Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Words of Encouragement

My life in Toronto is spent, for the most part, inside an 8'x8' padded wall cocoon.  I have a desk, a chair, books, and two pictures of my hero, Eugene Peterson.  In the one picture, positioned on a shelf overlooking my desk, Peterson's head is tilted back and his eyes are on me.  The speak balloon says, "Don't fail me".

The other Peterson picture sits just behind my computer.  His head is tipped slightly forward and to the left.  He's sporting a just-about smile saying, "Hey!  You got this!"

These opposing snapshots are happy reminders of the need to simultaneously work hard and rest.

So, when I find myself getting lost in articles about decolonization and indigenous identity or the need for both proclamation and dialogue in faithful Christian witness, I'm reminded that "I got this".  And, when I'm tempted to take and extra day or two or five to relax, I hear Peterson's reminder "Don't fail me..."

So, after a couple of days of reading and writing, I'm signing off to have some time to rest and play.

P.S. If you're wondering where those Peterson pics are from, they were a goodbye gift from a certain HMC kid's and youth pastor!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967

After responding to Alanna's blog comment I thought this song worthy of a post by itself.

Sometimes John Mayer plays in our home.  Not John Mayer (that would be cool), his songs.  A few months ago I tuned in and actually listened to the lyrics of the song Walt Grace's Submarine Test.  It made me cry.  It's one of the weirdest songs I've every heard but I embraced it because I felt a strange connection with Mr. Grace.  I can't relate to all of it (i.e. my wife is far kinder, wiser, and loving than his) but the image of paddling into the unknown with little more than a dream and a loose plan... it captured me.

There's something beautiful about saying goodbye to the things that offered stability (a church family, denominational network, neighbourhood, house, friends, job, etc.) and venturing into the waves with little more than a handmade submarine in hopes of reaching the other side of the world.  Most people never get the chance to take a faith risk.  I'm privileged to have done it more than once and I'm even more amazed this time.

So, our little submarine hasn't sunk yet but I've seen some amazing things.  Our kids have each found really great part-time jobs that they enjoy.  Our daughter just got back from an 11 day canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park.  I've been affirmed in my PhD program and not only am I keeping up with the pace of reading, research, and writing, but I've also had a chance to narrow down my thesis topic through the excellent support of some world class faculty.  I am overwhelmed by God's provision.

I'm preaching tomorrow so it's time for bed.  I hope this post encourages you to take a submarine ride of your own before it's too late.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Good bye Hanover house... Hello new life in Clarksburg

Yesterday marked the conclusion of life on Mulock Road for our family.  And, since as of last week we still had things to move out of the house, it meant that our family spent Thanksgiving weekend packing and cleaning. 

Can you believe we lived in that house for more than 10 years?  I still remember the day we moved in, July 11th 2007.  It was an unusually cold July day.  Our daughter was turning 6 and our son was turning 3.  Them included, a lot changed over the years.  The road went from gravel to tar and chip, the house went from propane heat to natural gas, and homes changed hands all around us and got younger every time.

I loved that house.  But if I could give it up for what we've got now, I'd do it every time.  I love our new community, our house that's becoming home, my new school and accompanying friends, the wonderful folks that are part of our new church, and my new weekly routine.  

Maple and I still try to get out for walks.  It takes us close to seven minutes to get from our house to the Beaver River and that includes time for her to stop and eat some apples that have fallen on the path.  Life seems simpler these days even with doctoral studies in the mix.  I'm not looking forward to the winter drives to Toronto but I know it's only for a season and spring will be here soon!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hang in there, and try to write something everyday...

That's my takeaway quote from one of the the many readings I've been assigned since starting back to school in September.  Here's the rest of the quote from an article by John W. O'Malley,

"The moral of the story: hang in there, and try to write something every day no matter how banal or stupid you think it is going to sound.  When you come back the next day, you might be able to salvage a paragraph or two, and thus, agonizing paragraph by agonizing paragraph the book gets written." (O'Malley, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Jul. 2007), p. 586.)

Some days it feels like I've jumped into the deep end of the pool and I forgot my bathing suit.  It's terrifyingly vulnerable as a first year PhD student.  Other days it feels like I've stumbled through an open door into a Narnia like world, with endless possibilities that await in my tiny, grey, library cubical.

