Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fresh Start

I don't know about you but I look forward to the turn of each new year. It is always a symbolic opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning. It holds the power to redeem bad habits and turn them into fruitful and healthy behaviors if one chooses to allow it. I am not one for resolutions but I do believe in opportunities to begin anew. 2010 was one of those years for me. I knew by the end of 2009 something needed to change. I was too intensely focused on my work and not making enough time for personal renewal. I started the year well with a week off dedicated to rest and spiritual renewal. It was a quiet time filled with prayer, bible study and spending time in the outdoors during a balmy Texas winter. That week restored my soul and laid the groundwork for 2010.

The work of the Church is exhilarating and and at the same time deeply challenging. I rarely find it mundane. It is always about Christ's work in and through us. How awesome is that! Working for a diocese creates a unique perspective. Our work with the 153 congregations of the Diocese of Texas requires both a 10,000 foot perspective and an on the ground awareness. It is SO easy to see why churches get completely caught up in the day to day operation of their congregations. Their calendars are full taking care of their peoples' needs for worship, formation, pastoral care and a variety of other activities. Stepping out to do mission and evangelism in the world are sometimes overlooked because of the other demands. But to overlook this work is suicidal. The church will die a slow death if it isn't responsive to the needs of those outside our walls to know the transforming love and touch of Christ Jesus. This is the work that brings new life and vitality to a congregation and it should!

As we enter into a new year, this time for a fresh start, I encourage you as a leader to renew your efforts to share the Good News of Christ to a world that doesn't know him. One doesn't have to go far to find someone in need of this life giving message. Our personal connections, including our families, are often the greatest opportunities for sharing. Next, the communities surrounding the locations of our churches are filled to the brim with persons who have never been invited to join a Christian community, much less witness the transforming power of a group of people who seek to worship and serve God. Yes, our communities are far from perfect. Don't use that as an excuse not to invite someone in. When we fail to invite, we inhibit the potential of our congregations to serve.

So let us commit to some new behaviors in 2011. Living our lives out of gratitude to God, sharing the Good News of Christ with those who do not know him, serving others because Christ commanded us to do so, and inviting persons into our communities will all be acts of love that will have results beyond measure.

How will you choose to have a fresh start in 2011?

Monday, December 20, 2010


Advent. The perfect time to remember that life is about constant transition from one time to the next. This transitional time is charged with expectation, anticipated joy and a new start. Jesus' birth was the greatest transition the world has ever known. Mary must have felt all the emotions that come with not only being pregnant but also knowing she was on a mission from God. Little did she really know how the birth of her child would change the world! Out of darkness and misunderstanding came the Word, the revelation of the spirit of God made manifest. What a transition!

All of us face transitions. The Church is no exception. Two weeks ago I was at a church where the rector had recently left to answer a call to another congregation. The leaders of that rector-less congregation were going through all the emotions of transition and change. They were sad, felt somewhat abandoned, abit angry at the diocese for allowing this transition to happen, and uncertain about what lay ahead. These very human responses are predictable when a church loses a leader who is held in high regard. Today I felt these same emotions when I heard about the death last Saturday of a priest who died in her prime from a vicious cancer. A woman who was reaping remarkable fruit in her ministry with a congregation that had recently moved across town and was restarting under her leadership. But I have come to understand that the nature of life is change. This priest transitioned to experience God face to face. We transition to a new way of living without her presence among us.

These times call for great faith and assurance that an all powerful and merciful Maker will see us through. We can choose to allow transitions to challenge our faith or we can choose to be expectant, to believe, to observe God working in ways that are mysterious. We can anticipate with hope what is yet to be much like the birth of Christ. Transitions are the very times when unimaginable blessings may enter our lives. Do we have the heart and the spirit to be open to the movement of God at times such as these?

In this week that transitions us from Advent to Christmas let us all remember the wondrous birth of Jesus and how it changed the world. Let us all remember that God is present in our transitions and be open to the good that may be born out of them. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Taking Charge

People in congregations really like having 'a say' in matters. They often prefer a collaborative approach to leadership by their clergy and designated lay leaders. Having 'a say' matters, especially when it comes to plans for the future in which people in the pew are expected to own, engage and finance. Collaborative efforts can be immensely successful and are often the standard of thoughtful leadership.

However, there are times in the life of a church when it is necessary for leaders to take charge, step up, make decisions, and move forward without the input of secondary leaders. Many of these times evolve out of crisis, malaise, and urgency. I have found it interesting to watch struggling congregations and to observe leadership behaviors in response to those struggles. In a crude example, sometimes the patient dies waiting for numerous doctors to coordinate opportunities to collaborate and agree on a course of treatment. Taking charge and making decisions for others takes wisdom, discernment and a faithfulness that runs deep. It also takes courage to face persons who don't appreciate the loss of opportunity for input. But sometimes taking charge is essential. Sometimes it is absolutely needed and actually expected by those being led.

I recently watched a vestry collapse under the expectation of the right to collaborate. There were underlying behaviors in their leadership culture that were not trusting of each other combined with an aire of entitlement. Might I define these behaviors as deadly sins of leaders? This extreme situation required the intervention of a clergy person who took charge, clearly laid out the decisions necessary, and defined the accountability. These risky actions were exactly what was needed by this broken, tired, unable-to-agree-on-anything group. They had collaborated their decisions into the ground and created an intractable situation.

This clergy person's taking charge provides a course of action, a road map to the future, a clear path ahead. Now it is up to each vestry person to agree or disagree to that course of action. It is time to set aside personal agendas and consider the common good for the congregation. One thing for sure, their success will be dependent on their letting go and allowing the Holy Spirit to move in and work amongst them. Healing, caring for the other in new ways needs to be fostered. Each leader needs to consider the possibility that what God intends may not look like what they personally want. Do they get on board? Do they get off the train? Do they support this clergy person's clear directives? Time will tell. In this situation, the well being of that congregation is at stake.

This is not an isolated situation, it often occurs in one manifestation or another in leadership circles. These are the types of situations where real opportunities can be captured, corners turned, dysfunctional dynamics challenged and improved. One thing for sure, when taking charge is absolutely necessary it needs to be done. The church can not step out in its efforts to be about God's mission in the world until it can get beyond being stuck. Taking the risk to take charge might be the very act that breaks open the place for God's miraculous work.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It Should Be Obvious

In the zeal of leaders to move a congregation forward, focused on a Godly vision that propels a church into a missionary focus, it is easy to leave people in need of pastoral care on the sidelines. Pastoral care, often the center of activity for many congregations, can sometimes be dismissed as too time consuming and human resource draining. I have heard clergy say, "I don't make visitations and I sure don't do hospital calls". After recently hearing this said for the fourth time this year I am beginning to wonder what kind of pastoral care is taking place in the congregations where those clergy serve.

A few weeks ago I facilitated an assessment meeting in a program size congregation where this need rose quickly to the surface, with people bemoaning the lack of attention to pastoral care, both in organized and in personal ways. Many people in need were slipping through the cracks, not noticed, not responded to in times of crisis and illness, symptomatic of a lack of organized pastoral response. The comment was made that the small group ministries in that church were not enough because they could not address the pastoral care needs for the entire congregation. Shut-ins, members not active in groups, and others were slipping through the cracks. There were no organized ways to respond to those persons and it was beginning to disturb many of the leaders in that church.

We all know that many persons will not voluntarily make others aware of their needs and then resent the fact that 'no one from the church responded or visited me'. This is a never ending challenge that exists in every congregation. However, it should be obvious that pastoral care is an important function of a congregation and it is the leaders' responsibility to set up systematic ways to address those needs. The key definer here is 'systematic' and not left to chance. And systematic must include numerous people beyond the clergy.

It is fairly easy to justify busyness, focus on mission and growth and other aspects of leading congregations as to the reasons why systematic pastoral care isn't being done very well. But something is out of kilter when time isn't carved out to respond to people who are hurting. The church has many resources today including Stephens Minstries and the less involved but solid program called Community of Hope. Both of these efforts train individuals to respond to persons in need. Identifying persons with the gift of pastoral care and arranging for them to be mentored and scheduled for making visits is one of many other options. One thing is for certain though, clergy should not opt out of pastoral ministry altogether. When they do, it sends a loud message that the spiritual leader of the community doesn't care. This message will powerfully overshadow any effort that leader is making to move a congregation forward into a missionary vision. It will undermine other efforts in congregational development.

If you find yourself in a congregation that needs a systematic response to pastoral care, what role can you play in getting that established? Don't hesitate. This obvious need should always be addressed with thoughtfulness and love for God's people. Only when a pastoral ministry is in place can a congregation ever hope to move forward into its God-given vision for its future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

But They Get Mad!

I was recently teaching a class of persons in training and formation to become ordained priests who will serve small congregations. We were having a lively discussion about change and how difficult it is to lead it, especially in congregations that have spent most of their years managing and maintaining the way they have always done things. The subject of life cycles and death of ministries came up. In the course of the conversation one of the students cited a recent conversation in his congregation about a ministry that has exhibited all signs of death: little to no attendance; lack of energy; no one willing to lead and a general malaise and not knowing what to do about it. Yet when the subject was broached about allowing the ministry to die, a cry arose and they got mad about the very idea of shutting it down. He said that emotional reaction ended the conversation. The ministry limps on.

