poor college students, and the old people didn’t treat us like we had our heads on backwards. They were used to college students coming through, and they welcomed us quickly.

My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I started attending a Sunday school class with a guy named John who was the Youth Minister there, and we got locked in with the community. We were hooked.

There was this little room just off the fellowship hall that we called the ‘Holy of Holies’ it was run by the Women’s ministry, had deep, shag carpet (with a rake) and was decorated in dusty rose and lace doilies. We were warned not to eat in there on Wednesday nights. We thought it was funny.

The minster had been on staff for over 25 years, and the people had a very open relationship with him. Everyone liked him, it seemed, He always wore a suit on Sunday mornings, slacks and button up on Wednesday nights, had his dark hair slicked back and wore these thick rimmed glasses that looked like he had kept that style since the 50’s.

We went home for Christmas, and came back in January. We went with John and the Youth Group to Gatlinburg for the TCTC where my wife and I got fake engaged & fake married in front of the “Chapel in the Valley” so we could send our parents pictures and freak them out a little bit.

Shortly after that, the church started getting ready for Easter, and all of a sudden John was gone. We found out that he was moving back to Florida to work with the youth in his home church. And so, a few weeks later, the elders got together and asked me if I would want to serve as the interim minister over the summer, for the next three months or so while they looked for a full time youth minister. That meant not going home, staying in the house of one of the elders as their guest, and taking care of the weekly and summer programming.

Since I was in school for ministry, it sounded like a great idea & good experience. I said yes, and was excited about moving into my first office. I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t have a prayer of filling office space. “Oh,” and they told me, “VBS starts in six weeks. I don’t think anything has been planned yet.”


To be continued.

I was 18 years old. I knew nothing.

Back in the summer and early fall of 1996 there was a lot going on. I had just made the move to Northeast Tennessee, going to college in the mountains, taking my first steps of what felt like independence and responsibility (being 18 will make it easy to see more in some ways and less in many others.) Kurt Russel had just escaped from L.A., the Macarena was the hot new dance on MTV2 (a brand new channel) and ER was the top watched show on television with Seinfeld, Suddenly Susan and Friends just steps behind.

Brooding, angsty teens in plaid flannel and ripped jeans were everywhere.

IMG_7BF627CEF19D-1Moving into college was fun. I enjoyed it. I was the kid who was always looking forward to being another year older, reaching that next milestone. At 13? I have arrived. I am finally a legitimate human being. At 16? I am a legitimate human being who can drive. At 18, I have graduated high school. I am an adult. I am moving out into the world on my own…with my few close friends, social tendencies to play it safe and regular check-in’s with my parents. I was also going to begin my degree in ministry, Youth Ministry, and that first day on campus I would meet the equally mature and responsible and mature 18 year old woman who would become my wife in a few short years.

Moving to a new town meant leaving behind not just my parents and friends, but also my church family. I grew up in a pretty remarkable church. My dad grew up in that church and my grandpa and grandma had been around at the beginning to see it begin. Ever since the doors had opened, this church had been growing. And I don’t mean by one or two people, like many churches, my home church was growing, growing. By the time I was in elementary school it had already outgrown every inch of its original campus, which is a good sized property, multiple buildings, a gym…you name it. There was off site parking, people coming in by bus, multiple services every weekend. It was hopping.

We moved just down the street to a huge, sprawling campus, bigger buildings and way more parking. It was more, a lot more. and by the time I was graduating high school, that campus was over full, and there was no more room to expand…so they broke ground over on the east side of town, in an undeveloped area next to a small cattle farm. And I grew up in that environment. Excitement, growth, programs, movement, building, campaigns, expansion, excellence…and then I moved in to the foothills of Appalachia, and began my search for the place that would be my new church home for the coming years.

So, at 18 and coming from a megachurch environment, I set my eyes toward the biggest church in town. You can see it from the highway, it’s a featured building, and it’s shaped like a big, white Hersey’s Kiss. You can’t miss it. So, we went to check it out. I think it was the default first church visit for many students at my school, and it probably still is. Apart from the church on campus where you can roll out of bed and just amble your way on down on a Sunday morning, it’s a pretty good draw.

So we went, we attended for a few weeks, maybe two months, and then we moved on wanting to make sure we gave a fair glimpse at some of the 777 churches within 45 minutes of our school. Yes. we were told there were hundreds and hundreds of churches where we could settle in and find our place to serve. The big church seems like it had its ducks in a row, and we did want to go somewhere we could get involved, so we kept looking around. One week here, two weeks there, and we eventually come to a little church about 10 minutes from campus that was in the smaller city on the east side of campus. There was something different about this group. This whole church body was smaller than a single Sunday morning class at my home church, let alone the thousands and thousands of people who gathered for worship each weekend.

But my curiosity was piqued.

So we locked in. About 5 of us decided to make this tiny little church ‘our’ spot each Sunday morning. It was quaint. They sang from hymnals, wore choir robes and had pot-luck meals on a very regular schedule. The people, mostly old, were incredibly friendly, and it was pretty obvious that the minister was sticking to Scripture each week, so doctrinal concerns didn’t exist.

We started attending a class on Sunday mornings, went on Wednesday nights for the spaghetti dinners. It was nice, no pressure, no hustle, just people who loved Jesus loving each other, maybe they were still hanging out in the 1960’s. There was a time warp happening, and I loved it.

Growing up in a church that was growing into a megachurch meant that I didn’t experience a lot of what most people experience in their church communities. Add into that the fact that my family was in leadership, and I was pretty consistently abreast of change, aware of new stuff around the corner. Walking into a church family where change was not the word of the day, and where it was more about maintaining a weekly pace, about having a cohesive community, was a huge difference. And one was not better than the other. It was just different.

In my next post, I’ll lay out how some of the differences came across, and what I learned at 18 that was helpful, and what I learned to look out for…because later that Spring I began my journey on staff at a church. I was 18 and I had no clue what I was doing.


Saturday Something – Ep 4: Treat Yo Self

Stop feeling guilty about it.
Make it a priority not to live life on fumes.

Self care & soul care is super important. Sabbath is a practice, not a suggestion.
Make it part of your rhythm.