Saturday, December 18, 2010

Snowy drive home

My final class of the semester wrapped up this past Monday evening. After the student groups presented their final projects, I began the snowy drive home.

I arrived and departed from Elmira Tim Hortons at around 10:30pm. It's normally close to an hour to home from that point.

That night it took us two hours. The blowing snow and icy roads slowed me down but the worst part was driving on a closed highway.

Since I'm teaching in the same time slot next semester, I'm hoping the snow falls on Tuesday-Sunday for the rest of the year.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tiling on diagonal

Our laundry room project that was launched in August is nearing completion.

This past week, my final vacation allotment for the year, Erika and I tiled the floor. We attempted something new--tiling on diagonal.

For those who aren't up on tiling terminology, that's what you call laying tiles on a 45 degree angle. Rather than keeping the squares aligned with the walls, they're spun a half a turn. It means every cut produces a triangle rather than a rectangle.

In other news, last night I remember three of my dreams. In one I was a student seated in a tiny desk. In another, my long hair raised a few eyebrows in Western Canada. I'll keep the final one to myself.

So, three dreams after an evening of cutting triangles. What's next? Hat trick perhaps?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hockey night in Hanover (I mean Mildmay)

Tonight I'm dusting off my hockey gear and lacing up the skates for the first time in a few years.

It's not a pre-Halloween trick; rather, a couple of guys from the congregation invited me to join them on the ice for the season.

My goal is to represent the Spirit of Jesus on and off the ice (a difficult feat for any hockey player who follows Jesus, especially when playing in a church league!).

I'd also like to put the biscuit in the basket at least once.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The church talks

Thanks to Alanna, our creative communications expert, HMC has started an online conversation about life, ministry, and anything else we choose to write about. In other words, we've started a blog.

You can check it out by clicking here.


Friday, October 22, 2010

T-Bird flys again

Today marks the return of my 1989 T-Bird. I surrendered it into the capable hands of my mechanic about a week and a half ago. It was blowing smoke--the white, sweet-smelling type. Car people tell me that's a bad sign. The actual diagnosis was dire: I needed a new engine.

Thankfully, I landed a great deal on a used one. It's five years newer and there's 100,000 fewer kilometers.

Now, the Bird is back home and it drives exactly like it did before.

Hopefully I'll get a few more years of cheap cruising before it crashes again.

P.S. the car in the picture is not my t-bird. There aren't enough stickers.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Are You our next Children and Family Pastor?

We're looking for someone who has a heart for kids and their families to join our staff.

If you're interested in finding out more, visit our church's website.

Required - knowing how to do ministry with these:

Not Required (But an asset) - Owning one of these:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It Bugs Me

Many of you know that I try to keep my Thursday afternoons reserved for non-church activities.

So here's a play-by-play of this afternoon.

After playing a round of scream and run with my kids we rounded up insects for a science project. We started with some basic ones like a house fly and wood louse before moving on to some more exotic and potentially scary ones.

To our great surprise we were able to collect a dragonfly and a live wasp. (Don't ask me how we wrestled an angry wasp into a Ziploc bag without getting stung).

After being tagged and bagged, they went into the freezer for a couple of hours.

Then, voila, our very own bug collection--complete with labels and pins.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Characteristics of a worship leader

Recently I shared with worship team members that we need to strengthen our leaders and strengthen our teams. After chatting about this we decided to spend a few weeks praying about leadership. The question we asked was, "Do we have our strongest, most gifted people leading our worship teams?" As a prayer aid, I crafted these five essential traits of an HMC worship leader. The teams have been perusing this for over a week so I thought I'd let the rest of the world in on it now to.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Living out the love of God

Worship leaders must love God above all else. This is evident by the fruit being produced—the fruit of the Spirit. They manifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They are not grumpy and don’t think primarily about their own preferences. They are quick to forgive, not easily angered and they don’t speak negatively about others.

2. Commitment

Team leaders carry an extra load. They think about the songs and flow of the service before practice. They show up early to turn on the lights, photocopy songs, and prepare themselves and the team for practice. They are also able to commit to meeting monthly with the other worship team leaders to plan upcoming services, encourage the other leaders, and share new skills and ideas.

3. Team Leader

Worship leaders are team players. They care about their team members and the people in the congregation. They see themselves as leading one harmonious group of congregants and band members in adoration of our great God. They have a picture of how they would like the congregation to respond (with joy or reflection? With self-examination or seeing the needs of my neighbour?) They are sensitive to congregational needs and they feel responsible for addressing those needs. They hold themselves accountable when team members aren’t getting along and they are the first to encourage the team and the congregation. They never see the team and congregation separated—from an “us” and “them” paradigm. And they work hard to honour young and old as they work toward the accomplishment of the vision.

4. Musicality

Team leaders need to be musical. They need to be strong singers and know how bands function musically. The leader should be aware of song flow and band dynamics. They should have some basic musical training and know something about how different band instruments work together. If an instrument is out of tune, someone is singing off key, or a 4/4 timed song is being played in 6/8, the leader should know something is not quite right.