People predictably will grieve and get angry about the death of a ministry in which they have invested their time, energy and resources. Ministries that have outlived their usefulness are often such a part of the life of a congregation that the people involved do not want to let it go, even if it has totally lost its usefulness. Memories of a once fruitful ministry often become more valuable then the current reality. Helping people assess the vitality of ministries and helping them let go of ones that sap the church of its finite energy are hard work.

It is a leader's responsibility to guide a group in letting go.

This takes leadership skill. I have witnessed leaders who have arbitrarily and unilaterally shut down ministries and seen the resulting fall out. This is not skilled leadership. Bringing people into the reality through assessment, listening, discussion and necessary decisions will help move people forward. Life and death of everything is a spiritual journey. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven..." Ecclesiastes 3:1.

It is critically important for leaders in the church to understand that they are the ones to help others in their spiritual journeys. Life in Christian community is about movement. It is about witness in the world. It is about fruitfulness for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

So the next time 'they get mad' when it comes to change in the church, step back, say your prayers for wisdom, discernment and a listening ear. Then be prepared to walk beside and a little in front of these persons on their journey. Know as a missionary leader you play a critical role in persons' spiritual growth and understanding that ministries are meant to be life giving, not life taking. Avoid the temptation to be a museum curator for memories of ministries that have long outlived their purpose. Instead, keep your sights on ministries that contribute to and renew the spirit. For it is there that the Holy Spirit is at work.

Be willing to say last rites over dead ministries and celebrate the birth of vibrant new ones. Only then can the church be renewed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Church Has Left the Building

I just got back from a great conversation with a priest who has a tremendous capacity to think outside the box when it comes to being creative with his congregation. He has fostered a culture of creativity for the 12+ years he has been there. He shook this staid congregation when he first arrived and persons uncomfortable with spontaneity and creativity left for places of greater predictability.

This priest has shaped a culture at this church to expect the unexpected. To anticipate that God will bless the unusual. To be ready to work hard, have fun and be faithful and creative in the process.

He has worked at identifying persons who have gifts and strengths in different areas and put them to work in appropriate ways to support these efforts. This has generated a level of empowerment, enthusiam and anticipation that has undergirded the great outreach they have undertaken.

One of the imaginative things they did as a congregation this year was "Church Has Left the Building". A large team of persons organized the event and lined up a variety of activities from which the membership could participate on a Sunday morning in lieu of going to church. Everything from working in soup kitchens, repairing homes, cleaning out elderly residences, to addressing invitations for a cancer center's benefit were undertaken on that day with three fourths of the attendance involved in some act of love and service. There were appropriate activities for every age group from three year olds to the oldest members who were not mobile. When it was all said and done 235 members had participated. The results were amazing and the fruit of these acts of love in the name of Jesus has multiplied, not to mention what it did for the spirits of the persons involved. They have now asked the question, "What's next?"

I raise this example to demonstrate how important it is to get outside of our routines, to allow for inspiration and trust that God will bless this kind of creativity. Our natural inclination as congregations is to look internally, to think that Church is inside the building. But the reality is that for the Church to be healthy and responsive to a world that doesn't know God, the Church has to get on the road.

Activities of this nature are never easy. Often leaders have to battle the resistance of congregational members who are fearful of creativity. But this is about faithfulness, being willing to risk for the sake of sharing Christ's love. We will never know what fruit will be born until we are willing to take these risks.

When was the last time your congregation left the building, set about to take the church on the road? What creative idea has God placed on your heart that needs to be explored?

Step out. See what happens. The results may truly amaze and bless you and all that are involved.

Let's get out for a road trip!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sharing Faith Stories

NO excuses for not having written this blog since the first week of October. However, I have been in three other dioceses working with clergy, bishops and laity on congregational development and then back home to oversee our own clergy conference. (What's that about no excuses?) There seem to be common themes amongst all of these circles. One is the undercurrent of a sense of urgency about the need for change in our churches. It feels like there is a sense of anxiety about what that means. People are talking about needed change but many can't define what exactly needs change. The other themes I am hearing are 'doing more with less' and the challenge of 'what to do with empty buildings'. But there is a common theme I am also hearing and that is 'sharing our faith stories'. All of a sudden lots of folks are asking how to help others articulate their faith.

I find the first three themes to be predictable at a time the statistics tell us that attendance numbers are slowly decreasing, we have aging congregations and we have an abundance of property. But the fourth, concerning sharing our faith as individuals, is, indeed, very hopeful.

I frankly don't care what has caused the tidal wave of interest in this topic, I am just glad it is being talked about. I have been an Episcopalian all my life and I remember the stigma attached to talking about one's personal relationship with God in Christ. I have heard numerous people say that they ran away from other denominations that emphasized this activity and were so glad that the ability or williness to share one's faith didn't seem to be important or 'required' as Episcopalians. This comment was often followed with a seeming sigh of relief. A defining description has often been that 'Episcopalians live out the faith not talk about it.'

There is so much our church has to offer, especially to persons who appreciate the opportunity to ask questions and not be judged for doubting. Perhaps it has been this culture of acceptance that has inhibited the certitude of faith sharing. But there comes a point when our inability to be open about our spiritual lives diminishes us. I find that bonds of friendship and community grow dramatically when individuals and communities articulate the power of God in our lives. So many of us have experienced blessing, transformation, reconciliation even the miraculous because of our faith. These are stories of hope and power. These are stories that should be shared, dare I say, must be shared to those who do not know God.

It will be messy and perhaps uncomfortable to take on new practices of sharing our faith stories as Episcopalians. I am convinced we will all be the better for it. I think it has something to do with what Jesus asked of us..... Let's encourage these new ways of living together as believers. I can't wait to hear the stories of my fellow Episcopalians who will hopefullly grow in their ability to tell them!

Monday, October 4, 2010


There is lots of buzz around the church about what the "emerging church" looks like. So often in conversation it is held up as the model for the future, even though people, especially clergy, aren't quite sure what it looks like. However, there are some descriptors that are often used to visualize it including the words 'relational', 'informal', 'intimate', 'liturgical', and 'culturally relevant'. And above all else it is described as 'authentic'.

What in the world does that mean? I recently heard a young adult say he "hates religion but loves Jesus". Now that gets to the root of the challenge.

There is a movement around the American church to do away with the word 'Christianity' and replace it with 'Christ Followers'. Apparently the mental model of what a Christian church looks like carries huge baggage that a younger generation is ready to dismiss for something they consider more 'authentic', modeling and following the life of Christ in the ways it lives out mission and ministry. This movement implies that the institutional church, including our own, doesn't do a very good job at being 'authentic'. I believe in many ways we deserve this judgement. On our way to becoming an institution many of our congregations have lost their vibrancy, reflectiveness, spiritual vitality and witness. We have become quite predictable.

There are a number of things about our church that should be re-assessed to determine if the predictability is fruitful. For one, the comfort of our liturgy, knowing almost anywhere in the world you will find some similarities of rite on Sunday mornings can be a blessing and a barrier. The routine and rhythm can satisfy our souls but lull us into a state of slumber if we aren't careful. Our liturgy has the power to connect us to God through the practice of ancient rites, especially the Holy Eucharist, the very act that Jesus told us to replicate. If we are going to make inroads with a younger generation and help create a new mental model of the church we must share our worship and why we do it. We must allow it to become 'informal', 'intimate', 'relational' and 'culturally relevant' in ways that honor the basics but are open to emerging new ways of being church. We should not fear how God might be utilizing these fresh expressions to attract persons into community. The institutional church needs to open its heart to how it can partner with those courageous young leaders are are willing to take the risk to try new ways of reaching those who are searching for God. The emerging church will succeed if the institutional church opens itself to the work of the Holy Spirit in this movement. This might mean support through people power, sacrificial giving and prayer. It might mean parallel worship expressions. It might mean taking a good hard look at the way we do things. Some of our churches are doing this work as they journey into the future. Some of our churches are fearfully bound to predictability. Wherever we are on this spectrum we are called to be authentic witnesses to the power of God, individually and corporately. Working with our missionary leaders who have the courage to risk new ways of being church can be an amazing and holy journey. How are you called to be a part of this work?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Helping People Understand and Discover

I just returned from a three day retreat in Indiana where I had plenty of time to create an environment of self reflection, lots of discussion, bible study and learning for a group of 50 people. It was about getting in touch with one's God-given passion, giftedness and call. The teachings were grounded in raising awareness of how the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us and is yearning to work through us so that others can see that glimpse of God. This is a new understanding for lots of Episcopalians to internalize. It has huge implications and becomes an avenue for spiritual growth or a barrier to it. Only on this foundation of understanding can one begin to discover and explore the possibilities of personal call to serve Christ. And call is so misunderstood in our denomination. It has been almost exclusively thought of in terms of those who feel called to ordination. We must help every person understand that God calls and equips them with passion and giftedness in addition to skill and innate talents and abilities.

There is alot of teaching, studying and discussion that needs to happen for people in our pews. This is foundational identity-in-God discernment. I think the church doesn't spend much time doing this work because it doesn't understand the value of it. And it is work. It is our loss because we don't emphasize discovery and discernment. Congregations will never be spiritually mature until the individuals in them do this critical stuff.