Aside from school, we're saying goodbye to our Hanover house next week.  It's bittersweet since our whole family loved that house: so many beautiful moments.  But its time to set it free to become a memory box for a new family with young children.  Besides, a new world with rich memories awaits us in the town of the Blue Mountains.  For example, today, a new friend from the Blue Mountain church and his friend helped load and move my tractor to our new community.  Unfortunately, we couldn't predict the weather so it happened in a downpour.  I'm grateful to be warm and dry now.  I'm also thankful for a couple of new friends willing to get wet with me to relocate a tractor.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Preoccupied with PhD studies

I'm still here.  In the absence of blogging I've been consumed with reading and writing for courses that have deadlines and required word counts.

I am officially back in full-time academic studies for the first time since 2006.  The adjustment has been smooth but abrupt.  I'm enjoying getting settled in.

On a sad note, just days before the start of my program I found out that my doctoral supervisor took a sudden medical leave.  He's been diagnosed with late stage cancer and will not be returned to his post.  Thankfully, the college where I'm enrolled has provided two co-supervisors to ensure my study is not adversely affected.

In terms of what I'm doing right now, I'm taking three courses this semester.  They all have two word titles so they're easy to remember: Research & Scholarship, Faith & Culture, and Wisdom & Schooling.

I gained access to a library carrel today.  It will be mine at least until Aug. 31st, 2018.  It's sort of a home away from home (except that I can't cook or sleep in it).  I anticipate spending a lot of time here (I'm writing this blog post from within its confines) or in a small back corner desk in the Thornbury library that I've already grown attached to.

Here's a photo of my carrel at the Kelly Library, U of T.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Co-Pastors at Blue Mountain Community Church

It's official!  Erika and I have been hired as co-pastors at Blue Mountain Community Church beginning September 1st, 2017.

Our house is up for sale, our kids are gearing up to go to new schools, and the Mills family finally knows where we're going to land in September.

Our life as a family has been a wonderful, faith-filled, winding road and we are all excited to be able to see the way ahead.  We've had a 'serving-as-equals-in-pastoral-ministry' vision for many years and the arrangement at BMCC suits our dreams beautifully.   Being co-pastors means that Erika and I will be sharing one F/T role while we both work outside the church too.  Erika will carry most of the pastoral load at BMCC and continue to work one day a week as a chaplain at a long-term care facility in Owen Sound.  I will be enrolled as a F/T PhD student while working roughly one day a week at BMCC.  God's grace and provision overwhelms us.

So, if you happen to be in the Town of the Blue Mountains, stop by.  We'd love to see you!

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.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Finding Freedom and Closure in Ritual

I'm taking responsibility for my actions.  And I'm finding freedom.  As I wind up my time as pastor of Hanover Missionary Church I'm learning to let go of things I wish I could change, but can't.  Easier said than done.

It's happening through ritual.  It may sound strange but I've started planning moments that link an action with reflection.  Here's an example: on Monday I set fire to some papers in our fire pit.  This may sound like a normal burning procedure but it wasn't.  Monday's fire was special.  It was a ritual.  The paper represented something.  And before I lit the match I listened to a reading about 'letting go'.  Then, I sat. And I reflected.  Quietly.  And as I lit the match and held the burning matchstick next to the paper until it caught.  I felt sad.  But I also felt loosened.  Looser.  Not a loser.  Freer.  And since that moment, the heart-attachment that those papers represented was severed.  I was set free from the burden of expectation that those papers held over me.

Ritual is why funerals are important.  Funerals are rituals that allow people to have one last moment with friends and family to celebrate the life and grieve the loss of their significant someone.  It's a way of taking control of our response to death--something we have no control over.  To participate in a ritual, such as a funeral or memorial, is to deliberately enter into a moment to reflect, grieve, and, ultimately, let go.  It's one of the first steps in the 'new county' of life without the one who has died.  And after the funeral is over, grief doesn't necessarily subside, but closure begins.

So, as I bring closure to my time at HMC I'm embracing ritual and finding freedom to move forward into the great unknown.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tips for a church in transition - #3 Prepare for Change

In my last post I talked about conflict.  Conflict's best friend is change.  And change should be posted on the sign outside every church in transition.  Unfortunately, most churches bury conflict, avoid change and try to move through transition hastily, assuming the current trajectory is the 'best' one or the 'right' one.

