Thursday, July 20, 2017

Birthday Fun at Grundy Lake Provincial Park

For those of you that don't know, I turned 40 this past Monday.

So, to celebrate, we rounded up our kids, readied our shedding yellow dog, gathered our camping gear, and headed to Grundy Lake Provincial Park for and overnight escape.  While it may seem strange to drive three hours north for one night in a tent, it's a park with special significance.  It happens to be the place my family camped nearly every summer when I was growing up.

I remember one pre-teen Grundy birthday scavenger hunt.  I biked around the campground looking for clues my family crafted.  It was a dismal failure.  I found a few paper hints but not enough to make it fun. I cried a lot that day.  I remember screaming, "It's my birthday!  Why did you have to make the hunt so hard?"  I think that was the year we ended up driving to Sudbury to get a special birthday coconut cream pie to make amends for the frustrating clue chase.

I remember one year (not for my birthday) when my university-aged brother and I drove to the park without our parents.  We canoed to an isolated lake to fish and camp in the backcountry.  I enjoyed fishing then.  But that trip fished me out.  Since that time I've lost all desire to pick up a rod.  I think it was a combination of the quality of small pike we caught and the long, boring days sitting in the canoe with the terrible stinging itch of deer fly bites on my exposed ears and feet.

One year my whole family tried backcountry camping to parts of Grundy with no backcountry sites.  We rented a second canoe and our ill equipped family-of-five strapped our bulky sleeping bags, orange bubble pads, and an assortment of other heavy gear into the canoes.  I still remember the taste of my sweat and the feel of my drenched warm cotton t-shirt as we clamoured over rocks and around blueberry bushes with our 10,000 lb. canoes.  Thankfully we figured out a way to leave our canvass behemoth tent at home and we found a swimmable lake at the end of each near deadly portage.

Then, I stopped going to Grundy.  I grew up, got married, had kids.

Then, things changed.  Two years ago I took my wife and kids camping at Grundy.  I booked a site a month or so in advance. Unbeknownst to me, my parents & my brother and his family had booked sites just a couple of spots down from where we were going to land--the same week as us.  It came up in conversation weeks before we arrived so our surprise happened in advance of tent pitching.  It turned out to be a highlight for our whole family.

So, back we went on Sunday for my birthday.  After making so many good memories at that park it was great to add a few more.  Here's a shot of my birthday sunrise at Grundy Lake.  That's two of my favourite people in the foreground.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

3 Common Decision-Making Mistakes Church Boards Make

Last week I was one of a handful of pastors that received an invite to a day-long Church Board
training session.  Since then I've been reflecting on a few common blunders church boards make in decision-making.  Here they are.

Mistake #1.   Decisions are made by the wrong people.

When people get elected or appointed to a Church Board they're they usually want to make things happen in their church and community.  Unfortunately, that zeal can result in board members' bringing forward items for discussion and decision-making that aren't the jurisdiction of the Board.  Boards can overstep in a few ways: they can overstep the authority of staff members by making decisions about ministry logistics or preaching themes.  Boards can overstep their denomination by hiring a pastor that hasn't been screened or credentialed.  Boards can even overstep the membership of their church by making major budgetary changes or deciding to acquire buildings or land without the consent of the congregation.

Each church functions a bit differently and Boards have varying degrees of authority.  However, a good rule of thumb when sitting on a church board is to ask these questions: "are we the right people to be making this decision?  Have the right people addressed this (first)?"  If the answer is no then drop it.  If the answer is yes, then you're ready to move on to mistake #2.

Mistake #2.  Decisions are made in the wrong place.

There's only one 'right place' board decisions should be made: at the board table during a duly called meeting of the board.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case.  Sometimes church board members like to use the phone, e-mail, their kitchen table, or the church parking lot to share their thoughts on a particular decision that needs to be made or, to figure out how to reverse a decision that's just been made at the duly called board meeting!!!  However, like it or not, the only acceptable place for a church board decision to be made is during the board meeting.  The problem with making decisions and having vigorous discussion anywhere else is that other board members with perspective and insight may be left out.  Not only is it unwise, it's a slight to the members of the church that appointed each one of the board members as their representatives.

So, the next time you find yourself discussing important church board decisions outside the duly called board meeting, ask this question to your fellow discussion partners: "should we be discussing this decision right now?"  If the answer is no, then drop it and ask the chairperson of the board to add the item to the next agenda.  Then, watch out for mistake #3.  

Mistake #3.  Decisions made at the wrong time.