I think one of the reasons why leaders in congregations often act as if the church is just another non-profit is because they have never learned what differentiates the two. Leaders who understand the life changing call to be missional have a hugely different motivation to serve than leaders in non-profits. They are both about serving, but missionary leaders understand their call comes from God and doesn't eminate from any other need.

The 'aha' lightbulb moments this weekend were fun to watch. People began to say, "I now understand how God has uniquely made me for ministry." Holy visions surfaced, a number of persons left convicted with what they were called to do. I had a tremendous sense of gratitude knowing this effort was fruitful. Some told me it was "life changing."

There is lots of work to be done in our churches in this regard. I hope we will spend more time helping people understand and discover God's unique design on their lives. The results could be transformative and holy. What is more important than that?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Caring Enough

I was recently in a conversation with a young priest about his congregation. It is a young church with leaders who love it and want it to grow. It has much to offer in spirit and opportunity. Yet when I asked him how he gathers contact information about first time visitors he said, 'we are inconsistent, we try but aren't always successful.' I was really surprised and pondered on this response for a couple of days. Why wouldn't a young church with energy and potential not be more intentional about gathering information from visitors?

What does it say about a church that doesn't seem to care enough to put high priority into this task? Do they think they are being too pushy if they systematically do this? Is it one of many things needing to be done that just doesn't get done very well?

I decided to think about the visitor's perspective. Here is a person who screws up courage to visit a church they have never been to before. They might have impressions of what to expect born out of previous experiences with churches. Or perhaps this is a person who is so unchurched that this visit may be the first EVER to a church outside of a funeral or wedding.

The following might be a few thoughts running through this first time visitor's mind:

" The people seemed nice enough, but I was surprised that no one asked my name".
"I really didn't want anyone to approach me because I am not sure what I want. However, I left that church really not too impressed. I have no idea if there is anything there for me anyway."

"If they really are interested in me, you would think they would have taken down my contact information. I want to know more about the church and not sure what I need to do to find out. I guess I will visit their website. Maybe I will try again later."

Of course, these are just a few possible responses. But one thing is for sure, visitors have an unspoken expectation that they will find something that represents God at a church. Isn't God caring? Loving? Does God care about me? Isn't that what churches are supposed to do?

Not caring enough to capture contact information from visitors is like saying, 'we are doing well enough here without you'or 'we don't value your visit enough to respond to you'. Anyway you slice it, not caring enough to capture contact information and responding to it with at least a 'thank you for attending' says 'you really don't matter to us'. That is personal. That is counter to every thing we profess as Christians in terms of caring for others.

Let's raise our awareness of how well we do this critical 'welcome' ministry in our churches. It should be very high priority. It truly represents how much we really care.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Target Audience of 5 Year Olds

Yesterday I had the privilege of worshiping in a congregation that was celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding. What a turn around story!! This was a church that had a number of 'dark' experiences in its past. This was a church that lost much of its will to exist, falling from a congregation of about 100 average Sunday attendance in 2000 to about 45 souls struggling to hang on. Yesterday the church had 175 people in attendance, 40 of them children and youth.
What happened?

This is a classic example of faithful, mission minded leadership. A middle aged priest felt he was called to this church five years ago. He was so sure that God wanted him to go there that he and his wife put money down on a home near that location before he ever visited with the Bishop about having the opportunity to go there. This church, this move, would be 175 miles from his cure. He was certain God was calling him there and it was going to happen. Once he had the opportunity to visit with the Bishop about his hope to move he was told that the congregation simply couldn't afford a priest, it was an impossible situation. But two days later, the leaders of that church called the Bishop saying they were willing to take one last chance and offer up 6 months salary for a full time priest. The rest is history.

This priest had an inspired vision for this congregation which evolved around children. He set about to identify with the parishioners a new sense of mission, core values and a vision that focused on five year olds. He instilled a 'with God's help all things are possible' attitude. He worked to empower and release very talented parishioners for ministry. The church was spruced up. Much emphasis was put on invitation and welcome to newcomers. A comprehensive and very creative rotation Sunday School for children was established. Cheerful spaces were created for children of all ages. Families began to come, stay and get connected into relationships and ministries. The liturgy began to reflect the casual and contemporary style of the congregants. And the children became central to the closing of the main service every Sunday. A new practice of inviting children of all ages to come to the front of the church was encouraged. Baskets brimming with musical instruments and noise makers always await little hands to dive into for the selection of their choice. As the children pour into the front of the nave, some in mothers' arms, a cacophany of joyful noise builds to a crescendo as the recessional concurs. This precious moment is a powerful,joyful noise unto the Lord!

Watching this activity unfold yesterday made me reflect on the numerous congregations that lament that they have no children in attendance. I know there are no simple answers. But I also know the power of faithful, prayerful leaders who are determined to believe 'with God's help all things are possible'. This church is a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform a congregation. Focusing on five year olds has born great fruit.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bogged Down and Stressed Out

In reflecting why I haven't written a blog in a couple of weeks I told myself how bogged down and stressed out I have been over ........ you name it. The list is boringly long. But it is that very same list of things that just changes names from week to week leaving me in a constant stage of feeling there is never enough time. Going to bed at night thinking about my 'to do list that I am behind on' never seems to help me get a good night sleep.

Then I had a conversation with one of my spiritual advisors, my 32 year old son who is passionate about his relationship with God and chooses to rely on God so much that he simply doesn't angst very often. About anything! He is the personification of a reminder to me about God's goodness, God's redemption and the way the Holy Spirit can change a persons' life. Conversations with him force me to be the learner, to stretch my faith and to be open to the wisdom of one's offspring. What is it about parenthood? This six foot five inch man is still the little boy I brought into this world. The child I parented, taught life lessons to, and watched as he stumbled through life to find his adulthood. Now God is using him in profound ways to teach me.

About ths bogged down and stressed out thing he said, "Mom, you have the work God created you to do. It is your 'dream job'. Why do you let it stress you out so much?"

Standing in my kitchen he struck a memorable, exaggerated pose, mimicking God with arms stretched out. In his pretending to be God he said, "I have given this great work you love to do Mary, it is a gift! You are the one who chooses to let it stress you out. That is not my intent! Your choice!"

Wow, nothing like a two by four between the eyes via a little dramatization!

I am sure I am not alone as a person fully engaged in ministry who allows the workload to sometimes get the best of them. Why, we are working for God, right? We have to give it our all, our best. Unfortunately this expectation I place on my self is self imposed. God has so richly blessed my work that sometimes I forget to give it all to Him. When I lean on myself, like anything else in ministry, I generally fail to make the mark. Yet God has shown me so often his satisfaction and delight.

I have felt lighter the last few days. Some of the scales have fallen from my eyes.

I am going to work to not be so demanding of myself, thanks to the wisdom of a son who gets it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Stewardship: Does Your Congregation 'Get It'?

The word 'stewardship' has become synonymous with the annual beg-a-thon in congregations for financial support. The Church has allowed this to happen and it is so unfortunate. Now we need to undo that damage and re-build the true understanding of stewardship because it is foundational to the faith. This last weekend the Diocese of Texas had its annual Stewardship Conference. This large gathering started in the 1980's with a significant emphasis on the theology of stewardship and all things money raising. It has gradually morphed through the decades to have a very heavy emphasis on the theology of stewardship and a minor emphasis on money raising. This critical change has been in response to those of us who work with vestries and congregational leaders who demonstrate little understanding of this theology. The notion that the Church is working out of God's abundance to us individually and corporately is contrasted by the more familiar human fear of scarcity. Turning off lights, lowering thermostats, cutting printing costs and renegotiating energy services are all good things. They represent being good stewards of God's green earth and people's pocket books. My question is, have congregational leaders been faithful first in teaching and reminding its people that everything they have comes from God? That we were born to reflect God's love one to another and to serve in His name? That out of thanksgiving we are to joyfully return to God a tithe which is just a portion of what God has given to us to steward? That all that we have is really not ours but God's?

Talk about a radical theology! This is hard stuff to teach in a culture of extreme material wealth and the 'self made man' who feels he is responsible for building his private wealth and is the master of his own destiny. It is also hard to teach to people who feel they have a right to determine where exactly there donated dollars are spent and where withholding is often used as pressure to get what they want.

When I hear clergy say they will not talk about money because that is the vestry's work, I cringe. We MUST not only discuss money and how it impacts our lives but we need to understand how it impacts our personal and corporate witness as Christians. The Church has a huge responsibility to help its members understand God's economy, what scripture says about money, what Jesus taught about money, in order to grow in our spiritual lives and faithfulness. The irony is that when one moves from fears of scarcity to understanding of abundance, their joy in giving grows dramatically! And the world becomes a better place.

