Sacred Bundles and Cows

Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*

My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish.  It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose.  In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.”  The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.” 
The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are.  Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes.  Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963.  Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing.  It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services. 
The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows.  The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen.  I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad.  A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation.  For some congregations this process might take even longer.
It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen.  When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation.  The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be. 
However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well.  Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future?  Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own?  Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road?  Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?

Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.”  Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation.  We cannot add more sacred cows.  True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go?  We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?

*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church”

10 Reasons I Love the Ministery

Recently I have seen lists of ten reasons why people are quitting the ministry.  (Here and Here) As I read these lists I can understand some of them.  I can relate because I have been there personally too.  There are others I don’t understand because I have not had that personal experience.  Now I know there are many clergy out there that are ready to call it quits, to lay down their stoles and walk away.  My prayers are with you.
I have struggled in my years in ministry but I constantly have to remind myself why I also love ministry.  Here are my top ten reasons why ministry is a great career/calling/life!
1.       Intimate Moments in Life:  As clergy you are invited into the rare moments of life many don’t see.  You are called when people are struggling or when tragedy strikes.  You are invited to share in good times, celebrations, anniversaries, and new births too.  No other person, besides friends and family, are invited into those moments in people’s life.  I see this as something special and I’m honored every time I am invited.  It is in these precious moments where we can witness God at work in these people’s lives and our presence calls attention to it.
2.       Vessel of God: As clergy we are vessels God uses to teach, reach, minister, and love his children.  We are broken.  We are imperfect.  We are sinful.  Yet, God uses us anyway.  That is simply amazing and humbling. 
3.       Baptizing: Every time I read the Baptismal Liturgy I am reminded about the grace that God bestows on us and the promise he gives each one of us.  Whether it is an infant or an adult God is there in that water and his grace is real in that person’s life.  I am in awe that the water that represents this gift gets to run through my fingers.
4.       Communion: The most intimate moment in my relationship with my congregation is when I hand each one of them a piece of bread and say, “The body of Christ broken for you.”  THE MOST INTIMATE and God filled moment is found there in that sacrament.
5.       Leading Worship: When we think about other events we attend during our week, there is nothing like worship.  To join together in a community, sing together (where do you do that ever?), pray for each other and together, hear the Word of God read and proclaimed, and offer ourselves in service to God.  The fact that I get a chance to lead a group of people through that every week is incredible and I walk away blessed each week (even during those low attended, crappy sermon, and draining services that occur).
6.       Creativity:  Each week I get the chance to be creative in my sermon, in my teachings, in my children’s time and in my communications.  Each week I can be allowed to think about God’s Word in a way that is different from the last.  There is joy in that.  There is an everlasting and endless source of possibilities.  How great is it to have a job/career that allows you to do that week in and week out.
7.       Read & Write & Think: To keep on top of my profession I am asked to read and push my boundaries and comfort zones.  I am asked to keep pushing myself in order to be able to push my congregation into the place God is calling them.  I do so by reading, writing and thinking.  For my introverted self, this is a joy and a delight. 
8.       People:  Yes, church people can be draining, at times horribly insensitive, rude, cruel, and for lack of a better phrase, a pain in the ass.  Yes, I understand that and have experienced it from time to time.  But people also can be loving, accepting, understanding, caring, compassionate, fun and exciting to be around.  For every church person that is a pain there are five to ten more that are wonderful to have around.  May we look at the five to ten more than the one.
9.       Love:  I am called to love people.  I am not called to judge, to shun, or to banish people.  I am called to love them which leads them to a place and a sense of belonging, acceptance and peace.  It is there that lives can be changed, transformed, and recreated.  I am called to love.  I love that.
10.   God:  God is ever present in my everyday life.  I get the joy of seeing that through all the activities I do.  In the bulletin making, in the visiting, in the worshiping, in the praying, in the reading, in the loving, in the people, in the creativity, and in the everyday.  I am not in ministry because I want to be but because I am called to be.  My ministry is not reliant on me and my abilities.  I am simply asked by God to do my best with what I have and who I am and God will take care of the rest.  I love that covenant.

In all the negative aspects of ministry that can draw attention and headlines.  May we always remember the wonderful and constant reminders of why ministry is an awesome job to have.  May we always remember the God who calls us is the God who surrounds us daily.  This God invites us to join Him in his loving the world through His Son Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit.  It is a magnificent place to be.