The reason can be summed up in one word: identity.  We get attached to our identity and we don't want it to change.  The problem is that the church is a living organism and all living things change.  While the 'stuff' of what we're made of remains the same, our identity shifts with time.  

Let my show you what I mean.  When I was young I was part of a family where my identity was that of a younger brother and a son.  As I grew older and my siblings left home then my identity changed.  I was still a son that lived with my parents but my younger brotherliness faded into the background without sibling presence.

Later, I left home and met my wife.  We married and had kids; I became a husband and father.  I remained a son and a younger brother but those parts of my identity became less relevant as my ID as a hubby and dad increased.  

Imagine what might happen if I failed to live into my identity as a husband and dad and still wanted to live only or primarily as son and younger brother.  How would that affect my ability to be a good husband to my wife?  What might my children think?  

Churches have identities too.  And those identities change.  I've seen some churches celebrate their past without clinging to it.  Like the son that grows up and becomes a husband.  Those churches are able to embrace their history and let it go at the same time--in order to become something brand new.  However, I've also seen churches hold onto their past and get stuck.  Like a little brother who waits for his siblings to return and misses the opportunity to grow up and become something else.  Those churches become rigid, oppressive, and eventually close their doors.

An essential part of embracing a new identity is being able to find ways to celebrate the past without holding to it.  When that happens, the church is getting ready for change.  And, as stated earlier, when that change comes get ready for conflict!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tips for a Church in Transition - #2 Be Ready for Conflict to Surface

Church conflict.  It's something every pastor and congregational leader experiences and should know how to handle.  Unfortunately, most church authorities avoid or ignore it.

During leadership transitions conflict surfaces.  Sometimes it's subtle; other times it's explosive.  It can happen in an all-of-a-sudden explosion; or it can ooze out slowly after years of bubbling beneath the surface.  Regardless of how it surfaces, it's important to know some of issues that can lead to congregational conflict.  Here are some hot-button transitional tensions that Terry Foland addresses in his chapter entitled, 'Understanding Conflict and Power' in the book Temporary Shepherds.
  • Church Identity
    • Defining church values and identity impassion people.  Who are we as a church? What's our place in the world?  When there's disagreement in this area, expect people to push back.  Fear of the church losing status in the community or concerns about the future identity and philosophy of ministry all add to rising tensions when there's disagreement.
  • Who Is In Charge?
    • This may be a struggle between clergy and laity or between formal and informal leaders in the church.  Individuals may feel they have a 'right' to know inside information and have a voice in church governance issues.  When things are healthy this could mean increased involvement and investment, but if trust is low then congregants could run interference in appropriate, orderly processes. 
  • What Do We Believe?
    • The fight may be about how the Bible is interpreted, questionable doctrines, or the curriculum used with the children and youth.  What one individual or group wants or needs may be at odds with what other individuals or groups feel they want or need in the church.  When one person or group pushes their theological agenda beyond the norm then the church will experience conflict.
  • How Do We Worship?
    • Adopting new musical preferences in the congregation creates tension.  That tension has a name: worship wars.  The issue may be the type of instruments used or the kinds of songs the church sings--preferring either traditional or contemporary forms of worship.  Any way this is sliced, it creates conflict.
  • Role Expectation of Leaders
    • How do clergy and staff spend their time in ministry?  Should the pastor act as leader or manager?  Where staff spend their time and resources and who determines their priorities are both possible areas where fights could emerge.
  • Limited Resources
    • When there is a reduction in resources (a reality in a church in transition) then conflict can arise about where the limited resources should be allocated.  Expect people to fight to fund their priorities when resources are limited.
  • Focus Inward or Focus Outward?
    • Should the church focus primarily on nurturing and caring for their own members primarily or focus on serving and reaching out to their community?  Any attempt to change this focus from what the church has been doing will result in tension.
  • Malfeasance or Misconduct by Clergy
    • If a pastor is accused of immoral, unethical, or illegal behaviour, some people will believe the accusations while others will deny them and defend the pastor.  This can create significant tension and conflict in the congregation.
So, if your church is in a season of pastoral transition, you will likely be facing some or all of these tensions.  The best way through the conflict is by hiring a trained transitional pastor.  He or she will help your church address these issues without blowing it up.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tips for a Church in Transition - #1 Increase Communication

A pastoral transition, no matter how smooth, leaves a huge communication gap.  That gap needs a bridge.  Increased communication functions as a bridge for a church in transition.  So, make sure your church is building bridges across the gap with regular updates during the transition.

Roger Nicholson paints a clear picture of the need for open communication in his book, Temporary Shepherds.  He writes:

Efficient and effective communication is a major concern of every congregation, and never more so when a vacancy occurs in the pastoral office.  Interim congregations often discover that their communication system is very inadequate, resulting in poor decision-making processes and in misunderstandings.  A strong congregation is one in which all information is freely shared and all members are fully informed and aware of church matters.  Power struggles result when information is withheld as a means of controlling the organization.  The interim time is a crucial opportunity for a congregation to examine its practices and ensure that an open system of communication and decision making is in place at the start of a new pastorate. (p. 22)

So, if you want to avoid power struggles and misunderstandings, here are a few suggestions:
  1. If you're a transition pastor, give a few brief updates before preaching.  Keep it punchy and concise.  "I have some important things to tell you about this time of transition and I also want to hear from you.  I'd like to invite you to a town hall meeting in the blue room on such and such date and time", or "The search committee has been formed and here's who they are... let's pray for them".  That sort of messaging gives everyone a chance to hear what's going on in the congregation.  If you're church doesn't have a transition pastor, appoint someone to do this on a consistent basis until a consistent pastor (transitional or permanent) is hired.  
  2. Update the church website, social media, and weekly printed bulletin with the same information being presented during the Sunday morning update.  Make sure the messaging is consistent.  Where there's a discrepancy, over communicate to correct the faulty message.
  3. Call a town hall meeting and invite the whole congregation to attend.  Have a potluck.  Or not.  Arrange tables and ask good questions that allow people to engage in conversation about the church with those around their tables.  Share plenty of information.  Then, open the floor for questions and remember to take time to pray.
Remember, transitions are typically times when communication decreases.  Decreased communication raises congregational anxiety, so make sure you take steps to increase dialogue.  It's far better to over communicate than under communicate, especially during times of change.  Augment the messaging and I'll guarantee one thing: your congregation will thank you!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Learning to be well-differentiated

A couple of weeks ago I talked about Christ-centred differentiation in a sermon.  It's a hard but crucial concept to understand.  In fact, it's one of the most important concepts I've ever learned.  And no one does a better job of describing it than Edwin Friedman.  Here's how he defines it:

Differentiation means the capacity of a family member to define his or her own life's goals and values apart from surrounding togetherness pressures, to say "I" when others are demanding "you" and "we".  It includes the capacity to maintain a (relatively) non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious systems, to take maximum responsibility for one's own destiny and emotional being.  It can be measured somewhat by the breadth of one's repertoire of responses when confronted with crisis.  The concept should not be confused with autonomy or narcissism, however.  Differentiation means the capacity to be an "I" while remaining connected.
(E. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, p. 27)

When a family member/staff member/board member/church member loses the capacity to be differentiated they (consciously or unconsciously) operate to force the whole family closer.  Individual ideas, opinions, and perspectives that do not align with their way of seeing the world will result in sabotage.

Friedman succinctly spells out they way well-differentiated and not-so-differentiated people may respond in the church to define themselves or subvert the leader.  He writes:

All we have to do is give a talk in which we carefully differentiate ourselves--define clearly what we believe and where we stand on issues, in a way that is totally devoid of "should" and "musts."  The response from the congregational family, no matter what the faith, will always range along the following spectrum.  Those who function emotionally toward the "better differentiated" end will respond by defining themselves: "Father, I agree"; "I disagree"; "I believe"; etc.; or, "Ms. Jones, I like what you said, though I am not sure I can agree with you on..."  Those at the "less well-differentiated" end will respond not by defining themselves but by continuing to define their clergyman or clergywoman: "Father, how can you say that when..."; "Ms. Smith, how do you reconcile this with what you said the other day when you..."; "Rabbi, sometimes I wonder if you are even Jewish."  (E. Friedman, Generation to Generation, p. 30)    

It's tough to maintain an "I" posture when you're confronted with "we" language.  I've sat through many meetings: board, staff, or otherwise and watched how difficult it is for an "I" to stand against the "we".  However, this is exactly what is needed.  This defining action is precisely what separates the best leaders from ones that maintain the status quo.

