1) Hi. Sorry for the long-layoff. I've been planning sermon series (every week from the beginning of August until Lent), meeting Haitian pastors, visiting the sick, officiating funeral services, meeting with long-lost parishoners, dealing with rumors of various origin, going to monster-long swim meets (but you should see how much progress Max is making!), and ignoring my dissertation (for now). Couple that with having gone to Annual Conference, trying to move into a house that we're simultaneously trying to renovate (in the basement only), and visits from cousins who live in North Carolina, and you have one ridiculously busy month of June.
Oh... all that, and I helped dig the footer for my mother-in-law's tombstone. But more on that later....
2) I think if you could summarize the experience of having gone from associate to senior pastor in one word, that word would be "shellshocked". I never realized how afraid of failure I was until we moved home, and being in the middle of countless crisis, problems, and opportunities has often left me feeling like a guy in a pit filled with poisonous snakes, armed only with a banana. I mean, I know what I need to do as a senior pastor, but the part nobody can prepare you for is the constant weight of responsibility you feel for, well, everything. The mortgage and the children's ministry. The welfare of the staff and the ongoing support of the Haiti ministry. Pulling together a worship service each week and caring for the shut-ins. Adult discipleship opportunities and hiring a new youth pastor. Bishops who want apportionments paid and a parking lot that needs a new top coat. It's all there, and more, every day. That's what all the degrees, books, and even on-the-job training as an associate cannot prepare you for. It's like putting on a vest made of lead that you can't ever take off, and some days it wears easier or lighter than others. That has been the most difficult adjustment to make, thus far.
3) The most pressing of all upcoming responsibilities is the hiring of a new youth pastor (which, I might remind you, will be our fourth in four years). I felt really bad about our church's record, until I began talking with senior pastors at other churches around the country who were facing the same kinds of issues we're facing. Disgruntled parents. Fickle kids. Frustrated Staff-Parish Relations Committees. And most of all, youth pastors that just don't seem to fit. Ten years ago the average tenure for a youth pastor was 18 months, and now it's nine.
What the heck is going on?
Well, instead of jumping back into the process, we decided to take a month to pray over this, and see where the Lord might lead us. During that time, I've come to the conclusion that in our next search we need to look for someone who is:
- Passionate: I mean, with all the turnover and aftermath of hard feelings, whoever comes in next is going to have to really want to succeed. They'll need to meet all the negative emotional fallout with never-ending optimism. In fact, they'll just need to see something that's not there yet, and hang on to what they see no matter what obstacles they must traverse. They can't be overwhelmed by the prospect of countless games, concerts, and glasses of soda at the local Arby's. And, most importantly, they'll have to believe this thing is too big for them to accomplish on their own. If they aren't a "turn lemons into lemonade" kind of person, they'll never make it in this job.
- Personable: The person we hire had better like people. All kinds of people. Rich people and poor people. Athletic people and couch-potato people. Faithful people and faithless people. Old, middle aged, and young people. They can't be afraid to meet with people, or talk with people, or pray with people, or sing with people, or laugh, or cry with people. And they'll have to live close by so that they don't have to drive 80 minutes round-trip just to see people. They'll have to live with the fact that some people won't like them, most often for reasons they'll never understand, and love them back anyway.
They gotta love Jesus, and in turn, love his people. They gotta like to be around people.
- Predictable: I'm kinda at a point in life where I want the people I work with to understand the value of "routine". People who understand the need for a certain predictability to the weekly, monthly, and yearly schedule of the church. People who schedule things, plan them, and then execute them, when and where they said they were going the conduct said "things". People who others know will be at the ball game or the concert or even volunteer as a chaperon for the Marching Band. People who don't promise the moon when they know it can't be delivered. People who just do what they say they are going to do. People who can work creatively in the midst of a predictable schedule. That will be a key, I think, to people trusting a new youth pastor. Predictability.
Passionate, personable, and predictable. If we can somehow find that person, I've a sense that a new day will dawn for youth ministry in Shawnee.
