A little while ago my friend and blogger, Adam Walker Cleaveland, asked me to be a part of a blog series on pastoral identity. Here is my postYou can see the whole series here. I am grateful for the opportunity to share part of my pastoral identity with his readers and now with you. Below is the blog entitled “Pastor as Community Leader“.

When I was in seminary I attended a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and one of the biggest concerns I heard was that we were no longer relevant. That no one listens to us, that we were no longer part of the public discourse. We were no longer a voice or leader in the community. To be honest, I had never seen a Presbyterian pastor be a voice or leader in the community, at least they didn’t get on the news and talk about issues related to the community. Those honors were reserved for the louder, more extreme voices on the right and left.

My first call was to a resort town in Oregon, we used to joke that it was the most unchurched county in the most unchurched state. No one cared what the church had to say about anything. What happened next changed my ideas about the role of pastor as community leader.

I was searching around twitter, using some advice from a well-known Christian blogger, when I ran across a tweet about “Ignite Bend”. Because I was new to the community and interested in getting to know people I followed the URL to an event page. I thought it was some Christian youth thing, but found out it was a free community event that was requesting people to give 5 minute presentations about something they were passionate about. Liking microphones and sharing my passion it was a perfect fit. I submitted a talk entitled, “You May Have Heard It Said, But…” It was accepted and I was one of the ten speakers at Ignite Bend 1. That night, in a community space surrounded by people I didn’t know, most of whom didn’t go to church, many of whom didn’t want anything to do with church, I gave a five minute presentation about changing the perceptions of Christians in the public square, suggesting that we weren’t all like Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson, and that some of us were open to having conversations, not to convert people but to learn from people. That event sparked several relationships that expanded my role as pastor to a part of the community that I would never have had access to in the church.

I then moved to a small, rural, Midwestern community. I started doing the same things I did in Oregon. I sought out opportunities to meet people in the community, I attended community meetings, community events, I asked questions, I followed up, I took people to lunch, had coffee with people. I started doing the things that other parents do. I realized that with unlimited information at our fingertips the community is not going to come to my office to include me, but when I go out into the community I am another welcome voice in the conversation.

In both my calls I have found that people seek out information from different perspectives from people with different expertise and I am increasingly being asked about my thoughts on issues from “the church’s” point of view. I generally say I can only speak for myself and try to focus on the ideas of loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths and loving our neighbor as ourselves. I was asked to provide a weekly column for the local newspaper, a column I intentionally write from the perspective of a dad, not a pastor. The increasing presence of a pastor at the table continues to help me shape my identity as pastor and models the idea that our faith should impact all that we do.

I have been blessed with a congregation that allows me to spend my time out in the community, a congregation that still gets much needed visits and leadership as another part of my pastoral identity. I have found the role of community leader to be a vital aspect to my own identity as pastor as well as helping to understand more fully the context to which I have been called.

Being a community leader helps us as pastors to be relevant, maybe not on a national level, but on a person-to-person level, which is where true transformation begins.

Originally posted on YoRocko!:

My colleague and I visited The Generous Table on Sunday afternoon, “a multi-generational gathering of people living out the Christian faith in South Orange County.” It’s an hour-long worship service in a living room followed by a meal, and it’s designed for people who don’t go to church.

Here’s what I learned.

This isn’t hard. 

Invite your neighbors. Open your door. Arrange some couches. Pick a Bible passage.

Seriously, what else is there to do?

Minda’s husband Aaron led an Bible story activity for the seven or so children who were there, and I’m confident that takes more planning than what the adults do.

This is really difficult.

There’s a huge mental barrier to be overcome in granting yourself the permission to do something like this, to invite neighbors into your house to say prayers, sing worship songs, and talk about the Bible. Over dinner, Minda got a bit emotional talking…

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My column for the local paper is about lack of critical thinking in our world and how, as a parent, my goal is to teach my kids how to think, process, and discern and not what to think, process, and discern. The new about Oklahoma came across my news feed in the midst of writing my column. I should have just waited a day and submitted this.

Great job, Marci!

Originally posted on Glass Overflowing:

Lawmakers in Oklahoma are seemingly in the process of enthusiastically banning Advanced Placement US History classes in Oklahoma schools because they don’t teach American “exceptionalism”.

As reported in the Tulsa World:

“Rep. Dan Fisher, who has been active in a church-and-state organization called the Black Robe Regiment, said the AP U.S. history course framework emphasizes “what is bad about America.”

American exceptionalism is the idea that the United States is unique in the history of the world. The way Fisher and other conservatives are using the notion takes that “city on a hill” notion further to suggest that because of our “exceptional” nature, we should be above critique and examination.


This view reared its ugly head recently after President Obama’s speech at the Prayer Breakfast. When talking about the horrible things being done in the name of religion today around the globe by groups such as ISIS, he…

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c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Called Together”.

This past weekend I traveled back to Oregon to participate in the ordination of my friend to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In layman’s terms it means I went to be there as my friend became a Lutheran priest. It was kind of a whirlwind trip. I arrived late Friday night (really early Saturday morning) after four airports, three hours of driving, two mountain passes, and one little rental car.

The sanctuary was packed for the worship service. There were people from quite a few churches, states, ages, denominations, and faiths. It was a sacred moment in the life of my friend and in the life of the wider church. It was an honor to be there.

My friend and I had worked together for years before I came to Nebraska City and had done some pretty radical things in ministry. He has been active in social justice issues in the community, mission of the church, and the faith formation for youth in Central Oregon for ten years. Only recently has he graduated from seminary and been called to be a mission developer in the Oregon Synod of the ELCA.

The worship service itself was very emotional and it caused me to reflect on my own service of ordination and my own call to the pastorate. The thing that struck me was not about successes or failures I’ve had in ministry or in big plans that God has for me or the church I serve. As my friend, newly ordained tearfully thanked those in attendance, his parents, his sister, his mentors, his students, his church family, his wife and children I was reminded that none of us get where we are by ourselves.

I saw this quote by former Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, this week:

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

It reminded me that as a father, as a pastor, as a community member that I need to pass on the boot straps to those that I can, I need to be receptive to those who are passing boot straps to me, and that, hopefully, my children will be surrounded by people who support them in their journey to wherever it is they are going. It will take more bootstraps than my wife and I can pass on, it will take help from relatives, neighbors, church members, pastors, teammates, teachers, and friends for them to live into fully the person that God has called them to be.

I said a few weeks ago, that the parents are the primary source of faith development in their children. I still believe that is true, but that doesn’t mean they should be all alone. We are all in this together. Our successes and our failures are tied together, if we are to be a community, a true community, we must work together to support one another, to guide each other, and to stand for one another.

There is an Nguni Bantu philosophy, “ubuntu” that means, “I am because we are.” We are connected, we are tied together, and we can help one another, if we only acknowledge our connectedness.

Favorite: Reconnecting with my friends from Oregon and standing with my friend as he took the vows to be a pastor.

Not Favorite: Missing my family that couldn’t go with me.

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Snow Days”.

When I was growing up I lived in Georgia during elementary school and Texas in middle school and high school. There were only a handful of snow days and every one was like a present, wrapped in a birthday cake, they were amazing. I would go out in a ton of layers and play in the snow. We would sled, run, make snow angels, make snowmen, it was AWESOME!! We’d go inside, strip down to our long johns and watch movies or play video games while the mom of the house would put our snow clothes in the dryer and make us hot chocolate. As soon as our clothes were dry we’d be back out in it. Snow days as a kid, were amazing.

Snow days as a parent, aren’t that amazing.

I’m blessed to have a job that is pretty flexible. I can do a lot of my work and preparation from my home. Of course, it takes twice as long with my two lovely, energetic children running around. I know I’m one of the lucky ones, most parents have a lot more to juggle. When schools close, so do daycare centers. That means, not only do you have to figure out a way to get to work safely, but you also have to find emergency daycare while everyone else is trying to do the same thing. If they are lucky they can take their kids in with them to their job, but those jobs are few and far between. If you’re an hourly worker that means a day without pay which may mean the difference between groceries or heat.

I’m not sure there’s a solution, and I do cherish the times I get to play in the snow with my kids, making snow men, having snowball fights, and feeling the rush of riding our sled but I know that there’s a pile of work for me if I don’t take some time to work from home and there’s a ton of people out there who are trying to figure out how to take care of their kids AND pay their bills.

I know that means that there are some older kids watching younger kids, there are people who are putting themselves in danger to get to work, and there are those that are just stuck (physically and mentally), because both parents have jobs that are inflexible. One of the things that I find is helpful in those times is to give and receive grace.

If you are like me and are a supervisor of employees, give a little grace in regards to deadlines and hours, if you have flexible hours, use them and see if there is a way you can help your neighbor who doesn’t. If you don’t have any flexibility and if you don’t have any help, reach out to others and give yourself some grace knowing you can’t do it all. If we as a community decide that the health and safety of our children and families is a high priority then we will continue to show grace to each other as we deal with the challenges and opportunities that life brings. It also means that in order to help those whose job it is to clear the roads and protect our streets it is helpful for us to only be out when we absolutely have to. Giving them some grace will go a long way.

First United Methodist Church hear in Nebraska City has got the right idea, for the next 40 days (February 1-March 15) they are participating in the “Do Something Challenge” and the “40 Days of Kindness”. Their goal is to impact 12,000 people in the next 40 days. If we join them in showing kindness, doing something, and showing grace we might be able to make it through these snow days with less anxiety and more excitement, like we were kids again. If you’d like to know more about the “Do Something Challenge” or “40 Days of Kindness” you can go to FUMC Do Something Now’s facebook page or twitter account (@FUMCdosomething).

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: Watching my kids have as much fun as I did during snow days.

Not Favorite: Trying to get work done when I’d rather be playing in the snow.

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Teach the Faith”.

I think a lot about my kids’ education. I want to do my best to prepare them to be receptive to teaching and to provide any support I can to their teachers. As my children begin to get more fully engrossed in school I’m sure that I will continue to get involved with teachers, volunteering, and being there to support the classroom teachings at home. If I don’t agree with or I have questions about the lessons or the philosophy of the teachers I won’t complain to my children, I’ll set up a meeting with the teacher and do my best to be open minded and understand their side of the story. My child’s academic education is one of the most important things for me. I trust the teachers called to create a space for my child to excel in their academic growth and their growth as a well-rounded person.

One thing I absolutely do not want my children’s teachers to be teaching them is lessons on faith. As a parent, I am called to be the primary teacher of faith and belief, of values and ethics in my children. It’s not the teacher’s job to teach my child faith, spiritual practices, and religious rituals, it’s not even the job of my child’s Sunday school teacher, coach, or, even, their pastor. That might be shocking to hear from a person whose day job is as pastor, but ultimately the Sunday school teacher, the coach, the pastor are support for the parents.

I don’t want my kids’ teachers to be teaching them about faith; I want them to be teaching them about math, English, history, and science.

As a pastor, I am entrusted to talk about and teach faith to people of all ages, especially children. The dirty little secret of pastors is that there is no way we can have as much influence as an active parent. I have an opportunity to be with people two to three hours a week maximum, even if all that time is spent in critical, deep, faithful spiritual development that’s still not enough to overcome the modeling, the conversations, the actions of parents.

Luckily as a parent, I have support. I have teachers, coaches, other parents, and pastors. Luckily you have an opportunity for support. There are 24 churches in this town to which you can go for support, there are great teachers, coaches, and other parents here to help you to honor your responsibility to pass on ethics, rituals, and faith to our children.

There’s even a group at First Presbyterian Church called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).  It’s for moms who have children under 5 years old. They get together about once a month to eat, make crafts, talk about being moms, and help to impart faith. There are other small groups, bible studies, worship services, meals, and many opportunities to find support for each other as we raise our kids to be positive members of society.

If we abdicate our responsibility to teach the next generation, we abdicate our ability to complain about who they become.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The nice weather, I hope I get to play golf this week.

Not Favorite: My wife is on a business trip. I’m all by myself this week.

123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Now we Wait”.

We’ve reached the middle of January folks. This week the weather has been a little better but for all intents and purposes Nebraska City is in hibernation. The high created by the mass of holidays and festivities from Thanksgiving to New Year’s has died down and we’ve had time to get back to the grind. Most of the attractions are closed, people aren’t out much, it just feels like everyone retreats to their caves until April, when things start to open back up, get moving, and the weather cooperates (maybe).

This is my least favorite part of the year.

It’s my least favorite for a lot of reasons. College football is over, my kids are stuck in the house, it is really, REALLY cold. Not just cold, but bitter cold and it’s bitter cold for weeks at a time. I’m also extroverted, which means that one of the ways that I remain energized is by being with other people. It’s conversations, chance encounters, meetings on the street, etc. During the first quarter of the year people don’t do these things. They aren’t out, my kids and the neighborhood kids aren’t out, so their parents aren’t out. I feel shut up, I feel isolated, I don’t like it.

Here’s the deal though, it’s all part of the cycle. Our world is set up to go, go, go, to never stop. Our kids don’t get time off, of sports, of clubs, of responsibilities. Parents don’t stop, we can’t stop, we don’t take our vacation days (if we get them), we are constantly running, running, running. It’s not how we were created, it’s not what we were created for. I mean, God even took a day off.

That’s how it’s set up. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

We are designed to rest, our plants do it, our Earth does it, why don’t we do it? This is the time of year where things are dormant, things are resting so we can celebrate the beauty of spring, the excitement of airing out our homes, and playing in the yard again, getting in the garden, hearing the kids laugh and shriek as they run around the neighborhood.

That doesn’t mean nothing is happening, it does mean that the earth, the plants, and we should be preparing for spring. We should be reflecting on what happened last year and what we are going to do in the upcoming year.

I know that plans are being made for the city, high school students are making plans as they prepare for graduation, parents are making plans as they try to figure out what they are going to do with their kids this summer. If they aren’t making those plans they might get caught off guard when the time comes.

I’m planning on trying to figure out kindergarten for my daughter next fall and preschool for my son. I’m trying to figure out daycare options for the summer. My wife and I are trying to figure out our summer. Are we going on vacation? Can we afford it? What are the things we want to get accomplished in the yard? What are the things that our jobs want from us this summer?

We’re planning, we’re dreaming, but for now…we wait.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The day after I submitted my last column about my son only wanting to be comforted by my wife he decided that he only wanted me.

Not Favorite: I have to get up early with my son, because he will only accept breakfast from me. No sleeping in.


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