Be warned!  An attack (sometimes overt, sometimes covert) is lurking at the door of every leader that decides to be an "I" in a family or group that is bent on being "we".  Poorly differentiated leaders act to sabotage well-differentiated leaders:
"We" think "you" should (or must)...
It's the ultimate power play and it's often the moment when the "I" crumbles.

I've crumbled quite a bit in the past few years as a church leader.  I'm not proud of it but I also know God is working my weakness into His strength.  My "I" is stronger now that it has been in a long time.  I give huge credit to three people: my amazing and brilliantly well-differentiated wife, my wise and caring spiritual director, and a cussing prophet who's best friend is a horse.

To all those seeking to live well-differentiated lives, here's some biblical encouragement:

"In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matt. 5:48)  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Toronto School of Theology - Offer of Admission!!!

After months of waiting and wondering I received a letter today.

While I was preparing my application (back in the fall) I found reading successful PhD applicants' Statements of Intent very helpful.  Here's what I wrote to the TST Admissions Committee:

TST Statement of Intent - Jason Mills

If my denominational colleges are any indication of broader trends in Christian higher
education, then Canadian Bible Colleges and Seminaries are undergoing radical changes
in how they train leaders. The two denominational colleges of the Evangelical
Missionary Church of Canada—Rocky Mountain College, Calgary, AB and Emmanuel
Bible College, Kitchener, ON—are making sweeping changes in curriculum and format:
fewer full-time faculty members, more options for non-resident students (R.M.C. has
done away with residency altogether), more courses designed and delivered online by
American faculty, etc. These changes affect pastoral formation. The main rationale for
the shifts appears to be financial with very little consideration given to student formation.
That concerns me.

I am interested in studying the impacts that changes in curriculum, class format, and
faculty involvement have on pastoral and congregational formation. My purpose for this
focused study is simple: I see a need for a renewed, clear, and effective educational
philosophy as a foundation for training leaders for the 21st century church. My research
methodology will focus on examining the shifts in educational philosophy within my own
denominational colleges specifically, and Christian higher education institutions in
Canada generally. I plan to hold Jesus’ ways of teaching and training His disciples in one
hand while holding traditional Christian educational models, including the current
Canadian cultural and educational shifts and tensions, in the other.

My extensive leadership experiences give me a strong basis for my research. As part of
my undergraduate experience, I was granted access into college administrative and
disciplinary meetings. That gave me a glimpse into the organizational functioning of the
college. Immediately after graduation a church called me as their full-time pastor. After
four years I returned to the academy with a firmer grasp on the practice of ministry.
Seminary allowed me to bring my pastoral praxis into my coursework and thesis research.
I focused on postmodernism’s impact on church ministry and its implications for pastoral
leadership in the 21st century. My thesis drew on my experiences in church ministry and
the need for change in Canadian church leadership. I completed my M.A. and served for
twelve more years in pastoral ministry—including leading a multi-staff church in the
midst of significant staff turnover and a shifting congregational ministry philosophy. I
also stepped into the undergraduate classroom and distance education department where I
taught the next generation of pastoral leaders how to think, write, and practice Christian
faith. As a result of my varied professional opportunities I am well equipped to
understand the present shifts in educational philosophy as well as the reality of
congregational ministry.

My language qualifications include six years of French language training in the Ontario
French Immersion program at the elementary and secondary education levels—an asset
when researching Christian Higher Education methodology in French language
institutions in Canada. Additionally, the four semesters of biblical Greek I studied as an
undergraduate pastoral ministry student make it possible to study the life and ministry of
Jesus in the original language.

The Toronto School of Theology is an ideal context for my research. TST’s consortium
of theological schools and relationship with The Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education and The Centre for the Study of Ministry is a near perfect fit for researching
both educational philosophy and ministerial training. My hope is to gain admission to the
University of St. Michaels College in order to work directly with Dr. Mario D’Souza.
His research interests in the philosophy of education and religion in education—as
evidenced in his recent public lecture, “The Catholic University and the Unburdening of
the Real World” would make him an excellent primary supervisor for my research. In a
recent phone conversation he commented that my research interests intersect with his
own. Additionally, Dr. Doug Blomberg has been teaching, administrating, and
publishing in the field of Christian higher education for many years. He is retiring in
June 2017 from the Institute of Christian Studies but he directed me to some helpful
books on the philosophy of education and pastoral praxis. He has agreed to consider
sitting on a PhD advisory committee.

