Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Mark Oestreicher is finished.

He will still continue his work as president of Youth Specialties, and all that entails. He's just done doing the on-line thing. The rationale for his decision is laid out in his most recent (and final) post on his blog. His ministry with YS will continue in full-force, but for thousands of youth ministers who, like me, only know Marko through his blog posts, Tweets, and discussion threads on Facebook, his decision to "unplug" is the end of our shared ministry with Marko.

I first "met" Marko about seven years ago when I was a fledgling youth minister in Orion, IL. I had a few questions about effective jr. high ministry and sent them off to the generic "Ask YS!" inbox. (Note - this was highly extraordinary for me at that time; if my information wasn't coming from ELCA sources, it wasn't valid.) Marko replied the next day with a four-paragraph reflection on relationships being more important than memory work, acts of kindness resonating more than hour-long Bible studies, and mentoring being key.

This was a seminal moment for me in three ways:
  1. I was getting helpful insight from this new thing called "the Internet"
  2. A multi-denominational source was providing ideas that made sense
  3. Those three suggestions continue to be the bedrock of my adolescent ministry philosophy

A few years later, I discovered that Marko was offering his thoughts on ministry on a "blog". I read it regularly and even commented a few times on articles. He quoted me (along with dozens of other blog readers) in his Youth Ministry 3.0 book. I always appreciated the perspective he offered through his website.

Recently, Marko had this to say about blogging:
I started blogging quite a few years ago now, and find that it’s a great outlet for me to riff, rant, wrestle and share. It’s somewhat of a spiritual discipline for me at times, and at other times just plain fun.

It's clear that those things no longer hold true for Marko. His decision to discontinue his on-line presence is one that I respect. I just hope that other youth ministers don't follow suit simply because they think that blogging has become passe or that pulling the plug is the cool new thing to do.

Marko made a personal decision which was impacted by circumstances that no congregational youth minister is faced with. Those of us who work with young people in a specific context have much to offer one another through our expanding use of on-line tools. The evolution of open source youth ministry resources has enriched ALL ministers...from the 20-year mega-church vet to the fresh-from-Bible-camp newbie and everyone in between.

I wish Marko godspeed in his quest to rearrange his priorities.

As people try to fill the ysmarko.com void, here are some of the sites in my "Youth Ministry" rss feed that I get a lot out of:

Rethinking Youth Ministry
Jake Bouma
Matt Cleaver
Faith Lens

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Word

A few weeks ago, I outlined the process I try to utilize when doing summertime planning for the coming school year. This week is the first time that process will be put into motion for 2009-10. It's time for the pastors and I to have our annual Confirmation Ministry planning retreat. We do this in late-May, when our failures and successes are fresh in our minds. The hope is for us to create the most effective plan possible for helping 5th - 9th graders grow in "faith, love, and obedience to the will of God". The tricky part is that we also do our best to honor the traditions of a church that, to my knowledge, is the only congregation that has a five year confirmation ministry.

(The joys and sorrows of this particular educational model might be the subject of another post; but not today.)

I've been toying with an idea that is new to our congregation...and to me...but I doubt the idea is universally "new". I'm calling this work-in-progress ONE WORD. The goal of the curriculum is to focus on a one-word theme for the duration of the class time. From a pedagogy standpoint, there would be a variety of activities that appeal to the three learning styles and the eight multiple intelligences. From a curricular perspective, we would use (1) Scripture, (2) Church History, (3) Luther’s Small Catechism, and (4) Culture in each lesson to help young people explore what God is saying about a variety of topics.

For example, let’s say the ONE WORD on a given night was “Covenant”. Here’s how the lesson would unfold:

  1. Gathering Activity
  2. Prayer
  3. Definition of Covenant
  4. Scripture Stories
  5. Introduce Memory Verse
  6. Covenants in Church History
  7. Covenants in the Catechism
  8. Covenants in Kid's Lives
  9. Memory Verse Recap
  10. Covenant Challenge this week

Obviously, for Christians, the title ONE WORD refers not only to a thematic focus on a singular word, but on the idea that our faith is rooted in God’s living and breathing Word. Helping young Lutherans become more Biblically literate is the bedrock of every confirmation program. That said, my hope is that ONE WORD will serve a practical purpose for these teens as well. By referring to the one-word theme throughout the teaching time, I believe kids will retain more of what is taught. The hope is that the ONE WORD will function like a trigger for young minds in the weeks and months to follow. When kids hear the word “Covenant” they might be more likely to recall the activities and discussions that took place during class time than if they were on their 3rd week in an 8-week series exploring the Letters of Paul.

