The Next Adventure

For the last three years, I have served as an associate pastor at an unbelievably gracious church - FUMC of Arlington, TX.  The church took a risk on me.  While I had a great resume in worship ministry and leadership, I hadn't preached a whole lot yet.  I was a young adult, passionate about young adult ministry, but I hadn't built a lot of small groups.  I loved Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but had no proven expertise in using them to reach new people for the kingdom.

So, why not make me a Pastor of Young Adults, Communications, and Modern Worship?

And, let's help me get my Master of Divinity at Perkins while we're at it.

This church has helped me to learn.  It's pushed me to grow.  It's critiqued me in life-giving ways.  It's helped me to fulfill God's calling on my life to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Yet, and this is the definition of bittersweet, it's time for the next adventure in my ministry journey.  Two months or so ago, an opportunity to apply for a church planting residency fell into my lap.  Or, appeared in my Facebook feed, as things are wont to do these days.  I filed it away as something that would be awesome to do, but sounded hard to pull off.

But, then I get a text from my wife ... "Did you see that?"

And, as a person who often hears the Holy Spirit nudge me through my spouse, I messaged the pastor of the church sponsoring the residency, wondering if they'd take an application from somebody outside of their conference.  The response was that as long as I got the OK from my District Superintendent, absolutely.

I'm paraphrasing all of this, of course.

Well, one thing lead to another, and I'm now free to share some rather large news in the world of my family:

Beginning July 1, I will be a Path 1 Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, an amazing UMC church plant across I-75 from SMU.  Union is indeed a coffee shop, called to reach the young people in the area, the unchurched, the dechurched, a generation that the church earnestly wants to reach, but often doesn't know how.  The coffee is delicious, the worship is quirky, the community is amazing.

I'll be pastoring at Union with the hope of aiding in their efforts to go multi-site and bring a branch to the Central Texas Conference the following year.  There aren't any promises in this; it's yet another risky ministry move.  But, in the Kingdom of God, as in many things, where there's no risk, there's no reward.

I'm beyond excited to accept a new role in ministry.  FUMCA has been family to me, but it's time to strain forward to the next step.  Thankfully, my wife, Leanne, will be able to keep going in her own ministry at another church in our current area.  My kids go to preschool there and we often worship there as a family.  In a way, we'll be building ourselves a new/old home church and keeping our home in Central Texas, where we're so looking forward to continuing our ministry.

Trusting in the providence of God has taken my family and I in so many amazing directions and we know that God will be with us, and our faith communities, through this next step and beyond.

I Hope You Don't Go to My Church

I just returned to the office from one of my favorite places to be ever ... The local branch of the US Postal Service.  It was an action-packed experience, I tell you.

There was a long line, as there always is this time of year.  And of course, there was only one clerk taking packages, as there usually is every day, no matter the busyness of the season.

But I didn't mind the wait, I had my phone to check the news.  It was actually a nice break from work.  That is, until a lady in line lost her mind on the single, solitary clerk.

I should back up, when I walked in, there were two clerks, but one left for lunch while I was in line.  The horror!

Any way, this lady, from the line, when the second clerk steps out for a break, shouts rather loudly, "You're going down to just one clerk?  Again?"  She proceeds to look around to all of us in line.  "Well, I don't know who your supervisor is, but you should tell him that that just won't cut it this time of year!"

This time of year, being the Christmas season, right?  When we welcome the Prince of Peace to our world?

Anyways, as she looked at us, I realized I had my 'Rev' name tag on, that I make sure I wear when I'm running around town.  I was really tempted to take the tag off.  Because I was fearful that she went to my church and I didn't want her to recognize me or talk to me.

Just being honest, here.

She was a well-dressed, middle age, middle class woman that looked like many that attend our church on Sunday morning.  It's a large membership church, and I meet people all the time that I've never met, but that know me as I go out into the community.  Hence, the name tag.

But, I didn't want to have to take responsibility for this one.  Because - we are called to police each other.  Yes, that's right.  We are called to call one another out when we're being unkind.  This person was.  You know, the one, that could spew disdain from one side of the mouth, and pray for my ministry with the other.

