Category Archives: Uncategorized


Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday would have been last week on January 31st and so there were clips and remembrances of him as  “the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.”

The truth is that he was not the first African American good enough to play MLB.  He was not the first African American baseball player with the character to stand up to blatant racism with grace.  He was not the first African American baseball player with an extraordinary arm.

Jackie Robinson was the first African American allowed to play Major League Baseball.  This can be said for all the major African American “firsts”:

Hiram Revels was the first African American allowed to serve in the United States Senate. (187)

Mae Jemison was the first African American woman allowed to fly in outer space. (1992)

Richard Theodore Greener was the first African American allowed to graduate from Harvard University. (1870)

Bessie Coleman was the first African American – as well as the first Native American – woman allowed to have a pilot’s license. (1921)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African American woman allowed to practice medicine as a licensed physician. (1864)

Charlotte E. Ray was the first African American woman allowed to practice law in the United States. (1872)

Douglas Wilder was the first African American allowed to serve as a governor in the United States. (1990 in Virginia)

There were many others who were never allowed.  They had the skills, the brains, the physical gifts, and the temperament to serve in politics, science, sports, engineering, and academics.  But they didn’t have the opportunity.  (White) People were not “ready” for it.

We must continue to lift up these “first” historic figures while also remembering that – actually – they were the first allowed to fulfill their calling but not necessarily the first who could have had that achievement.

Note to Church:  how are opening doors for talented children, teenagers, and young adults to use the gifts God gave them?  How are we allowing people with fewer opportunities than we have had to thrive?

Image is the Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon – the first African American woman allowed to be ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.

Note: Robin DiAngelo makes this same point about ‘being allowed’ in her book White Fragility about Jackie Robinson. Great read.

In Search of Rural Ministry Rock Stars

If this is your calling, please contact me.

80% of Americans live in or near cities. But most want to live in the country.

Rural churches are challenging for pastors – especially if you want to be near a Target or a Trader Joe’s.  In Kathleen Norris’ classic Dakota, she noted that McDonald’s wouldn’t come to Lemmon, South Dakota because the population – hovering around 1000 – was simply too small.  Believe me, Starbucks has perfected their calculations about where to open a new store.  They don’t do rural.

If you are married, it will probably be hard for your spouse to find a job.  If you have children, the schools will not offer the same enrichment opportunities as a suburban school.  If you are single, dating will be tricky.

I lived in the lovely rural village of Schaghticoke, NY for the first five years of my professional ministry.  It was a wonderful experience, but it was also profoundly lonely.  I was 28 years old on the day of my installation and I stayed for five years.

And yet, the stories are better in a rural church.  There will be interesting billboards, colorful county fairs, and perhaps a Bigfoot sighting.  The people will be extraordinarily smart in ways that most people are not very smart.  They will care for each other and for their pastor.  Most of them will be related to each other.

As the graph above shows and the accompanying Washington Post article attests, many people like the idea of moving to a rural community.  But the jobs are not there.  Most of the mills and factories have moved out of small towns, and the farming industry is not what it once was.  Many rural communities have few children because – after high school – many young people move to where the jobs or colleges are, and they never return.

Opioid addiction and teenage pregnancy continue to be rampant in rural areas.  One rural resident explained that “there isn’t much to do to distract the kids around here.”  Drugs and sex have long been ready distractions in every kind of community.

So who will follow God’s call to serve small rural congregations?  We need entrepreneurial leaders who connect well with a wide variety of people and personalities.  Rural pastors need more flexibility than big city or suburban pastors.  They need to be okay with not being paid well.  (Even at a minimum salary, they might earn more than anyone else in their community.)  They need hobbies that don’t require theater tickets, bowling alleys, or gourmet restaurants.

Most of all, they will need to love God’s people deeply.

What would it take for you to seek a call in a rural community?


The Millennial Plan

This post will not be about drums, guitars, screens,  or “how to get Millennials to fill out church pledge cards. (Answer: you can’t.)

Instead, I have some interesting not-fake news:

More Millennials are moving to Charlotte, NC than any other city in the United States. 

(I now live in Charlotte so that’s fun.)