5. Openness

Worship leaders are naturally open. They are eager to invite new people to join their team. They are open to learning new songs and new talents (ie. speaking between songs, discovering an old hymn in a new skin…). They are open to leading people in hymns, choruses and everything in between. They are open to criticism and they are willing to listen and respond when congregants and team members have questions or concerns.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Your Meditation Has Been Chosen!

I receive a lot of "we've picked you" e-mails. For example, "you've been selected as a distinguished professional" or "congratulations, you have been chosen to receive a large sum of cash."

I know the tag lines so well that I don't give the subject a second look before it gets permanently filed in my junk box.

So, today, when a message landed in my inbox with the subject, "Your meditation has been chosen", I came very close to deleting it. I'm glad I didn't. Here is what it said:

"Dear Mr. Mills:

Your meditation based on Isaiah 41:9 has been chosen to be in the Sep-Oct 2011
issue of The Upper Room. If your meditation is deferred to a later issue, you will be notified.

Enclosed is a copy of an agreement required by copyright law. Please sign it and
return it to us within 10 days so we can proceed with publishing your meditation."

I can't believe it. I've finally written something publishable.

I know it's only a small meditation for a daily devotional. And I know it won't be in print for a full year.

But it represents the accomplishment of a goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year--to get something published.

So, for those of you who are well acquainted with failure. Keep trying. One day you might surprise yourself and succeed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Back to school

I'm excited. Tonight I head back to the classroom.

I've reduced my course load from the usual (2 courses per semester) to one. I lightened my teaching load so I could take on the interim lead role at HMC. I've had a lot of fun this summer but I'm eager to get back to having my mind stretched by some great students.

If only it didn't take me an hour and a half to get to school. At least I don't have to ride in a big yellow school bus.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time on the bench

When I was young I loved play hockey. I wanted to stay on the ice forever, hoping that the puck would find my stick so I could bury it deep in the other team's net. I dreamed about those moments.

But skating and stick handling was only half the game. The other half was spent on the bench, re hydrating and cheering on my teammates. Here's the crazy thing: I never dreamed about sitting on the bench.

Then one day I became a pastor. I dreamed of expounding challenging texts in the pulpit and helping people follow Jesus. I never thought about the other side of effective ministry--time on the bench--the care of my own soul.

In the midst of the September rush, here's what I've realized: there is a direct correlation between disengagement (time on the bench) and quality engagement. When life and ministry demand greater engagement, it's time to get off the ice and spend some time on the bench. I've found that my productivity, creativity and insight is exponentially higher when I'm well rested.

The hard part is giving myself permission to disengage. Even when I think I'm letting others down by being temporarily unavailable, I'm likely not. My contribution isn't as important as others think it is. And if it is important, I'll be better equipped to tackle it once I'm back on the ice.

Besides, I'm no help to anyone when I feel like this.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Practice Resurrection

I turned the final page of my fourth Peterson book yesterday.

Practice Resurrection has been my favorite of the 5 volume series. It's a commentary on the book of Ephesians but it's really a wake up call for the 21st century North American church. I'm toying with the idea of making it required reading for every Ministry Council member in the year to come.

There's one part where Peterson unpacks a Martin Buber concept that sees people in three hyphenated relationships--I-It (not good), Us-Them (also not good), and I-You (good)

Here's a bit of what Peterson says about the "I-It" relationship:

"I-It turns persons into things so that I can control or use or dismiss or ignore them. It is the basic word that is particularly attractive in buying and selling, but it infiltrates every sector of life. When it infiltrates our congregation, the men and women with whom we worship and work become objectified... they gradually become functionalized. Under the pressure of "working for Jesus" or "carrying out the church's mission," we begin to treat our family members and fellow workers more like parts of a machine than parts of a body. We develop vocabulary that treats men and women and children more like problems to be fixed or as resources to be used than as participants in a holy mystery.... Love, the commanded relation, gives way to considerations of efficiency interpreted by abstractions--plans and programs, goals and visions, evangelism statistics and mission strategies."

If you can't envision what an "I-It" church looks like, my friend Scott sent me a link to a video that might be helpful.

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He breathed life into His church.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Retreat Week

It's retreat week around HMC.

Today was our all-day staff retreat. We spent the morning with all staff, including our administrators and custodian. We played a team-building game that involved piling everyone onto a ridiculously small tarp--then we tried folding it. Fun.

We talked about transition. We told a few lies (ever played 2 truths & a lie?). We talked about the fall pulpit series (families, get ready to sign up for the Feud!). We talked about our core values. And we ate.

In the afternoon our ministry staff stuck around to do the dishes and get honest with each other. We talked about the vision and whether we're all pulling in the same direction. And we drank a lot of coffee.

1 retreat down. 1 to go.

This weekend is our Ministry Council retreat. Friday night our ministry staff will share our thoughts on our organizational structure and where we're headed. On Saturday, our leadership council will make decisions that may affect the course of ministry for years to come.

My shoulders and neck feel a bit tense. I think my knees will be aching soon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Moved by words on a page

We picked our little girl up from camp tonight. The bright pink cast made her easy to spot in the midst of so many children.

On the ride home she told us about a cool swamp walk that smelled worst than toilet water. She also shared stories of talent night and a counselor that made rules like "no farting on the tarp".

She even told of the morning she was moved to tears reading one of the letters Erika and I had pre-written and stuffed in her suitcase. When we asked who wrote the letter, mom or dad, we found out it was me.

If only a editor could be similarly moved by my submissions for publication.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bookkeeper Deadline

Today was my first day back in the office after my week of vacation.

It was good to reconnect with the staff and get caught up on the latest HMC news.

Here's a newsworthy item:

Tomorrow is the application deadline for a part-time bookkeeper  (10hrs/week).

So Mr. or Ms. bookkeeper.  If you're out there, stop procrastinating.  Now's the time to apply.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Keeping my head above the water

Blogger, I've missed you. It's been way too long.

As you can probably tell, I don't have as much time to write these days. It comes with saying good-bye to another pastor. Since coming to HMC I've waved farewell to five ministry staff in less than four years (Milly, Claran, Olu, Rick, and Peter). The latest, Peter, our 20 year veteran pastor was a rock of stability. I miss him but I'm glad he has moved on. I wanted to keep him around, but he had other plans. His absence has allowed our staff team to stretch into uncomfortable-land. That's the magical place where we all receive more to do--we'll call them new opportunities--to sink or swim as pastors.

As far as I can tell we've all got our heads above water (even though my blogging silence might indicate otherwise). I believe our staff team is headed in the right direction and I'm encouraged to see so many HMC people jumping in after us.

The real test will be how well we elder one another once we face the crocodiles ahead.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ways that Jesus is the Way

Book three. Done.

I've been negligent about posting because I've been reading. A few days ago I finished my third book in Eugene Peterson's five-volume spiritual theology series: The Jesus Way. If you're keeping track, I'm not reading them in order.

Weighing in at just under 300 pages, The Jesus Way not light reading.
In the book, Peterson begins with Jesus. He then examines many of the great Old Testament characters and how they prepared the way for Jesus. The closing chapters examine three New Testament figures that interacted with Jesus: Herod the political leader, Caiaphas the priest, and Josephus the Jewish historian. None of these men followed Jesus. Actually, they set up systems in direct opposition to the Jesus Way. Yet their ways are still evident today.

One of the most insightful and intriguing illustrations Peterson paints comes near the end of the book. He refers to the ways the Pharisees ended up becoming consumed with the details of religiosity while while neglecting the grandeur and beauty of God. It's a slippery slope we've all encountered. Here's what he writes:

"Imagine yourself moving into a house with a huge picture window overlooking a lake with a grand view of mountains beyond. Snow-capped mountains, beautiful mountains. You have a ringside seat, before all of this beauty, the cloud formations, the wild storms, the entire spectrum of sun- illuminated colors, and the rocks and the trees and the wildflowers and the water. At first you’re just captivated by this view. You sit and you stand and you look and admire; you catch your breath. Several times a day you interrupt your work and stand before this window to take in the majesty and the beauty. And then one day you notice some bird droppings on the glass, and you get a bucket of water and a towel and you clean it. A couple of days later, a rainstorm leaves the window streaked and the bucket comes out again. One day some visitors with a tribe of small dirty-fingered children come, and the moment they leave you notice there are smudge marks all over the window. They’re hardly out of the door before you have the bucket out again. You’re so proud of that window, and it’s such a large window. But it’s incredible how many different ways foreign objects can attach themselves to that window, obscuring the vision, distracting from the vision. Keeping that window clean now becomes compulsive neurosis. You accumulate ladders and buckets and squeegees. You construct scaffolding outside and one inside; you have to get to all the difficult corners and heights. You end up having the cleanest window in North America, but it’s now been years since you’ve looked through it. You’ve become a Pharisee." (Peterson, The Jesus Way, 211)

I've obsessed over many windows in my lifetime. But none more than the church. The church is a beautiful example of a window through which people see God. Sometimes I obsess over it instead of looking through it to see the beauty and splendour of God. It constantly gets dirty and needs to be cared for. But it's no picture of beauty in and of itself. It's what people see when they look through it that should take their breath away.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Does Jesus care about kids' sandals?

My family is headed to a wedding this afternoon.

So, the hunt was on for Elijah's missing dress sandal. It vanished a couple of months ago and he's been wearing his little orange Crocs for every occasion since.

After scouring the house for 45mins I said to Elijah, "let's ask Jesus to help us find your sandal."

And that's what we did. There was nothing profound or magical about our prayer but within 5 mins we had our hands on the missing sandal.

Thank-you Jesus.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Workaholic or sloth?

