Clearing the Clutter

I have a confession to make: I can be a bit of a slob. I still remember, in 2nd or 3rd grade, receiving a dreaded U (for Unsatisfactory) on my report card for “work area.” My desk, all through grade school, was a jumble of books and papers. For the most part, I could find what I needed, but anyone else who dared look through the desk might never be seen again.

Now, nearly thirty years later, not much has changed. I’ve written in the past about how messy my work desk can get, and I admit it’s still a problem. Usually, it goes in streaks: stuff slowly builds up until it gets so messy I finally have to take action. Following a period of relative cleanliness, the stuff begins to accumulate again.

Here’s a shot of my office just this morning.

Now, this isn’t horrible, and it’s been way worse before, but… well, it’s not good enough. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe that, for me, a cluttered desk does equal a cluttered mind. When there’s stuff everywhere I find myself having to spend a lot of mental energy to see past all the unnecessary things to get a good look at what I’m actually working on.

Why do I do this? I think it’s based on a lie I tell myself. I’ll come to my office from a meeting or from teaching a class, I’ll be carrying a pile of books and papers, and I’ll think, I don’t have time to put these away right now. Or I think I need to immediately start working on the next thing or immediately set all that stuff down to leave the building. But that’s a lie. I do usually have a few minutes when I could put things away and make sure things are clean. But the lazy lie I’ve been telling myself stops me from doing that.

So, after I took the above picture, I did get my workspace tidied a bit (though there’s still work to do.) But more importantly, I’ve made the decision to make the effort, going forward, to “clear the clutter” every day. Hopefully seeing some of the office clutter disappear will help with the “mind clutter” that tends to grow also. 

I think it will.

Convention Time

Convention Hallway
For the past two days, I’ve been attending the convention for the Northern Wisconsin District of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. To do that, I drove about an hour to Appleton to the campus of Fox Valley Lutheran High School. The school has a great campus that works well for a convention like this.

Some people might wonder why pastors (and in the case of this convention, teachers and other church members) would take two days aside to meet together. A lot of it has to do with the official reasons: presentations on different topics and reports from different areas of ministry in our church body, as well as doing “official” business and recommendations on the best ways to do our work together.

But I think the bigger value in events like these comes in a different way for me. Being a pastor can sometimes feel like a solitary effort, even for pastors like me at a church with more than one pastor on staff. Much of the work has to be done by oneself: writing and preparing for different sermons, meetings, and classes. Even when I make visits with people at their home or even at their hospital bed, I’m usually making these visits on my own.

And that’s fine. I like working on my own, and I believe I do best work that way.. But even when I work on my own, it’s nice to have a reminder that I don’t do my work alone. There are other pastors out there, doing these things, too. There are other congregations out there, even here in my section of Northern Wisconsin, that are going about this same work. There are different ministries and groups that exist for the sole purpose of aiding this work being done.

That’s why it’s worth my time, even if it’s not always convenient. It’s worth it for me to be built up in the importance of what I’m doing and reminded yet again that I don’t do it alone.

Family Ties

Questions Come Up

One part of being a pastor is something I never get tired of: people tend to ask you random Bible questions. Using the Bible goes with the territory, of course, but I'm thankful that I don't just feel the Bible is something I have to use on a daily basis on my job; it's also something I get to use and actually enjoy digging into more and more.

One question that sometimes comes up when someone is studying to be a pastor is, “How am I going to deal with all the questions that people ask me? What if I don't know the answers?” The panic just isn't there for me, though, but it's not because I know everything. Far from it. I'm aware of how much I don't know, and this gives me the freedom to say, “I don't know” when someone asks me a question rather than just try to come up with the best answer I can on the spot.

Here's a question I recently searched out.

Continue reading

One Year Later: My Thoughts

A year ago today I was installed as associate pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Two Rivers, WI. It’s been a good year, and I’m thankful for all the blessings I’ve been given here. I thought it’d be nice to jot down a few of my thoughts about my ministry and life that this year has made me aware of.

Much is the same. Moving from being pastor at a small church of 150 members to being one of two pastors at a church of about 1000 members certainly brings its differences. I had to adjust to lots of little things and a few big things. But most surprising to me was how many things were the same. Writing sermons and preaching is the same, no matter how many services you have to preach at. The people, while all different, have similar problems, joys, triumphs, and difficulties. There’s just more of them now. The issues that plague a smaller church aren’t really that far off from the issues that plague a larger one. The joys in a smaller church are similar too.

I still have a lot to learn. Like: names! I remember at one of my first weekends at my prior church there was an installation of Christian education leaders and helpers. After they were all installed, I was able to flawlessly name every one of them, much to the surprise of the congregation. Here in Wisconsin, I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered the names after a full year here. It’s possible for people to come to church regularly and still slip out the door without talking to me. Plus, the sheer volume of more people makes actually mastering their names take that much longer. Add that to a list of inactive and nearly inactive members whom I’ve either never met or only seen a handful of times, and I still have to get to know my congregation! Continue reading

Yes, He Does!

A line from my daily devotion struck me hard today. The scene is the book of Judges, specifically the account of the Judge-Prophetess Deborah and the struggle against Jabin king of Canaan and the commander of his army, Sisera. (Judges 4-5)

Barak, an army commander from Israel, seemed to be afraid to fight Sisera’s army. He wasn’t listening to God’s command to head out to battle. Deborah chided him a bit for this, and he still wouldn’t go out until she went with him. That’s where the line comes in.

Deborah comforted and encouraged Barak by saying, Does not the Lord go out before you? (Judges 4:14) The implied answer being, “yes, he does!” He will go out into battle with you, and he will conquer your enemy!

I have no wars to fight. I’m not a commander of battle. But I do God’s work as a pastor. I preach the law and the gospel. I teach God’s Word. I love God’s people that he’s placed under me in this congregation. But I still sometimes get discouraged. I think I haven’t done enough. I dwell on my faults. I think going out and doing the work just isn’t worth it sometimes.

But…does not the Lord go out before me? Of course he does. He is at my right hand. In Christ, he’s forgiven me. He’s prepared a place in eternal life. He has uniquely equipped me to serve where I am, when I am. I have his gifts, his forgiveness, his presence with me at all times.

So I will go out! The Lord goes out with me.

Iron Sharpens Iron

There’s a beautiful and well-known proverb: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

When one person works to improve on his or her own, there is a chance at success. But how much better when people are working together to improve! The two people can sharpen each other and achieve greater things (humanly speaking) than they could’ve alone.

In some ways, I don’t think pastors do a great job at this. We tend to be solitary, lone workers. (I realize multi-pastor churches work differently.) Sure, pastors will have conferences and other meetings, but this kind of iron-sharpening is difficult when it comes at such great intervals. We pastors just tend not to reach out to each other for this sort of sharpening as often as we could. I think we miss out on some growth from this.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to engage in some of this kind of activity through a “coaching network” that I’ve gotten involved in. I’m working with someone “coaching” me and helping me set up long- and short- term goals for my ministry. Sure, it’s not anything I couldn’t do on my own, but what a difference to be able to work with someone else! Besides this, the other people being “coached” (in this case other WELS pastors) are also available for contact so this sharpening can continue.

This is something I’m just starting, but I think it would be beneficial for me to do it more often with more brothers in the ministry. My fellow pastors are gifted by God to serve their people, and we pastors can be a blessing to each other, too!

Playing Catch-Up

So I’ve fallen a few days behind on my Bible reading schedule. Not behind on posting the readings, but on actually reading them.

This is something that I’m sure has happened to everyone who has tried to follow a reading schedule. It’s nothing to feel guilty about; nowhere has God commanded you to follow a strict reading schedule and follow it every single day. You haven’t sinned by falling behind. The question is, then, what should you do? Do you catch up on your old readings so you still get them all done, or do you just move to the current day and leave the ones you missed behind?

Here’s my recommendation. For most people, you should just start again with the current day. That way, you won’t get bogged down by seeing a huge backlog of readings to do. I think for most people, knowing you are behind and have to catch up will be just enough of a barrier to get you to not keep reading. And since you’ve found it important enough to choose to follow a reading plan, you already think that reading and studying the Bible is important. So, just pick it up at the day you’re on, and go from there.

There are some exceptions to this, though. You might be one of those perfectionist-types who will be endlessly bothered by the fact that you’ve just skipped a section in your reading. If that’s you, fine; go ahead and catch up. As long as you’re not too many days behind, catching up should be doable, and you will be able to rest easier. (And seriously, work on the perfectionistic tendencies! It’s not usually a good thing! I know of what I speak here.)