4) And on the flip side, while passionate, personable, and predictable sound all well and good, the fact is that we're going to have to do a better job of making a youth pastor feel like they are part of the family of our church, the fabric of the staff, and valued member of the community. Too often we've let our expectations cloud our better judgment, and in turn put a person under a microscope of scrutiny when frankly, instead they needed support. I remember in my first year at Goshen that things were really rough. Kids were upset that the former youth pastor and his assistant had been let go. The adult volunteers that had been rustled up for me, many of them weren't all that excited to be there. Everyone had an opinion of what I needed to be doing, and were quick to voice it, particularly in forums that created for me a lot of heat. And all the while, my senior pastor, Dick Lyndon, backed me 100%. He might have asked me to put some things together to get folks to stop carping a little, but he gave me time to starting building my own team. And, when some people checked out (and I mean prominant people, like a family related to a well-respected, powerful politician whose presence had brought the church a lot of prestige), Dick still had my back. Fortunately, over time, I fulfilled his expectations, and there was a payoff for his patience. I suspect that in the last three years, in certain critical junctures, we could have offered prayer instead of greater demands.
5) Which reminds me of one of my favorite Dick Lyndon stories. About three years into my tenure at Goshen First, a family started attending our church that contained a mother who kinda liked to throw her weight around and let others know who was "in charge". In her view, nobody ever could do the job like she could, and her opinion was pretty much always the right one. Anyhow, after coming to church a couple of months, she started volunteering in the food court for our youth ministry on Wednesdays, and on her second or third night on the job, she decided to test the waters to see how much weight she had to throw around.
The issue she chose was baseball caps... caps that boys were wearing in the building, which she found to be very disrespectful to God. I mean, forget the fact that on Sunday morning her own husband wore a baseball cap to church.... these caps were a real crisis. So anyhow, she stops me when I'm in the middle of pulling together about ten other different things, and asks me what I think about the baseball caps. Well, quite honestly, I could care less, and thus gave her my "well, in the Old Testament, wearing a head covering inside a holy building was considered a sign of respect" explanation, and then upon being told that this was not OT times, just told her than in three years it hadn't been a big deal, so I was going to leave it that way.
Well, about ten minutes later, Dick walks in the door, which he often did just to see how things were going, and to just try to thank teens and adults for being at TGIW that evening. Immediately, this woman, as a means of supplanting my authority on the issue of baseball caps (and believe me when I say this - everything else too) goes to the SENIOR PASTOR to press her case... that God was unhappy with all these teen boys wearing baseball caps, the youth pastor DIDN'T CARE that God was unhappy about this, and shouldn't the senior pastor now step in and correct this great injustice.
Dick looks at her and asks, "While they are here, are the kids doing drugs?"
"No", she replied.
"Well, are they having sex?"
"Absolutely not", she replied.
"Well then", Dick responded, "then I'm happy with how things are now."
And he walked away. That was pretty much the day I decided I'd do whatever the guy wanted, cause I knew he believed in what I was doing... and in me.
I'd like like to be that kind of senior pastor. The one who goes to bat for the guy or gal taking guff for ball caps.
6) LeBron will back in the NBA Finals. All he needs to get over the hump is...
a) a point guard (preferably Mike Bibby in free agency or a trade, but I'd take an aging Andre Miller or a free agent like Chauncy Billups).
b) Drew Gooden traded to a team for true outside shooter
c) the return of Flip Murray (who can light it up as a sixth man)
d) dumping Damon Jones' contract via the "Allen Houston Rule" so that Anderson Varejao can be re-signed.
e) Scot Pollard and Ira Newble on the first bus out of town, replaced with a couple of older guys who know what it takes to win
f) Mike Brown hiring the first-ever Offensive Coordinator in NBA history (so the offense can be more than that one play where they set the high pick for LeBron, and he figures out the rest)
g) the invention of a time machine so Donyell Marshall could be seven years younger
that's all I'm asking.
