Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rambling on leadership and a kick from the Spirit

 "A leader is a person that you follow to a place you'd never go by yourself." This was a statement by a very wise and good friend of mine. It has been a statement that has stuck with me since the moment I heard it. I've been thinking a lot about that statement recently. Tomorrow I begin my internship. It is one of those major milestones that one hits in their seminary career. I have long considered myself to be a public, Christian leader, but tomorrow seems to embody an enhancement of that idea. As I think about what that means, and what being a pastor means (or at least what it seems to mean to me at this point) there are many different areas that come into play. Preaching, teaching and administering the sacraments are chiefly among those. But another huge part of it is leadership. I've often heard that as a pastor, one is called to be a leader of the congregation. I have to be honest in the fact that I've always found that idea to be a little bit uncomfortable. First off, I have to believe the Holy Spirit is the one who leads the congregation. But I'm also a bit wary of the image that "leading" portrays. I do not want to be one of those pastors who pulls the congregation where I think we ought to go. Instead, I want to be the one to help the congregation discern where the spirit leads them to go.

As I'm thinking about this and looking back on everything I've written, it occurs to me that I really am lost when it comes to this leadership idea. I have a ton of ideas swimming around, but nothing coherent is coming out. So, I pray that God will be with me as I figure out this whole leadership thing.

Now, I'll be honest with you. I am feeling a big push from the Holy Spirit to say something. I'm not really sure why, but hopefully it's something that someone out there needs to hear. Maybe it's something I need to hear. Who knows?

A mentor pastor of mine preached a sermon once on the 23rd Psalm. (Probably one of the best I've ever heard)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Remember that the Lord is your shepherd. He is your leader. As my Pa told me "I like to read it, The lord is my shepherd, and that's all I want."

But the major thing you need to hear, whoever you are, is that even though you're in the valley, you've gotta walk. It's not a run to get out, but it's not a crawl, and it's certainly not a lay down and call it quits.  Keep moving, keep walking, the Lord leads you, and someday you'll find yourself out of the valley. JUST KEEP GOING BECAUSE HE'S RIGHT THERE WITH YOU!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Call...

Last week, my bishop told a story to our group amidst the election of a new Presiding Bishop. I don't remember who exactly said what in the story, but the point was that the Holy Spirit doesn't pluck out one person who is right for the job and hand them to the person/group doing the hiring. Instead the Holy Spirit sometimes says "you've got a bunch of great people. Pick one and I'll make them right for the job." I've been pondering the implications of that story for a while, and I think it's quite possibly one of the wisest things I've ever heard. These words have come back to me almost daily since I've heard them, and today they did again.

We are currently packing up to head out on internship. I feel like we're drowning in cardboard boxes. We roll out of the driveway Monday morning, and the next Sunday I officially start my internship. It is a really exciting time for me and my family. But it's also an absolutely terrifying time. My wife looked at me this evening and asked, "are you ready for this?" The answer that immediately popped out of my mouth was an emphatic "NO!" only to be followed up by my own even bigger mental NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! It was in that moment when the words of my bishop came back to me.

I have come to realize that there is a huge difference between a job and a call. The modern day professionalization of the clergy would seek to equate the two, but they are vastly different. When one accepts a job, the premise is usually that they're well prepared, well educated, and adequately skilled. They are often viewed as a missing cog in the machine of the company. But that is not how a call works. Don't get me wrong, think those going into a call have usually been well prepared, well educated and are adequately skilled. But a call is something more organic. A call is about shepherding and loving, and about growing together. It's all about companionship and walking with a group of people through the ups and downs of life.  A job often forces you to look at past performance, benchmarks, and productivity levels. There is a sort of cold statistical analysis that can be done. The central question is always, "Have I performed and am I currently performing at a level to warrant my employment." However with a call, it is all about the future. Am I the right person to walk into the future together with these people? Is this place the one where God needs me to be in the coming years?

Now, don't get me wrong, these divisions are not so neat and tidy. And I also realize that a call may not be part of a church, but can be any vocation.

I have thought a lot about this, because I know I'm called. I'm called to head out on this internship to a place and a people I don't know. I'm called to try and fail and learn and grow. Though I don't feel ready, though I don't know what lies ahead, I know that it is my calling. So with that I pack up my life, and the lives of my family to move ahead into this calling. I rest assured that I don't need to be perfect, and that the spirit will shape me into the right person for this calling.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12-14 NRSV)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Holy Golfer

Today we ended the 2013 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA. It was an absolutely incredible event, and one that came with many big surprises. I came to Pittsburgh about a week ago, expecting to sit through a bunch of plenary sessions and hear a bunch of people talk. We'd approve some things and elect a new secretary. As I sit here on the other end of things, I cannot believe how much the Holy Spirit has taken us in a new direction.
I often tell people that my faith works a lot like the way I play golf. A typical hole goes something like this:
1- I look at the yardage and where I want to go.
2- I think about the club most people would use.
3- I take one club down from that and whack the ball as hard as I possibly can.
4- I find the ball and repeat.