Of course, that’s all pretty idealistic. That's why we're still in the "idea phase" of planning.

As an additional disclaimer, this is a highly-contextualized tweak of a unique confirmation ministry that already exists where I work. I’m looking forward to fleshing it out and exploring new wrinkles with the pastors later this week. Of course, like all ideas, it’s possible that this one won’t come to fruition. I post this in the hopes that someone might find this helpful for their context…or for people to offer their own Confirmation Ministry thoughts on koinonia.

(I think if we end up running with this idea, our ONE WORD on the first night should be...are you listening? PLASTICS!)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New experience

Tomorrow is a "first" for me. We will be having a garage sale. This is the first in a long list of attempts to live a little more simply. It's been an interesting process for five of us as we've tried to figure out what to keep...what to sell...what to give away...how much is our stuff worth...etc.

Friends and co-workers have been sharing their garage sale horror stories with me all week. I just hope I don't have any new ones to add.

If you're in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by. Friday & Saturday 8am - 4pm...Sunday 1pm - 4pm. I'm sure it will be an entertaining experience!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Postville Reflections

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the government raid of the Agriprocessors plant in the town of Postville, IA. When the raid had concluded, 389 people (nearly 20% of the Postville population) were arrested and removed from the community for not being able to document their U.S. citizenship.

Immigration is a complex issue; one that I'm not qualified to weigh in on. I understand and respect the reasoning behind the current laws, but my five trips to Mexico City in the past 6 years continue to reinforce my belief that our immigration policy is deeply flawed. I grieve what the government action has done to the community of Postville. In many ways, the "law-abiding" citizens (especially the children) of this rural community have been punished far greater than the undocumented people who were detained.

It's also an issue that is close to the heart of my family. My dad spent much of his youth as a pastor's kid in Postville. He also serves as an ELCA bishop in Northeastern Iowa, which includes the community of Postville. He's spent quite a bit of time in that community in the past year. I sent him a quick note last night asking how the prayer service went.

It was pretty powerful. The Rabbis condemned Agriprocessors. The Archbishop and I both quoted Isaiah. 600-800 people were there.

All the names of those who were arrested were read. It began to sink in just how many people and families have been affected.

Just before the prayer vigil began, a news helicopter flew overhead. The children ran to the sanctuary screaming "ICE! ICE! ICE!" I fear that they may never recover from the invasion.

Jews and Christians stood in solidarity with all the people of Postville. I will remember this day for a very long time.

Here are some of my reflections (on my old blog) on the topic of immigration reform from last year.

Also, a summary of our discussion about immigration with our friends at the Lutheran Center in Mexico City last summer.

And some reports of yesterday's events in Postville from KWWL, Des Moines Register, Sojourners, and a statement from LIRS.

Let the debate continue...prayerfully.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Enough with the seminary / ordination posts. Let's lighten the mood a little...with a post about forgiveness.

This past Saturday was our church's annual 7th grade retreat. It's a pretty simple routine - drive to a nearby camp, enjoy the outdoors, do a few class sessions, go canoeing, pray a bunch, and head home in time for supper. The topic of the retreat is "Prayer & Forgiveness". Before we hit the road, I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook, "anything you'd like to tell a 12-year old about prayer and forgiveness." Here are a few of the responses:

Dave - You can't live very long without either one.

Bill - What a great opportunity! God is with you.

Katey - prayer is like talking to a friend. you learn to recognize their voice even if they are trying to disguise it. you know their inflection when you get a text because you know them so well. that is how well you need to know God which means you have to pray a lot to know what He wants from you and to be able to hear his voice even in the most subtle of messages.... that is how i think of it at least!

I love asking people (most of whom I don't see on a regular basis) to contribute to the youth ministry at our church.

For the retreat, we did two sessions on prayer in the morning, and two sessions on forgiveness in the afternoon. One of the big "ah ha" moments for the kids was a Bible study on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35). The turning point came when we unpacked the monetary units of "denari" and "talent".

