Sunday, November 12, 2017
Monday, October 16, 2017
I also was pretty well spent. That night, I was achy tired. Fortunately, my calendar was open the next morning, so I slept in, lost myself in a good book the Kalamazoo area clergy group was reading. The weekend accumulation of emails waited until that afternoon. I filled my tank first. Last fall, I didn't do that so well and ended up in the ER. After multiple tests which showed only that I was healthy, my conclusion was fatigue and dehydration after a stressful fall and a strenuous day of fall yard work.
Our calendars fill to overflowing with meetings, events, activities. The fall start up can be exhausting! Church calendars are not immune! Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are marathons for pastors. January is always a bear with annual reports, congregational meetings, training of new officers. Add to this the emotional stressors when members are anxious. It is a recipe for burnout, depression, and worse. Other professions have their own rhythms and challenges as well. But we Americans tend to go and go and go, until our bodies say, "No, you don't!" And we must rest, refuel, replenish the store of joy, enthusiasm, and energy. I was introduced to chronic fatigue syndrome years back when a church member, who was a beloved medical doctor, was forced by her body to take a medical leave for a season.
Self care and work life balance national issues. They are a crisis identified by the Board of Pensions confronting many pastors. We pastors are lolled into over functioning because we are called to ministry and service. It feeds our egos. "Look at how hard I am serving the Lord! I worked 85 hours this week! See how wonderful I am?" At the expense of our families! Congregations love it, but at their expense, too. Over functioning pastors lead to underfunctioning lay leaders. And bless the poor minister who follows them. Rather, dynamic leaders don't work harder. They work smarter! They regularly step out of the emotional system in which they work, to gain perspective. They live interesting lives, which gives them more of themselves to share, instead of losing themselves in ministry. They are dynamic because when they are present, they're attention is with us, and not elsewhere. They have gas, dynamo, power, in their tank.
How do you fill your tank? That will be different for each of us. Church members hopefully are refreshed at corporate worship. When we are feeling poorly, and life has squeezed the faith out of us, we need to stand with the community of faith and have them profess the faith when we can't. Pastors, as worship leaders, get some of this while leading worship, but also need to find such communities which feed their souls when they are not responsible for leading. Presbyteries were created to fill this need. Who pastors the pastor? Where do pastors go to refresh their spirits?
October is Pastor Appreciation Month! Some suggestions: write your pastor a letter expressing what you appreciate about his or her ministry. Support a healthy work life balance for yourself and your church staff. If it's not that way for you in the corporate world...well, the church is a hospital for sinners...we can live a more healthy way. Frankly, the most successful corporations recognize the benefits of a healthy work life balance and that their people are their greatest asset. Make sure your church provides your pastor opportunities to regularly step outside your congregation's emotional field for prospective.
If we want dynamic leaders and healthy congregations, pastors and members alike must fill their tanks and witness to a healthy work life balance. We can do so, because in Jesus Christ we are given "space for grace!"
Friday, September 15, 2017
My dad was a Presbyterian minister. When he retired on disability my parents moved into the Woods Home, a lovely home gifted by a wealthy banker for retired Presbyterian ministers. The home was divided into three apartments. Rev. and Mrs. Byers lived in one of the other apartments. In their 90's, they had lived there for over 30 years. One day, in spite of his weak heart, my dad started pruning an overgrown cherry tree on the property. Rev. Byers, who had planted the tree when he first arrived, saw him, and came storming out of his apartment, shuffling his feet inches at a time, with his canes, two of them, one in each hand raised over his head in protest, shouting, "You can't do that, you'll kill it!" I think what he meant was, that's my baby, don't touch it! Only it had been a long time since Rev. Byers had been able to tend to such chores and the tree was sorely in need of attention. My dad, gifted with people skills, climbed down the ladder, calmed him down, and explained that the tree needed pruned, and that it would bear more fruit in the next harvest. It did to Rev. Byers' delight! And he thank my dad for it. This family story is a metaphor for what the church at every level is experiencing. Like the cherry tree which a wise older colleague had planted, the church needs pruning.
I wonder what the writer of the Fourth Gospel had in mind when sharing Jesus teaching, "Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." I wonder what the Johannine Community was facing at the close of the first century which brought this teaching to mind? Earlier Luke and the Apostle Paul chronicled the early church's outreach to the Gentile community, and the push back they faced. Peter and Paul had "to come down the ladder" and explain why they preached to and baptized those with whom the Torah forbade them to associate. This text points to the discerning nature of the church and the constant growing edge the gospel demands.
The corporate world calls pruning strategic planning. The Presbytery Leadership Team, with whom I serve, calls it strategic visioning discernment. It's not so much what we want, but discerning what God wants. Asking the questions, who are we now? What is our mission, calling, purpose? What is God doing in the neighborhood(s)? What does the fulfillment of that look like? How can we join God in it? What tangible steps can we take to join God in bringing that vision into reality?