Up there with the people that do this.

I literally prayed, without thinking, that she didn't go to my church.  The problem is, she did have the feeling of someone that went to church somewhere, and here she was, in the name of the Christmas, giving a little hell to a clerk just doing his job.  It was unkind.

We know that Christians behave badly in public all the time.  All.  The.  Time.  So, what do we usually do?  We look the other way.  However, our Advent lessons the last few weeks call on us to do the opposite.  Christ and John the Baptist both never pull punches when calling people towards higher accountability and character.

Wesleyan Christians put it this way:

  • Do good.
  • Do no harm.
  • Pray.

So, I ask, what should the response be when a Christian behaves badly?  What should I do if I know it's a church member?  I really would like to know!

Kindling the Fire?

“I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze! I have a baptism I must experience. How I am distressed until it’s completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division."  Luke 12:49-51
It was kind of a dark and stormy Jesus today in our lectionary passage ... Quite contrary to the stern but reassuring Jesus we've been traveling with during our summer series on the Gospel of Luke.

Today's Jesus was frustrated.
He was fiery.
He was miffed that the people who were supposed to be prepared to meet the Messiah were neither prepared nor listening.

This was table turning Jesus.
Jesus on a mission to turn the world around.

This Jesus wasn't afraid to tell it like it is - following him was going to necessitate making some hard choices, doing a lot of self inventory.

Makes me wonder if this is what our beloved UMC is going through right now ... Have we been avoiding making the tough choices for too long?  Have we been worrying about the wrong things all together?  Have we been so worried about maintaining the status quo in our churches we've been missing our chance to have a real impact on planet Earth for the Kingdom?

What would Jesus think of our  UMC churches today?

I'm just wondering.

I think a lot of our churches behave as if they've arrived.
Would Jesus say that we have?
Are we so afraid to fix our problems?

I feel we might be so afraid of the potential divisions that Christ prophesied in the 12th Chapter of Luke that we're in danger of fading.  This isn't new news.  But it is a lack of faith.

It's easy to be cynical.

But ...

I just had a blast this weekend leading worship for 25 youth workers at the Central Texas Conference Youth Worker Sabbath.  For three days I sat back as colleagues commiserated with each other, prayed for one another, and played games with one another.  Like youth.

There's the hope in the Connection.

The UMC isn't done yet, because it hasn't yet arrived.

Worship and Liturgy Resources - The Essentials

Yesterday, I completed the whirl-wind educational experience known as "Licensing School", a big step in the UMC on the road to ordination; upon completion and appointment by the Bishop you are bestowed the title "Licensed Local Pastor".  It is now a required step for all that are moving onto Elder or Deacon, but for many becoming a LLP is actually the goal and they continue their education through Course of Study.

There were thirty or so folks in class, most from Central Texas, but others from Southwest Texas and one from the North Texas Conference.  All of us are serving in a variety of circumstance, many as Lay Supply in smaller churches already, some in larger churches serving in youth, young adult, children, and music departments waiting for appointment or just taking the class as part of the ordination track while in seminary, others serve as volunteers and unpaid staff.

Most discussions were panel-led with some great pastors and laity serving in the CTCUMC.  After attending, one thing I felt was needed was a list of essential resources for worship ministry.  Nothing frilly or overly theological (you seminarians and fellow liturgy nerds know what I mean).  Just good resources for the folks who don't have time right now to dig into the heavier things while they barely have time to prepare a sermon, much less worship plan.

It'll blow your mind how many quarter and half-time supply pastors we have serving while holding down one or two other jobs to support a call to ministry.  I met several, and they are my new heroes.  I also understand, more than ever, how fortunate I am to have landed in a great full-time job, surrounded by stellar mentors who pour into me every day.

So, here's my list of essentials.  What would you add?


United Methodist Book of Worship (1989)
Goes without saying, but still needs to be said.

