- Leanne went to see author, speaker, and UMC clergyperson, Rev. Leanne Hadley last week give a seminar on family prayer. Leanne, was pretty fired up about it, so we decided during Lent that we'd give her model of family prayer time with little ones a try during Lent. The first time was last night. We read scripture, colored, and prayed as a family, giving little man a chance to share what he could. All in about 20 minutes. It went pretty well!
- After the kid is off to bed on Sunday nights, Leanne and are reading Love to Stay, by Adam Hamilton together. We haven't done any kind of book study together since pre-marital counseling. We figured this was a good one to do together, and the church had everything we needed. Every marriage needs 'regularly scheduled maintenance', so we're setting aside about an hour to go through a chapter a week.
- We're hosting another online Bible study for young adults during Lent. Sure, this one is technically work ... but, any time devoted to discussion of the Word is good for the soul, and something I don't do enough of in my church context. Bible study only done at seminary doesn't lead to a balanced theological life. We kick things off tonight, tying our study to our sermon series on the Seven Last Words of Christ.
In eight years of ministry, it hasn't happened that often. For years Sunday morning has been a grind (95% of the time an extremely blessed one) from 7am or so to 6pm ... Or so ...
During the school year, when student choir rehearsals are going on, Sunday has usually been an 11+ hour day. I say this not to complain - a minister signs up for these things - just to illustrate how wonderful it can be to have a Sunday afternoon off.
Sure, I often went home for lunch between worship and rehearsal for an hour or two. But for my family, I might as well not have come home some of those Sundays. I was pretty worthless as a human, dad, and husband. My wife signed up for it with me, but that didn't negate the occasional tension in the house. For me, coming home for lunch was just that - a lunch break, not really a time to get stuff done around the house, interact with my wife, or play with my kid.
That was just part of Sunday. So when we new we'd have the occasional Sunday afternoon together, those afternoons were circled very brightly on the family calendar as a day to do something different or special. Because dad could be all-in on family time.
In our family, and in most church staff families, my spouse works a mostly 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday. So, while most families get a full weekend together we've generally just had Saturday. I've always taken Friday as my day off. It's always been a balancing act on the weekends, wanting to cram as much family time into Saturday as we can, while making sure to find time just to rest.
At Perkins, we had to take a class called "Spiritual Formation", a class designed in a group setting to introduce us to various spiritual disciplines. The idea behind the program is to encourage those studying to work in ministry to start taking on spiritual disciplines as a way to keep you centered on Christ and family. It encourages the students to find a way to keep a balanced and healthy spiritual life. The class exists because those in ministry can have a really hard time maintaining a spiritual life that grounds a person. It may seem ironic to someone who doesn't work in ministry, as those in ministry are there to help others find their way spiritually, but there it is.
Leanne and I work very hard during the work week to keep our family's spiritual life in balance, and we've chosen several family spiritual disciplines to keep us on the right path. We eat dinner together, at the dinner table with the TV turned off, nearly seven nights a week. We pray with Wesley before we put him to bed. We've started a Bible-in-a-year reading plan (it'll end up being more like a Bible-in-a-year-and-a-half when we wrap it up). And we pray with each other as a husband and wife before we go to sleep.
We've come up with most of this on our own, and we're accountable to each other. But ... Rarely does somebody from the local church actually check on us.
The world needs to be let in on this: pastors and staff members have messy lives, just as much if not more-so than the average congregant. And especially just as messy in one of our harder to swallow American statistics - divorce. It's hard to find clear data on divorce rates amongst clergy, but nearly everything I could find essentially stated that clergy divorce rates are the same as everybody else (and apparently higher among female clergy).
So, I'd like to pose a few questions to Pastors, SPR/PPR members, and laity:
What are you doing to see that your staff is taking care of itself spiritually (as individuals and as a whole staff)?
What are the vacation and time off benefits you have allocated to your staff?
And do you encourage your staff to take that much needed time off?
Do you provide health insurance for your staff? Do you see that they take advantage of the benefits?
Do you pray with and for your staff? Do they know that?Some times of the year are much busier than others ... I added up the hours I worked during this last Holy Week and I stopped counting after 70. Advent and Christmas has it's own hurdles. The whole ministry staff puts in these hours during the all-hands-on-deck events to help bless the communinity and create God experiences, but:
Do you help your staff keep track of the hours they work and take the necessary time off to balance things out?Your staff needs your help. It never becomes more evident at the sacrifice my whole family makes for my (our) career in ministry until I get a Sunday afternoon off. Think about it.
Really, I'm just going to tell you what my wife and I do to make sure that we're not only in touch with eachother, but that we're always sure that we're inviting Christ to be a member of the family as well. I'm kicking things off with a recent addition to our life together, and one that has been more fun than I ever thought it would be: reading scripture together on a daily basis.
