Monthly Archives: January 2015

Passive Aggressive Ministry

During the worship service two weeks at The Peoples Church, attendees were encouraged to fill out a card that was randomly inserted in the bulletins. There were three options – write your hopes and dreams for The Peoples Church 1 year, 10 years, or 100 years from now. I challenged the congregation to participate in a similar exercise during my first Sunday here in East Lansing. I asked the congregation to share their hopes and dreams for the future of the church without being so specific about the time frame. I took those pieces of paper and put them on bulletin boards all throughout my office for the first year. This time around, we are displaying all of the comments by the church welcome center.

All of them…without any exception…will be displayed.

That’s important because some of the hopes for the future were surprising, positive, negative, helpful, confusing, and a whole lot in between.

Some of my favorites? “In 10 years I hope we have chocolate cake after every service.” or “More transformers in the future.”

The kid ones were the best.

Some even contradicted one another. One said – “I’d like to be part of a church that doesn’t spend money on magnets and thank you notes.” Yep, earlier that week we spent $70 on magnets and hand written thank yous to everyone who participated in the annual campaign.

The comment right after that one? “I love the magnets and thank yous!”

(The magnets were a response to some in the congregation who hopes the leadership would do a better job of saying thank you to the gifts, talents, and time offered on behalf of the church.)

There is no winning.

Anonymous comments are a challenge to any organization I take full responsibility for this conundrum. I did not ask anyone to put their names on the dreams they offered to the church. So, there are very few ways to respond to the comments that are a bit more critical. I left myself in a bit of a hole. Is there a better way? A safe way for people to voice their ideas, concerns, and worries while trusting they will be heard, not ridiculed, and allowed to speak with authenticity?

Is anonymity the only safe way people have to reflect their concerns, ideas, and critique?

Every pastor has received something along the lines of this anonymous note in their time in ministry – “Pastor – I don’t want to cause any problems, but you need to know how rude/awful/bad/loud/quiet it is when (insert issue). Many people think this and wish it were different/better/the-way-it-used-to-be/a-new-way. Sincerely – no name”

If you haven’t received something like this, then you’re obviously not trying hard enough.

The problem is my reaction to said critiques – they kill me. I do not have thick skin and my ego is WAAAAAAY too attached to the church. That is a HUGE problem and one I am desperately trying to work through.

I can hear 400 people say, “Thank you,” but the one who says, “You’re the worst,” is the one I believe and internalize. And when there is no name attached, there is no chance for conversation, relationship, or dialogue.

So, this is my own passive-aggressive form of continuing the conversation. I’d like to post some of the hopes and dreams of The Peoples Church, but more importantly, I’d like to have genuine, honest conversations about our thoughts, ideas, and critiques of the local church in ways that allow us to still be the church at the end of the day.

Any suggestions how?


10 New Year’s Resolutions for Christians aka “The Obligatory New Year’s Post”

Everybody’s doing it. Why not jump on the bandwagon? You, too, can make some arbitrary deals with yourself about a change in your life you’d like to see adopted over the next 365 days! So, start taking stock in who you are, what you do, what you eat, how much you work out, and how 41974-New-year-resolution-meme-b10pwell read you are. Make promises to change all those annoying bad habits starting….now.

I’m cynical, I know.

I’ve never been good at this New Year’s thing. I like goals but it feels like I’m setting myself up for disappointment. If I haven’t made any of these changes in the past 34 years, why should I assume this year will be any different? What do I actually want to accomplish, alter, change, or enhance? And why now? What is it about the start of a new year that gets people so amped up and ready for new commitments?

I’ve been reading church-y kind of resolutions all over the place the past two days: 10 devotions you can do to kickstart your faith in 2015, a new plan for reading the Bible everyday this new year, 12 things your congregation needs to do to encourage growth this next year, and any other number of self-help faith plans that are conveniently ready to adopt on January 1.