This stat comes from the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau which rated Charlotte with a 10,707 net migration figure for people between the ages of 20 and 34.  Net migration = the # of Millennials who moved into Charlotte minus the # of Millennials who moved out.

You most likely do not live in Charlotte but all of us can learn from a report that’s getting some attention in this area.  The Charlotte Millennial Plan is being created by a group of fifth year architecture students at UNC Charlotte who were given a grant to study why Millennials are moving here.  Their study is called:

#ShapeCLT, “A Vision for Charlotte. By Millennials. For Millennials.”

Why do people – specifically a generation of young adults between ages 20 and 34 move anywhere?  According to initial findings, Millennials are looking for:

  • Connectedness – strong physical and digital interactions
  • Liveliness – “street life, transparency, movement, sound, color, visual busyness.”
  • Radical inclusion – “a synergy of cultures”
  • Urgent innovation – “unafraid of radical change; tackling contemporary issues with urgency.”
  • Ecocentricity – concern for the environment
  • Health – personal well-being
  • Sharing – creative cooperation while fully supporting “the sharing economy”
  • Uniqueness – interesting architecture, history, geography, and local culture.

I would like to live in such a place as well and I’m 62.

And – because I’m theologically wired to return back to Church World – what does this mean for our congregations?  How many of our congregations reflect the features highlighted above?

How many of our churches are authentically connected, lively, radically inclusive, urgently innovative, ecocentric, healthy, engaged in economic partnerships, and uniquely interesting?

Not to be a downer, but my hunch  is that most of our congregations are disconnected, boring, exclusive, stuck, styrofoam-loving, lethargic, economically segregated, and not very unique or interesting.  (Sorry.)

What will be The Millennial Plan for the 21st Century Church?  It has nothing to do with drums, guitars, screens,  or “how to get Millennials to fill out church pledge cards.” It has everything to do with authentic relationships with each other and with the world in which we find ourselves.

This is going to take some pondering, prayer and deep discernment, my friends – no matter where we live if we are serious about serving younger generations (and maybe all generations) in the future.

You can order the 2018 Charlotte Millennial Plan here. 

Even if you don’t live in Charlotte, you might discover insights for your city, town, or suburb.

Next week:  Rural Churches.

I Was Talking About You (and About Myself)

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12: 7a

In this situation between Nathan and David, it was not good to be “the man.”  David was quick to berate the rich man in Nathan’s parable not realizing that he was that guy.  He just couldn’t recognize it in himself.

I can relate.

Among my professional experiences . . .

  • A parishioner complained about “welfare moms” while he had forgotten that his own mother had been on welfare when he was a child.
  • A tune-challenged choir member expressed frustration with the quality of the voices while nobody had the heart to tell him that his pipes were not what they were forty years ago.
  • A pastor frustrated about the former pastor showing up for both church and social events while being unaware of her own tendencies to contact and spend time with her own former parishioners.
  • A certain boundary training leader (that would be me) getting involved in a conflict in a former church.  Excuse: The Clerk of Session “begged me” to make a phone call.

Nope. No. Never. Ever.  We often don’t see ourselves as guilty of the same infractions we accuse others of.

We pastors  – especially – don’t think we are the ones in violation of healthy boundaries.  We can see it in colleagues, but we don’t see that we are often the men (and women) who need to clean up our acts.

  • But they are my friends.
  • But they are my spouse’s friends.
  • But they are my children’s friends.
  • But I just want to come back and enjoy worship in the pews.
  • But they really want me to officiate at their wedding.
  • But I’ve known the family for 20 years.

It doesn’t matter.  If we genuinely love the congregations we’ve left, we will make a clean break and let the current pastor(s) form friendships and pastoral relationships with them – unless and only if we are first invited by the current pastor.

And this doesn’t mean telling former parishioners, “Sorry, I can’t officiate at the baptism/wedding/funeral unless ___ agrees.”  This is unfair.  It puts the new leader in a no-win situation.  Just say no.  Maybe the current pastor will indeed invite you and if so, great.

Friends are so valuable.  We need them.  And maybe we can be friends again under different circumstances. But as roles change, we need to get out of the way so that the churches we used to serve (and still love) can thrive under new leadership.