When Leanne and I first were married, really back to the start of our engagement, reading scripture was a big part of our routine. On Leanne's very first visit, actually, she brought with her to Louisiana a copy of Stookey's This Day devotional guide. On our first date we took the time to read scripture and pray together. It was a bit of a make it or break it moment for us ... When she pulled that book out and suggested we pray I had to either decide if I was in or out. Was a I really ready for this? I mean, praying together? And reading scripture? Well, I took the plunge.
We kept it up as often as we could, following the lectionary reading plan in the book. But soon after we were married, the daily reading went by the wayside. I'll take a bit of blame for it ... The devotional plan in the book is amazing, but it does take time. Leanne would bring it up every once in a while, and I would promptly change the subject.
A couple of months ago, we were both thirsting to add reading daily scripture to our routine, we just weren't sure where to start.
Enter, the Youversion Bible ap.
At the start of the summer Leanne took on a 90-day Bible challenge. It was very difficult and it was easy to get behind on with our crazy schedules. She had to give it up - it wasn't exactly soul-filling to be stressed about getting in 12 chapters every night. But it stuck in my mind.
A couple of months ago we were talking and decided together that we would take on a Bible reading challenge as partners. Except, rather than 90 days, we're following a year-long plan to get us through the Word. I'm happy to say it's gone real well, with only a couple of delays a long the way. In 2 months, we've gotten up to Deauteronomy, and it's actually been ... fun ...
We do read the Bible out loud and take turns reading chapters. It never takes more than 10 minutes as you're only reading 3 to 4 chapters per night. The plan that we've chosen also closes with a Psalm to pray after the readings, and that's a beautiful element. The fun element, though, is really getting a sense of the narrative of our salvation story. Reading it this fast, we're not reading it for details, but we do get a sense of the different voices involved in the writing of the Word. It's fascinating study and a blessing to my wife and I. We've started a journey together with this, and because we're doing it together, we hold each other accountable to make sure we finish. For us, we needed a system to keep us on track and we're thankful for a tool - one that breaks the boundaries between my Android phone and her iPhone. It reminds me of the peaceful kingdom.
Does your family read scripture together on a regular basis?
Several weeks back, I wrote a post on the new mission statement we were rolling out as a church family and that I was tasked with the second Sunday, bringing heaven down to earth - in our homes.
I had high hopes for the content of the message, but my outline set the bar pretty high in the time-consuming department. I wasn't ready to give, nor was the congregation ready to hear, an hour long message dealing with my limited experience in the marriage/dad department.
So, I took some advice from Gospel Lesson for the day and focused on the one thing: dinner.
You may have heard that we’re launching a new mission statement for our faith family … As we’ve been listening and praying for discernment in the way forward for FUMC Duncanville, we chose to get back to the basics of the faith, the reason Christ came down among us to begin with … to usher in the Kingdom Time, to come down as the incarnate Word of God and bring heaven down with him. The new vision for our church family is the same vision that Christ laid down before us when he taught the disciples to pray that night, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …” As we seek to do the Lord’s will together here, to bring down the Lord’s will into this place, we’ve broken down the goal of what it means to bring heaven down to earth in five ever-widening and interconnected circles – starting with ourselves, then to our families, to our church family, our community, and then to the ultimate goal, the transformation of the world in which we live. Today we bring our focus to the family, families that come in all shapes, and all sizes.
A little background is necessary here ... After I graduated from Perkins in 08, I didn’t have anything holding me back from doing something crazy with my life. I had worked at my home church in Farmers Branch for three years, and as I was wrapping up my Masters studies I was interviewing for the Music Directors job at my church as my boss and mentor was retiring after 25 years in ministry with my church family. I was brought in to learn the ropes in Farmers Branch, but then an opportunity came up in Slidell, Louisiana and when the job in Slidell was offered, I took it. It was an opportunity to get out on my own and have fun. I had no girlfriend at the time and my family was supportive, so I made the big move. And then, Leanne and I connected back in Dallas.
But even then, there’s a lot to unpack here in these five verses.
The part that was missing here, though, the step that Martha didn’t take before getting upset was to take a moment herself and ask Christ, “What should I be doing right now?” It’s not that she was doing anything wrong, and we know that Christ doesn’t see anything wrong with what Mary’s doing either. But Martha didn’t take the time to ask, “What does the Son of God need from me right now?” Jesus needed her to take some time, and chill out, and listen – as family.
I would challenge us as families not to underestimate the power of the dinner table. We can find nourishment there, not just for our bodies, but our souls as families. It’s a place where we can live out the Gospel with one another, to talk with one another, to pray with one another, to dig deeper in the faith with one another – to get to the spiritual food that will grow us into our faiths. But we can’t also forget to make sure that we invite Christ to that table. We can’t forget to ask Heaven to come down and dwell with us – because when we ask for heaven to come down to us, it will.38-40 As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
I'd love to hear your thoughts! How do you bring heaven down into your home?
*for more information on these stats, check this out
Of course, now my wife and I know that our lives are over. He's standing all the time now, and is even shuffling a long the couch a little bit. Walking isn't too far away.
Just after he stood up for the first time in our living room I had to lower his crib mattress, because it wasn't two days later that he was standing up in his crib.
But he, of course, has never missed an opportunity to use his new skills to manipulate mom and dad. What's sadder than a sobbing baby standing in his crib and clinging to the rails wanting us to come in and get him out? Invariably he's facing the door to his nursery - crying with the assurance that we'll come to door, feel sorry for creating this silly thing called 'bedtime', pick him up and take him to play all night.
I say invariably - but there was one exception. A heart-breaking one.
My wife and I try really hard to let him cry it out. Once the door closes on bedtime, we do our best to wait out the sobs. But one night he just wouldn't stop with the crying.
It was my turn to calm him down, so I went in, expecting to see my boy grin when I opened the door.
But this time he was facing the back of the room. He was clinging to the back rail of his crib and sobbing. He was stuck - standing was still really new to him, and he didn't know yet how to get out of it. So he was stuck, crying, and facing the wrong direction. He couldn't face the door - he didn't know how. He couldn't face the door that his help comes from.
God taught me something about God's parental love that night, though. I went and picked him up, rocked him, calmed him down, and put him back down to bed. But it's stuck with me ever since.
I hope that when I get stuck, crying, and facing the wrong direction, I can remember that I do know to face the door my help comes from.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
"... on earth as it is in heaven ..."To semi-quote the words of Bob Farr in Renovate or Die, the UMC has already set our mission, that is to fulfill the Great Commission in "Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World". The vision statement of a faith community is similar in that it takes the grand mission of the UMC and gives it context in the local church. We've chosen to take on living out the Lord's Prayer, specifically joining in Christ's mission, the one he laid upon us, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven down here on earth.
Joining with Christ in bringing heaven down:
- in ourselves
- in our families
- in our church family
- in our community
- in our world
We'll have five different speakers, and I have the great privilege to preach the second Sunday on how we can bring heaven down into our homes. We're really going to work hard between the five speakers to coordinate and weave different threads through the whole week, so with the blessing of everyone I'll be tackling Luke 10:38-42 - Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha. I figure I'm pretty lucky to get this day - there are a ton of examples in the Gospel of Christ actually in people's homes. Eating, teaching, healing, hanging out - he was never far away from the hospitality of a friend, student, or family member.
Having been married for only three years, and with an 8-month-old son, my wife and I hardly consider ourselves experts on marriage. But I will say that work hard together, have covenanted with one another, to keep Christ the focus in all we do.
With intentionality we:
- Pray together every night
- We eat together, at the dinner table with our little man
- We've just begun reading scripture together every night, with a Bible-in-a-Year Challenge
- We worship together
- We budget together, of which a tithe is a non-negotiable element
At the beginning of the summer I had the great pleasure to lead an awesome group of youth and adults on our annual youth choir tour. It was awesome. Great ministry with an amazing group of young people. The one bummer to the whole thing was being away from my 5-month-old and my wife for seven days straight.
Any of you that have run trips like this (mission trips, tours, retreats) know that it's a 24/7 job from lift-off. There's not a lot of time to call home, and when it is a good time for one person, that doesn't mean it's a good time for the other. Leanne was actually on a mission experience of her own (with Wesley) meeting volunteers during the Central Texas Annual Conference annual conference-wide mission trip. So, it was doubly difficult for us to connect at any point during the week. Compound that with the fact that my son can't talk yet. I know, silly, but it should be said.
I missed my boy.
The drive home, from Monroe, LA to Duncanville was excruciating. But not because of the students, adults, or anything else; it was hard because I could only go so fast. There was a lot of anticipation; I mean, what if he was a totally different kid when I got home? Another silly thing, but one that I understand most parents have when they make that first trip away.
I'd called ahead, so Leanne knew the exact time to meet us in the church parking lot. There was a huge sigh of relief when we pulled in and they were waiting for us.
I jumped out of the van as soon as I put it in park and ran over to hug on my family. Leanne handed me Wesley and he curled up on my shoulder and had a laughing fit. He been smiling and chuckling for a couple of months, but this was a full on fit of laughter. And it was right after Leanne handed him to me after I'd been gone for a week. Do you know what this said to me?
My son knew who I was. After just a few weeks, they say babies start to recognize their parents. We're usually around the most, and they can even hear our voices in utero. After a few weeks out in the world they start to turn their heads when they hear us (parents) talking. They'll start to smile and grin when we come close. He'd been doing that for a bit. But here was this little guy, curled up on my shoulder and just laughing away. He recognized me as his dad, and that no one else is.
My son knew who I was.
It was a crazy, emotional revelation. And looking back on it, definitely a God experience, for my wife and myself. It's gotten me thinking about what it must be like for God when a child (all of us) recognizes that God is God, and no one else is.
If you just a read a few chapters of the Psalms, the Psalmist rights frequently of a delight in the Lord, and a returned delight to us when we delight in our service to the Lord. The Lord delights in our recognition of God's grace and lordship, just as I laugh everytime my boy shoots me or his mama a smile.
God revealed a little bit of God's Own Self to me the day my son recognized me.