America has been in a significant recession for awhile. Many churches are straining to be thoughtful stewards of their resources. I challenge missionary leaders to understand that embodying an attitude of gratitude and helping people understand the theology of stewardship while challenging them to grow in their faithful giving at this time will be very important to do. I also encourage leaders to identify laity who have the gift for stewardship and empower them to help in creative ways to assist their fellow congregants to grow in this understanding. People respond to leaders, clergy and lay, who witness to the power of God in their lives and their stewardship response. The Church will come closer to 'getting it', embodying a true understanding of what stewardship really means. Now is the time to step up and do this work. The church will be a more faithful community as a result.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Needs That Don't Go Away

I read an article in the newspaper yesterday about the home church movement. It spoke to the growing popularity in America of small groups meeting in homes in lieu of the institutional church we have come to know over the last 100 years. Some of the reasons cited for joining these home churches were as follows: opportunity for strong relationship building; fellowship; intimate and informal prayer;flexibility; child friendly; setting for engaging Bible study; low cost. The article went on to say that persons see home churches as a viable option to joining an established church. People interested also said that they think home churches model the early church which in some ways represents authenticity to the way God would design churches.

There is validity in these reasons which poses the challenge to those of us involved with the institutional church.

This movement has its downside which was not included in the article. I expect that home churches call for really wise and faithful leaders, outstanding resources that keep people engaged in learning, and establishment of expectations among group members that foster discipline and personal stewardship, just to name a few. Nevertheless, home churches are a growing viable option to established congregations.

The challenge for those of us in organized churches is to work hard at providing some of the same opportunities that home churches provide. Anyone who has worked at establishing small group ministries knows how challenging they can be. It has been my experience that organizing, developing and promoting healthy small group ministries in churches takes dedicated, creative and intentional work, not to mention prayer that seeks God's guidance beyond all the packaged programs available to the church today. It is particularly hard in congregations that are static with few new members and often tired leadership. Old habits and behaviors are hard to change. Just ask the established pastor who now wants to institute name tags in a congregation that has gotten along without them forever. Starting small groups in homes with the primary objectives that mimic those of home churches is HARD WORK. It is so important that it should become priority work for institutional church and its leaders. This isn't something that can simply be sidelined for consideration. People need to grow in relationship with each other, they need to have opportunities for intimate prayer, they need relaxed fellowship, and they need the opportunity to hear each other share how God is working in their lives. Often the best way to address these needs are in small home groups.

My question for you is, have you made small group ministry a priority at your church? If you tried and failed, have you discerned how you might go about it differently? Have you sought out good resources and understand the basics that you may be called as the leader to identify, encourage, resource train and support persons suitable to lead small home groups in your church? Have you realized this is an ongoing necessity for the organic nature of ever changing small home groups? Have you figured out the need to always create new groups because established ones become insulated and often not welcoming to new members because of the bonds of friendship and patterns of the groups?

How have you established the expectation that your members participate in small groups, with an emphasis of all new members having easy entry groups with outstanding leadership?

There is little doubt that Americans will opt out more and more for home churches. As long as there are people, they will have a need to be in relationship with others and to know God. These are simply needs that don't go away. Praise God for that! Let's take this movement very seriously. How will you as a missionary leader provide for your congregation the benefits that can be found in small home church settings?
Pray about it. Work on it.

Monday, July 26, 2010


This week I had two different opportunities to have significant conversations about trust. One was a with a rector who was dealing with a sr.warden who described herself as 'a detail person who needs to know all the ins and outs, reasons why decisions are made in order to trust'. The other was a search committee which had members who weren't sure they could 'trust the diocese and the manner in which it handles potential rector candidates to be considered'. I found these conversations led to the whole topic of communication, clarity, transparency, confidentiality and how well we do these things.

There is no debate that trust is a human issue that translates across all cultures, organizations and any time two or more people are gathered together. I have found that there is a deep, unspoken expectation of trust on the part of everyone in Christian community. When that trust is broken, wounds form and lasting scars of betrayal have the power to live on in stories that are passed down for generations until they no longer entertain. People like to relish in the weakness of others. The act of breaking trust and the inability of people to forgive are equally sinful and destructive, especially in churches.

Leaders in Christian community are called to demonstrate trust; trust in God, each other in relational bonds and the community as a whole. This is a godly thing. It is foundational. It is tough to do. Trustworthiness at the top filters down into the community. Years of trustworthiness can change cultures of behavior, especially as persons recognize that they can trust and act in accordance. Trustworthy leaders hold the power to reflect God's love for us, belief in us, trust in us. This is life changing power that must be judiciously and thoughtfully used.

What are some practical and wise ways to instill trust? Probably the most powerful thing a leader can do is live and model what trustworthiness looks like. This involves obvious, faithful ways of living and interacting with each other. It calls for wise and sensitive communication; when to talk, when to listen. Missionary leaders are called to seek God's holy counsel to reveal what is important, appropriate and necessary to say, and what is not. This maturity and wisdom only comes from a vibrant and ongoing relationship with God which supports and informs us as leaders.

Taking time to build relationships, being thoughtfully honest and transparent, and seeing the good in people will go a long way toward building trust. I am convinced that this includes affirming God-given giftedness, skills and talents in each other and using our influence as leaders to steer people into ministry opportunities that will utilize these things.

There is also tremendous power in admitting wrongs, acting in sincere humility, seeking forgiveness. Broken trust only heals with forgiveness. This too is a God enabled act. Trust will be enabled by your teaching people what it means to forgive.

The challenge is for each one of us as leaders to consider how we can foster trust building in our churches. Believe me, somewhere in your community is a need for renewed trust and forgiveness. What will you do to respond to this need?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alaska or Next Door

I am just back from two weeks of vacation in spectacular Alaska! Interesting to me that I kept thinking how difficult it would be to plant a new congregation there. I kept hearing that Alaska was the 'last frontier' full of 'young people' who were drawn to that place 'from all over the world'. People who were seeking new beginnings, opportunity, and change from whatever they considered familiar. People from diverse cultures, native languages and lives left behind which made for a melting pot of population spread across magnificent wilderess in small villages, towns and cities.

I am very familiar with the challenge of planting new churches. What kept running through my mind as I met these modern pioneers was, 'what would it take to collect such diverse young adults into worshipping communities?' I knew for sure it would look nothing like the institutional church. I believe it would take getting to the heart of knowing each other very quickly to establish connection. It would take authenticity, caring, relationship building and time. It would take courage to share the Gospel unabashedly through stories of personal experiences with God to establish spiritual awareness and commonality. It was obvious that these young adults didn't care much for material things. Many had left high paying careers in order to be in this place. So the trappings of the church, including expensive buildings, would probably hold little value to these folks. That was obvious just looking around Alaskan cities and finding very few churches that had a significant presence visa vi property and buildings. Simplicity appeared to be a high value in Alaska.

The more I considered this challenge the more I realized how getting down to the basics of Christian community are core to establishing new congregations. This messes with Episcopalians. We like our trappings. We 'respect' others so much that we dare not speak of our intimate spiritual experiences with God. We are highly educated and appreciate intellectual exchange. We have a hard time being simple and getting back to basics.

I understand that the Diocese of Massachusetts has a new program called 'Relational Evangelism' geared toward establishing small groups of young adults who learn to share their personal faith stories so that they can go out and share them with their friends. These small, open, inclusive groups are intimate, caring and safe. Sounds like these groups are right on target with how to respond to the needs of young generations in America. Sounds like what it would take to plant congregations in Alaska, or frankly anywhere.

My question is, do we, as missionary leaders, have the courage to focus time and energy on these activities? How bogged down are we in the day to day maintenance operations of our congregations with little time left to be creative? Are we so committed to social justice and human needs ministries that we fail to share our Christian motivation for doing them? As Loren Mead said twenty years ago, we are in a post-christendom era, we are beginning to look like the early church. And, in order to impact the world for Christ, we must go back to the basics, meeting in small groups, sharing the faith, caring for one another, and courageously going out into the world with the good news of Christ Jesus. A world that doesn't value Jesus as much as we do.

It takes alot of self examination to determine how valuably we spend our time and efforts. It takes hard work for congregations to do internal assessments, attempting to measure how effectively they impact lives for Christ's sake. How far away have we gotten from the basics? Perhaps this is a question worth asking whether ministering in Alaska or next door.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Risky Business

The last blog I posted was about Jesus 'seeing' a woman who was in tremendous need and his response. Here in the Diocese of Texas we have a Newcomer Initiative going on. In charge of this effort is a gal by the name of Mary Parmer who is coordinating the project. She is living into her giftedness, passion and experience of working in a large congregation as a coordinator of newcomer ministries, by helping congregations assess exactly how and what they are doing for visitors and persons interested in attending. Won't you take a few minutes to read the article and sermon she recently delivered? They strike at the heart of missionary leadership!
Thanks for following along on this journey of working together to share the Good News of Jesus with others.

The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.....is it Risky Business?

I love those little synchronistic moments in our lives when it is as if God taps us on the shoulder and says...."Watch this!" Just now I was outside tediously peeling off the old "Episcopal Church" sticker on my rear car window so that I could put on my new sticker "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." And I was ruminating about the newcomer project I am working on and the fact that I'm heading out of town this afternoon - so that tomorrow morning I can show up at one of our churches in the Diocese of Texas as an anonymous "mystery guest".........and up walks a young woman who asks if she may use my restroom.

Well, these thoughts raced through my mind...."Do I let her in my home?" "Can I trust this perfect stranger?" "What if..." And then in the middle of all those thoughts I remembered my sermon at St. John's two weeks ago when I said that "Seeing as God sees...and Loving as God loves....is RISKY BUSINESS!" So I invited her in and found out she is a foreign exchange student from Latvia...living in the States for the summer...out selling books door to door. She took her shoes off at the door (and answered, when questioned, that it is their custom in Latvia to remove their shoes). After she came out, I handed her a bottle of water, wished her God's blessings, and said goodbye.A small thing, yes. But gift. And although I've already posted the audio link to my sermon on “Jesus, Vision & the Widow at Nain,” I thought I would post the narrative here as well. Hoping and praying that just one person will read it and consider how they look at the OTHER...the Stranger...in their lives.
It is, indeed, risky business.....but oh so gratifying.

Jesus, Vision & the Widow at Nain

If I asked you….’how is your VISION this morning?’……..several things might come to mind. “Is that a literal question or a rhetorical one?.......Do you suppose she’s referring to the Visioning that we as a congregation are going to be doing after our communal lunch today?

Is God giving YOU or this congregation of St. John’s new sight? Webster’s Dictionary defines Vision in a number of ways……as (1) thought, concept or object formed by the imagination….(2) the act or power of Seeing.. And then there’s Visioning (as in a Vision statement) = aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid or long term future…

This morning I’m going to address the 2nd definition….the act or power of SEEING. And I want to share two stories with you from the not too distant past. Stories of Two Women I’ve known for a number of years - women who are quite different from each other….but who have One striking thing in common.

The first is about a young married woman who moved with her family to a new town in Texas, and shortly after their move the young attorney husband is called up to serve his country in Iraq. Given their prior active membership in an Episcopal Church in anther town, and the desire to get their kids involved in children’s ministry, the young mother sets out to find a church near where they live. And although she does not find the closest church to be the most friendly, nevertheless, she joins and immediately attempts to get involved. Sadly, by the time I caught up with this young mother for a visit over lunch, she has become disheartened. She tells me that to this day, a year or so after she has joined this church, she goes to worship on a Sunday morning and very few if any people speak to her. And although her children like their classes, this young mother, dealing with her own introverted nature and her husband’s long absence from their lives……is unhappy. And this is what she said to me that day……….she goes to church and NO ONE SEES HER.

The second story is this. Not too long ago I received a late night phone call from a friend of mine who had moved to another southern state. Given that she’s a “Texas” girl and a cradle Episcopalian who was very active in her church and this diocese, it was a major decision for her to move all the way across the country to accept a job promotion. So what does this smart, attractive, professional mid-40’s woman do right after she moves into her new home, but to begin visiting all the Episcopal churches in and around the area where she lives. And there were a good number of choices. My friend’s lament that night as we visited on the phone and the reason for her call….was this…she said to me…”Mary in every single church I’ve attended, it’s as if they don’t even SEE me!” “NO ONE SEES ME!!!” She said…I’ve signed guest registers…I’ve written my name on welcome cards for newcomers…and from one church I received a pledge card in the mail.”

NO ONE SEES ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!….

Today’s gospel lesson speaks to the heart of this issue.

Luke tells us that as Jesus & his disciples & a LARGE crowd arrive at the gates of a town called Nain, they encounter a funeral procession with a LARGE crowd of mourners – carrying a dead man. The FIRST thing Jesus does is to LOOK at the woman…….THE LORD SAW HER……and he had COMPASSION for her.

Luke tells us the woman is a WIDOW and the dead man is her only son. Her situation is a dire one. Widows were the most vulnerable in the society of Jesus’ day. She’s lost her husband and now here her only son is dead….her last means of support. The crowd of mourners will go home after this….and she will be left penniless and alone. Unless a relative comes to her aid….her future is bleak. Her life is over….she has no one left to protect and care for her.

Jesus KNOWS this……and he is moved with compassion……he feels what she feels……he experiences her pain…. And then he tells her not to cry…..and he touches the coffin…and says….”young man, I say to you, rise!” And as the young man sits up and begins to speak, Jesus gives him to his mother……

This story in Luke’s gospel is just one of many where Jesus models for us the practice of seeing others with the eyes of compassion..and love…and forgiveness…and non-judgment!!! Christ SAW those around him in ways that others did not and WE are called to do the same.

Jesus PAID ATTENTION to what was going on around him…. He stopped & paid attention to the people he encountered. But not only does he pay attention…..his WORDS and ACTIONS tell us exactly how he sees and what he thinks! In his study of how Jesus loved, Paul Miller writes in his book Love Walked Among Us, that The Gospels mention Jesus looking at people about FORTY times. His compassion for people was often preceded by his Looking.
He looks into the eyes of the widow at Nain…..into her heart. He has compassion for her and raises her son from the dead. In another part of Luke’s gospel, he tells of Jesus entering Jericho and encountering Zaccheus, the chief tax collector. He SEES Zaccheus up in the sycamore tree and invites himself to his house…..song! He SEES the Samaritan woman at the well in the gospel of John…….and his interaction with her transforms her life!

To SEE with the eyes of God is to SEE humanity as Christ sees humanity……with unconditional love. 1st Samuel 16:7 tells us: “For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We all know how difficult this is…..

Jesus asks us to SEE one another in a new way……in the way of love…and compassion…and forgiveness. Jesus MODELS this for us, and we are called to do the same. We are called to really SEE every single person with whom we have contact on a daily basis…..and also……with every single person who walks into the doors of this church.

Are we BLIND to everything and everyone around us but ourselves? Do we really SEE everyone God places in our path on a daily basis? When was the last time you really SAW someone….really looked them in the eye?

Barbara Brown Taylor addresses this in the chapter “the practice of encountering others” in her book An Altar in the World. And she speaks of the practice of “coming face to face with another human being…preferably someone DIFFERENT enough to qualify as a capital “O” OTHER ….and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.

And she just NAILS me when she writes that we just need to Practice on those who usually just sneak right past us because they are performing some mundane service such as taking our order….or handing us our change.
She writes: “Here is someone who exists even when she is not ringing up your groceries, as hard as that may be for you to imagine. She is someone’s daughter, maybe someone’s mother as well. She has a home she returns to when she hangs up her apron here, a kitchen that smells of last night’s supper, a bed where she occasionally lies awake at night wrestling with her own demons and angels…” “You saved eleven dollars and six cents by shopping at Winn Dixie today,” she says, looking right at you. ALL THAT IS REQUIRED OF YOU IS TO LOOK BACK. JUST MEET HER EYES FOR A MOMENT WHEN YOU SAY, “THANKS.” SOMETIMES THAT IS ALL ANOTHER PERSON NEEDS TO KNOW THAT SHE HAS BEEN SEEN……not the Cashier…but the PERSON! She goes on to say that it’s such a PROFOUND practice that we will almost always meet with inner resistance…. “I don’t WANT to encounter another human being at the cash register, thank you very much…I just want my groceries…honestly…I’m in a hurry……….

Transformation happens in our lives when we are able to SEE old things in NEW ways --- full of new possibilities… Jesus calls us to live transformed lives and to see others in a new way….in the way of love. And…..our Vision is transforming when we adopt a new view of ourselves and a NEW Behavior! Seeing as God sees should ultimately compel us to Love as God Loves. Loving as God loves is a RISKY business!

Every day we should ask the Holy Spirit to give us the GRACE to see as Jesus sees….to see past outward appearances or behavior.
We should pray for the courage and wisdom to engage others in relationship….
If we are finding it hard or impossible to see past a person’s outward appearance or behavior….and to see them as a precious child of God….then we need to get on our knees….and PRAY…PRAY…PRAY!

One writer sums it up this way: “The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image.” [Rabbi Jonathan Sacks]
And it is a Challenge…and it’s Hard!!
It takes prayer….and lots of it!
John O’Donohue says….”Through prayer we learn to see with the eyes of the soul. Prayer helps you to clearer vision.”

IMAGINE what our churches would be like if they were filled with people who had the ability to really see others……..who’ve stopped looking through the narrow lens of their own world……people who have been transformed by the grace of God.
We don’t know….when someone walks through the door of our church…what’s going on in their lives. For that matter, most often we don’t even know what’s going on in the lives of the people sitting in the pew beside us!!!
God has the power to change our lives……to change our SIGHT……..to change our VISION.

SEEING as God Sees…..and….. LOVING as God LOVES….. is risky business!
May this be our prayer today……
May we Risk seeing others as Jesus sees them…..
May God’s VISION be our own.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

He Saw Her

The Gospel this Sunday from Luke speaks of the ways that Jesus saw people and acted in response out of his love and compassion for them. In particular, the poor widow grieving her son's death was probably like other women of her time; invisible, insignificant, destined for complete poverty upon the death of her son. What would she do? No husband, no son, no man in her life which, at that time, gave her the only status and means for survival. The scripture speaks of the crowds, carrying the dead son on a bier through the town. Jesus was there. He knew the suffering this woman was going through and the inevitable hardships to come. Scripture says he "sees her" and the boy was restored to life, literally raised from the dead. This was not a case of pleading and begging on the part of this mother for her son's sake. Instead it was God who knew her, had compassion for her, saw her and sought to bless her through bringing her son back to life.

How often does Jesus "see" us and shower us with blessings that go unnoticed because we are insensitive to his holy, life giving touch?

How often do we act out of compassion for others without their asking? "Seeing" people and demonstrating mercy is an essential act of our faith. Do we have the eyes to "see"? Or are we so wrapped up in our own thoughts, needs and busy lives that we are blind to the obvious needs of others all around us?

Let's get down to the simple task of even "seeing" new persons who enter our congregations. Try visiting a church other than your own and notice how many people speak to you. In many congregations new people are invisible, not noticed, not greeted, not welcomed. What is it about Christian communities that don't "see", much less "see" like Jesus saw others? I have heard people say they don't want to approach the visitor in church because they might not want to be noticed. That is a remarkable notion in an age where there are far too many options of things to do on Sunday morning than join a bunch of strangers who sing dated music and respond to an unusual liturgy that requires awkward book juggling. Entering into the doors of a strange church in the 21st century to sit amongst people you do not know takes remarkable courage! The LEAST we can do is "see" and welcome them into our communities!

The good news is that this behavior can change. It takes awareness raising, modeling of new ways of doing things and helping people understand that "seeing" can truly transform a person's day, maybe even lead to new relationships, the building of community and a greater understanding of God. The missionary leader must be at the forefront of helping people understand that "seeing" is a spiritual act of compassion and caring. The missionary leader must teach our communities that this is surely what God would have us do. The missionary leader can create opportunities of engagement when the community is gathered. Once "seeing" becomes a reality with a number of people waking up to the importance and joy of doing this, it often becomes contagious!

Did you attend church today? If so, who did you "see" with the eyes of Jesus? If you are a missionary leader, how did you encourage others to do the same?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"They Have a Pumpkin Patch"

I was recently visiting a young family I have known for a long time. They are a great young couple, mixed religious affiliation of some Episcopal and Lutheran background but the type of young adults who haven't been to church in years except for weddings of friends and siblings. Their life has recently changed with the purchase of a new home, a move to a suburban community near where they work and the birth of their first child.

This sweet one year old has become the center of their universe and is driving the train of priorities the parents are making. First, find a pre-school near their new home she can eventually attend. Second, find a church they might like to attend. However, the list of criteria for selection of a church is long and all relates to their daughter. Recently they stumbled across a Methodist church not too far from their home. Upon describing this church the young mom said to me, "They have a pumpkin patch and I went on line and saw pictures of children and parties children were enjoying. It seems like a good place to try." Not a word about spiritual life, community, building relationships or God. Just the things her child would enjoy.

It is harder than ever being Church in America. Our society is so saturated with activities that are planned to give us pleasure. The Church can not ignore the need to be attractive to generations who expect these things. However, it is such a fine line that can easily be crossed, losing our focus on our primary mission to reconcile all persons to Christ Jesus. It is about intentionality. We must evaluate all that we do, weighing our activities to be in alignment with our mission. This is possible, but it takes faithful leadership at the top that always asks the questions, "Why are we doing this and how does it align with our mission?" As we seek to reach out to the unchurched and never churched we need to realize that it is going to be hard work to attract and draw into community folks who are looking for activities that we may not value. But these means may be the opening to opportunities for transformation that people can not find in any other way. This is the challenge for the missionary leader. Seeking God's wisdom and discernment and working with other faithful leaders who know "why we are doing this and how it aligns with our mission" will help us do the work of evangelism in a culture that needs to be invited and welcomed into our communities of faith.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Power Within

Jesus said to his disciples, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high." Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:49-53

The disciples couldn't wait to see what would happen next. What would it mean to be 'clothed with the power from on high'? They would soon find out. That rush of the Holy Spirit that we call today Pentecost was just about to spring on them an experience beyond their imagination. A power that would come upon them, dwell within them, bursting with the need to be let out, be made manifest in the world. Wow! How humbled we should all be knowing that God has chosen us to be places for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! That is pretty scary stuff. We do a good job as believers of ignoring the very thing that Jesus promised, the capacity to do more than we could hope or imagine because we would have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We underestimate that power. We dismiss that power. We often ignore the urgings of that power. We often succumb to our doubt and fear about what others might think of us. What a lost opportunity.

I don't know about you but I certainly experience every day how easy it is to forget that the Holy Spirit dwells within me. It takes a conscious effort to not only remember this but live my life in such a way that the Holy Spirit can shine through me so that others may see a glimmer of God. Glorious opportunity! Scary reality! How the Spirit must grieve when I act out of bitterness, resentment, anger, fear and countless other expressions of unbelief. The good news is that I am more aware of those moments than in my youth. Maybe that is an advantage of long life and spiritual disciplines that have shaped my heightened awareness of the presence of God within me. But I work at it every single day. It is becoming more natural, part of my daily rhythm. Of course I will never stop failing and will try to keep improving.

Missionary leaders have a responsibility to reflect Christ's love, no matter the difficulty of the circumstance. We have the power within to be a shining light. It is in this brightness that others come to know Christ. Isn't that what being a missionary is all about?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Walls, Tweets and Instant Messages

This Sunday we were reminded of the words from Psalm 67:

May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

This psalm implores God to make His way known,to be merciful, to bless, to judge and guide the peoples of the earth. In return we will praise, be joyful and stand in awe of him. One of the primary ways that God acts is through us, those who seek to be faithful and reflect the reality of God in our lives to others. This opportunity is at the heart of the vocation of missionary leaders. I believe that God is counting on us to show his love and reality to a world that doesn't know him. In this most incredible age of technology, when hundreds of millions of people are on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the countless other ways we can communicate and network with others, do we use these new technologies to share our knowledge of God? If so, how are you doing it?

What a tragedy it would be to adopt these new methods of connecting and not utilize them to glorify God in our tweets and walls and instant messages. These new forms of communicating might be the easiest way EVER to share our faith. Run a little test this week. Note in your high tech communications how often others reference God in a way that glorifies him. Start a trend. Be fearless. Let it be known how important God is to you, even in the mundane communications you make every day. You may never know how your sharing might bring someone closer to God. The exponential power of networking might even cause nations to be glad and sing for joy!! Well, maybe your closest circle of friends! You'll never know until you try. You may have more power to transmit the love of Christ than you ever imagined. Tweet away.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Loving is Required

Sunday we reflected on the Gospel of John. Such an intimate look at Jesus, such a compelling, straightforward message directly to us from Christ. Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. If there is this love among you, then all will know that you are my disciples." Could Jesus have been any clearer? If this new commandment is to be embodied and lived out so that God might be made known to others, how significant is it that the leaders of the Church clearly reflect love to those they are called to lead?

'Love' and its many manifestations in American culture can be quite distorted by images, media and jewelry sales persons. God gave each of us as His children the capacity to really know the difference between a distortion of love and God's real deal. Love is unselfish, it is pure, it is authentic, it is caring for others with nothing asked in return. Often it is difficult to describe but we know it when we experience it.

I think of the child births of my two sons. Those events were stunning and life changing moments for me. I could not have created my overwhelming sense of love for those babies if I tried. It was a gift from God that was beyond description and it was very real. That love laid a foundation of a loving relationship with them that will last my lifetime. That love is a gift that needs to be demonstrated through action, thoughtful reflection, caring and authentic conversation and decisions that will ultimately support my sons in ways that help them grow into the fullness of their lives. Parents have a tremendous opportunity to reflect Christ's love, and in doing so, recognizing the source of that love in the first place.

Just as parents have children, leaders have followers. Those followers seek inspiration, direction, faithfulness, humility yet confidence from their leaders. Consciously or unconsciously, followers also expect to see Christ's love made manifest through them. For, indeed, leadership is people business and Jesus reminded us that love is the first and most important commandment when it comes to people.

When leaders get burned out and wounded the first thing to dissipate is love. When this happens the leader's effectiveness is significantly diminished and it is a clear sign to take time out for retreat, renewal and prayer. Sometimes in that taking time out God will reveal new direction or insight. Often God will begin to refill the spirit with the energy to continue. Whatever the circumstance, it will require the capacity to return and to love those who follow.

When I see leaders in trouble I don't have to dig very far to see that a spirit of love that reflects Christ is not apparent. The caring for one another, face to face, the act of listening with an openness to hear pain and brokenness, is often not being done. Just as Christ loved us so much that he sacrificed himself so that we might know God's redeeming grace, leaders are sometimes called to do the very difficult work of loving those who are hard to love.

As we consider action at times of interpersonal challenge, never forget that leaders are called to love as Christ loved us. Facing those challenges can take our understanding of God's love to a new level. But we have to act first to experience that possibility.

What acts of love have you recently done to demonstrate Christ's love for the people who follow you?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Listening to My Gut

Jesus was very direct with the Jews who doubted him that day in the temple areas as he walked in Solomon's Colonnade. When they gathered around him saying they wanted him to tell them plainly if he was the Christ, Jesus reminded them that he HAD told them, but they didn't believe. He also went on to say that his sheep listen to his voice, he knew them, and they knew and followed him. That 'no one would snatch them out of his hand.'

How does anyone hear Jesus' voice? It is bound to be unique for everyone. The point is to be open to hear it, to listen for it. It is so important to understand that the Creator of all things might choose to communicate in extraordinary, unexpected ways. God speaks to us every day and we are often deaf to that voice. This calls for an intentional working on our listening capacity. It calls for a heightened sensitivity to what is happening in our world. When was the last time that you discerned God's voice? What was the circumstance?

I have learned to 'listen' with my gut. I quite literally get a visceral reaction to certain situations. I have come to trust that feeling, to know that God is requiring something of me that I can't ignore and know that if I don't act, I am failing to be faithful. This doesn't happen to me everyday, but it happens more and more as I get older and my spiritual relationship with God has quickened. I reflect back on some key turning points in my life and persons close to me where my response to listening to God through my gut and the resulting action that I took has literally changed the course of life. An example was a time when this overwhelming gut feeling told me to arrange a surprise trip for my sister to go to Europe. That sort of thing is not my style, but I listened to my gut and, to make a long story very short, this gift resulted in her marriage and move to Australia where she has been for 25 years and has had a remarkable life. Looking back I can recognize many situations where God seemed to be speaking to me through my gut. I now welcome that feeling because of its clarity.

As a leader and person who works, mentors and teaches leaders, I keenly understand the importance of having faith, taking risks, believing that God purposes us and is there to guide us if we will only listen. How does God speak to you? What will you do to become more sensitive to hearing the voice of Jesus? Think about it. Your sensitivity may result in personal transformation and be a blessing to others. As for me, I will continue to keep listening with my gut.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

But I Don't Want To Do It Lord!

God showed Saul on the road to Damascus who was boss. To make the point he blinded him for three days and told him to go into the city and wait, that he would be told what to do. Ananias was that faithful disciple who saw the Lord in a vision and heard him say to go find Saul, lay hands on him so that he could have his sight restored. Ananias wasn't happy about this mission. He had heard about the evil that Saul had done, the persecution of disciples, Saul's reputation. I can imagine that Ananias said,'But I don't want to do it Lord!' Never the less, he got over the discomfort, went to Saul, laid hands on him and Saul became Paul and the rest is history.

So often leaders have to do things they otherwise would not choose to do. Tough things that impact lives, churches, families, companies. The metal of a leader is tested in those moments. The smart ones do not lean on their own understanding, their rationale, their logic. The smart ones humbly surrender to God those tough decisions, necessary actions. Then they listen, really listen with an open mind and heart as to how God would have them proceed. For it is in faithful actions, choices and tough calls that God can create new beginnings. These leadership actions always impact people. What if Ananias had not responded to God's request that he go see Saul? How often have we as leaders succumbed to fear and anxiety and not acted when action was necessary? How often does our weakness result in situations getting worse, never being resolved, not changing for the better because we didn't want to do the very thing that God wanted us to do? What might have been if only we had surrendered, listened and acted out of humility and faithfulness? Leaders have a responsibility to face the tough stuff. The good news is that we have a God who will guide us, empower us, pick us up when we fall, and affirm us in our faithfulness. The next time you are tempted to not take action when your leadership calls for it, remember Ananias. His fearless, faithful actions ultimately impacted the Church forever. Will you let fear and anxiety stop you from doing something that might also have eternal significance?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Get Out of That Upper Room

It must have felt safe to be with the other disciples in that upper room. Surely officials were after these followers of Jesus. At least the disciples could be together, secluded from a world that now seemed so empty without the one who had changed their lives and turned their worlds upside down. Who could predict what would happen outside the walls of that house? Now Jesus'followers were left to their own devices. But were they? Little did they know that Jesus would become manifest among them, would eat with them, would instruct them, and leave as quickly as he appeared. Now it all began to make sense. He was the resurrected Lord, just as prophesied, just as Jesus had said would happen. The disciples could no longer contain their faith. They now knew that everything must be different. They had a treasure of knowledge that must be shared with those who had not known Him. Ascension and Pentecost would soon follow. There were no more excuses. It was time to get out and share the Good News that changes hearts, minds and lives forever.

Today is no different. We stay walled up in our churches. We want to believe that our congregations are safe places to share our doubts, our lives, our experiences with God. Some of us work hard to make it so. That's important, but if that is all we do, we have lost the point. The church is homeplate. But homeplate is worthless unless the player moves away from it, ultimately returning to do it all over again. How are we running the bases? What people outside the church have we touched, cared for, engaged in meaningful conversation about a loving God? The opportunities are all around us. Why are we afraid to venture out with our faith? We say we are reluctant out of 'respect' for others' beliefs. We know so many persons yet we won't probe the depths of human need and spirit which is the core of life itself. We can use these reasons to keep the walls up, but we need to understand that lives may go without knowing the transforming power of God because we chose to be respectful. As we watch the church in America shrink in attendance while surrounded by explosive population growth, what is our excuse?
How do we invite the seeker in? How do we welcome the stranger when we often just want to be friendly with our friends at church, blinded to the newcomer right in front of us?

Easter is here. It is a time to renew our commitment to God and to each other, with a faith that is not afraid to be shared. Get out of that upper room. You just might be surprised at the joy you find in sharing the Good News that you know to be true. If you are a leader, lead the way. No more excuses.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Doesn't Make Sense

According to Luke's Gospel, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and others with them told the apostles of the encounter with two men "in clothes that gleamed like lightning" at the empty tomb. They shared the message that "Jesus has risen!" But the Eleven did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

The modern celebration of the most holy of days for Christians must seem like nonsense to an unbelieving world. Someone obviously dead for days coming back to life? That is the stuff of science fiction. It just doesn't make sense. Faith in a triune God that acts mysteriously in the world and in our personal lives doesn't make sense either. That is just the point. Easter reminds us that our faith will never make sense. Until such time that our personal encounter with the living Christ changes us, breaks through our need for reason and logic, and opens our eyes to see in new ways the reality of God working in us, through us and the totality of creation.

The Church struggles with its mission, mostly because its people want it to be sensible. Letting go of control and trusting in an all powerful God is hard work and often doesn't make sense. Sometimes we catch the blinding glimmer of God's love; healing, reconciliation, birth, forgiveness, miraculous happenings, generosity, acts of kindness, and countless other ways. God's greatest act of love for us was embodied in Jesus. Let us not lose sight of the incredible sacrifice he made for us and the opportunity we have for new life because of his life. This is indeed Good News. It is our mission as leaders to share it with joy and anticipation of its power to change lives. This is what missionary leadership is all about. Forget the baggage around the word 'missionary'. Let this Easter remind us of why we do what we do, even if it doesn't make any sense. The world aches for this Good News. Why should we act as if we are embarrassed to share it?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Community of Friends vs. Friendly Community

It never fails that when I do work with congregations they describe themselves as friendly places. Sometimes they carry on about just how friendly they are. Unfortunately, that friendliness is often one to another, internal and exclusive, friends who are friendly to friends. The great litmus test is to walk into any parish hall or central meeting space of a church on Sunday morning and see how many people sincerely greet and welcome you. You may be surprised at how invisible you seem to be. How many notice you? One person? A couple of people? Do they go out of their way to introduce you to others? Do they bother to record your contact information? Do they follow up after that Sunday in any way? Is there an authentic sincerity in their welcome? These are the tell tale signs of a friendly church, one that is truly a friendly community and not just a community of friends. The Rev. Patrick Gahan from St. Stephen's, Wimberly, Texas, speaks on the video below about what it truly takes to be a welcoming congregation. He also speaks of the imperative nature of this intentional ministry. Welcoming the stranger is Gospel work. And it is work. Take a few moments to be inspired and challenged by watching Father Gahan. He will enlighten and unsettle you. Then vow and commitment to help your congregation become a 'friendly community' and not just a 'community of friends.' If the Church is to be the manifestation of the Body of Christ, how can we deny the importance of this work?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Remember the Call

"He went out again to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, 'Follow me'. And he got up and followed him. " Mark 2:13-14.

Surely more words were exchanged between Jesus and Levi. If not, Jesus must have exuded magnetism beyond human understanding. Sometimes I wish I could have heard all the conversation that didn't make it into scripture. Levi was trusting this man with his life. Where was he going to lead him? What lay in his future? What unknown mission would he be drawn into doing by this man Jesus? Levi was being called into the uncertainty of discipleship, but somehow he trusted that it would be good, it would be important. The call was into a new life of faith, believing that God would provide, guide and answer enough of his questions to keep him moving forward.