In a Healthy Church . . .

I’ve got a wicked cold and am trying to sleep more, so after Boundary Training yesterday, this is all I want to share – as a gentle reminder, Church Folk:

  • In a healthy church, the treasurer doesn’t keep records at home.
  • In a healthy church, leaders faithfully take their Sabbath time.
  • In a healthy church, former pastors stay away unless invited by the current pastor.
  • In a healthy church, former pastors stay away unless invited by the current pastor.  (Yes, I wrote that twice.)

What would you add?

Grandchildren of Every Color

I am not interested in being one of those moms who persistently asks my young adult kids when they are having children.  Maybe they won’t.  Maybe they will.  I will always have children in my life by virtue of my work and my choices, and while I would love to be Grand Jan one day (yes, I have chosen my own grandmother name based on Jacqueline Onassis’ grandmother name), it’s okay if it doesn’t happen.  My kids are fairly perfect with or without being parents themselves.

BUT . . . if HH and I should be so blessed, I would like grandchildren in any and all colors.

Tom Brokaw has apologized for his recent comments on Meet the Press, but his words stung because there are probably millions of white people who secretly – or not-so-secretly – share his concern about “intermarriage.”

Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, “Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.” I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other. I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time.

Lord have mercy.

This reality is gross and disappointing to say the least, but it’s real.  We are a systemically racist nation.  Systemic racism is ingrained in our culture, our history, and our deepest psyches.  It’s one of our most common and ugliest sins.

Do I really have to say that children are children?  They are human beings created in the image of God in every color, shape and size. How do we continue to miss this in the year of our LORD 2019?

I feel ridiculous writing about this today.  Good grief, Tom Brokaw.  But the good news is that I could have brown grandbabies someday which would be amazing.

Image of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with one of her grandchildren in 1992.


This is How We Do It

A millennial or a young family or some other hoped-for visitor crosses the threshold of your church building on a random Sunday morning. What happens next?

  • This person is/these people are basically ignored. Not one person has thought ahead to prepare for the arrival of a guest.  It’s been awhile.
  • It’s as if they have targets on their heads. Fresh meat. New blood.  Finally someone new to teach Sunday School.  And donate money.
  • Greeters greet them.  Ushers usher them.  But nobody else acknowledges them.
  • People say hi.  Someone walks them to the nursery (if they have babies.)  Someone helps them find the coffee/bathroom/water fountain if they need any of those things.  They are not treated like unicorns (although they might be unicorns.)
  • They are personally and authentically invited to whatever is happening – and things are happening that fill more than calendars.

NEXT Church sponsored an Elder Symposium here in Charlotte over the weekend and there were no workshops.  There was no sermon.  We started at 9 and ended at noon.  There were specific tracks for conversation and sharing.  There was coffee.

This is a different way to train leaders to do ministry.

And it’s not the one and only time officers get trained.  There’s work to do in equipping our leaders on a regular basis.  At every gathering, healthy leadership is modeled. At every gathering there’s a component of learning and culture shifting.

And one of the best takeaways was offered by a leader who said that four times a year, her church leaders have a training called The Way.  They teach leaders that – in their congregation – this is how they do it.

This is how they do hospitality.

This is how they do conflict.

This is how they do mission work.

The way they do Church now is not like the way Church has done hospitality or conflict or mission work before.  A new culture is taught and it slowly becomes their DNA.

The world tells us that everything we do is about me and mine.  The world tells us that “others” are dangerous and “boys will be boys” and appearances are everything and risks are to be avoided and some people are more valuable than other people.  The world teaches us to shame and blame each other.  The world teaches us that where we’re from and who we know forever determine our future.

But Jesus speaks about a different world called the Kingdom of Heaven – and it’s about the here and now at least as much as it’s about the afterlife.  It’s different.

We need to learn how to be the Church differently in a way that’s less like the world and more like the Kingdom of Heaven. But it’s hard to break old habits.  It’s hard to let go of the way we’ve always done it even if the way we’ve always done it is killing us.

Image of Montell Jordan who is now part of Victory World Church in Atlanta.