I've been to too many Church Board meetings where an item is added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.  Then, when it's time to discuss the item, the board member that added it to the agenda addresses it and quickly calls for a decision.  Sometimes there are written materials to support it but other times there are none.  If it's a small item, it's not a big deal.  But if it's something important, whatever you do, avoid the decision.  Save yourself and your fellow board members endless grief and make a motion to table it until the next meeting.  I've seen church boards move too quickly on things that sound good in the moment but over time burns like suicide wings the morning after.  I've seen 'good' policy decisions made that end up shackling staff members to needless methodology and I've seen hasty appointments that position people in places of authority who 'serve' to undermine others.

So, avoid this costly mistake by making it routine to have the agenda and supporting documentation available in advance of meetings.  3 to 5 days before the meeting is ideal.  If there's an important decision to be make then make sure there's clear documentation in the hands of board members before the meeting.  It gives them time to read, think, pray, and even ask for feedback from people, before they sit at the Board table.  And, if someone brings something new to add to the agenda (with our without documentation)... and the discussion starts going... and going... and going... Take a moment, sit back, and ask this question to your fellow board members: "would it be alright if we table this until our next meeting?  I'd like some time to think, pray, and reflect so that I have good and helpful questions and comments to contribute to this discussion."  You'll likely get someone to happily second that motion.  Then watch.  Don't be surprised if board members thank you and the whole Church Board will make much better decisions in future meetings.

Friday, June 23, 2017

June 2017 Life Update

A lot of people have been asking me, "So, what is it that you and your wife are doing now?"

It's a good question with a complicated answer.  And, depending on when you've asked me about it, the answer may have changed.

As of today, here's where things are at:

If you've been following my blog then you'll know I officially concluding my pastoral ministry at Hanover Missionary Church in early June.  Since then I've been telling people, "I'm retired".  That statement has fetched a fair share of strange looks and only one person (an elderly woman I met while my vehicle was being serviced at Walkerton Toyota) took it in stride.

My "retirement" will be short lived since I'll be heading back to school in September.  I'll be enrolled as a PhD student at the Toronto School of Theology in St. Michaels University College, Faculty of Theology, on the campus of U of T.  It's a four year funded program with a two year residency (that means I have to be within commuting distance of the university for coursework and other 'in-person' requirements for the first two years of the program).  After that, I should be at the research and writing stage--working with a supervisory committee to compose and defend an original, 80,000 word, contribution to academia.

In a February blog post, I uploaded the Statement of Intent I submitted that offered a glimpse into my research interests.  To summarize my research focus in a sentence: I'm interested in exploring the intersection of educational philosophy and spiritual theology in pastoral formation.

So, until September, I'm spending a lot of time reflecting on my pastoral experience, walking our Golden Retriever, Maple, and looking after neglected household duties and chores.

Erika, on the other hand, spends her days practicing theology and pastoral responsibility and writing the last couple of assignments for the reading course that completes her Master of Theological Studies degree. She's also serving as the interim pastor at Blue Mountain Community Church in Thornbury, ON and as a part-time chaplain at a long-term care home in Owen Sound.  


Monday, June 19, 2017

New Friends in Transitional Ministry

I've had some great opportunities to get to know some new friends in transitional ministry.  One of those friends invited me to join a network of Southern and Southwestern Ontario Christian and Missionary Alliance Church pastors.  Since the EMCC and C&MA have a Memorandum of Understanding--allowing pastors from both denominations to move easily between the two--it has been a smooth entry into this great group of intentional ministry specialists.

I'm so grateful for these new friends in ministry.  We've met a couple of times on Zoom (a Skype-like video chat app) and we've been together for a face-to-face training.  Beyond that a few of us just completed Transitional Leadership Ministry training with Outreach Canada.

One of my favourite moments from that training was when the course instructor asked us to get into pairs.  That's not of of my favourite things to do.  Actually, it's one of my least favourite things because it's uncomfortable.  However, one of the guys from the network jumped up from the other side of the room and made a beeline to where I was seated.  Because we already knew each other a bit I seemed safe to him.  That felt good.  We shared our challenges with each other then prayed together.  It was a beautiful moment of connection.

I'm not exactly sure how I'll be using the training I received and connections I'm making in the future but I know God has a plan.  And that's all I need to know right now.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Final Sunday @ HMC

My epic journey at Hanover Missionary Church has finally come to an end.

What started out as a temporary, part-time, position as Director of Worship and Creative Arts in 2006 morphed into the full-time Chief Servant role.  Standing on the shoulders of giants I've been

Thinking back just over a week ago to my final Sunday, there were so many people I wanted to thank.  Unfortunately, time and energy didn't permit.  To each of you that offered words of support, grace and truth along the way, thank you.  To each of you that stood by me when I struggled to step forward, thank you.  To each of you that served and continue to serve in kingdom work, thank you.  You have been an inspiration to me and my family.

