Category Archives: Uncategorized

I Don’t Know Dave Barnhart but I Concur

Also I’m on vacation this week. Please let’s all be authentically Pro-Life this week and every week.

(Tweet from Kelly Grimes.)

From Intelligence to Emotional Intelligence to Adaptability Intelligence

I wrote this in 2015 here:

Emotional intelligence is a better predictor of pastoral success than straight As on a seminary transcript.  Emotionally intelligent people better manage their stress, diffuse anxiety, and promote a climate of optimism and adaptability which makes people feel more innovative.  It’s science, people.

EQ continues to be the most essential personality characteristic of an effective pastor. A self-aware leader understands their actual strengths and weaknesses, blind spots, and purpose.

Although many of us know the work of Ronald Heifetz, I’d never heard the term AQ until reading this book by Alan Murray. While we might be aware of the importance of being adaptable – especially after/during a pandemic, congregations hoping to transition into impactful mid-21st Century ministry need to find leaders with a high AQ.

Or maybe congregations don’t want that.

At the risk of over-simplifying the Pastor Nominating Process, I believe – very generally speaking – there are three kinds of pastors seeking ministry positions in these days:

Those with a high IQ – They are smart enough to do theological graduate work – and in my denomination – they can exegete scripture in ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek. They are well-read and have gifts in teaching, preaching, and general leadership. Extra points if your resume includes an Ivy League School. “Our pastor went to Yale.”

Those with high EQ – They communicate well, play well with others, and know how to read the room. They are self-aware and empathetic and able to succeed relationally. They handle conflict with poise and adversity with a positive spirit.

Those with high AQ – They are not only well-read about adaptive leadership, they are not only relationally gifted enough to talk about adaptive leadership, but they can actually do adaptive leadership. They are not afraid to try and fail, to unlearn and relearn, to pivot – our favorite pandemic leadership word.

According to the chart above which I found here, there is also the PQ which is “performance quotient” or what a person is actually achieving.

All this talk of achievement is a tricky one in that being a “successful spiritual leader” means different things to different people. Is a successful spiritual leader one who is beloved by their congregation because the pastor’s like God to them? Is a successful spiritual leader one who doubles the size of the membership? Is a successful spiritual leader a builder who led the sanctuary renovation and added a new gym? Is the successful spiritual leader one who equips the saints for ministry – whether those saints are members of the church or preschool parents or scout troop members or neighbors who drop by the food pantry?

Some people naturally have a high AQ and others of us can learn how to have a high AQ. This is a rich and exciting time to learn these skills whether we are pastors, bankers, bakers, or dairy farmers. These times call for joyful adaptability. Who’s with me?

What Happens When We Don’t Belong to Anyone or Anything

Please read this book:

Especially in the past week, I have felt extraordinarily loved. I am Attachment Rich. I belong to many people and groups of people and mostly I belong to God, and this makes me feel so loved that even in this mess of a world, my heart is light.

There have been times when I’ve felt like I didn’t belong and that’s the worst feeling ever.

Cole Arthur Riley has written an exquisite book subtitled “Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories that Make Us” and her words on the importance of belonging are poignant and brilliant.

If you go without belonging for long enough, if you’ve know the sting of betrayal, you can end up manufacturing an identity from your alienation. To protect yourself from the reminder and risk of exclusion, you begin initiating distance on your own calling yourself ‘loner’ or ‘independent.’ But a life lived with trust only in the self is exhausting.

Picture the middle school kid sitting alone in the cafeteria. Picture the sole little Black girl in her Brownie Troop who was not chosen as a bunk mate. Picture the middle aged woman who is now invisible when she goes shopping. Picture the elderly man who drinks coffee alone day after day in the local diner. Picture the new kid in high school who only speaks Twi. Picture the suburban man who was laid off after working for the same company for 28 years.

Being excluded kills. It kills the spirit and sometimes it kills the body.

There is something to being chosen that is uniquely healing,” writes Cole Arthur Riley.

So, here’s my thought. If – like me – you’re Attachment Rich, if you are included in most or many circles, if you belong in almost any place you find yourself, we have the opportunity and responsibility to include the unincluded.

I volunteered to drive kids I didn’t know to a mission trip location a few years ago and I felt like I belonged when a group of Cool Girls chose to ride in my car. Those young women blew my mind when they noticed that a young man who would be considered awkward in some circles hadn’t been chosen to ride in any specific car. One of The Cool Girls jumped out of our car, yelled that kid’s name, ran over to him, took his hand and said – joyfully – you’re coming with us! For the whole trip they included him in their stories and laughter. I saw a glimpse of heaven that day. That young man had been chosen. He belonged.

Look for someone who appears not to belong today and choose them. There’s something to being chosen that is uniquely healing.

I, Too, Have Climbed into a Dumpster

Angela Rubino and I have this in common.

I was retrieving a wedding cake topper that I’d accidentally tossed before a wedding reception in Northern Virginia. Angela Rubino dove into a dumpster in Rome, Georgia looking for evidence of voter fraud.

I easily found the cake topper which I unboxed and placed on the cake. And Angela drove home with two sacks of shredded paper which she stored in her garage hoping to find evidence of election fraud. She would need help taping them back together to uncover The Steal.

Please read this article by Stephanie McKrummen about one woman’s political journey which has led her to join an organization called Domestically Terrorized Mothers – among other things.

Suspicious of almost everything, trusting of almost nothing, believing in almost no one other than those who share her unease, she has in many ways become a citizen of a parallel America — not just red America, but another America entirely, one she believes to be awash in domestic enemies, stolen elections, immigrant invaders, sexual predators, the machinations of a global elite and other fresh nightmares revealed by the minute on her social media scrolls. 

As I write this, our nation is beyond culturally divided. We demonize each other, mock each other, accuse each other, and cancel each other. Some of us turn to God, including Angela Rubino:

“Sometimes I’m like, what if I’m wrong? It crosses my mind. Then I ask God: If I’m doing something wrong, please give me the strength to figure it out. Because I really want to understand what the point is. This can’t be what life is, that you get up and go to work and come home. That as humans, we’re nothing.”

After attending the first days of my denomination’s General Assembly last weekend, I heard other people express the same thoughts: “I ask God to help us. We’ve forgotten that we are created for more than work and worry.”

How can people of such different understandings of the world come together?

Part of the answer seems to be to lower the volume and calm the drama. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is quoted at the end of this article as saying that the establishment “hates us.” The author Andrew Klaven says “Leftists hate freedom.” Historian Miles Culpepper says “Conservatives hate democracy.” Normally soft-spoken adults spew hate for Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson.

Hating each other is not the answer.

Seeing each other as human beings created in the image of God is the answer.

I don’t hate Angela Rubino. We have both jumped into dumpsters with purpose.

I want to understand her and show her what the love of God looks like. I hope she would show me what the love of God looks like, because I often get it wrong.

Do I believe there is evil in the world. Yes. Do I believe the love of God can conquer that evil? Definitely.

Transitional Ministry Reprise

My inbox overfloweth.

After posting this love letter to Transitional Pastors, I heard from quite a few of you. In fact, I received over 60 private texts, DMs, emails, and phone calls about the state of Transitional Ministry and Transitional Ministry Training in the Church. Here’s the problem: nobody wants to shame or blame their colleagues and yet changes need to be made. Among the comments I heard over and over again:

  • My transitional ministry training was a waste of time.
  • The transitional ministers teaching the course I took are not themselves effective transitional pastors.
  • Some of the faculty who taught my class have never been transitional pastors.
  • My recent training prepared me to be an interim pastor ten or twenty years ago.
  • The supposedly trained transitional pastor at my church before I was called and installed there did nothing but preach old sermons.

It’s not easy to tell a beloved colleague that their transitional ministry gifts are weak. It’s not easy to share with my colleagues who teach Transitional Ministry Training that their faculty and methods are not preparing leaders to be effective transitional ministers in a late 21st Century, post-pandemic, overwhelmingly divided and anxious culture.

There are some good training offerings out there and there are some stellar transitional leaders out there. I shared one training in particular that I’ve found to be excellent. If you’ve checked them out, please do so again to leave your contact information. (Now there’s a black and white tab to click at the top of their website if you want to be on their mailing list.)

These times demand excellence in the way we serve the Church of Jesus Christ. It’s a critical time when we need about five times more gifted transitional leaders than we currently have. Please consider if God is leading you to be trained for this particular calling. Thank you. And thank you, colleagues, who are questioning if you should continue to serve as or train transitional leaders. It might be time to let some fresh leaders serve in this way.

My Dad and I Talked About Hard Things

My Dad has been gone for almost 32 years and – especially considering the times – it was surprising that he talked about so many controversial topics with me. I think it might have been because neither of us was afraid about shocking each other. He was very loving in sharing his opinions. From the time I was a teenager until he died when I was 34 we covered abortion, interracial dating and marriage, mental illness, alcoholism, what it was like to support Mom when she had cancer and what it was like after she died. And this was all before he found out he had cancer himself. He became even more tolerant after receiving the news that he had months to live – probably preparing to meet his gracious Creator. He wanted to be at least as tolerant as he believed God was.

(Note: He was never tolerant of anything having to do with Duke or – for some reason – Sears.)

If you are one of my cousins and Dad knew your family secrets, I probably know them too. I’m not sure why he confided in me, but I know some things that I’ve kept to myself. I think his point might have been that yes, people have affairs and unexpected pregnancies and transgender children and mental health challenges and financial difficulties and yet God loves us and Dad figured he should love everybody too.

Even though he talked about hard things with me, he never got over the fact that some people don’t believe in God. He considered that confounding. How can you live in this world (“It’s amazing what the LORD has let us learn!“) and not believe in God?

Dad often stopped the car and pulled over on the side of the road in Mt. Mourne, N. C. between Mooresville and Davidson to show us where enslaved people had been sold on a block by the train tracks before the Civil War. He didn’t offer much color commentary or ask “I wonder” questions, but he almost always pointed out the spot where families were separated “and that’s why it’s called Mt. Mourne,” he’d say. That history has been erased from current day Mt. Mourne if it was ever true.

But it sounded true when he talked about it. One of the largest plantations was right there by that auction block and there used to be an historic marker about the small slave market. It’s gone now.

Father’s Day and Juneteenth don’t always land on the same day, but I wonder what my Dad and I would be talking about today if he were alive. I imagine that his heart would be hurt by the fact that some enslaved people didn’t hear that they were free for more than two years after they’d been emancipated. They continued to live as chattel for two more years of their lives. He didn’t know that history growing up.

Dad was an easy crier and I think this would have made him cry if we’d talked about it.

I have only a vague idea of what happens after this life, but I pray that my Dad is with those men, women, and children who were held against their will now in the light of their Creator. And I hope God is as gracious as my Dad was.

Healing mercies to all who grieve today.

Church Pollinators

It occurred to me over coffee with a colleague last week that I am a church pollinator.

As a spiritual leader who oversees lots of congregations of varying sizes, contexts, and demographics, I get to be the one who travels from church to church carrying resources, ideas, and encouragement in interactions that nourish God’s people with the expectation that their ministries will flower and reproduce.

Some of the coolest creatures on earth get to be pollinators: birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, lizards, lemurs, and possums. And because of their critical (and natural) work, we get:

  • fruits, vegetables, and nuts
  • half of the world’s oils, fibers and raw materials
  • healthier soil

This is the ecosystem in which the earth thrives.

Congregations have ecosystems too and pollinators are needed to grow fruits (of the Spirit) and spread God’s love. This metaphor is exciting because who doesn’t want to grow fruits and spread love?

What do we need to create church pollinators who will help the ecosystem flourish?

  • Something needs to be blooming. If nothing at all is blooming, it’s hard to pollinate anything.
  • We need water and the Spirit. We can’t see God’s plan without them.
  • We need healthy soil. Are we really ready for pollination? Or are stuck and bored and blind and disinterested in being God’s people? Jesus said something about this.
  • We need light and some of our congregations have actually chosen darkness: bullies are in control, basic kindness is rare, there is little evidence that anyone wants to love God or their neighbors as they love themselves.

Pollination is my favorite. It makes the world more beautiful and more nourishing, and it’s our critical and natural life purpose if we are living as we were created to live.

Loving Subtraction

 “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” Coco Chanel

We are better at addition than subtraction, but sometimes less is more.

I love this book by Dr. Leidy Klotz of the University of Virginia and it holds many wise words for those of us serving congregations or other non-profits. It could also work for jewelry and other accessories a la Coco Chanel.

Every congregation I know – when considering their programming, mission activities, and even staff models – likes to add rather than subtract. We are already involved in Habitat for Humanity, the local homeless shelter, and the annual Chili Fundraiser (which we’ve been doing on for 34 years.) And when we are looking to “grow” or “reach new people” we consider adding a tutoring class or a spring ice cream social.

What if – instead of adding something to our already busy church schedule – we take something away? What if the reality is that everybody hates that Chili Fundraiser or it’s increasingly impossible to find volunteers for Habitat? It’s okay to stop doing something. It’s more than okay. It’s healthy to take something away – especially if we are tired of it and it has no positive impact for the community anymore.

As the years pass I need fewer and fewer things and so I’ve developed a personal discipline that goes like this: before I can buy a new pair of shoes, I need to get rid of a pair of shoes. Before I buy a new black turtleneck, I need to give one away. (This works for books and toys too.)

Leidy Klotz notes that humans are more likely to add than subtract in our thinking processes. It’s literally more work for our brains to subtract than it is to add, and so adding becomes our go-to behavior. He uses the example of his young son’s work on a Duplo bridge. The bridge that he was building with his son was uneven because one tower was taller than the other. Klotz’ son instinctively removed a block from the taller side – which was an interesting choice. Most people would add a block to the shorter side.