Now step 4 is the interesting one. Sometimes, and I do stress sometimes, the ball has landed in a pretty good spot, making the next shot a little bit easier. But more often than not, I have to venture off into the wilderness on the side of the course to find the ball and whack it back toward where I wanted to go in the first place.

When I look at this metaphor in terms of my church, I'd have to say that this hole is a pretty sharp dogleg. (For those unfamiliar, a dogleg hole is sort of "L" shaped, and often involves teeing off without being able to see the hole.)  25 years ago, we teed off unable to see exactly where we wanted to go. Unlike most of my shots, this one sailed pretty straight, and landed just short of the bend in the course. Now, most people, like me thought that we'd just be following the fairway  around the bend. But the spirit had other things in mind. Instead of working around the bend, I think the spirit spotted little opening in the trees, and decided to cut the corner. There's risk in this approach and we may find ourselves in some "sticky" situations. (see what I did there???) But the spirit decided to take that club from our bag and swing away.

This happened in many ways. Obviously it happened in terms of our leadership, electing a new presiding bishop and secretary. But it also happened in stepping boldly into a capital campaign over the next five years. It happened when we decided to take a stand for criminal justice, immigration reform and to advocate for voting rights. It happened when we decided to continue to strengthen our relationships with our ecumenical partners and dialogue with ones we're not in full communion with.

I am proud to be a member of this church, and thrilled to become a member of its clergy in a couple of years. There is no doubt that the Spirit has just given us a good whack. We cannot be sure where we'll land, or if the spirit will have to come find us in the middle of the wilderness. But regardless of that, we can be assured that the spirit is the one who swings the clubs.

The good news for everyone I believe is that the spirit doesn't just work for my denomination, or even just for Christians. God in the Spirit is active in all of our lives, whether you choose to know it or not. No matter who you are, where you are, what your struggles are, or what you believe, God is swinging the clubs for you. Some of you may be being hit with a driver, and some may be tapped with a putter. But in order to be successful on the course, all the clubs are needed. You're needed. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Always being made new

As I write this, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Pittsburgh. I am here as a voting member to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The theme of our assembly is "always being made new" based on 2 Corinthians 5:17.  Yesterday we made history. That was the day we elected Rev. Elizabeth Eaton as our new presiding bishop. She is the first female to serve in that capacity. I have to tell you that the best part about her election in my mind was that fact that her gender had no role in her election. This was all about who we felt would be the best leader for us in the coming six years as we seek to live out the call to always be made new. I am thrilled by her with the energy and voice that she brings.

But her election was not all sunshine and lollipops. Bishop Mark Hanson, our presiding bishop for the last 12 years also ran for re-election. He is a man who has done marvelous things. He is a steady and faithful leader, who led our church through a tumultuous 12 years. He leads with grace and mercy. He is as good of a leader as we could have asked for. No, he's better than we could have asked for. He is universally respected and rightfully so.  He is a man that coming into this assembly, most (I assume) figured would breeze to an easy re-election. This was not the case.

So Bishop Eaton's election comes at the cost of losing a familiar, dear, and wonderful leader. This is a painful loss, and one that I know personally I need time to grieve. And as I reflect on the events of the last 24 hours, I am struck with the fact that our call to always be made new is not an easy one. Being made new is a scary and often painful process. Our God calls us to new things in new places all the time, and that call doesn't come with the promise that we won't get hurt. In 2 weeks, I begin my internship in southwest Minnesota. Moving my family, moving away from my family, and my beloved community to a place and a people I don't know is an exciting move, but also a really painful and scary thing. But in the end, it is also the thing that God calls me to do. I have to believe this is the case with my church as well. The call of our new bishop gives us new life and energy, but also comes at great cost.

I am learning that this path of following God's call is not the easy one, nor is it intended to be. It is simply the path I need to walk.

An Introduction

I'm Nate. I'm 27 , a dad , a husband, and studying to be a pastor. Inspired by my wife's blog ( and at the off hand suggestion of my bishop, I've decided to start writing down my random thoughts for you all to read. I am not sure how often this will occur. In fact I'm guessing it will be fairly rare. However, there are times I feel compelled to share a story, or a thought; this will be a forum for that. I invite you to respond, to question, and to challenge. I hope that in some way, these moments that you take out of your life to engage with me will be beneficial in some way to us all. God Bless.