Thank you for such a wonderful and meaningful celebration on June 4th.  Our family felt overwhelmingly loved.  That outpouring of love led me to reflect.  I've been reflecting on the importance of celebrating endings.  It's a crucial step in moving forward and preparing the way for a healthy beginning.

So, here's to sad and joy-filled conclusion to ministry at HMC and an wonderful new beginning for my family as well as HMC.

Here's a picture of the beautiful quilt, gifted to us by HMC.

And here are some pics from our farewell celebration.

Monday, May 8, 2017

My Ten Favourite Things about Hanover Missionary Church

As I prepare to wrap up my ministry at Hanover Missionary Church I've been reflecting on moments, relationships, and things that make me smile.

Here's a small list of my favourite things about HMC:

10. My parking spot.  Not the one I use on Sunday mornings.  That's the one at the very back corner.  No, the one I use during the week.  It's across the street and a couple spaces past the hydro pole.  I'm not sure why I landed there but it's been one I've used with consistency for over 10 years.

9. The tree outside my office window.  Since my window looks out onto the street and parking lot, there's not much of nature (unlike my fellow co-workers that have office windows that look out toward the back yard with trees and grass).  That small tree provides a small glimpse of nature just outside my window.

8. The deep freezer.  I remember when a former staff member told me about muffins that were in that freezer.  Since then, every once in a while, I check to see what else might be in there.

7. The bike route from my house to my office.  Especially the ride there.  Going down the Allan Park hill is good.  On the other hand, biking up is not so good.

6. HMC's proximity to Tim Horton's.  While I rarely head over by myself, I love arranging meetings and visits over yummy coffee that's steps from the front doors of the church.

5. The super fun gym.  Blitzball, basketball, hockey, paper airplane competitions or anything else that could be used for team building and/or stress relieving purposes.  What a great space.

4. The people that serve without recognition.  There are so many on this list: from the fine team of people that make and serve lunches or meals to the folks that visit, phone, write anonymous encouragement notes, and intercede in prayer.  These are some of HMC's finest.

3. Former small group groupies.  In the days before I became the lead pastor there was a small group of youngish families that met in our home weekly.  I'm grateful for the love, care and support they offered and continue to offer to me and my family.  

2. Unexpected visitors.  While it doesn't always work with my schedule, I love people that drop by to say hi and have a brief chat.  Some have only done this once or twice while others are regulars.  Thanks for brightening my days.

1.  The staff team.  Throughout my years at HMC staff members have come and gone.  I will carry warm memories of times with each of them but especially those that stood alongside me as we weathered the storms together.  They are by far my favourite 'thing' about this great church.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Higher Education and the Holy Spirit

As I prepare to enter the world of Christian higher education I'm faced with various responses from people.  Some are affirming.  Some are confused.  And some, prefer not to ask or talk about it.

13 years ago I informed the church that I was pastoring that I was heading back to seminary.  There were many reactions but I remember one in particular.  It was a conversation with a volunteer leader.  She couldn't understand why I was going back to school and in a nutshell here's what she said:

You don't need more schooling, you just need the Holy Spirit.

I think most people believe Christian higher education is a good thing.  But not all people.  Some think too much learning 'quenches' the Holy Spirit.  As though learning theology is helpful as long as it stops at some point.  That point is usually when it starts to interfere with "what the Bible says".

Here's an important note: those that devalue Christian higher education are usually the same ones that suggest their way of interpreting the Bible is not actually interpreting at all, they're just saying and doing "what the Bible says".  Devaluing education leads to a simple, rigid, theology.  Higher education is designed to help interpret what the Bible says.  It gives context and meaning to ancient texts and cultures so the Holy Spirit can open up and apply even the most obscure texts to lives today.  But that learning doesn't always fit nicely into the land of rigid theology.  In that place, people fear theological change.  Because 'new' theological positions are something to be feared and condemned rather than poked and questioned.

Here's what I think: The Holy Spirit works in and through Christian higher education.  Just like the Spirit works through people, nature, etc.  He uses education to form and shape learners into the image of Christ.  Education changes the way people think.  And when thinking changes so does living.  That's a good thing.  Romans 12:2 calls follows of Jesus to have their minds renewed.  To be trained to think differently.  To learn and practice the ways of Jesus.

I've been blessed to serve at HMC.  For an evangelical church it's quite a theologically diverse community and I'm privileged to have been shaped by so many from such different backgrounds and perspectives.  I'm looking forward to my continued journey from church leadership to the classroom and being shaped by the Holy Spirit at every step of the way.

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