In conclusion, I am pursuing PhD studies because God is calling me. I hope to one day
teach and/or serve in the administration of a Christian higher education institution with
strong pastoral formation programs, backed by sound theological and educational
philosophy. I also plan on staying engaged in church ministry, implementing research 
findings and engaging in pastoral formation at the ground level.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Transitional Ministry

One of the most important seasons in the life of a church takes place during pastoral transition.  Roger Nicholson's helpful book, Temporary Shepherds: A Congregational Handbook for Interim Ministry provides and excellent overview of the important tasks congregations should implement on their way from pastoral departure to calling a new leader.

Here's a summary of the 5 tasks from the book:

Task #1 is coming to terms with history.  This, according to Nicholson, is probably the most difficult time in the life of a congregation.  The church needs to come to terms with the loss of their pastor without losing sight of the future.  Nicholson asserts, “Painful experience in many congregations has shown that unless conflict is resolved and healthy communication restored prior to the call of a new pastor, the chances for the success of the new pastorate are substantially reduced.” (p. 7).  This is a time to gain perspective on the recent and distant past—highlighting both the victories and the painful times. 

Task #2 is discovering a new identity.  Congregations tend to think of themselves as changeless and static but nothing could be further from the truth.  Self-study during the interim time allows the present realities to surface rather than fond remembrances of bygone days.  Coming to terms with the 'actual' present also allows the search committee to accurately describe the church to potential candidates.

Task #3 is addressing leadership changes during an interim.  It is not unusual for a change in pastoral leadership to bring about a change in lay leadership as well.  Change at the top may have a ripple effect as overworked leaders tap out.  Those vacating leadership roles make room for new people to step up.  In healthier congregations this can go relatively smoothly.  But in conflicted and struggling churches this can create power struggles.

Task #4 is renewing denominational linkages.  Interim times are wonderful opportunities to re-establish a connection with the denomination.  Denominational resources are available to help with times of transition and the church has a chance to reflect on denominational identity and how relationship between church and denomination could be strengthened for the future.

Task #5 is commitment to new directions in ministry.  As the interim season draws to a close, and the first four tasks have been embraced and worked through, the church is in a place of greater unity and prepared to receive a new leader.  Nicholson says it like this, “Differences and misunderstandings have been resolved; closure of the former pastoral relationship has been completed; a new mission has been discerned; and members are eager to go forward.” (p. 12)


Unfortunately, not all churches have the luxury of hiring a temporary guide (transitional pastor) to help them accomplish these important tasks.  In my current church we were able to hire a seasoned guide to help (yay!) but he got sick (boo!), the tasks we not completed (uh oh!), and the ride got quite bumpy (conflict! it's one of the indicators of a poorly executed transition).  Here's what it looked like:
  • The lead pastor left to take on a denominational role (after 10+ years of ministry at that church) 
  • An intentional interim pastor was hired
  • The intentional interim pastor had a stroke
  • The most senior leader (a trusted and longstanding 15+ year associate pastor) stepped in to fill the gap
  • The longstanding associate pastor retired
  • I stepped in as the interim pastor 
  • Later I was hired as the permanent lead pastor
In retrospect, if you're looking for a healthy church transition, I would highly recommend hiring a specialized transitional pastor who can walk your church through the five tasks (or some form of them) from beginning to end.  I would not recommend my experience.  One day soon I'm hoping to use my experience, reading, and training to help churches make their transitions a healthy and enjoyable experience.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Babies and Bad Teaching

Yesterday I preached on 1 Timothy 2.  If you're not familiar with this portion of Paul's writings, there's a part there that calls women to not speak or have authority over their male counterparts (1 Tim. 2:12).  It's bad teaching to interpret this text literally.

Here's part of the story that's often untold:

1.  Instability between men and women the Ephesian church (as well as other parts of the Roman World like Corinth) created chaos in worship.

2.  That instability had to do with false teachings based on speculations about Old Testament genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-4) that led people to believe and teach deception and lies about marriage, food, and other things (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

3.  Since women's education was not highly valued in the patriarchal society of the New Testament, women were particularly vulnerable to false teachings--like the ones in Ephesus at the time of Timothy's ministry.