We seem to forget that we can remove things from our personal and corporate schedules – from meetings to fundraisers to classes. It’s okay, we don’t have to offer a Bible study on Wednesday nights anymore. Maybe we can move it to Sunday nights. Or maybe it could shift to a different kind of study. Or maybe we can just stop doing it for a season and see if anyone misses it.

Business leaders tell us that subtraction can make us more efficient. I think subtraction can make us more faithful. What do you think?

Check out these articles about subtraction as a practice.

(Not So Secret) Agenda

A friend recommended the book Search by Michelle Huneven recently. (Thanks L.) It’s the story of a restaurant critic who is also on her church’s pastor seach committee, and it’s a familiar story – at least to me.

Some of the Search Committee members have an agenda: some are serving to ensure that the new pastor is not a straight while male. Some hope to steer the committee towards a pastor under the age of 40. As the story goes on, it’s clear that their agendas are actually not so secret. Pacts form. Strategies develop. There’s an attempt to remove a couple members of the search committee when their agendas clearly don’t align with the agenda of the old guard.

Perhaps this story is familiar to you too.

Especially in Church World, we believe that The Holy Spirit has something to do with The Call to Ministry. There’s that initial call when a human being senses that God might be directing them towards a spiritual vocation. And then there are calls that come and go throughout a pastor’s life.* In my tradition, all Christians are called to ministry at the moment of their baptism. Some of us are called to professional ministry.

Do we, the members of the church, accept _____ to be our pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ?

This is the vow church people make when their new pastor is called in the Presbyterian Church USA. We believe God speaks through discerning humans.

God can still work when people come to the table with secret agendas. But hidden agendas are divisive and when someone campaigns to be on the pastor nominating committee to ensure that the next preacher will love handbells, it can get in the way. In some circumstances, it can derail a search.

In so many aspects of life, we come with secret (or not so secret) agendas. Personal agendas have been derailing the Institutional Church since well before Constantine was the Emperor. Among my favorites:

  • The leader who suggests that the church bakes cupcakes to give to the homeless as a new mission project when actually she wants to start her own cupcake business.
  • The members who want to fill the Pastor Nominating Committee with bagpipers in order to call a Scot as their new pastor.
  • The pastor who wants to put his own spouse on the governing board “because my spouse is so faithful” when actually the pastor just wants another elder on the board who will agree with him.

These are all true examples.

I have not-so-secret agendas too, but I’m constantly praying that my truest agenda is that we in the Church will do what pleases our Creator. Maybe it’s Build Affordable Housing. Maybe it’s Open an Emergency Shelter. Maybe it’s Add a Child Development Center. It doesn’t really matter as long as it pleases God.

*According to the PCUSA constitution “In Baptism each Christian is called to ministry in Christ’s name. God calls some persons from the midst of congregations to fulfill particular functions, so that the ministry of the whole people of God may flourish.” (W4.0401) The only laypeople in a Presbyterian Church USA congregation are the unbaptized.

Super Powers – We All Have Them

If I could choose my super power it would definitely be polyglotism – without the need for Duolingo. In reality my super powers are parallel parking and basic navigation. I am blessed with the ability to parallel park in any space that’s the size of whatever car I’m driving. And I have a superb sense of direction.

Zazie Beetz playing Domino in Deadpool 2. Her super power is that she is freakishly lucky.

I asked a friend recently what her super power was and she said that she is super at “living while poor.” She grew up in a military family that struggled financially and once her father left the Army, he went to college and worked full-time. Her mother had two jobs, and their one luxury was books. Her mother allowed my friend and her brother to buy books. Eventually, they could afford a house and college (with loans) but S. is still extremely frugal. She makes no spontaneous purchases and she can squeeze a lot out of $20 – like three meals and a new t-shirt. It’s her super power.

I have another friend – a pastor – who spent a couple of years as a young adult who was incarcerated. He is deeply ashamed of this and is very careful to entrust that information with just a handful of people outside his family. And yet, this is his super power. That experience changed his life for the better to the point that he credits his prison time as the seminal event of his call to professional ministry. He has a wisdom that changes the lives of other people who might be where he once was.

Sometimes we live with personal shame and yet it’s possible that the cause of our shame is actually our super power.

Did you have alcoholic parents? Did you lose your parents at a young age? Have you lost a child to gun violence? Are you in recovery? Are you a housefire survivor? Did your family get evicted? Did you grow up in foster care? Were you raised by wolves?

My friends – yes, you need therapy – and after your wounds have turned into scars, those scars are your super power. Use them to make the world better.

Did you win the genetic lottery? Do you have a genius IQ? Do you have a genius EQ? Can you walk on your hands? Can you intuitively take apart a car engine?

My friends – yes, you probably need therapy too – and after you get over yourself, realize that those gifts are your super power. Use them to make the world better.

Have a wonderful Monday.