With that in mind, I thought I’d offer my own realistic Christian resolutions for the coming year. Take them for what they are worth – my hopes and wishes for my own actions, attitudes, and practices for the coming year…that I’ll still probably mess up and fail to live up to by January 20. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.) Emphasize quality over quantity – I simply cannot find anything in the Bible that says, “Read all of scripture in 3 years…or 1 year…or 6 months…or 40 days.” Actually, I can’t find any instructions in scripture that tell me I have to read a certain amount of 2015 Resolutionstext in a giving time period. I do see some helpful words about the words themselves. Focus more on reading scripture for content than accomplishment. There are no gold stars or blue ribbons handed out for reading the bible cover to cover every year or in so many weeks. I do know you’ll see changes in your life with consistent engagement in the text. Which leads me to the second resolution…

2.) Be a part of a community – Talk about what you read, what you feel, what you hear, and what you learn with others. I’m convinced that one of the greatest gifts we have been offered are brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, adversaries and even enemies. Engage with others about your faith in authentic, life giving ways. Have a conversation. Share a drink. Talk to your neighbor about the text, don’t tell him/her what it means.

3.) Stop Assuming What the Other Person Believes – Whenever I tell someone I work in a church (especially if I let it slip that I’m a pastor-type), I inevitably see the gears in their head start turning and they come to all kinds of assumptions about my theology, my practice, my ethics, and my politics. To be fair, I do that with just about every profession I run into as well. We all do this and we are rarely correct in our assumptions. Try being a blank canvass and let the relationship paint the real picture of what your neighbor thinks, believes, and feels. Let them fill in the blanks, rather than you reaching for the colors you think they might need for the full picture.

4.) Strive To Be Together, Rather Than Being Right – Jesus really seemed to emphasize togetherness – meals with people who didn’t like/agree/accept him, walks with a bunch of strangers and friends, and unorthodox ways of preaching and teaching in real life. Let’s do the same. Try maintaining the relationship even when you don’t agree with the other person. Connect with someone who obvious sees the world differently. Don’t allow politics to break the chance to be with another person.

5.) Get Moving – As my friends over at Sweaty Sheep ( like to say, “Jesus was always walking places. We should run to keep up with him.” Be like a shark folks – move to live and live to move.

6.) Worship Someplace New at Least Once This Year – This is always a tricky one to recommend. Most people in our culture will drive past a number of other houses of worship to attend “their” church. We don’t often interact with our neighborhood churches like we might have before the benefit of easy transportation and a plethora of choices. It’s not about a lack of loyalty as much as it is a chance to connect with your brothers and sisters across our man-made divisions of denominationalism, theology, and geography. Paul was visiting Christians in a variety of set ups and locales. Say hi to your friends at the church down the street. Pray for them. Introduce yourself. See how we can all partner together for the better.

7.) Don’t Compare Your Faith – As a runner, I’m constantly looking at the people around me on the trails, the roads, and even on the treadmills at the gym. The treadmill comparisons are the worst. For some reason, I start competing against he guy with headphones on next to me who has no idea I’m even there. He’s doing his thing and that should be celebrated. Why am I jealous of him? I may have just started running, been recovering from an injury, or just tired that day and that is the reason I’m faster or slower. Don’t compare your faith to your brothers or sisters. Be happy for where they are. Support them and watch them support you. We are not competing as Christians, nor should we assume God wants us to feel like we are.

8.) Take the Time to Say Thank You – This isn’t just about prayer, though that’s a good one to remember. I mean we should offer gratitude to people who take care of us, love us, serve us, and help us, and not just the obvious people.Thank the ushers, the store clerks, the gas station worker, the person who holds the door for you…just say thank you. Real gratitude is one of the best gifts we can offer to another person.

9.) Be Vulnerable – In your prayers, be honest. In your teaching, admit your limitations. In your listening, be willing to ask for clarification. Do not put up a false facade. When someone tells you what they doubt about God, listen and be willing to share your insecurities as well. Folks, none of us have it all figured out all of the time. Why do we pretend we are supposed to? As a Christian, I have great faith, hope, and love because of Christ. However, I still get scared, lonely, nervous, depressed, anxious, confused, and frustrated on a daily basis by what I wish God would do, say, make, stop, start, or explain. The scriptures are full of these honest questions. Ask them and listen for the answers.

10.) Give Yourself a Break – I’m too hard on myself…but so are most of us. Stop and think what it means to be loved by God. You. You are important, necessary, and valid. You matter. Not “you who did this/said this/accomplished this/made this/graduated from here/went to this place/or made this kind of money.” YOU are what matters. God chose you and that makes all the difference.