4.  The false teachers were going house to house and taking advantage of the uneducated women.  They were "worming" their way into these homes and gaining control over "weak-willed women" (2 Tim. 3:6-7).  In those homes they found women of means (perhaps young widows or married women whose husbands were away on business) that were leading house church gatherings.

5.  Those women embraced the false teachings--likely a radical agenda: to be 'free' from their husbands and children, become sexually liberated (hence the appeal to dress and act modestly in 1 Tim. 3:9-10), and abandon their roles as wives and mothers.

Perhaps that's why Paul calls the Ephesian women to learning in silence rather than teaching.

In a bizarre chapter ending twist Paul adds that women will be saved through childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15).  What was the apostle Paul thinking?  Rather than interpreting this to mean that Paul has given up on the Gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, he is more likely intending to turn the radicalized 'free women' back to their husbands and families.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Coming this Sunday...

An egalitarian perspective on 1 Timothy 2:12.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Efficiency or Freedom?

Last week I listened to a CBC Ideas episode called The Truth about "Post-Truth". As I listened, I thought about church.  The host was interviewing Jason Stanley, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. The whole 54:00 is worth hearing but in case you don't have time, here's what grabbed my attention:

(Around 22:50) "A liberal democratic society values liberty and equal respect. Because if you value liberty you value you fellow citizens' liberty. You want them all to have liberty. So you need to give them all equal respect so they can tell you when their liberty is being impinged upon. And truth is the guarantee for equal respect. Because if you want to give those with less power equal respect. Then you have to listen to them. You have to make sure your views about them aren't false. So truth is the sort of leveller between those with less power and those with more power..."

(Around 23:45) "In an authoritarian society (a monarchy for instance)... the main principle is not truth. But the main principle is power... In an authoritarian society people learn to respect power. So in an authoritarian society an authoritarian leader will demonstrate their power by defining reality. So they will be free to define reality so it accords with the ideology that they want you to have... They have a monopoly on truth..."

(Around 33:44) "No one should be running for president of the United States saying that they are a good businessman. Because a business is not run like a democracy. In a democracy, everyone rules.  And that's going to mean that there are inefficiencies. Efficiency is a virtue. But it's not a democratic virtue. Autonomy is a democratic virtue... Freedom and efficiency are often at odds. Business is run to minimize freedom and maximize efficiency."

So, what about the church? If we take Jason Stanley's comments about 'business' and 'liberal democracy' and place them on a spectrum, with efficiency and freedom at opposite ends, where would you place church? Is it a community that celebrates individual freedom and autonomy or seeks to maximize efficiency? What's your experience?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trust your gut

When I'm functioning at my best I trust my gut. That means having a sense about something that others might not understand.

It's helpful when I'm in places where I have to make choices. By far, the most difficult context of gut-wrenching and gut-testing, is in the wilderness.

I've spent my fair share of time wandering around in the wilderness. The worst part about wandering in the wilderness is when people are following. Why? Because human beings don't like the wilderness.  And, coupled with a distaste for the wilderness, people don't like a wandering leader. When the two are combined, it no fun being out front.

Full disclosure: I've never really struggled with the wilderness part. I'm fine to be led to difficult places by the Spirit. But when I'm led there, and I have people following me. It's downright hard.

The hard part is that people start wondering if I know where I'm leading. It doesn't happen right away. But as time goes by and the wilderness closes in. The voice of the Spirit starts getting drown out by the questions of well meaning people: "why are we still in the wilderness?" "where are we going?" "who can we blame for this?"

And then it starts to happen. My confidence melts. I question my instincts. I second guess my calling. I replace the God who led me into the wilderness with the people that have followed me there. That's when it happens. I stop trusting my gut.

Lately, I've started trusting my gut again.  And I've found peace. And home really.  In the wilderness.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Just Start & Stay Faithful

I listened to a Carey Nieuwhof podcast today.  He interviewed an entrepreneur named Jared Hogue.

Jared uttered five small words that moved me:

Just Start and Stay Faithful.

This blog post is the fruit of that statement.  So, if anyone is out there.  And interested.

This is my start.  Pray that I stay faithful.

Here's a link to the podcast if you're interested (CNLP 120). 
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