The Presbytery Leadership Team and the General Assembly 2020 Vision Commission both reported to the Presbytery of Lake Michigan at its September 9th meeting. Visiting General Assembly Co-Moderator Rev. Denise Anderson, and Becca Snedeker Myers, a College of Wooster student and member of the General Assembly's 2020 Vision Commission invites our input to visioning the future shape of the PC(USA). Presbyterians believe we best discern the mind of Christ together. Please look for an accompanying article in our E-Bulletin on how you can provide your responses to questions, and insights for their discernment. Likewise, Elder Tedd Oyler, representing the Presbytery Leadership Team, reported identified core values, a revised mission statement and a new vision statement based on those core values. He invited a Presbytery-wide dialogue on how to live into the vision via multiple area gatherings, and online or mailed in surveys. We invite and encourage your input.
We pray and trust by the power of the Holy Spirit at work among us to form clear goals, SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-oriented), and strategies to fulfill them. Please look for an accompanying e-bulletin article "Presbytery Strategic Visioning" for these statements, questions for reflection, for the dates and places of the area gatherings, and for online links and address for your input.
I suspect there are at least four reactions to this: Cynicism "Here we go again." Impatience "Finally!" Panic "OMG, change is coming!" Anger "Not on my watch!" Like Rev. Byers, we may find ourselves looking out our window and rushing to protect our baby, our dream, our life-long work, protesting, "You're going to kill it." We are committed that this ministry plan will not sit on the shelf, but will guide our planning, focus our resources, and inspire our life together.
There is an urgency to this task! From my perspective, I see the church at every level both recognizing the call for adaptive change, AND a nostalgic clinging with metaphorical shaking canes to familiar processes and procedures. I see over-stressed church leaders straining to fulfill old expectations like the plate spinners on the old TV variety shows. I see the bodies of committee members cringe, who are asked to think about adding one more thing. I see pastors get crucified for daring to let go of formerly expected duties, and empowering others. I hear a chorus of cries for new members to come save the church, as if we don't already have a savior. I see young leaders, who also are supposed to save the church, scorched by the heat of reactivity to change. I see gifted new members ignored and rebuffed by the old guard with the litany, "We don't do it that way." I also see new folks projecting their previous church experiences onto their new church and new pastor. I see the media slander the church by lumping its diversity into an unloving, exclusive, judgmental version of the church, foreign to most of us. I see the ranks of the "nones" and the "dones" grow, believing that is what the church is. I see us shrink from the responsibility of making our own witness for fear of offending someone! I see Nominating Committees struggling to fill institutional slots. I see an increasing number of congregations who can no longer afford a full time pastor--16 in our Presbytery at last count. The Presbyterian Outlook reports that half of our denomination's active pastors will be of retirement age in just a few years. All of which urgently calls for adaptive change.
On the brighter side, I see dynamic leaders and vital congregations making a difference in their communities. I see people, young and old, longing to make a difference increasing literacy, decreasing gun violence and human trafficking, serving the poor, welcoming refugees, standing with undocumented persons, recognizing their white privilege, confessing their complicity with policies which benefit them and oppress others, and ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE! I see church leaders taking a stand, offending members who pay their salaries, joining in protests, getting arrested for the sake of the gospel! I see us joining others across denominational and religious lines to form coalitions for common causes. And I see the General Assembly entities, Synod and Presbyteries refocusing on God's mission at the local level.
Pruning is not easy! Being pruned implies some outside agent looping off precious limbs. Yet there is a participatory spiritual practice of letting go! Self examination, confession, repentance, and letting go are major elements of the spiritual journey. We must come to terms with the past, with our egos, pride in what we once built, with our grief of what we once knew the church to be, and let go of measuring success by the past. Otherwise, our self righteousness becomes a toxic, deadly anchor to God's mission. Success must instead be measured by fidelity to God's mission. The purpose of pruning is health, fruitfulness and faithfulness. Faithfulness is measured by discerning, visioning and joining in God's activity in the world.
Leaders are charged to lead. Leadership can be dictatorial, functioning in closed systems, or through more open processes and systems. Sometimes, like my dad, we move ahead and start pruning. We can also come down the ladder and explain and envision the future together. The General Assembly's 2020 Vision Commission and our Presbytery's Leadership Team are coming down that ladder, opening up the system and inviting your participation. Please join the dialogue!
For more on open and closed systems read David Jones' article "Open" & "closed" systems in the Presbyterian Outlook, July 10, 2017 here: http://pres-outlook.org/?s=Open+%26+Closed+Systems
David once served a neighboring church to mine on Long Island.
Yours in Christ,
Postscript: My dad, a consummate gardener, died 15 months later while planting tomatoes in the garden. I was 19 years old.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
|Overlook at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore|
It was ten years ago when I sensed God calling me to something new. It was about this time of year when I first learned about the Presbytery of Lake Michigan and its search for a general presbyter. Part of a new call includes the grief work for what is being left behind. I wrestled with my attachments to the Montauk Community Church, the community and friends there, whom I loved. There was for me the added grief of leaving the awe inspiring landscape there. To be blunt, who doesn't love a water view? I had the extraordinary privilege and honor to serve that oceanside fishing, resort community. They provided me with a manse with a ocean view! With a five minute walk to the beach!! With an ocean view from my church office desk!!! They paid me to live there!!!! What can I say? Yet, after eleven years of ministry there, God had something new in mind for me. And the Presbytery has kept me busy enough ever since not to think too much about it.
Life is not all a mountaintop experience. God calls us forth to serve. However, my experience in Montauk taught me about awe. Unless one is spiritually dead, no one enters Montauk without experiencing a sense of awe. When one drives into this village from the west on Montauk Highway, all of a sudden an ocean view opens before your eyes. The universal response of residents and visitors alike is a wonderful sense of awe, joy, peace...recalibration. Getting to Montauk takes some effort, can be tiring and frustrating. All that instantly evaporates. You say to yourself, "OK, this is why I'm here."
During my tenure in Montauk, I had the chance to visit Iona. I learned there the Celtic concept for this. They call it "a thin place where the distance between heaven and earth is tissue thin." This gave me language for what my Montauk neighbors knew instinctively and helped me connect with them. Stricken by the natural beautiful of the place, I led vesper services during the summer at public overlooks where we marveled at the sunset over the water. I led prayer walks on the hiking trails, stopping here and there to reflect on something we noticed and to break into song, giving thanks to God. For two summers, I led a 7 a.m. Sunday service on a popular resort terrace overlooking the Atlantic. With the financial help of the Presbytery, I invited Dennis Dewey, a gifted Biblical story teller to come for a week. We set him up at various public places where he told water and fish stories from the Bible. The magic draw of the storyteller attracted a crowd at each site. At the Lighthouse he led us responsively with Psalm 136, the crowd responding with the refrain, "for his steadfast love endures forever." At the harbor docks he told the story of Jonah and the call of Peter, Andrew, John and James. On the beach he told the story of the risen Jesus making breakfast for the disciples. At the village green, the story of feeding of the five thousand.
What moves you in awe? How do you foster the experience of awe in others? Please do read Susan Beaumont's article and be blessed.
And have an awe filled "Awegust."
Thursday, June 15, 2017
|Rev. Dr. Leanne VanDyk|
Then Dr. Doug Kindschi, director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University, and elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, shared with us the history, contextual need, and the theological grounding for interfaith engagement and dialogue. He described six steps of interfaith engagement: tolerance, hospitality, understanding, respect, acceptance, holy envy. He related these steps to the stages of human development: baby (tolerance), young child (hospitality), preteen (understanding), adolescence (respect), adult (acceptance), and children as parents (holy envy). He shared the story of Grand Rapids' recent interfaith initiatives and examples of what congregations can do, such as the "Pieces for Peace" Project of the First Presbyterian Church in Holland. Women of various faiths who were concerned for peace gathered this winter and made squares for a larger quilt, as a joint witness for peace. The spiritual challenge is, can we recognize God's image in someone who is not like us? If you are interested in receiving copy of Dr. Kindschi's powerpoint file, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will be happy to share it with you.
The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance of PMA announces June 20th, World Refugee Day in the following link: http://pda.pcusa.org/page/world-refugee-day/ #WeChooseWelcome is a rallying call from Presbyterians across the U.S. expressing their commitment to welcome refugees of all nationalities and faiths. Several of our congregations are sponsoring refugees: First Presbyterian Churches in Holland, Kalamazoo, Jackson, and Westminster in Grand Rapids. They all have welcome stories to tell.