How to talk to someone after a suicide…RevGalBlogPals

Below is a great article on how to talk to someone who has experienced and is living with suicide  With the death of Rick Warren’s son this will probably be a hot topic in many circles.  This article does a great job give advice on how to talk, interact, and offer support to those who are dealing with the suicide of a loved one.

In one of my files I have a great sermon that a minister preached at the funeral of one of his church members who died of suicide.  In it he says, “In that moment _________ lost sight of the promise that was made by God at his baptism, but today we can rest assured that God has never forgotten.”  That has always stuck with me and if or when I am called upon to do a service like that, I will be quoting that exact phrase.

All pastors should be prepared and ready for when this happens in our congregations.  Chances are it will if it hasn’t already.

Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be – Part V

amazon Book

Here is the final post, part five, of this series, Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be.  Here are the other four posts if you are interested, Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.  From the pages of The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors, p. 25.

You are a person. (‘Fashion your life in accordance with [the] precepts [of the gospel of Jesus Christ]….)  Putting “The Reverand” in front of your name does not remove you from the list of human beings.  You eat, sleep, think of (and maybe act on) sex, get tired, and get bored.

  • Be phony.  You are holy only because Christ makes you holy.  He – not we- is, after all, the perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
  • Be one-dimensional.  There’s more to life than church stuff.  For example, what was the last book you read that had nothing do do with church?  (This book, obviously, is an exception.  Not only should you read it eagerly but you should also give copies to your 100 closet friends.)


  • Have a life.  That’s what Christ wants to give you abundantly (John 10:10b)  That’s what Christ has freed you for.  Know your family.  Stay healthy.
  • Relax.  Play.  Life is short.
  • Find a time management tool that works for you.  It might be a book, a program, or a persistent friend who will nag you to the glory of God.

I love that last line, “nag you to the glory of God.”  We pastors have egos but we need to be reminded that we put our pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, except for those who wear skirts…but you see what I am getting at.  I cannot stand it when I see a preacher who is a different person behind the pulpit than s/he is outside the church.  I’m not talking about those who have ‘the preacher voice’ but those who have the ‘preacher persona’.  Get over it, you are human, you are like everyone else.  I think people can read right through that, so be yourself, always.

In ministry there is always work to be done, always something to do, always someone to go visit.  Some of it CAN wait till tomorrow in order for your kids to know you, your spouse to love you, and you to have a life.  

I appreciated this books reminder that as a minister, as an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I am a preacher, pastor, priest, prophet and person.

Avoid Becoming the Pastor you Swore You’d Never Be – Part IV

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Here is part four of this five part series on how to avoid becoming the pastor you swore you’d never become.  This week we look at being a prophet.  From p.24 in The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors:

You are a prophet. (“Leading the people of God in obedience to mission in the world, to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people…”)  The best biblical understanding of ‘prohet’ is “one who speaks for another.’  Your prophetic task is to move yourself, your flock, and society into alignment with God’s will and God’s coming reign.

  • Assume that you are a prophet just because you have been run out of four churches.  An effective prophet will choose her or his ‘fights.’  A common error for beginning pastors is to see all issues as being of equal importance.  They are not.  (See Romans 14:1)
  • Worry too much about keeping people happy.  The word ‘happy’ does not appear in the examination at ordination.  ‘Faithful’ is a better standard.


  • Identify those persons in your community who are not present when your congregation gathers.  Ask: Why are they not here?  Would Jesus welcome them?  How do we show hospitality?
  • Remember the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness.  Help your flock attend to loving the neighbor who can be seen and then neighbor who cannot be seen.  The ‘sacred worth’ of persons is not defined by sexual orientation, national boundaries, economic conditions, or gender.

I think too often I hear people fall into the trap under the DON’T section.  They think being run out of church is a sign of good ministry as a prophet.  In actuality it good just be because they are an ass.  We are not called to be an ass but we are called to lead people towards holiness in personal and social ways.  I love how they advise people not to get caught up in ‘happy’ but concentrate on having people be ‘faithful.’  I know I cannot keep people happy and that isn’t the task of ministry.  The task is to have the flock be faithful.  That will take moments of being prophetic but also understanding who the people are and how to move them forward towards holiness.  Listening may be one of the biggest tools of a prophet but the least heard of.