One other exception: pastors or anyone who is called to teach God’s Word. In my book, you need to know God’s Word backwards and forwards to better help the people you serve. This is why I always play catch-up for as long as it takes. I serve people who will expect (and rightly so) that I am the resident expert on the Bible. So besides studying whatever Bible class or sermon I’m working on, I want to be reading the Bible so I am always growing in every part of it. That way I can answer questions and have a deeper knowledge base to draw on for my answers, my sermons, etc. God keeps blessing this!

So remember: reading the Bible = good! But don’t get bogged down if you miss a day or two, unless it really bugs you. But if you’re a pastor, you’d better be continuing your readings! You owe your best to those you serve; and this discipline will also come with God’s blessings. So it’s win-win!

 

Check out WELSTech!

Do you listen to podcasts? Do you like “tech-stuff?” Are you interested in ministry. Then check out the WELSTech podcast!

You can find this podcast’s internet home at http://blogs.wels.net/welstech/ . This podcast is made by Martin Spriggs, the Chief Technology Officer of the WELS (the Lutheran synod to which I belong), along with the WELS tech trainer Sallie Draper. The podcast is weekly, and contains a lot of practical suggestions for using technology in ministry situations, whether it’s the parish or the classroom. Each podcast contains some sort of interview and is centered around some kind of theme.

One of the things I like about  this particular podcast, (besides its unique topic of technology and ministry) is the show notes available on their website. When you don’t have time to listen to a podcast (each episode is about an hour long), the show notes show you all the relevant information you need, as well as links to the different things discussed. I know I personally have gotten a lot of ideas from WELSTech, so they are doing something valuable. Maybe there’d be something there you would find of value, too!

You can listen to them on their website, subscribe to them on iTunes, or use one of the countless other podcast apps out  there. Check them out!

Full disclosure: Martin and Sallie just interviewed me this morning for next week’s podcast. And no, they did not instruct me to plug them on my blog! I’ll let you know when my interview airs!

A “Day Off”

As a pastor and a dad, sometimes your day off doesn’t quite work out to be as restful as you’d like. Today, for instance, I had a funeral that I did the service and preached for. This is a task that is a great privilege for me to do, but it’s definitely exhausting.

After the funeral lunch, I met with a fellow pastor for a while. He’s my circuit pastor (sort of like a supervisor for a group of pastors), so it was good to be able to talk with him.

By the time all that was done, I had just a few minutes to take two of my daughters (ages 4 and 2) to the doctor. The appointment went well, but sure enough! They both had strep throat.

Most of this post is being written as I wait to pick up their antibiotics. I’ll then bring those home so they can take them, then it’ll be bed time for all 4 kids. Oh yeah, I’ve just received a text rom my wife telling me that one of our non-sick kids just vomited. Not exactly a restful day off!

Not that I’m complaining. I love being a dad and a pastor, and today included a lot of what I love about both. But still, maybe I can take a little extra time to rest tomorrow.

Or maybe not.

Late Night Phone Call

Last night I received something that I’ve never gotten in my four plus years as a pastor: a middle-of-the-night phone call. It was a nurse at our local hospital letting me know of the deteriorating situation of one of the members of my congregation. She assured me that I could wait to see him until morning unless his situation worsened, but she couldn’t let him continue without calling me.

Some people who aren’t pastors might think that I would hate this. Getting calls in the middle of the night, visiting people who are sick, dying, or both in the hospital — to many these kinds of things sound awful.

But not to me. Rather, these kinds of things truly are a privilege for me to do as a pastor. I don’t have to stand awkwardly in a hospital room not knowing what to say or being unable to help. I do know what to say. I can help. I can’t make the pain go away or change medications, but I can share the Good News that the Savior is with the person in that hospital bed. I can share with that person the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I can give that person Jesus’ body and blood together with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper to build up his faith and hope. I can do these things, not because of something in me, but because God has called me and given his Word and Sacraments the power to work. It is truly a blessing and a privilege.

These are some of the words I shared with this person, from the Psalms.

2 Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me.

3 Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go;

give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

5 For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.

Psalm 71:1-3,5