7) Did you ever think you'd live to see the day where the Indians and Tigers would be battling it out for a division title in the American League? I'm pretty sure it's one of the signs of the apocalypse, so you'd better get right with Jesus, right now.
8) Had a major scare Saturday night. We were at the Lima Locos game (the Locos are a local ball team made up of college players who are prospects for the pros... they aren't paid, but rather work at local businesses during the day and live with area families all summer so they can play ball all summer against top notch collegiate competition in front of major league scouts) and Max was hit with foul ball right behind his left year on his skull. It was very, very scary. I ended up taking him to the ER at St. Ritas where I learned that if after a head injury a child a) doesn't pass out, b) doesn't vomit, and c) continues to behave in a manner consistent with his personality, that the ER elects not to do a CT scan. The reason for this is that studies have shown that children who have had more than one CT scan are more likely later to develop some form of brain cancer. The important thing is to watch the child, and if they do begin to vomit or begin to show erratic behavior, that they need to be returned the ER immediately. I also had to wake up Max four hours into his sleep to make sure he was still coherent.
Of course, to do this, you need to think up questions the kid can answer to figure out how sharp he is, and me, groggy in the middle of the night, can only think of one: "Max, what day is it?"
"Wednesday!?!", he replies, at 2:30am on a Sunday morning.
Great question for a kid out on summer vacation. Like he knows what day it is.
So I asked him the name of his youngest brother, and Xavier's age. Thankfully, all was well. NOTE: Max wants Mr. Travis to know that he'll play baseball with John David, but other than that, he's retired from the sport. Instead, he says he'll stick with swimming.
9) We have a swim meet tomorrow night. The last swim meet we had, we had to be there at 4pm for pictures, and it ended at about 10:45pm. I'm glad Dad stopped by so we could chat while Max played with his friends (Xave and Eli stayed home with Mom, who was tired from working so hard getting this house together). It made the night enjoyable, me there talking with my Dad, periodically rooting for my son and various other kids from the team.
I have particularly enjoyed Max's progress this season. He's cutting time off his personal bests, and is really starting to show a competitive streak that he is using to become more focused on the task at hand. He pulled his first ever "First Place" in the breast stroke, and he couldn't have been more determined to swim efficiently and quickly. It was very, very cool to watch. He's really doing well.
10) Finally, I'll be heading up to Lakeside to spend a couple of days with our youth group at the Northwest Plains District Senior High Institute. Charlotte is already up there (filling the youth pastoral role), and her assessment is that the kids in the group are a great bunch. I'm looking forward to listening to these kids, praying for them, and then coming back with their perspective on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, church, and how those things intersect with their lives ringing in my ears. It should be most informative, and I believe, instrumental in our quest to make them feel like valued members of our congregation.
That, and I'll buy them pizza and ice cream. I'm guessing they'll dig that too.
10+) Am excited about the sermon series we'll doing this fall. Starting in August, we'll begin a six week series called "Jesus In The Suburbs", where we look at how that which makes the suburbs a nice place to live (relative affluence, privacy, isolation from issues that plague other parts of the community, marking our success by how far we've come materially or professionally, etc...) can kill a spiritual life if you let them. So the idea isn't that we need to leave the burbs to save our soul, but rather to look for ways that Christ is speaking to us, right where we are. "A Letter From Prison" will be a fall series focused on Paul's letter to the Philippians. What makes the letter so compelling, is that it is a letter of encouragement to a people who are discouraged because the letter-writer is in locked up in jail, and his outcome is uncertain. Paul, I think, does a wonderful job of looking at how suffering if a necessary part of the Christian life, and given all the churches right now who are teaching that our faith is all about people naming and claiming material and physical health, I think his message is an important one to hear. Finally, after Advent (which will be focused on the Birth of Jesus... that makes planning simple), we'll do another six week series called "Heroes", which will focus on how the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are really superpowers that can change, and even save, the world.
I'm excited. I hope you are too.