Avoid Becoming the Pastor you Swore You’d Never Be – Part III

From the Book, The Unoffical United Methodist Handbook for Pastors. p. 23-24

“You are priest. (“Faithfully administering the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; by leading the people of God in worship and prayer…”)  Ever since God set apart Aaron and  his sons to be priests (Exodus 28:1), the people of God have understood that God calls some men and women to a representative ministry from the priesthood of all believers.  It is like what happens at Christmas when the entire family receives a gift but asks one member of the family to open it.  Sacraments are finally about the work of God.DON’T·         Think you are especially pure and holy because you have sacramental authority.  Robes and albs and stoles do not make you better than anyone else; they are sings of what God is trying to do through you. (LOVE THIS!!)

·         Hesitate to offer prayers in homes, hospitals, highways, hedges, helicopters, headquarters (and even places that don’t begin with ‘h’).  It is better to leave a situation mumbling to yourself, ‘I wish I had not prayed aloud’ than to leave saying, ‘I wish I had prayed aloud.’
DO·         Find times when you can worship and receive the Eucharist under someone else’s priesthood.
·         Make the sacraments life regularly (John Wesley said ‘constantly’) available to your people.”

The greatest joy I have in ministry is the gift of sacramental authority.  It is a privileged to lead and offer up the sacraments to the people of God.  John Wesley saw these as a means of grace or a real and tangible place we come in contact with God.  What an honor and joy it is to share real ways people can be in contact with God.
Every time I give communion to my kids and my wife I kiss them on the forehead.  It is funny to watch the person behind my wife look at me with fearful eyes that say, “Are you going to KISS me too?”  I kiss them because I find that the sacrament is the most intimate moment we share.  Yes, even more intimate than other husband and wife things.  It is intimate because in that moment I am offering them the body and blood of Christ.  I have been almost knocked over by the Holy Spirit twice, each time is when I placed water on my son and my daughter’s head and then choked out the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Those are intimate moments, wonderful moments, spiritual moments, JOYFUL moments!
To all clergy out there, never lose the ability to be fully present in the moment you pass out the body and blood of Christ or place water on the heads of God’s children.  God is in those moments and we should always be aware of that.  “Robes and albs and stoles do not make you better than anyone else; they are sings of what God is trying to do through you.”

Avoid Becoming the Pastor you Swore You’d Never Be – Part II

From page 22 in The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors.

You are pastor. (“Exercising pastoral supervision of the people committed to your care, ordering the life of the congregation, counseling the troubled in spirit…”)
The word ‘pastor’ can mean ‘shepherd,’ one who watches over the flock, the congregation.  A shepherd learns to recognize cries for help (even when they sound like anger); a shepherd offers gentle redirection for a lamb going astray; a shepherd organizes life within the sheepfold.


  • Underestimate the tools of your trade: The Word, prayer, and the sacraments.  These are not second best.  Few physicians, counselors, or gurus offer these life-giving things.
  • Think of the pastor’s office as a chance for you to do your own thing.  The ordered life of the church includes disciplined accountability.  In the United Methodist Church, this includes the authroity of The Book of Discipline.


  • Remember the difference between whom you serve and for whom you work.  You serve a congregation, but you work for God.
  • Keep in mind the basics.  People need what pastors provide – a word from God, prayers, dependable sacramental promises, and a church relationship that is lived out ‘decently and in [good] order.’ (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Recently we had a parishioner die.  She spent a long time in the hospital and the family called me and told me that she was given about 24-48 hours to live.  I and my wife were on a date that night and on our way home we both stopped by.  I was familiar with a room like that, my wife was not.  She could feel the energy in the room (she is really attune to such things) and said it was a hard place to be.  I told her this is one of the reasons I feel it is a privileged to be a minister.  It is a privileged because I am invited into that room, into that private family moment.  Prayer with family at the bedside of a dying loved one is holy ground.
We are pastors…if we start to take those moments for granted or leave them neglected, we are the Pastor we swore we would never be.

Avoid Becoming the Pastor you Swore You’d Never Be – Part I

There is a ‘cute’ little book out there called “The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors.”  It has a bunch of short, direct, informative, funny, and yet serious vignettes into the everyday workings of being a UM Pastor.  As I rearranged my book shelf I stumbled upon it, and like many of the books I tried to place in the correct shelf, I opened it up and started to read a little.

The first vignette I came to that caught my eye was one titled How to Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be and Become the Pastor You Always Wanted To Be.  That caught my attention and as I read I felt some conviction.  I’m a decade in and I have wondered this exact question.  There have been times in this past year that I doubted my call, my self-knowledge, and who God really wants out of me.  As I read through the five main points I felt some relief and thought I would share with the blogosphere.  So here is post one of five and I hope they help someone out there dealing with the same stuff I have been through this year.