I Am Judging You

It would be a lie if I told you I wasn’t judge-y.  I judge people according to what they wear, where they live, what they drive, and where they went to college (or when/if they didn’t go to college.)  If I see a group of women wearing sweater sets and pearls, I judge them differently from a group of women wearing RBG t-shirts and pearls.

I’m aware of this and I’m working on it, but it’s really hard in these contentious days.

Julie Irwin Zimmerman wrote recently in The Atlantic regarding the story about the Covington Catholic High School kids and  the Native Americans at the Indigenous Peoples March last weekend:

(It) “is a Rorschach test—tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016, and your general take on a list of other issues—but it shouldn’t be.

She’s totally right.  Those of us who judge the high school students to be ignorant and racist are probably progressive politically.  Those of us who judge the high school students to be normal teenagers trying to diffuse the tension while different protesters who yelling epithets are probably conservative politically.  We are quick to judge.  Just read the Twitter feeds about this incident.

I myself was immediately appalled at the smirk on the young MAGA hat-wearing student’s face.  It felt like my heart was being impaled as he appeared to mock the older man.

Walt Whitman offers a remedy:  Be Curious, Not Judgmental.

Whether I meet someone wearing a hoodie or someone wearing a Burberry coat, whether I observe a person pulling up in a BMW convertible or a rusted out sedan, whether I know someone lives in a multi-million dollar home in Charlotte’s “best neighborhood” or in transitional housing in Charlotte’s “worst neighborhood”, whether someone went to Stanford or to the local community college, I need to be curious about that specific individual person.  God created each of us unique and extraordinary.  It’s an affront to God when we think we know someone based on appearances.

Embracing curiosity rather than judgment seems essential if we hope to pull together as The Church, as Americans, as Global Citizens.  Our culture and our very humanity are being torn apart by our differences.  We barely take the time to know someone’s story before condemning them to otherness.

I for one could be a lot less judge-y. My humanity depends upon it and it’s not too early to be thinking about future Lenten practices.  Also Jesus.


How Does Fairness Inform Your Choices?

I’ve spent the past couple days in Louisiana where the entire state is heartbroken over Sunday’s no-call in the NFC Championship Game between the Saints and the Rams.  (The Saints were robbed.)  And I, too, hate sports injustice.

But we live in a world where sports injustice is the least of our worries. We live in a world where people are indeed judged by the color of their skin. We live in neighborhoods biased against people “not like us.”  We do not have equal opportunity for health care, education, and economic advancement.

Would you give business to a bank that has different rates for different races?  Would you eat in a restaurant that refuses to serve certain people?  Would you invest in financial opportunities that take advantage of the poor, the native, the disabled?  Would you support organizations that do not treat their employees well?

Justice issues are usually complex with many layers and perspectives.  But we can at least try to know to whom we are giving our money and time. It takes effort.

Unlike the refs in last Sunday’s playoff game, we need to pay attention.

How Does Kindness Inform Your Choices?

It had been a rough day and I can’t even remember why. 

I had gone into a coffee shop for a hot mocha and the barista made the mocha and then I realized that I didn’t have my wallet and I burst into tears like a ridiculous person.  The barista just gave me the mocha.  It wasn’t that big a deal to her but it was to me.  I will be their best customer when I’m in that neighborhood.

Kindness is powerful.

I would like my doctor, my dentist, my lawyer, my accountant, and my local brewer to be kind people.  Yes, I want them to be good at what they do professionally, but if the best dentist on the planet is a total jerk, I don’t want to give her business.

HH and I love the last two restaurants where we ate.  They are almost side by side but there’s a Starbucks in between them.  I was in the Starbucks over the weekend and I asked that barista (also making me a mocha) if he had eaten at the restaurants.  He hasn’t eat at either place yet, but he reported that the chef at New Restaurant A is mean.  He yells at the barista staff like a disturbed person. The owner of New Restaurant B is lovely, though.  He treats the baristas kindly and he’s a good neighbor.

So, does this impact whether or not I return ever again to New Restaurant A?  Probably.

How much does kindness inform your choices?  Are you more likely to do business with kind people?  Do you pay it forward?

On this special day in our nation, being kind to people seems like the very least we can do.  Being fair is the next step.

Image of Mike who hangs out in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA.