Today’s Pep Talk

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Leading from the Inside or the Outside?

The answer is: Yes.  We need both.

Institutions need to be shifted to adapt with the times.

(Note:  We often shift the institution to match the culture.  That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about shifting the culture of an institution to better match The Reign of God.  Just to be clear.  Read this. And this.)

There are all kinds of Biblical examples of leading both from the inside and the outside and I won’t go into all those here, but Denise Anderson and I talked about this topic on our way to New Haven this week.

So let’s say that The Institutional Church needs to change.

I have friends who are trying to do ministry on the edges, starting cool new communities and projects. 

Advantages to working from the outside: no age old norms (i.e. “We’ve always done it this way.”) and you get to create something from scratch. There’s dreaming and boundary-pushing.

Disadvantages to working from the outside: you will spend a lot of time explaining yourself and you will be financially unstable.  After explaining yourself, your next most time-consuming efforts will involve finding money and people.

I have friends who are trying to do ministry from the inside, accepting Head of Staff positions at Big Steeple Churches and becoming Denominational and Mid-Council Leaders.

Advantages to working from the inside: you have the power to give permission and open doors.  You know where the money is and you have access to it.

Disadvantages to working from the inside:  you (might) get sucked into the privilege and busy-ness of your everyday ministry.  Yes, you have a platform, but your time is often spent appeasing Big Givers, Cranky Wheels, Personnel Committees who don’t see what you see.

There are stellar leaders out there trying – at this very moment – to discern which path to take:  Do I accept a position that will offer access and money?  Or do I focus on a new way and work to gain that access and money?

We need both.  But mostly, we need for the people with resources and power to be best friends with the people who are moving mountains outside the system.

Image Source.

Talking About Things That Matter

I’m not able to write much this week because I’m here talking about things that matter.  If you happen to be in New Haven this week, some by and talk with me and Denise Anderson about important things.


Image of Yale Divinity School Campus.

Raise Your Hand If You Have a Personal Gun Violence Story

I remember being asked during a worship service to “Raise your hand if you or  someone you love has ever had cancer.”  Of course everybody raised their hands. It’s very normal to have a loved one with cancer.  It’s normal to have cancer. There are so many kinds and it’s almost the exception if cancer has never touched your life.

We are reaching a point when this will also be true in regards to gun violence. 

There are many kinds of gun violence.  But I want gun violence to be the exception, not the rule.

No one in my family or close circle has ever been shot by a gun. I have never lost loved ones who have been shot. I have never had a loved one die by suicide using a gun. I have never known someone who has been threatened with a gun – either by a stranger or a friend – at least that I’m aware of.

But it’s just a matter of time.

College students in a California dance bar. Worshipers in their own shul in Pennsylvania. A high school student before First Period Class in North Carolina. Two people in a grocery store in Kentucky.

All those tragedies happened over the past two weeks.  And it’s an incomplete list.

We fight cancer through research and treatment and educational awareness.  Fighting gun violence through research and (mental health) treatment and educational awareness is often stifled by pro-gun organizations.  But gun violence is a public health issue as surely as cancer is a public health issue.

I don’t want to be nonplussed if/when the day comes that someone shoots up one of my neighborhood restaurants or one of our congregations or my local grocery store.  I don’t want my local Target to become a target.  But it could happen in any of those places or in all those places.

People shoot children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, and older adults.  Victims and shooters alike have been black, brown, golden, and white in skin color.  I don’t want this to become so normal that everyone raises their hands when someone asks, “Who has personally experienced gun violence?”

What will it take to make gun violence rare?  Especially, if you happen to be a gun person, what’s your take on this?

Image from a Hands Up, Don’t Shoot event on a college campus in 2014.

What Kind of Leaders Do You Admire? And Why?

I have a clear memory of talking with my Mom about Barbara Jordan.  I was months away from voting for the first time and Barbara Jordan had delivered a powerful speech to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee regarding the impeachment of President Nixon.

My mother told me that she wished she could vote for Barbara Jordan for President.  This is especially interesting considering the fact that it would take another 40+ years for a woman to be nominated by a major political party as their candidate for President.  But Representative Jordan was extraordinary:  brilliant academically and a person of elegance and enormous integrity.

This opinion piece by Senator Jeff Flake yesterday made me think about Leaders We Admire.  For Senator Flake, President Reagan was among those leaders “who awakened my civic imagination and inspired me to want to be an active part of the American experiment.”  Who are those political leaders for you?

Imagine electing candidates who make us proud.  Some of us did this on Tuesday.  And some of us chose lesser evils or a people whose names were familiar or candidates with whom we share some but not all political opinions.

Even if we disagree with each other, there is comfort and hope in electing leaders we respect.  I would love to hear what leaders you admire and why.  Any party.  Any time period.  Any country.

Anybody? (Thanks.)

Image of Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) – U.S. Representative from Texas and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This stamp was first printed in 2011.

Now What?

I’m intentionally writing this on election day before I see any election results.  It matters who won and yet there are certain things faithful and hopeful people must do next  – regardless of who was elected.

Following Christ is bigger than following elections.  We know that, right?

I’ve been writing about 21st Century cultural shifts for a long time but today more than ever I hope we will:

  • Get out there.  (Don’t hide behind your desk.)
  • Be deployed to serve in the world.  (Jesus said, “Go out.”)
  • Teach others how to serve. (Don’t try to do it all ourselves.)
  • Recognize that people connect with God and each other in different ways. (My way is not the only way.)
  • Stop otherizing people.  (We are all in this together.)
  • Stop expecting other people to serve us.  (It’s time to serve others.)
  • Remember that rules exist for the sake of relationships.  (See earlier post.)

Whether you are celebrating or mourning today, there’s work to do. Let’s get out there.

Image from a slide I use when talking about necessary church shifts.

Please Don’t Lie to Me

Even in professional ministry, people lie to me.  Sometimes those lies are bold-faced, bald-faced, or bare-faced. Sometimes the liars are parishioners and sometimes they are pastors.

Lying kills trust by definition. Lying is the opposite of truth-telling.

Yes, sometimes the truth hurts or it’s embarrassing.  But we cannot be a healthy organization without Truth.  Remember when Pilate asked Jesus, “What it truth?”  Best question ever.  Especially on Election Day.

Some say it’s true to call even peaceful protesters a “mob.”  Some say it’s true to call a caravan of poor migrants an “invasion.”  Some say it’s true to call the migrants themselves “diseased” or “criminal.”

Some say it’s true to call Republicans “racists.”  Some say it’s true to call conservative people “deplorables.”  Some say it’s true to call President Trump a white nationalist (although he self-identified as a nationalist a couple times and he is white.)

What is true?  Sometimes it depends on who’s talking.  Sometimes it depends on context. By this definition, many media personalities have told many lies.

And sometimes facts are facts.  Places of birth, dates of legal actions, and most checked statistics are facts.  By this definition, our President has told many lies.

Only a conniving person would say something like “it depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is”  when asked “Is there an improper relationship here?”  There are liars of every political persuasion.

I would love to live in a world where everyday truth was clearer.  But in the meantime, I pray that noble people are elected today and that we – in the Church – would always tell the truth for the sake of the Gospel.  Healthy organizations speak the truth in love.  We’ve known this for over 2000 years.

Sometimes I feel like channeling Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.  Look out Dr. Nichols.


Clip from The Fugitive (1993) with Tommy Lee Jones as Marshall Gerard and Johnny Lee Davenport as Marshall Henry.

Rules Are For Relationships

I was told at a young age that Good Manners were invented to make other people feel comfortable. We don’t consult Emily Post in order to highlight our own personal poise and good breeding.  We practice good manners for the sake of other people:

  • Thank You Notes make people feel appreciated.
  • Multiple forks mean there’s an extra if needed for salad and dessert.
  • Seating charts help people feel included . . .

. . . in a perfect, gracious world.

The same is true for Church World Rules and Regulations.  And yet many a person has has felt estranged from The Church because of rules.

The rules in church bylaws and in my own denomination’s Constitution are supposed to be about protecting, honoring, and serving people within the realm of being followers of Jesus.  (If they aren’t, I would question why there are included.)

We have rules about who can be ordained as a pastor in hopes of preparing people as well as possible for the multi-faceted work of professional ministry – which is good for parishioners and the person leading them.

We have rules about discipline in order to protect a congregation and specific individuals from hurtful behavior.

We have rules about overseeing financial statements and meeting minutes to ensure that congregations and pastors are safe from nefarious situations.

We have rules about voting on church business so that everyone is heard.

We don’t have rules about drinking coffee in worship or bringing dogs to church meetings or dressing a certain way or making elders advertise how much money they contribute annually or any number of things – unless we do have those rules and that would be about something besides making disciples.

Jesus didn’t die for rules about whether or not someone can wear flip flops to meetings or whether or not you must call a pastor who is male or whether or not there has to be a Sunday morning Bible study in the church parlor or whether or not there is a screen in the sanctuary.

Jesus did die for the inclusion of rejected people, the forgiveness of broken people, the salvation of lost people, and the freedom of enslaved people.

Next time we grapple with the rules and regulations of our particular church, ask this question:

What about this rule helps/serves/welcomes/protects someone?

If there is no good answer – maybe we need to rethink that particular rule. My denomination rewrote our Form of Government in 2006.  We did this to be more permission-giving and adaptive.  We did this because what “must” be a rule in one context need not be a rule in another context.

Yes, certain rules are “shalls” in our manuals.  Next time you come across one, ask how that “shall” serves the people in God’s name.  The rules are all about relationships.

Image of the trash room in my apartment building.  I’m guessing this rule exists because it’s extra work for the person paid to pick up the trash.  Clearly we need to be more considerate neighbors.

What Divides Us? Interpretation

I heard on a radio talk show yesterday that what divides our nation is hate.  Yes, we are divided.  And yes, there is hate.

But I believe we are actually divided by interpretation.

How do you interpret Leviticus 20:13?

  • Red Team: This clearly states that homosexuality is a sin.
  • Blue Team: This is part of the Holiness Code which was culturally binding in ancient Israel but not for us.  The Holiness Code also says we cannot eat shellfish, plant a field with two different kinds of seed or wear two kinds of cloth at the same time.  

So do you pick and choose what to believe according to what you already believe?

  • Red Team:  No.  We take the Bible seriously, if not literally.
  • Blue Team:  Jesus taught us not to store up treasures on earth so does that mean we should not have a savings account or a 401k? We take the Bible seriously too – seriously enough to do textual, source, historical, and form criticism.  (It’s amazing what the LORD has let us learn.)

What about the Confederate Statues?

  • Red Team:  They are symbols of Southern heritage in America dating back to the late 19th Century after the U.S. Civil War to honor Southern history. 
  • Blue Team: They are symbols of white supremacy erected primarily in the early 20th Century and as late as the 1950s during the Jim Crow era, to honor (white) Southern history and to intimidate non-white Southerners.

What about immigrants and The Caravan?

  • Red Team:  They’re illegal. They take our jobs. They are changing our way of life.  And some of them are criminals.
  • Blue Team: Many are fleeing violence and you can’t apply for asylum without crossing the U.S. border first.  And immigrants enhance our way of life. They gave us Google and eBay and blue jeans and Chobani.

We see things differently.  I might see a person and think “criminal” while you might see a person and think “family.”  And it’s possible that several things can be true at the same time. I believe that Black Lives Matter but I also support police officers.  I believe that guns should be legal but I don’t believe that military weapons should be available to non-military people.

Nuance is good.

This has been an especially rough week – between the rampant violence and the barrage of political ads with Halloween voices trying to scare us before the election.

How can we bridge the division in our country?

We can try to see things from someone else’s point of view.  If you love Donald Trump, make friends with a DACA kid and hear her story.  If you hate Donald Trump, makes friends with a #HimToo victim and hear his story.  Maybe we’ll continue to disagree.  But it’s harder to hate people if you know their story.

Is it a duck or a rabbit?  It depends on how you see it.

This is What It Looks Like to Stand Together in the Face of Evil

Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. Genesis 50:20

Words don’t do justice to what hundreds of us experienced last night in a Baptist Church sanctuary in Charlotte.  Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian leaders led a packed crowd of human beings who gathered to sing, pray, and remember the eleven Tree of Life congregants who died during Shabbat services last weekend.

How does one measure profound beauty displayed in perfect anthems and clearly declared proclamations of solidarity.  There were women in hijabs and rabbis wrapped in prayer shawls, monks in orange robes and cantors draped in white, Christians wearing collars and crosses.  There was laughter and tears and applause.  At least for one hour, we worshiped side by side and prayed for peace.

But just as offering “thoughts and prayers” can be empty gestures, gathering for worship together makes a minimal impact if we stop there.  Standing with those in pain involves taking action.  Voting is just the beginning.

What definitive step will each of us take to use this tragedy for good?  What’s really scary is letting our sorrows be wasted.

Image from the Interfaith Vigil held at First Baptist-West Church in Charlotte, NC on 10-30-18.