If you're not familiar with my 3rd favorite parable, it goes a little something like this.

A master forgives slave an enormous debt - equivalent to 150,000 years wages. Later that day, the slave approaches one of his friends and gets mad when the friend isn't able to repay him 3 months wages. The slave begins strangling his friend and has him thrown in jail. The master catches wind of his slave's unforgiving heart and subsequently rescinds his pardon and throws the slave in jail until he can repay the debt.


The implications were obvious. God offers forgiveness on several lifetimes worth of sins. If we are unable to forgive the small things that others do to us, it seems the consequences are dire. Or, to paraphrase Mr. Miyagi -- "A man with no forgiveness in his heart is given an even worse punishment than death."

This really struck a chord with the kids. Having a healthy understanding of grace-based righteousness, these young Lutherans were more convicted by the master / slave / friend story than they were frightened by the possibility of going to hell for their inability to forgive. They saw themselves in the image of the slave. They confessed - through their prayer journals - the ways in which they have been forgiven...and the ways in which they were slow or even reluctant to forgive the sins of others. You could practically see their wheels turning in their minds and hearts.

We came to the conclusion that forgiveness is both beyond our understanding and beyond our ability. The human animal is wired for vengeance and not forgiveness. The forgiveness we offer to other people is not of our own doing. Forgiveness is the work of the Holy Spirit that transforms our eye-for-an-eye tendencies into helping our neighbors to regain their sight.

It's always nice when a day spent "teaching" teens turns into a day of personal learning and spiritual growth.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weighing In

A few of the koinonia faithful asked me what I think about the recent drama over Adam Walker-Cleveland's ordination struggles (other than my re-posting of other people's opinions). Fair enough. Though I somewhat doubt that opinions have mass appeal, I will share what I posted in the midst of over 100 other comments that appeared on Adam's initial post and Tony's most recent response (which is worth reading).

Here is what I wrote on Adam's blog:

5 Thoughts for You:

1. You got screwed. I’d be pissed if I were you. I’m sorry to read that the process unfolded this way.

2. I pray you don’t see this setback as a referendum on your abilities as a pastor. You are a gifted individual who has been called by God for the purpose of ministry. That work will continue, regardless of when / how / if the ordination process continues.

3. The system you entered into is no more sinful than any other human work.

4. On the whole, denominations (like the PCUSA) that have existed for a long time have done so with the best interest of the whole church in mind. I know that some of your friends believe denominational structures only exist to provide barriers to ministry. It doesn’t mean they’re always right…but it also doesn’t mean they’re always wrong.

5. Denominations need articulate, intelligent, gifted people (like you) to work for positive change in the organizations — not jump ship. Your work at Presbymergent is a testament to that. I believe that your role in PCUSA is not accidental…and that your network of connections and blog exposure (1000+ subscribers !?!?!) can help to shine a light on some of the problems of the ordination process. If you leave, you’re likely to be perceived by the “good old boys” within the PCUSA as just another malcontent who couldn’t handle authority.

All of my opinions aside, my prayers will be for God’s will to be done…and for you to be at peace in the midst of these turbulent waters of doubt and frustration. All the best…

And here's what I wrote on Tony Jones' blog:

What if...

...denominations didn't exist to oppress and abuse, but rather support, challenge, and provide accountability?

...a denomination empowered local congregations to identify future pastors and prepare them for a life of ministry by providing them with opportunities for leadership, service, and learning?

...local congregations were asked to surround pastoral candidates with prayer, acts of kindness, and financial support throughout the seminary process?

...candidacy committees met regularly with ordination candidates to ask about their journey through seminary and how they were continuing to hear God's call to ordained ministry?

...larger church-bodies stayed out of way throughout this process, unless the people who have walked along side an ordination candidate expressed concerns about emotional, intellectual, theological, sexual, or other boundary issues?

...the Masters of Divinity requirement existed to equip would-be pastors with a communal network of support, encouragement, and a rock-solid set of ministry tools that prepare them for congregational life?

The above questions are not hypothetical, Pollyanna, utopian questions. They explain is how my particular denomination functions. There are exceptions where abuse / misuse of the system has occurred...more often on the part of the ordination CANDIDATE than on the DENOMINATION. There are ways that we need to adapt the ordination process to ensure that we are putting pre-ordained folks on the best track to empower them for ministry. The process has been shaped over hundreds of years to provide care for the pastors AND the congregations those people serve.

I offer this, not in the hopes of convincing you that denominations are awesome...but to offer an example of how denominations can function in a beautiful way to give life to the whole church.

If you can sift through some of the raw emotion being expressed on the various blogs, I think there are some really good reflections on the ordination process in mainline denominations. I hope that "the powers that be" in the various church bodies are paying attention.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Seminary Dilemma, Part Deux

Loyal readers of koinonia might recall something I wrote a few days ago about my Seminary Dilemma. The article was a personal reflection on my own "call journey" and also included a reference to Matt Cleaver's piece about the relevancy of seminary for church leaders.

It seems that seminary and ordination are hot topics this week.

Adam Walker-Cleveland is a leader in the Presbyterian / Emergent realm. He was recently told by the Presbytery of San Fransisco PC(USA) that, upon receipt of his Masters in Divinity from Princeton, he needs to complete several more courses prior to ordination. Read the rest of the story here.

Within minutes of this announcement, Tony Jones (former national coordinator of Emergent Village) posted a petition for the "body of Christ" to ordain Adam as a pastor. Thinking this was a creative way of supporting someone who appeared to have done everything by-the-book, I clicked on the link to Tony's blog. I even thought of signing the petition for this young man I've never met. Seemed like a very post-modern way to go about this.

Then I read a few things (posted by Tony) that frustrated and confused me.
Few things piss me off as much as the sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity. When rules and regulations trump common sense, then the shark has officially been jumped.

But what gets to me even more is that bright, competent, and pastorally experienced persons like Adam continue to submit themselves to these sinful systems.

And comment he posted on Adam's blog:
What will it take for you to get the message that denominationalism and ordination are bruising, sinful institutions? What will it take for you to hear the message that God is sending you?

Then, the opening line of the petition:
Adam Walker-Cleaveland, having watched you be ritually abused by the ordination process in the Presbyterian Church (USA), we beseech you to forsake ordination in said bureaucracy.

This seemed a bit harsh, but not unexpected. I hearkened back to my short conversation with Tony in front of the drinking fountain at Jacob's Well in October after his provocative comments in his seminar I had just attended. He had some strong words about the "sinful, inefficient, and heretical" ways Christian denominations function. However, his comments regarding Adam's ordination process were even stronger.

I sent a few messages to my friends in emerging church circles (including Tony) asking them to help me understand this idea of ordination by petition. Perhaps they could enlighten me on Part of me really wanted to like this, but I wasn't quite sure what the petition accomplished. Sadly, none of these people deigned to respond to my questions. No worries. We're all busy.

I started trolling the comments of Adam's and Tony's blog, as well as checking to see who all was signing the ordination petition. There was a vibrant and (mostly) civil discourse by over 100 people in total. One comment in particular caught my attention:

Tony, I’m writing as a guy who loves you and admires your work, as a fellow seminary student from almost 20 years ago, and also as a PCUSA minister. Incidentally, given the context of your posting, I’m also the guy who preached at your own ordination service back in 1997.

It’s through all that history and affection that I need to tell you publicly that you’re wrong.

Not about the injustice surrounding your friend’s ordination. Allowing that you’ve communicated all the relevant facts, it doesn’t seem fair that he couldn’t invite a friend of faith to participate in his ordination service. You attended my ordination five years before yours, and you saw that I had the freedom to include a broad range of people who were significant in my development as a minister. You did the same in yours.

On the other hand, your friend may have erred in being unwilling to demonstrate that he could take direction and counsel from a governing body—something that I believe has a place in the context of the American religious free market. In the PCUSA, the process of becoming ordained is partly an exercise in learning healthy submission to peer authority (I can see the eyes rolling back in your head). Now setting aside the not-nearly-rare-enough instances where the submission required is unhealthy, it’s not a bad lesson to learn. More importantly, once candidates have completed (survived?) that process, we have enormous freedom to live and serve as our own calling leads us. It’s OK with me that we disagree on this point. That’s not the problem.

What gets me is that you have demonstrated a rash and bitter level of dismissiveness to those of us who choose this path. In your anger at the bureaucracy of large denominations and institutions, you’ve lashed out not only at them but also at the men and women of faith and calling who participate freely in the opportunities for ministry that they offer.

You sneer at it as simply being loyal to the tribe, and you rarely pass up a chance to mention the availability of health insurance or pensions. Shame on you for not being able—or worse, willing—to understand another person’s experience. You grew up in a very wealthy family and your financial security has never been a hindrance or worry to you—not through Dartmouth, Fuller, Princeton or beyond. What if there’s nothing wrong with trying to be a good steward of a family’s health, whether physical or financial? What if, for example, serving Christ in a denomination that provides a health plan isn’t a sin or a ‘sell-out’ at all, but rather a prudent way to be a good steward?

If I might paraphrase the sense of Jesus’ teaching about the splinter and the log, I suggest this: Swear off or return everything you’ve received from your family before saying another word about how the rest of us provide for ours.

But setting aside the pension issue, what keeps me, and possibly your friend Adam, in the PCUSA isn’t blind servitude or tribalism or even the paltry retirement plan it offers. What keeps me loyal—and I use that term as a virtue, not a punch line—has little to do with whether I think my tradition is best (I don’t). It’s simply that it was in a Presbyterian church that I met Jesus in a life-changing way. And when I felt Christ’s call to ministry in his church, it was that same congregation who helped train me, who prayed for me, and who gave me the chance to test my call in service. I love those people, and yes, I do feel loyal to them.

Tony, the biggest problem I see is that your hatred of denominations gets in the way of the truly important, truly inspired work that you do. It seems to me that rather than attack the weaknesses of denominations (which, frankly, is too easy a target for a man of your intellect), you should be proposing new agendas (as you do) and helping the rest of us reform existing structures from within. As a minister in a radically secular city with enormous ethnic and religious diversity, I don’t have time to re-invent many wheels. But I have learned from the things you’ve written and taught, once I get past the discordant attack on my choice of employer, and I’ve applied them in my teaching, preaching and leadership.

The truest thing I’ve said in this piece is in the first line. I love you and I honestly admire the work that you do within and among a new generation of Christian disciples. What I’m asking is this: get off my back and the backs of the rest of us who do it differently than you. The real problem in the world isn’t the church—it’s the sin and brokenness and injustice that clouds our chance to get a glimpse of Jesus. Help us—help me—to communicate that message in fresher, more authentic ways. Leave the ‘fixing’ of the denominations to those of us who care about them.

John D’Elia
Senior Minister of the American Church in London

I posted his comment in its entirety because it echos many of my own reflections on the issue (aside from John's personal experiences with Tony). The debate continues; both on the blogosphere and in my own mind. I encourage you to plow through the other blog comments if you're so inclined. I really appreciate how much I am learning through these "virtual" communities (though I would argue they are very real in many ways). It helps me wrestle with my ongoing consternation about seminary...and reminds me of the importance of healthy conversation throughout the entire church!

Which is why this site is called koinonia

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brutal Browser

I've been disappointed to hear from several would-be-koinonia-participants indicate that they aren't able to load this site by using the Internet Explorer browser. I'm not sure if this has something to do with the new IE 8 software. I'm a Firefox guy and have experienced no problems. Safari and Opera both seem to be problem-free as well.

I'm not smart enough to know what the issue is. All I know is that the world's most popular browser isn't able to load a blog powered by the world's most popular search engine (Google).

Simply stunning...

If any readers know what the issue is (outside of downloading and using a different browser), feel free to let us know. In the meantime, thanks for your participation in koinonia.

"Make a New Plan, Stan"

It's the time of year for many of us in church work to shift gears. Youth ministry types tend to follow the academic calendar (Labor Day -- Memorial Day) in their regularly occurring activities. Sunday school, Confirmation, Youth Group, and Bible studies all happen regularly - usually weekly - during the school year.

Summer is a completely different animal.

We're not any less busy...we're just a different kind of busy. Weekly routines and rituals give way to mission trips, special event weeks, and planning sessions. Relational ministry opportunities are more prevalent because of kids' flexible (read: unpredictable) schedules...and regularly scheduled programs are a little trickier for the same reason. Youth workers also take time in the summer to recharge their batteries; either in the form of planned vacation time or ambiguously determined "comp time".

But what about the planning?

Very few youth workers are trained to efficiently and effectively cast a long-range (9-12 months) plan for ministry. We'll force ourselves to create events a few weeks in advance so it will appear in the church's monthly newsletter, but the descriptions are nondescript so we don't lock ourselves in to something too far in advance. We plan youth group a few days ahead of time...and we're even better at pulling something out of an orifice-of-choice on the spot. We might even think far enough ahead to put a 6-week topical series together...but even that is subject to change if a kid shows up a Bible study and they just failed a math test or broke up with their boyfriend. We are masters of tending to the here-and-now.

Not only are many of us not trained how to do long-range planning, but it goes against our very nature to think 12 (or even 6) months in advance. We're wired to think, act, speak, and react to situations in-the-moment. We're the ones who are supposed to have a fun game, relevant pop culture analogy, or quirky movie quote at the ready. We're good at those things, which is why we get paid the big bucks.

Manifesting a curriculum plan for 7th & 8th grade faith formation doesn't come so easily.

Here are the 10 things I try to do when coming up with a plan for the year ahead:

  1. Ask and Listen. Solicit the opinions of a small sample of youth, parents, and adult leaders. Don't ask specific questions. Offer carefully crafted, guided questions that allow the person to think creatively and expansively about ministry. Emailed surveys tend to work best for me.
  2. Be Still and Shut Up. Take time to pray and reflect on what happened in the past year. Don't plan anything new. Just think about what worked and didn't work...and WHY.
  3. Location, Location, Location. Going off-site, preferably a place with no distractions, can help give a fresh perspective on ministry. Camps, parks, or other churches in town are great.
  4. Think Seasonally. Lots of natural themes and topics arise at different points in the year. How does your ministry plan reflect what's going on in the world...holidays, weather patterns, etc.
  5. Coordinate Calendars. You'll never find a perfect day / time for your groups to meet...but make sure you're avoiding the big things. If you have a ton of musicians in a particular youth group, don't plan a spring retreat during Solo & Ensemble Contest. Don't have a lock-in the weekend of Prom.
  6. Put Something on Paper. By this point, I usually have enough ideas to start writing (in pencil) on a calendar. (However, this year, I'll probably just use a Google Calendar to do all the planning...mainly for ease of sharing and transferring data to what will become the final copy of the schedule.)
  7. Share. Allow people you surveyed to see your draft copy of the program year. Assure them that it's still a work-in-progress. Ask for feedback on what you've come up with.
  8. Walk Away. Let your plan simmer for a few days or weeks. I try to get the rough draft of the schedule done before I'm out of the office for a week. That way, I'm not tempted to tinker with it right away.
  9. Revisit. Gather the feedback and take another look at the schedule. Are there things you overlooked? Does something just not make sense? Carefully analyze the plan. What would your most critical parent / youth / staff member say about it? Does that criticism have validity? Are there any potential time bombs that you can be proactive about ahead of time?
  10. Tweak. Embrace the natural ebb and flow of the year. Just because you made a plan doesn't mean you can't make a few changes. Your group will grow and change throughout the year; so will you. You might get to next February and realize that the event you planned six months earlier just won't work. I try to not cancel these events, but instead, replace them with something better / more relevant.

This is how I do it. It's not necessarily a comprehensive list, but it's what has worked for me. We'll see what happens this year.

How do you craft a long-range ministry plan?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


My hope for the koinonia blog is for it to be community in the truest sense of the word. A place to share ideas, perspectives, and frustrations on the world we live in. This has become increasingly difficult to do for several users because of Blogspot's complicated commenting system.

Enter: Intense Debate

If I installed it correctly, you should see a more user-friendly commenting process below. We use Intense Debate on luthermergent.org...several other blogs I read use it...so there's really no reason (other than laziness) that I haven't gotten it up and running for koinonia.

So, to those of you who have unsuccessfully attempted to join the conversation - my apologies. Give the new commenting system a try...hopefully you'll find it to be a more interactive way to join the conversation.

I've switched to Disqus. I had problems with my blog loading on Internet Explorer 7 after installing Intense Debate (sorry guys). So far, it's smooth sailing with Disqus.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Seminary Dilemma

So, when are you going to seminary?

Isn't it time you became a pastor?

When are you going to stop playing around in youth ministry and go to seminary?

You're 30 now...don't people your age usually phase out of youth ministry?