“1. You are a preacher. (‘Preaching and teaching the Word of God…by leading persons to faith in Jesus Christ…).  Speech is more than ‘mere words.’  Words have the power to bind and to free, to kill and to riase up.  In fact, Paul matches ‘truthful speech’ with ‘the power of God.’ (2 Corinthians 6:7).  dangerous stuff in the wrong hands: the word translated ‘power’ is dunamis.  Recognize our work ‘dynamite’?
Don’t – Force your own predeterminations into what John Wesley called ‘plain truth for plain people.’
Don’t – Let your walk stray so far from your talk that neither walk nor talk is recognizable.
Do – Talk about Jesus.  It is his story, not yours.  He is the faithful one.  Preach like John the Baptizer who said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3:30)
Do – Take the gospel to your listeners by saying ‘for you.’ Remember to include yourself among the sinners being addressed: ‘for us’.” (p.21-22)

My Thoughts: There has been a rare moment in these last ten years where I have had the pleasure of actually participating in worship and was able to be preached too.  There has been the rare occasion when I have been repulsed by what was being sad from behind the pulpit.  The repulsion was the ‘show’ going on from behind it.  During that time the preacher talked more about “I” or “me” than anything else.  I constantly remind myself that when I preach it is not about me.  One of the questions I ask my wife all the time is “do you think this illustration is okay?”  I have found using personal stories help connect the congregation and myself.  It is a good way to let them know more about me and my life experience but I always make sure the illustration points to God and not myself.  If it points to myself it is usually in a self-deprecating fashion.

I grew up a person who was scared to talk in front of people and hated to read in public.  I ran hard from my calling to be behind the pulpit every week.  Yet I have to remind myself it is also the place I feel most connected to God.  I feel that way because I am not up there on my own volition.  If I had my choice I would rather run the sound booth and be behind the scenes.  But God has called me to stand behind the pulpit and I do as I am called.  I love the quote from John Wesley, “plain truth for plain people.”  That is my calling in a nutshell.

Ten Years Later

In the blur that has been the month of May it almost escaped my mind that on May 11th, 2002 I graduated from Duke Divinity School.  Ten years ago.  That seems so long ago yet also just like it happened yesterday.  Ten years ago I turned 25 in this picture, two weeks later I got married and then a couple months later moved to Mossley, England for a year.  Since then I have had two children, got ordained and I’m finishing up my second appointment in the Western North Carolina Conference.

Looking back I have learned more than I can write about ministry and life in general.  Yet I also would love to reach into this photo and have my 35 year old self talk to my 25 year old self.  As one who is about to start his journey in ministry I would give myself the following advice…

Be Yourself – you are a child of God who has been given gifts in ministry, leadership, and preaching.  All you need to do is stop being someone you think you should be and start being who God created you to be.

Causalities WILL Happen – not everyone will like you but that does not mean you are bad person.  You cannot please everyone and most of the time when people are upset it usually has to do with them not you.  Concentrate on the people who build you up and love you, not the people who would love to see you fail.  If something calls for you to say you are sorry, than apologize and ask for forgiveness.  If you did the right thing and people are not happy, that is them not you.

Take Care of Yourself – find time to disconnect and revive yourself.  Yes, you are good at taking time off, but you are bad at finding things that fill you back up.  Find hobbies, habits and activities that are fulfilling, exciting, and make your soul fill up and overflow.  This will make it easier to give of yourself in your ministry and not feel empty.

Yes You Are a Preacher – growing up reading out loud, talking in front of people and public speaking sent you into a cold sweat but it gets better.  You still get nervous every Sunday but not as bad as it was in 9th grade English class when you were asked to read a major part in a play and you kept stumbling over words.  It is hard work and it takes lots of practice but ten years later and after preaching over 350 sermons you are getting the hang of it.  Keep it up.  You start to realize that preaching is an art form and you enjoy the creativity side of trying to keep people engaged, focused and coming away learning and feeling something.  Work on being as transparent as possible.  Preaching is not about you but God working through you.

You Can’t Spell  – yes you will enjoy writing but you still be the King of Typos.  It is okay.  You can surround yourself with people and technology that help you out with that.  Don’t make your limitations or weaknesses be so scary that you don’t peruse writing as a spiritual discipline and way to connect your ideas with people.

Enjoy Life – you will meet some incredible people in these next ten years.  Enjoy getting to know them and do not be afraid to make deep and meaningful connections.  Those connections will serve you well in the future.  Also every so often step back and look around at where you are and who is around you.  You are blessed and give thanks and praise to God for that at all times.