Worship and Song (Liturgies and Prayers) (2011)
This is the latest hymnal supplement adopted by the United Methodist Church.  A great resource for seasonal and topical calls to worship, offertory prayers, corporate prayers, confessions, and new creeds.  If you're going to buy this one, it's probably good just to go ahead and purchase the leader's version as well, but this volume of just liturgy resources is cheap.

Christian Year, Christ’s Time for the Church
A seminary level book that’s completely accessible.  Stookey breaks down each season of the church year. Great to read as a whole or just as prep for upcoming worship planning.  Before planning worship for any season, I choose the chapter from this book to wrap my head around the task.

The New Handbook of the Christian Year
A comprehensive UMC resource breaking down the Christian year, complete with liturgy and worship suggestions.

Upper Room Worship Book
A great resource for different types of liturgies (daily prayer, evening prayer, healing services).  Tons of music and sung psalter with a wealth of world, traditional, and ‘contemporary’ music.


GBOD Worship
Predominantly oriented towards lectionary preaching churches, there are resources for each week including sermon helps (with great ideas towards building lectionary-based sermon series), and hymn suggestions with semi-contemporary resources.

Ministry Matters
A UMC website with fantastic worship resources (among other practical things), click the worship tab for worship resources.  For each week of the lectionary, there are calls to worship, offertory prayers, etc.  Yearly subscription is $99 for access to the online library (worth it)

Worship Together
One of the best contemporary music resource sites out there, it brings together artists of the Passion Movement, Hillsong and many others.  It offers a whole lot of free stuff, including mp3 downloads of the most recent songs by their artists, including song stories.

A music licensing company, with avenues for video and streaming licenses as well.  You have to have a license to perform anything not in one of our hymnals (or anthems that have been purchased by the church) - or you could get sued.

#CTCGetLicensed #NoRegrets

So, here I am in the midst of the Central Texas Conference's month long take on licensing school.

You heard me right.  A.  Month.  Long.

In the middle of the summer, I'm spending three Saturdays and then five days in residency learning how to become a licensed local pastor for the UMC.  This family man was less than excited at the proposition of this long run through class.  I'm all about getting things done, and the old model of an eight to nine day, all day stretch sounded really appealing to me.  Would that have been tough?  Yes.  But ... Yeah.  Missing many Saturdays in the middle of the summer ... Not exciting.

I started this thing in quite the funk - even in the midst of knowing I'm called to do it.  Ever been there?

But then a few days before this venture was supposed to start, with a 4:30am wake-up call so I could make it to Waco by 8am, our conference BOM Coordinator sent out the list of my fellow attendees.  And that's when I started to get excited.  Because a lot of my friends were going.

While most of us weren't excited about having to make a trek bright and early on a Saturday morning, as we arrived together for our first day of class together, we realized that while we were here to be schooled, we were also here to build relationships.  Which is my favorite part of any ministry venture.

Our table quickly grew together as the first day went on, and realizing that the Twitter conversation was lagging, we decided to hash tag the proceedings - #ctcgetlicensed.  Because that's how we roll.  While things got silly, we had some really powerful speakers come our way and needed a way to preserve what we felt was important.

I get jazzed off community building.  Our licensing school has been set up in such a way that we're working together as candidates to lift each other up.  There are many other young candidates for ministry, like myself that I've come to know over the last year. But on the flip side, there are many Lay Supply Pastors serving small, part-time charges in the conference.  You don't see a lot of them around - they don't have a huge standing in the conference, because they work part-time hours for what a lot of people would consider tiny churches.

I myself find these Pastors (as they are, indeed) an inspiration.  Most of them have a full time job else where to really pay the bills.  On the weekends and during the week they serve sometimes two charges across towns and regions.  These Pastors are likely the only staff for their churches of a few to 40 or 50 people.  And you know what?  These folks may just be the life-blood of the conference.  Just think about the work they do.  And a lot of them have already been doing this work for months.  I come to find that the new schedule for licensing school, this spreading out of things, is actually for folks like them.  I can take nine days and call call it work - I'm not that important yet at my job, I will be one of four clergy on staff when I finish up school.  For these ladies and gentlemen, they are their church's person.  Amazing.