Don't you realize how much it helps to have letters behind your name?

Ever since the NBA playoffs started, I've been getting the full-court press about seminary. First of all, let me say that it's humbling to know that people think I could be a pastor. I don't take that affirmation lightly. But here's the deal...

I'm not going to seminary. At least not any time in the near future.

Why not?

Here's what Luther Seminary student Matt Cleaver came up with last week
. The list is both thorough and provocative...not to mention very well-constructed. His insights reveal part of my hesitancy to take the seminary plunge.

On a more personal level, here's why seminary isn't a good fit for me:

I Don't Need It If you were to ask me what I would like to do as a pastor, I would give you the job description of a youth and family minister. Why enter into a lengthy process that wouldn't necessarily result in me being able to do what I want to do?

My Family The traditional seminary track requires no fewer than four moves in four years. Current town - seminary. Seminary - internship. Internship - seminary. Seminary - 1st call. What kid wouldn't hold that kind of inconsistancy against their parent? Even if I wanted to move that often (which I don't), how does that kind of constant movement help me honor my call to being a father and husband?

The Whole Church This is the kicker for me. The call to ordained ministry is a call to serve the entire church. It drives me nuts when seminary students use their senior year to rig the system to get a sexy first call. If a person takes seriously their call to serve the whole church, then they will go where the Spirit is leading and not serve their self-centered motives. The problem is...I would be one of those people. At this point in my life, I'm simply not willing to move to rural Wyoming or downtown Baltimore to serve the church. I just know I'd end up using my connections to find a plumb job at an established, suburban congregation. I'm not necessarily proud of this, but I am 99% certain this is what I would do. Call me selfish, but this is why I prefer free agency as a youth minister instead.

Respect I have an enormous respect for the vocation of pastor. Perhaps this is a byproduct of having a father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and great-uncle who are all pastors. Maybe this is just because I know how much time and effort goes into the call of a pastor. I also know that my tendency is to over-function when expectations are high. This is a recipe for short-term success and long-term failure. I have to get better at boundaries before I'd take a gig that requires so much out of me.

Collar I wear a tie 3-4 days a year. Every time I do, I'm tugging at the collar. The top button is usually unfastened by mid-morning. I don't think I could rock the clerical collar without making a mockery of myself or the institution of the collar.

Now if I could just figure out a way for my church to pay for my housing without being ordained...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The "E" Word

The theme at C.H.A.O.S. (high school youth group) tonight was Evangelism. After prepping the activity and discussion questions, I decided to consult my Twitter / Facebook network for some last minute suggestions. Here is what came my way in the course 0f 45 minutes:

Justin Rimbo (@docrimbo)- Evangelism isn't our responsibility. It's the work of the Holy Spirit in us. SUCK ON THAT.

Dwight DuBois (@blondofthewoods) - I have lots! A whole series of articles. Search the SE Iowa website for 'bowen' and d/l the Evangelism Illuminations article. Best summary: Relationship! (don't be a flashed evangelist)

Beth Lewis (@bethalewis) - Invite a friend to a movie...awkward? no. Gallup research shows that most people new to church come thru an event invite. Ask.

Le Anne Clausen de Montes (via Facebook) - Don't call it 'evangelism.' Invitation, welcome, hospitality--these probably all get to the heart of real evangelism better than a word that's taken on so many negative connotations.

Michael Peuse (via Facebook) - Evangelism is NOT proselytizing.

Two things astonished me. #1 - I have really insightful friends. #2 - This is an example of social networking at its finest. I shared these short perspectives with the young people (in the midst of a highly distracted conversation at Mustard's)...and they resonated loud and strong. The conclusion we reached was that it's easier to talk about what evangelism isn't than to come up with what it is. We talked about ways to demonstrate Christ's love, very few of them involved spirit-healing, speaking in tongues, or distributing tracts on street corners. I was proud of how willing they were to talk about "God stuff" aloud in a public place...which was bit of evangelism in and of itself.

How do I know? The waitress, who overheard our conversation, told me this as we were leaving:

"Your work with kids inspires me. God bless you."

I assured her that it wasn't MY work, but she wasn't interested in theological minutiae. Seeing a group of people gathered for supper and conversation caused this woman to reflect on her own faith...and unexpected byproduct of just another night of senior high youth group.