I think laziness and workaholism are two sides of the same coin. Both are equally dangerous.

Slothfulness is a lifestyle of perpetual leisure and rest. Those who engage in it don't have time for work because they are too busy taking life easy.

Workaholics are compulsive in accomplishing tasks. Their days are spent 'doing' something, anything; they avoid rest and sabbath being perpetually busy with work. They steer clear of rest for one of two reasons: 1. They fear that others will perceive them as slothful or 2. They fear solitude, contemplation, and the voice within.

I think the biblical model is somewhere in between workaholism and sloth. It's a rhythm of engagement and disengagement; it's a movement between work, play and rest that results in productivity and efficiency when working and, conversely, peace and joy when resting and playing.

Want to know if you've got the balance right? If you spend your days off thinking about work or your working days thinking about time off, you likely need some adjustments.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Leadership and Relationship

Leadership rises and falls on relationship.

Nowhere is that more true than at home. Tonight, after supper, I walked upstairs to change my clothes. Close behind I heard the thumping feet of my five-year-old boy. He was following me. While I slipped on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt he hopped up on our bed and spilled the beans about his day. I learned about how his sister soaked him with the hose and how he got to play the Wii, not once but twice!

Moments later a spontaneous game of "betcha can't get off the bed" erupted. I did my best to restrain and tickle him into submission, hoping to keep him on the bed, while he wiggled and squirmed his way toward the carpet. It didn't take too many little boy squeals to bring my eight-year-old daughter running into the room to see what she was missing. Soon she too was twisted up and laughing right in the middle of everything.

I think that's the heart of leadership. Being able to listen, laugh, and play in a way that draws people into a community of laughter and freedom.

Don't get me wrong, I know life offers it's fair share of pain and disappointment. But somehow I think all that is more tolerable in the midst of a community where leaders know how to listen, play and celebrate in a way that offers safety and protection. I'll likely never play daddy games with my congregation but I hope my commitment to listen and relate to them, and my family, never wanes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Sabbath. Do you take one?

That was the topic of conversation around the staff meeting table this morning. I brought a book I picked up this weekend called, Sabbath by Dan Allender. It's part of the Ancient Practices series of books edited by Phyllis Tickle.

Allender writes, "We live in a dark day, but it is still rare for someone to publically tout his or her violation of the Ten Commandments, with one exception--our debasement with busyness. We love to tell others how much we work, how much we still have to get done, and how overwhelmed we are with the exhaustion of our labour. We admire busyness, speed and productivity, yet we envy those whose leisure time is abundant. We are mad, crazy mad--and we know it. To write another book on the need for margins seems at best superfluous and, at worst, avoiding what most needs to be said: Sabbath rest is not an option; it is a command."

So, when's your sabbath?

I take a mini-sabbath every Thursday afternoon. I've reserved that time for family. It's not always easy to walk past other staff members, through a long line of parishioners, and out the door of our busy church in order to drive home to rest, play and enjoy my family. But, then again, no one ever said sabbath would be easy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Telling it Slant

I'm finished the second book.

A while ago I committed myself to reading Eugene Peterson's colossal five volume spiritual theology series. Tonight I finished Tell it Slant: a conversation on the language of Jesus in his stories and prayers.

Two pages from the end my mind flipped back to my weekend experience. Here's what happened.

As many of you know it's unusual for me to sit in an unfamiliar pew but I've been on holidays. I embraced the rare opportunity to visit a small, rural church. As the pastor rose to speak, I prepared myself for a barrage of local jargon and inside jokes. To my surprise, the dialect was formal, religious and propped up by cliches like, "entering the waters of baptism" and "extending the right hand of fellowship". Now, I've been to Bible College and Seminary. I have a pretty good grasp on church words. But, after reflection, I still don't know what "the right hand of fellowship" means.

Here's a secret: I've been there. I sometimes use religious cliches when I haven't adequately prepared and I want to say the right things. I've even apologized to a worship team after bowing with them and proceeding to string together cliche after cliche to form a fine sounding prayer. We don't use religious jargon while barbecuing or picking up packages at the post office, so why do we use it on Sunday mornings?

Two pages from the end of Tell it Slant Peterson writes, "I want to eliminate the bilingualism that we either grow up with or acquire along the way of growing up: one language for talking about God and the things of God, salvation, and Jesus, singing hymns and going to church; another language we become proficient in as we attend school, get jobs, play ball, go to dances, and buy potatoes and blue jeans. One language for religion and another for everything else, each with its own vocabulary and tone of voice. I want to break down the walls of partition that separate matters of God and prayer from matters of getting food on the table and making a living." (Peterson, Tell it Slant, 267.)

I'm with Eugene Peterson on this one.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Domestic lesson #2: When the cat stays outside

Our cat lives outside. Except for the winter when she sleeps in the garage.

But lately, even when the sun is shining and the thermometer is above freezing, Tiger is coming in the house.

Maybe it's because our daughter adores her. Or maybe it's because we take pity on her for having to sit outside on a rainy day (the cat, not our daughter). Perhaps it's because her food dish comes inside at night, and we forget to put it out in the morning.

Usually, I'm okay with it. But there is one time when it's never okay for kitty to enter through the patio door...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

10 Years: A Look Back

Ten years ago today, we said "I do." At that time neither of us knew where we'd end up after a decade of marital bliss. We speculated and dreamed, even drafting a rough ten year plan. But nothing could have prepared us for such a fun-filled, wild, and crazy ride.

Here's a brief look back:

2000 - Wedding in May; move to a new town, Owen Sound, ON; I start work as a pastor and Erika lands a job teaching at a Christian school.
2001 - Shawna enters the world.
2002 - Our closest Owen Sound friends move to Ottawa.
2003 - We're first time homeowners! Our new abode is a 2 & 1/2 story brick house on 7th St.
2004 - Erika eats KFC & Elijah is born; We move to Kitchener, ON.
2005 - Jason begins a Master of Arts program. Erika launches her online business.
2006 - Shawna begins J.K. in January; Jason graduates with an M.A. and begins two jobs: director of worship and arts at HMC and teaching at EBC
2007 - We move to a home in the country in Hanover, ON; Erika's business continues to grow
2008 - Elijah begins J.K.; Shawna enters grade 2
2009 - Shawna and Elijah begin homeschooling their parents
2010 - Jason starts new role at HMC as interim lead pastor; Erika begins exploring new opportunities...

I can't wait to see what the next ten years will bring.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Time to Plant and a Time to Uproot

Dying spruce trees: we've got a few of them at our house.

I think it's either a disease or lack of sunlight that's causing them to shed their needles from the bottom up. Either way, it makes for a sad looking tree and and even sadder looking landscape.

Trees, meet chainsaw. The ones covered with naked branches were taken down at the base of the trunk. Those with dead branches at the bottom got a trim; only dead branches were lopped off.

When I set the chainsaw down I planted saplings. Right now they are only four feet tall but one day I hope they reach 40 feet into the sky with luscious dark green needles on ever branch.

Spending a day chopping down trees and planting new ones reminded me of local church ministry.

There will always be 'dead tree people.' You know the ones, those who stand as a reminder of the 'good ol' days' when the tree was 'fed' and the landscape wasn't polluted with so many 'other species' that grew up around it and blocked its SUN. Now, rather than reproducing, it stands as a defender of deadness in a changing landscape of beauty and freshness.

Thankfully, there is hope. I don't spend too much energy trying to revive 'dead tree people.' Most aren't willing or able to cultivate much more than death and disease. Instead, look for people who are alive and interested in being planted somewhere new, helping to propagate a future forest. Where can you find new tree people? Check around the canopy of mature, healthy tree people. There are usually a host of little tiny 'healthy tree people' in the initial stages of growth. When you find them, dig them up and plant them somewhere where they can make a difference. Oh, here's tip for planting new tree people: when you find a good location, dig a hole and mix a little crap (can I use that term?) into their environment. It makes them healthy and helps them grow.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Domestic lesson #1: Water isn't sauce

Tonight is our Life Group potluck night.

It's extra special because we're getting together with 'the other group'. They formed when our house could not longer hold all the young families. 'The other group' has been a shining example of successful Life Group reproduction, mainly because of Cory and Marie--the fantastic husband and wife team who lead/host it.

So, in light of tonight's festive occasion, I thought it would be the perfect time to flex a few of my, largely atrophied, domestic muscles.

After lunch I worked on a main course dish. I started by throwing some potatoes, onions, and cubed ham into a crock pot. Then I watched and waited in eager expectation for those ingredients to break down and form a creamy, buttery, mouth watering sauce. They didn't. There was no sauce, only water.

So, today I learned that sauce doesn't just appear in the crock pot. Water does, but water isn't sauce.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Leadership Principles

Here's what I'm learning as a lead pastor of a multi-staff church:

1. Don't let things fester. If there's a problem, address it quickly. As soon as I hear that there are people asking other people about church leadership decisions, I call them and do what I can to address their questions personally. It keeps me on my toes and lets them know we have nothing to hide.

2. Concerns should be directed to those with whom you have concerns. I can't count the number of times I've listened to someone rant about something 'somebody' said without talking to that 'somebody' about it. Whenever someone wants to talk to me about something another staff member has said I kindly re-direct them to that staff member first. I may seem un-empathetic but it keeps small things from being blown out of proportion.

3. Model behaviours you want to see in others. I had a mentor who would often say, "do what I say not what I do." It was a joke but it was also a bad leadership principle. My leadership starts when no one else is around. If I want the staff and congregation to learn about living sacrificially, then I'd better be modeling it when no one is watching.

4. Trust is paramount. I innately trust the staff I work with. I assume they are capable and responsible to manage their time, budgets, and ministries. I see my role as being their cheerleader and coach. I applaud them in the tough times and I help them see potential blind spots. However, if they can't stay on budget or I hear rumblings and unrest from the people with whom they minister, I take note and use the trust we've built to have the hard conversations.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Formative blogging

My semester of teaching in the classroom ended a few weeks ago. However, my work continues. I still have stacks of papers to mark.

Tonight I finally finished reading and grading the final blog posts from my spiritual formation class.

If your wondering how blogging fits into a college course on spiritual formation, here's a quick overview:

At the beginning of the semester, students form groups of 3-4 students. Each week they are given time to talk about the lecture and interact with the previous week's reading from Henri Nouwen's book, Spiritual Direction. Then, each week, a different student summarizes the content of their group discussion and posts it on a group blog (they have the option of making it private so only the group and I have access). Each week I read the blog and make a few brief comments.

I've been using this format for the past two years and it has been a helpful for two reasons: it serves as a feedback mechanism to make sure the lecture content is being understood, and it provides a way for me to interact individually with each student in a class of 40-50 students.

If only marking papers could be that fun.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Learning about life from a sandwich

For lunch today I ate a sandwich consisting of fresh bread, lettuce, chunks of red peppers, brie and goat cheese, hunks of raw red onion, and sliced tomatoes. I did a quick check for meat. There was no meat.

I like meat. I don't like raw onions or sliced tomatoes.

Erika knew I might be a bit reluctant to taste the unusual sandwich so she encouraged me with these words, "it's good to try new things."

I agreed. So I ate it.

I still don't like raw onions or sliced tomatoes. But that's okay. Life isn't about me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Podcast anyone?

Soon you will be able to download Hanover Missionary Church sermons directly to your iPod.

That's right folks. You can have our weekly teachings automatically show up in your itunes account, whether you want to hear them or not.

My good friend Luke is working night and day to get this new feature up and ready to use.

Stay tuned for more details.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tangible Kingdom

I'm in Kitchener for a two day denominational gathering. Here's what's happening:

Hugh Halter, author of the Tangible Kingdom, is our keynote speaker. He is challenging us to think missionally and to dream about what the church might look like if the committed (those who follow Jesus) lived in a way that made a tangible difference in the lives of those who do not yet follow Jesus (what he calls sojourners).

I'm presenting a workshop tomorrow with my good friend and regional minister, Joel Zantingh, on missional church practices. We are hoping to paint a picture of what the church could be if most people pictured Christians not as members of good and moral institutions but as missionaries in their communities.

Imagine how different life would be if regular people saw themselves as pastors in their workplaces, neighbourhoods and families. It would drastically change our ecclesiology. It would call us to move from a static view of the church as a gathered community to the church as a movement of people following Jesus to offer justice rather than injustice, plenty where there is poverty, reconciliation where there is division, love where there is hatred, and peace where there is turmoil.

That's a picture of God's kingdom on Earth.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Where have all the pastors gone?

Yesterday I participated in Emmanuel Bible College's graduation ceremony. Since I'm an adjunct instructor I donned my black robe and red, white and gray hood, marched through the gathered crowd with the rest of the faculty, and took my place on the platform overlooking the assembly of friends, family and supporters.

As I watched graduates stride proudly across the stage I listened to the Academic dean share each of their future plans with the rest of us. Here's what struck me: first, very few students were accepting paid roles in congregational leadership. Second, there was not a single graduate from the B.Th - Pastoral studies program.

So, here's my question: where are all the young pastors?

Is the church failing in their responsibility to raise up young leaders or are young leaders disinterested in ministry within the "church-as-we-know-it"?

This whole issue wouldn't be so bizarre if there wasn't a blatant need for more pastors.

Anyone have any answers?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Honeymoon in Hanover

Now that my contract as interim lead pastor has been extended, I thought it would be appropriate to share how I'm feeling and how it has affected my family life.

The details: on March 1st I moved from being the director of worship and the arts to the role of interim lead pastor. It was initially a 6 month contract. Last Sunday morning it was announced that the search for a permanent lead pastor was put on hold for an indefinite period of time, the search team was dissolved, and I will be continuing in my role as interim lead pastor until June 2011.

How am I feeling? Great. God has been incrementally offering what I need each day. I now have a new framework for understanding the Lord's prayer for "daily bread". With every additional responsibility and ministry challenge, God has provided me with the grace, insight, and wisdom to navigate the high seas of leading a congregation of hundreds. It's beyond me but it's not beyond Jesus. I remind myself regularly that my only job is to follow Jesus. He knows where He's going.

How's the family coping? Exceptionally well. Erika is a gift. She keeps me sane. My kids? They are oblivious to the change in my job. Since more evenings are consumed with meetings and dropping in on thriving ministries and groups I have etched out an afternoon during the week when I'm unavailable to anyone who is not my family or not at death's doorstep.

How has my life changed? Aside from overseeing a very diverse 7 member staff team, I drink more coffee, I know more things I wish I didn't, I speak more carefully, I listen more deeply, I'm scrutinized more, I've see more upper level reconciliation, and I feel like I'm doing what I was created for. It's the honeymoon stage in 'leadpastorland'. And that's all the more reason why I love my job.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Party like it's 2004?

I'm officially half way through my first week of full-time work since 2004.

That's right. I haven't had a full-time job since my five-year-old was born.

In case you're wondering, I haven't changed jobs. I'm still pastoring at Hanover Missionary Church. But since my college responsibilities wrapped up for the summer last week and my job at the church increased about a month ago, I've agreed to move from my 30 hr/week position into a 40hr/week role.

So, I'm celebrating by doing a few extra domestic responsibilities--cooking supper, doing laundry.... I know it doesn't sound very sexy and truthfully, it's not. Unfortunately, Erika caught my last week's stomach flu. Compared to what it did to me, she's wrecked. She's been down and out for most of this week.

I'm glad my college commute is over for the semester so I can be closer to home. I'm also glad it's not 2004.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Resurrection and Cremation

Since my message on Sunday I've been asked this question many times: "What does the Bible say about cremation?"

Here's a short answer to a very hot--no pun intended--topic.

The Bible doesn't say anything about cremation. It always assumes the burial of a body.

The early church always buried the dead. They believed that the resurrection was imminent and they wanted their bodies to be ready to be transformed when Jesus returned.

Even today, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not allow their members to be cremated.

Cremation is practiced as part of Buddhism and Hinduism. Neither of these faiths anticipates a future resurrection of the body.

That being said, when the early Christians were captured by Nero in the 1st century, many of them were hung in his garden and set ablaze as living human torches. Their bodies would have been burned to a crisp. Likewise, when dissidents like John Huss and John Wycliffe were tried at the hands of the Roman Catholic church and convicted as heretics (over issues like Church theology and communion), they too were burned at the stake.

It would be hard to think that those who have taken a stand for Jesus and get their bodies burned (as in cremation) would not have their ashes gathered--on that great and glorious day when Jesus transforms the bodies of the living and the dead into eternal, incorruptible bodies--wholly and completely.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Resurrection talk

I've been thinking a lot about the resurrection these days.

It's partly because it's the Easter season and partly because I'm preaching on the resurrection this Sunday.

As a preparatory exercise I've been asking various people what they think 'resurrection' means. The responses have been all over the map. Not only is there confusion about Christ's resurrection there is even more confusion about our future bodily resurrection.

I was raised as a churchgoing, Sunday school attending, Bible believing, Jesus follower. Yet I can't remember a single sermon or lesson preached or taught on why the bodily resurrection is important.

Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of reading and praying in anticipation of this Sunday's message. I'd hate to make people more confused than they already are. I'd love to leave them with the same jittery excitement I'm feeling this Easter as I ponder the resurrection.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Intentional Plans

This week has been a whirlwind of activity. Yesterday, I perused a stack of resumes for a office position we're hoping to fill in the coming 2 weeks. Today, I spent the whole day--locked in a room full of white boards, coffee, and ministry staff--drafting next year's intentional plan. It was productive and helpful. It was also profoundly draining.

The learning curve in this new role is steep. But I can actually feel the prayers of the people. It's a wild ride and I have a sense that it's just beginning.

It's fun being the interim lead pastor but my favorite role is that of husband and dad. After all, there are fewer conversations involving white boards and I can wear my pajamas and not get weird looks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I'm only three days into my new ministry role and I'm starting to wonder why church leadership looks a lot more like a wrestling match (where the goal is forcing others into submission) rather than the stuff Jesus talked about (for example, loving God and loving our neighbours)?

I don't think we should stop using the discipline of submission. Maybe we need to start practicing it on ourselves instead of forcing it on others.

This evening I read the chapter on submission out of Richard Foster's classic book, Celebration of Discipline. Here's what Foster says about leadership and authority, "The most radical social teaching of Jesus was his total reversal of the contemporary notion of greatness. Leadership is found in becoming the servant of all. Power is discovered in submission."

I wish I could lead more like Jesus and less like the guy on the mat.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thoughts on mentoring

Right now, part of my calling is to mentor emerging leaders.

It seems strange since I always assumed that offering guidance to younger people would come when I was much older, at least after I turned thirty-five.

Instead, I've been watching a few twenty-somethings hovering around wondering if I might be able to invest a bit of my life in them.

It's part of the reason why I love teaching at the college. It's also part of the reason Erika and I are looking for new ways to get a little closer to some post-adolescents, especially those who are sensing God's call toward pastoral ministry.

So, whether formally or informally, I'm committed to enter the life chaos of those Jesus followers, especially twenty-somethings, who are walking the road toward Christian maturity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lesson #3

Erika and I are sharing "Ten lessons in ten years" with the 55+ group at our church tomorrow.

We'll be telling stories from the first decade of our life together.

Here's #3:

Don't wait for the perfect time. The first few verses of Ecclesiastes 11 talk about not waiting until the right circumstances before planting, reaping or taking risks. There will never be a perfect time. You will never have enough money. Your ducks will never align themselves or stay ordered in the row of your choice. So, take risks. Be crazy. Take a road you've never travelled. Eat another cinnamon bun even when you feel full.

Forget that last one.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Staff turnovers aren't like apple turnovers.

It feels like our church is losing staff members at a record rate.

Four pastors/directors (plus another one this June) and two support staff in three years. They've either stepped down or moved on to something else.

I find it hard to say good-bye to people who have mentored, supported, and shared the same wild path of ministry with me.

Yet in the midst of our transition folks have been asking our staff how we're feeling. Here's what I think: we're reeling. Not because the load is heavy (which it is) or because we're lacking vital skills and gifts to pastor our church (which we're not). It's because we have to say good-bye so often.

There is a bright side: people are stepping up to serve and work alongside us without expectation of payment; our staff team is having fun playing to our strengths; and we're working and praying together in a spirit of unity.

I just can't help but wonder something: did my coming have anything to do with the staff goings? Weird coincidence or am I missing something?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Shack, eh?

An older, church-going friend of mine has been bugging me to get my hands on a copy of The Shack for months. So, I finally set some time aside and read it this week.

Although I would have taken a slightly different angle, William Young illuminated some of life's greatest mysteries--from horrendous human loss to God's Trinitarian relationship.

It was great.

Want to know my favorite part?

It's Jesus' response to Mack's query about why he doesn't command the two foot long trout to bite his hook or jump in the boat:

Jesus says, "But what would be the fun in that, eh?" (p. 177).

The Shack confirms it; Jesus speaks Canadian.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Church History vs. NHL Hockey

Bad news.

My Christian Worship through the Centuries class was supposed to spend Friday morning at Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox church in Waterloo. The priest was going to spend some time filling us in about the liturgy and worship practices of the ancient Eastern church.

Unfortunately, the he landed some last minute hockey tickets for him and his kids to a Thursday night Sens game.

We'll try again next week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Big Decisions

A former student in my Owen Sound youth ministry recently queried me about knowing God's will. He is finishing university and is thinking about going overseas. The possibility of entering a new culture is a huge decision and he's not sure what to do.

Here's what I told him:

1. Ask God. It's so obvious: but finding out what God thinks is not usually our first response. Take some time to sit, relax, and ask God what He wants you to do. A pastor friend of mine told me about a time when he finished school and wondered what opportunity God had for him. There were 3 churches that were looking for pastors and each of them would have gladly welcomed him. He spent time praying and reading the Bible. Then stumbled upon the text in Joshua that reads, "Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:9). At that moment he realized that God was inviting him to choose. Either way God promised to go with him. Maybe God will give you a similar revelation.

2. What is your life producing? When the Spirit of God is leading, the fruit of the Spirit will be evident. Ask yourself, does the thought of where God is leading produce a sense of peace, love, gentleness, patience, goodness...? Or does it produce fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness...? If it's the latter then God is not likely in it. That's not to say you won't occasionally experience those feelings when God is moving you in a new direction but if they are constant and nagging--beware.

3. Ask a mentor/spiritual director for insight. I remember the time when I realized it was time to leave my first ministry context. My mentor would often tell me to hang in there when things got tough. One day he said, "I think it's time for you to leave." I don't know how but that day he sensed that our time in that congregation was drawing to a close. His words came as a confirmation of what we had already been sensing. So, find some trusted counselors and friends and invite them to ask you hard questions and pray with you. Friends and mentors are invaluable in the discernment process.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pastors and social media

The latest edition of Leadership Journal arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

In an article called "What's Changing, What's Not", Dave Travis writes:

"Senior pastors under 40 who are leading large churches all use social media... This is a radical shift in how we understand leadership. Fifteen years ago, pastors were wondering how they could be less accessible. Today, younger pastors want more access."

Is your pastor part of this trend? Are there pros? Cons?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Answers about my new role

This past Sunday people in our three church services heard some big news.

First, our interim lead pastor announced his June 30th retirement from pastoral ministry. He has been ministering at HMC for 19 years.

Second, our ministry council chairperson announced that I will be assuming the position of interim lead pastor effective March 1st.

Since then I've been asked the same questions repeatedly:

1. How do you feel about this new role?

I'm excited and I'm looking forward to it. To date, it will likely be one of the greatest challenges of my life. It's also something that I sense God calling me to do.

2. How do the rest of the staff feel about you stepping up to lead?

I asked them the same question before I officially accepted the position. They all willingly threw their support behind me. I would not have accepted the role if the other pastors were not in favour of it.

3. How does this affect your teaching commitments at Emmanuel Bible College?

I will continue teaching at the college for the remainder of the semester. Then, I will transition into the interim lead pastor role full-time.

(My current ministry role is 3/4 time at the church)

4. What happens beyond the interim period?

That question is best addressed by members of the ministry council. My interim contract will extend from March 1st to September 1st. During that time the search for a permanent lead pastor will continue.
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