In the past week I have heard stories of fear, anxiety and anger on the part of leaders in 3 geographically distant churches. These leaders were all reacting to faithful decisions made by others. Decisions that called for looking forward with hope, patience and belief that God would uphold and guide these congregations forward. Decisions that called for people to trust their leaders and the power of the Holy Spirit to renew, restore and empower for good. But that takes courage. That takes remembering that faith is the act of moving into the unknown with the certainty that God is present. That takes remembering the call of Christ on each of our lives to be disciples who can work to turn over disturbing emotions to God before they immobilize and disrupt our congregations. As we approach Holy Week, let us remember the call to the cross that Christ followed. The sacrifices he made in order that we could be forgiven. Then as leaders, let's model that forgiveness and move on. Our congregations expect and deserve no less from us.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Rev. Patrick Gahan at Wardens and Vestry

Patrick's 45 minute presentation is available on DVD by calling Julie Heath at 713.520.6444 or e-mailing jheath@epicenter.org. Cost is $10 to cover copying, s&h. We are currently reformatting the presentation to add to this blog and YouTube.
Both video and podcast (audio) of Bishop Andy Doyle's presentations are available on his blog.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Unconventional Missionary

Sometimes the stunningly obvious ways that God works in this world are mind boggling. When I witness these occurrences I am most grateful to know how intimately God interacts in our lives, directing and connecting and manifesting his love and purposes for us. I just got off the phone with Terri, my beautiful, blond and petite daughter in law who happens to be an electrical engineer. She was on her way back from her third trip to Honduras where she spent 10 days training some university students in building and installing photovoltaic power (solar) systems. Terri was a part of the team from Sonlight Power Ministries, a Christian outreach group which has the mission to install solar power in schools, churches and clinics without electricity in third world countries. Terri is passionate about this work, feeling it is a call from God, a wonderful expression of her ability and her desire to serve the under-served because, as she says, "I do this because Jesus loves these people and I can give of myself to make a huge difference in their lives. The looks on the children's faces when we turn lights on is worth it all."

It is a joy for me to watch Terri's spirit soar as she goes about this unconventional missionary work. And it all started with losing her engineering job with a major consumer product company during the recession last year. After she was laid off she got on the internet and sent emails to people and places she didn't know seeking information about solar power opportunities. Up popped a message from a total stranger leading her to a seminar being given in a church 80 miles away about installing solar power systems in third world countries. Terri went to the meeting and her life took a dramatic turn. She met the engineer teaching the seminar and told him he had her "dream job". This engineer's name was Walt Ruggeman and he was intrigued by Terri's desire to learn more. Within weeks he was advising Terri via international emails on her solar battery master's degree project. He connected Terri with Sonlight Power Ministries (www.sonlightpower.org) and from that day forward her unconventional missionary work began in earnest. This gracious, generous man who did not need to take a special interest in Terri , opened doors for her that have changed the direction of her life. This gentleman who modeled a servant leader's life which impacted thousands around the world by bringing light into their lives, died on January 15 during the earthquake in Haiti. His body has not been recovered.

It makes me wonder, what if Terri had not been laid off? What if emails from strangers had not been written? What if Terri had not driven all those miles to go to an unfamiliar church to hear a person she knew nothing about? The power of God to continue his work in the world is awesome and mysterious. Even the work of unconventional missionaries.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It Takes An Act of God

Richard Rohr says:
"There is a difference between change and transformation. Change happens when something old dies and something new begins. Transformation is when I change in the process of outer change. I am told that planned change is even more trouiblesome to the ego than unplanned change. The ego wants to find a way to avoid changing if at all possible. God usually has to demand it of us. In fact, we call them 'acts of God' and they more often elicit inner transformation than anything we or others can control. If anybody at all is asking us to change, be it our partner, Congress, the church, the neighborhood association, every form of ego control and resistance will come out in legions to accuse, defined, and oppose. One wonders how we can effect change at all, when no one wants to be transformed."

I don't have to remind you of the dramatic changes that are happening in our culture and church right now. The rapid development of technology has hit us all personally and corporately and demanded that we pay attention. We have been forced to adapt or become an anachronism. With few exceptions, our congregations are so far behind in the manner they communicate that the entire institution is at risk of being seen as a dinosaur. Talk about defense and opposition! My congregational work has revealed to me an amazing lack of urgency to work on our front line communication modes. I think we have a deep sense of complacency in the church because we are satisfied with the status quo. And if we aren't satisfied, we don't value the need to change enough to muster up the energy or resources to do something about it. We are too secure with the familiar, we like who is already inside. To be missionary we must go out. This is not an option. Jesus left us with final words before he ascended into heaven, "Go therefore, make disciples of all nations...". Can our mandate be any clearer?

The Episcopal Church is getting much better at God's commandment for us to love our neighbor. There are more efforts to reach out with the love of Christ, touching human need and seeking social justice then I have ever witnessed in my lifetime in this church. This work never ends, we can always do more and we seem to have the will to do it. However, we have to quit making excuses, we have to become uncomfortable, we have to stretch our personal barriers to get on with Jesus' commission to go out. This will take transformation. This will take personal 'acts of God' because this work is so difficult for us as Episcopalians. Forget the excuses, denial, and rehash of what we are doing well so our leadership egos can feel okay. Our graying congregations tell us otherwise. Transformation is in order. I am personally praying for an 'act of God' to transform my spirit so that my eyes will be opened to the people that God places in my life everyday. So I will no longer use any excuse not to invite them into life of the church. For it is in the coming together, the prayers and breaking of bread that the Holy Spirit can easily be made manifest. The church needs both change and transformation. Our complacency must die in order that a new missionary spirit be born. Faithful leaders are charged with the responsibility to move us out of our denial and comfort. Let's pray for personal 'acts of God' to empower us with the courage to be leaders with hearts for mission.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Take a Minute

Empowering others to give messages/directives/answers to third parties is a common practice and okay when those messages aren’t emotionally loaded. Busy church leaders do this all the time through their associates, staff members and people with positional authority such as wardens or committee chairs. But all too often this practice is justified by busy people who would rather go through another person than take a minute to directly communicate with the individual seeking a response, particularly to an emotionally charged question or situation. Whether intentional or not, this triangulation creates an air of superiority, division, class, whatever you might choose to call it. It can also become a toxic practice, distancing leaders from the hearts of the people they are called to serve. This is a sure fire way to erode respect for the leader. It may be hard to take a minute to pick up the phone, not knowing what to expect from the recipient of the call. But a thoughtful and personal response builds relationship capital and has the power to knit back together misunderstandings and clarify critical information that might otherwise be omitted or poorly translated if given through a third party. Remember, email or texting is no substitute for that phone call.

I remember a time when I was asked to convey a significant answer to someone. This was emotionally charged information that I agreed to deliver. Upon hearing this information, the recipient was filled with angst, felt unheard and asked to speak directly to the person who had originated the answer. I felt this was a justified response in this situation, yet the originator turned a deaf ear to this person’s request for a direct conversation. In that deafness distance was created and relationships and trust were weakened. In retrospect I regretted agreeing to be a part of that triangulation. Chalk that one up to remember next time.

Taking a minute to pick up the phone to directly speak to people about important stuff sometimes takes courage. It is often easier to delegate that responsibility away, yet leaders are called to do the hard stuff when working with people. The Church is full of opportunities for courageous conversations. We are in the people business. God expects us to dig deep for that courage and count on His strength to carry out this work.

Leadership is full of tough choices. One has to ask, ‘what would God have me do in this situation?’ before immediately handing off a challenging responsibility to another person. Jesus didn’t back away from difficult conversations. Next time you are tempted to ask someone else to have the conversation that you really need to instigate, pray that God will give you the courage and grace to do it. You will become a stronger and more effective leader by doing so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Soul Work

Last week I wrote of the essential nature of self awareness and the importance of feedback for the missionary leader. One’s effectiveness in leadership is directly impacted by the willingness to do this internal work. Leaders can forget making progress toward their God given vision or goals if they are not open to hearing how they impact those who work alongside them and those who follow. There is not enough blog space to describe situations I have witnessed where the leader refused, rejected, or passive aggressively misused important feedback that ultimately came back to bite them. Some situations included painful resignations. Most required interventions by a third party. All were costly in human and financial terms. What was missing in these situations? I think soul work, the willingness to be humble, vulnerable, open to the in-flooding of God’s spirit to forgive and transform. Then followed by the soul work of commitment to personal growth and change, knowing this is very difficult to do without leaning on God.

One particular area that I have found to be disconcerting is the use of powerful, unrestrained, ugly language by leaders. I believe that all of us have been negatively impacted by the unfettered use of incredibly destructive language in the media. We are bombarded 24/7 with all sorts and conditions of criticism, blaming, blasting of others. We have become numb to seeing violent acts and hearing violent language. Our culture says it is okay to use raw references and ugly comebacks. All of this has insidiously crept into our families, our workplaces, our social networks and our churches. Words have the power to build up or tear down. Too often the careless usage of these words smacks as attempts to sound hip and youthful. But each time spoken they reduce the credibility of the spiritual leader little by little. There is a profound expectation on the part of staff and average persons in the pew that church leaders will guard their conversations and be very sensitive to the power of language. But I am finding this practice slipping and it is impacting the respect people have for each other in the church. Although it may seem less destructive behind closed doors, ugly words and references can have huge impact. Often these exchanges are between people working together who otherwise are seen as models of good leadership. This creates a huge disconnect. This calls for even more soul work.

This brings us back to self awareness. Blindspots are often brought to light by persons who work closely with leaders, sometimes staff, sometimes key lay leaders. It takes courage and humility to listen to the pain that has been caused by careless words. It’s the leader’s job to listen and truly digest the impact of those conversations. Doing so creates an opportunity for forgiveness, reconciliation and new life. God is ready to renew those relationships if invited into the situation. Unfortunately, most persons who work with difficult leaders don’t have the stomach to initiate those conversations. This being the case, it is every missionary leader’s responsibility to be very sensitive to avoidance behaviors of staff and others who work closely with them. Asking, listening and sincere caring go a long way in restoring important relationships. The missionary leader is called by God to do no less.