So I'm loving licensing school.  It's not a crazy lot of new information.  But it's a lot of old friends and new ones.

In a goofy daze on the first day due to a lack of sleep and not enough coffee, my hash-tag-creating table jumped on the #noregrets train with regard to just about anything we could think of at the time.

What I've learned over the last couple of weeks of licensing school is that it's not just a step on the path.  For many, being licensed is the final step in their call as pastors, for the rest of us it's part of the process in heading towards Elder.  But for all of us it's an important stop on the way to take stock of the gifts that God has given us - namely the communities in which we serve and the community we're building with one another as we journey together over the next several weeks.

So, #ctcgetlicensed.  #NOREGRETS.

Focusing on the Family

I had the afternoon off last Sunday.  A non-church staff member might say, "Yeah ... so?"

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.


It's been a hectic week.

I've now been serving as "Director of Communications and Young Adult Ministries" at FUMC Arlington, TX for one week, and I'm loving it.  Although, it's a complete change from where I was a week ago.

Gone is the regular daily routine.  I had a great weekly to-do list as a worship pastor.  I knew exactly what I had to do every day.  Now, before I go to bed and check out my Google calendar to psych myself up for what I'm doing the next day.  It's all about meetings.  Right now it's all church-y orientation stuff, but over the next few weeks I'll be heading more and more off campus meeting folks.  I'll be digging in with the evangelism team to see what's what there.  I'm going to Sunday School  classes - yes!  I have my first sermon here on the books for the last Sunday of April.

All in all, this is going to be super fun.  It will be a huge test for where my and my family's ministry is heading, but it's wicked exciting.

But, I still find myself pulling out the guitar to keep myself centered.  Keeping the family centered through prayer is also going to be an essential spiritual discipline as we deal with the path God has laid before us.  There is so much crazy ahead!  I truly feel that God has prepared me for this and my family is made to minister to other young families and young adults together.

It's so cool to be able to live into this new calling!

I miss a lot about my days as worship minister, a lot of people.  The hardest thing for me to balance every week was the essential thing for a worship ministry's weekly routine: the rehearsal.  Why was it hard for me? Because I really liked talking to people.  I had to be a super-rigid taskmaster in practice a lot of the time because I knew that I could get off on a tangent faster than most sopranos.

I spent the first three days of this job without an office computer and I tell you what, it was almost like a Sabbath rest from my usual daily work.  Instead of sitting at a desk I had to go out and talk to people to find something to do.  Some of the funnest ministry I've had a chance to do.

In the introduction to You Lost Me, David Kinnaman writes this:
But disciples cannon be mass-produced.  Disciples are handmade, on relationship at a time.
While my online calendar, Facebook, and Twitter are tools of my new trade, nothing is a substitute for a great conversation over coffee.  I'm in for some hard work.  But so much fun.

Have I mentioned that I'm excited?  I'm excited.

Really, really excited.

The Big Change

A few months back I began the candidacy process in the UMC to pursue ordination as an elder.  Since that time that decision as been reaffirmed through conversation, prayer and a multitude of experiences in discernment.

Through it all, I knew I was in this process for the long haul, knowing that the UMC takes a fairly deliberate course in determining who's right and then equipping those folks for ministry.

Here's one thing I know: I'm called to new church start ministries in the UMC.  I'm called to reach out to the millenial generation, a generation that's largely been mishandled by the church - a generation that I'm a member of.

In discerning that call as a family, I've reached out and made it know that that's what I feel called to do with my life in ministry.  And through that reaching out, a new opportunity in ministry has come.

Beginning April 1st, I will begin serving as Associate Pastor of Young Adults and Communications at First United Methodist Church of Arlington, TX.  I'll be working with the pastoral staff and laity to reach out to the local community to pull in the young families and college students that are on the fringes.  I've also been blessed with the responsibility to preach and lead their contemporary worship service, a responsibility that will be phased in over the first few months in Arlington and that will step up after I attend licensing school this summer.