We welcomed Rev. Amber Nettleton, the new pastor at Pine Island Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo. She comes to us from the Presbytery of Cascades and is the daughter-in-law of Rev. Doug Nettleton. We welcomed Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon, the new lead pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven. We welcomed Rev. Deborah McCreary, who is serving Benton Harbor, First during Rev. Laurie Hartzell's sabbatical. We welcomed Rev. Deborah Semon-Scott, an Episcopal colleague serving as interim pastor for Coldwater, First. We examined and welcomed candidate Christina "Chrissy" Westberry, to her new call as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo. Welcome to this ministry! We also heard from inquirer Austin Wicks, the son of Revs. Mike and Sally Wicks, and moved him to candidacy. Austin has just graduated from Louisville Theological Seminary and is seeking a field placement during his candidacy year.
|Vice Moderator, Rev. Karen Kelley|
The Buchanan Church hosted our meeting. The members greeted us, helped us find parking, met us at the door, fed us. The air conditioning in the sanctuary was a gift on a 90 degree day!
|Hesperia Presbyterian Church's New Entrance|
|Rev. Paul Tomlinson with Elder|
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Our Presbytery Resource Center just purchased the book "Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to help Young People Discover and Love Your Church" by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin of the Fuller Youth Institute. This book addresses the church's challenge. After a four year project researching 250 congregations with effective ministries with young people, they identify 10 commonly held myths, and offer six strategies.
Debunking the Myths, 10 Qualities your Church does NOT need in order to Grow Young:
- A precise size: There is no correlation between church size and effectiveness.
- A trendy location or region: Location does not have to be a limitation.
- An exact age: New start up churches can be effective, but research shows just as much life change, in churches with a history.
- A popular denomination...or lack of denomination. "God is working through churches of all stripes."
- An off-the-chart cool quotient. Some do have a hip factor, but "for young people today, relational warmth is the new cool."
- A big, modern building: "For teenagers and young adults, feeling at home transcends any building."
- A big budget: "A small budget does not have to mean small impact."
- A "contemporary" worship service. "While the churches we visited were likely to prefer modern worship in some or all their worship contexts, they didn't depend on that alone as a magnet to draw young people."
- A watered-down teaching style. "For today's young people, growing young doesn't mean we talk about Jesus or the cost following him any less."
- A hyper-entertaining ministry program. "Faith communities offer something different," than entertainment, "Slick is no guarantee of success."
- Unlock keychain leadership. "Instead of centralizing authority, empower others--especially young people."
- Empathize with today's young people. "Instead of judging or criticizing, step into the shoes of this generation."
- Take Jesus' message seriously. "Instead of asserting formulaic gospel claims, welcome young people into a Jesus' centered way of life."
- Feel a warm community. "Instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, aim for warm peer and intergenerational friendships."
- Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere. "Instead of giving lip service to how much young people matter, look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource, and involve them in all facets of your congregation."
- Be the best neighbors. "Instead of condemning the world outside your walls, enable young people to neighbor well locally and globally."
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Thanks be to God, unity is a gift we have in Jesus Christ. And community, however messy, awkward and which often triggers our deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities, is also our obligation to pursue.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The Presbytery of Lake Michigan meets four times each year. We met for our first meeting this year on Saturday, March 11th. Minister members of Presbytery and commissioners from our congregations gathered at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. Please find here highlights and links to some documents and resources shared at that meeting.
The Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee preached a powerful message at worship! Find the text of her sermon here: Sermon: Do We Believe This Is Good News?Following worship Professor George Barfield led us in a second conversation on race. He is a retired sociology professor for Ethnic and Race Relations who taught at Indiana University and Lake Michigan College, a Deacon at First Presbyterian Church in Benton Harbor, and now lives in Spring Lake, Mi. Here is his power point Barfield Conversation on Race PowerPoint. He presented a You Tube Video clip from the ABC's TV show "What Would You Do? which you can see here: Bike Thief Each congregation was given a copy of Debbie Irving's book, "Waking Up White, And Finding Myself in the Story of Race." Reverends Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, the 222nd General Assembly co-moderators, have called the PC(USA) to a denomination wide study of this book, which introduces white privilege and prepared a book study guide written by provided by the Office of the General Assembly: Waking Up White Study Guide Our Church Growth Committee has purchased a copy of this book for every congregation in the Presbytery. The book was distributed at the Presbytery Meeting. Read it, share it, discuss it. Other recent resources provided by the Office of the General Assembly on addressing race can be found here: Office of the General Assembly Resources Rev. Denise Anderson is scheduled to preach and present at the September 13th Presbytery Meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
Presbytery is often a mystery to people. In order to interpret the mission of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, I have asked Presbytery committee and ministry team leaders to prepare reports of their work in 2016 on our behalf. Please find that year end consolidated report at this link: PLM 2016 Annual Report Find a scripted powerpoint prepared by the Office of the General Assembly explaining Per Capita, tweaked for the Presbytery of Lake Michigan here: PerCapita Powerpoint These resources will remain available on the Presbytery's web site: http://lakemichiganpresbytery.org/ Our website is now functioning more efficiently. I have contracted Roosien Communications, Inc. for upgrading the site. It will soon have a new look and organization!
"The purpose of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan is to challenge, encourage, and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives them." Please help your pastor and elder commissioner share and use these resources to assist your congregation's witness to Jesus Christ in our world today.
Yours in Christ
John Best, General Presbyter