Stop Worrying – One last thing 25 year old me, stop worrying about the future.  Attempt to remember you are not in control, God is.  Ten years from now you will celebrate your ten year anniversary with your wife who you love more deeply than you do now.  You will have a son who is smart, funny, and so caring it brings you to tears just thinking about it.  You will have a daughter who adores you and who’s laugh, eyes and smile makes your heart skip a beat.  You will be use to moving because after this picture is taken you will have physically moved 7 times and be in the midst of your 8th.  It is crazy, but it will all be okay.  Not all of them are to new appointments, they are just all to different apartments/manses/parsonages.  Remember you are called by God and learn to live as your favorite piece of scripture says, Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Oh yeah, those people around you in this picture.  These are some wonderful friends, many of whom you still see or talk to on this thing called Facebook.  And one last thing, yes you can wear contacts.  Ditch those god-awful glasses already!

Clergy Death Tsunami?

Lovett Weems has predicted that a death tsunami is coming, starting in 2018.  Between the years 2010 and 2050 there will be an increase of 50% in the national death rate.  Much of this is because of the aging out of the Baby Boomer generation.  Weems predicts this will hit the UMC extremely hard.

This is a tweet I saw at the end of September; : “34,000 United Methodist Churches in the US and only 685 UM Pastors under 35. The  needs to take this seriously.”  He tweeted this while attending the Church of the Resurrection’s Leadership Institute.  Then question arose, in the twitterverse whether 685 is  out of elders, all clergy including local pastors, or just ordained ones (elders and deacons).

This got me thinking and asking the question, “how many clergy are really out there in the UMC.”  Could I verify the 34,000 number of churches?  Searching some stats online from the GCFA (General Council on Finance and Administration) it confirmed that there are 44,404 total clergy in the UMC as of May of 2011.  Here is the breakdown:
                   Elders in Full Connection (EFC) = 31,406
                   Deacons in Full Connection(DFC) = 1,471
                   Probationary Deacons (PD) = 302
                   Probationary Elders (PE) = 1,850
                   Associate Members (AM) = 1,766
                   Full Time Local Pastors (FTLP) = 2,781
                   Part Time Local Pastors (PTLP) = 4,810

If there are really only 685 pastors under 35 (I cannot find where to verify that number and if anyone knows I would love to know, please share) here is the percentages against the different pastors within the UMC: only EFC = 2.18%; EFC + DFC = 2.08%; ALL = 1.54%.

By the time the death tsunami stops in 2050 the oldest young clergy today will be 74.  This means these 2%ers will see dramatic, I mean DRAMATIC changes in the UMC in their careers.  If 98% of the clergy are over 35, I bet even the majority of that number are over 50. (Once again this is my guess I cannot find an age breakdown of those 44,404 clergy anywhere)  This means in the next 10-15 years there will be a retirement tsunami within the clergy.  This has the potential of cutting the number of clergy in half by the year 2025.  OMG!

Here are the questions that arise out this staggering percentages.

  • If my thinking is correct and the number of clergy is cut in half in the next 10-15 years, it will leave around 23,000ish clergy to run the 33,814 congregations and 25,947 pastoral charges. Is this possible?
  • Will there be enough clergy to sustain a dying church by 2050?
  • Will all of these 685 (which, I am included in) hang around to pastor a dying denomination?  (BTW: my answer is yes, I’m in for the long hall)
  • Do conferences and districts have to switch their thinking about young clergy to produce the leaders our denomination will need?  Example: The current system likes to place young clergy in smaller churches or charges to gain experience and then 20 years later they get placed in the size churches they grew up in (usually larger congregations). Will they be able to wait 20 years if the pool of clergy turns dramatically shallow?  Or will younger clergy be forced, due to circumstances, to take a more active and demanding leadership role in the denomination/conference/districts?  Are there ways our conferences/districts could prepare for that?
  • Will the US churches be forced to move to a more “circuit” style (like the British Methodist Church) because there won’t be enough clergy to go around? 
  • Will pensions even exist by the time I retire when I am 68 in 2045?  If there is such thing as retirement by then.
  • Can we as a denomination survive? 
As I talked with a friend of mine who graduated with me from seminary and turned 35 yesterday he told me he now realizes how much change will happen in our careers as ministers.  The truth seems to be, the UMC that I was ordained in will not look anything like the UMC I will retire in.