Oh yeah, and I hope to start seminary again this fall as I begin studies towards an MDiv.  It's all happening at once!

It's an awful big change for my family.  As I broke the news to my chancel choir family on Wednesday night it hit me that I've had Wednesday night choir practice for the last 12 years or so, the last 8 years as a director.  It's sinking in that the music ministry portion of my worship ministry is going on the back-burner for a little while as I continue to feel out God's will for my life.

I've had such a blessed time as a worship leader, for the last two years at FUMC Duncanville on the edge of Dallas.  This faith family and I have been through a whole lot together and we have blessed one another.  It's bittersweet, no doubt - there's still work to be done with my faith family in Duncanville.  I thank God for the many lessons I've learned here, lessons I will be carrying on as my family and I move on in God's ministry.

But I'm excited ... I'll finally have the time to get out in the local community and see what I'm made of in that context.  It's a new season for my family, and we're stepping out in faith together for a new adventure with the Lord.  We'll be needing your prayers!

"The End of Methodist Doctrine"

As I journey through the candidacy process, I've discovered a few holes in my game that need to be shored up.  I'm going to be asked some tough questions in tough meetings, and it would be nice to have at least a few answers ready.  I realize I've been at this ministry thing for a while, but I find myself feeling deficient in knowledge of things Methodist.  I know that things will be covered in depth as I get back into the seminary groove, but I've built up a small reading list in the meantime.

I've begun with Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, by Dr. Ted Campbell, Professor of Church History at Perkins.  I didn't have the opportunity to take any courses with Dr. Campbell the last time through seminary, but I've heard great things and I look forward to possible coursework from him in the future.

At the end of the introductory chapter, I came across this little tidbit I would like to share:
The end, or goal, of the Methodist teaching is not the advancement of Methodism.  Our heritage has been used by God for a much greater end: the coming of God's reign, or kingdom.  So we should pray fervently for the day when Methodism ceases to exist, for that great day when, our historic mission having been accomplished by divine grace, the Wesleyan heritage finally dissolves into the glory of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church."  In the words of Charles Wesley, "names and sect and parties fall; thou, O Christ, art all in all!"
If only the church, from local to general could function under that kind of freedom.

A Call to Ministry

I'm not normally one to rant, but I've been hearing something over and over again lately that's starting to bother me a great deal.

My call to ordained ministry is constantly referred to as my 'call to ministry'.  This language has been directed at me consistently from many directions, from clergy to the very forms I've filled out to apply for this next step in my call.

Why does this bother me?

Because I was called to ministry a full decade ago, it just wasn't to ordination.  But nonetheless, I was called to ministry as a worship leader.  It wasn't until just recently that I felt called to a new type of ministry: that of the ordained.  So, I take a little offense at the call to ordination as my 'call to ministry', as if I've finally arrived in the most exclusive and best group.  I have an Assistant Worship Minister that works for me.  Minister is part of his title and ministry is what he does.  Same goes for our Childrens Minister and our Youth Minister, none of whom are ordained but all are called to ministry.

As a current lay person, I feel the language being used denigrates the ministerial work I've already done - and the great work of all laity.

It's also contrary to the United Methodist understanding of the Christian call to ministry.

From the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Part III, Section II - The Ministry of All Christians:
¶ 125: The Heart of Christian Ministry - The heart of Christian ministry is Christ's ministry of outreaching love.  Christian ministry is the expression of the mind and mission of Christ by a community of Christians that demonstrates a common life of gratitude and devotion, witness and service, celebration and discipleship.  All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment.  The forms of this ministry are diverse in locale, in interest, and in denominational accent, yet always catholic in spirit and in outreach.
When we take on the name "Christian", we also take on the title of Minister in the UMC.  I remember in the bulletin of my home church growing up, seeing the first line of the staff listing on the back: Ministers - Every member of the congregation!

Clergy are called to walk hand in hand with the laity.  To only refer to the call to clergy as the call to ministry further divides up the kingdom and fosters a very consistent problem we have in the local church - that the clergy are the only ones there to work.

End of rant.  For now!