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.