Continuing Education for a 21st Century Church

It used to be true that we pastors used our Continuing Education time (2 weeks required in my denomination) to chart out a year’s worth of sermons or bone up on preaching in general, and that’s still happening for some of us.  But considering the breadth of knowledge needed for 21st Century Ministry beyond Biblical exegesis and theology and practical resource-mining, it feels rejuvenating for us to broaden our skills for a changing church.

The pastor who baptized me many decades ago shared that the entirety of his ministry involved “only” preaching, moderating the boards, marrying, baptizing, and burying, emergency pastoral care, general visitation, and leading Bible studies.

Today – in addition to all the above – pastors regularly deal with people struggling with mental illness, addiction, PTSD, and homelessness.

Required “Good Boundary Training” sprang up in the past twenty years but in order to keep up as well-trained parish pastors, I appreciate seminaries and Mid-Councils who require  – or encourage –  training in the following:

  • Anti-Racism Training – Our overwhelmingly White denominations need to talk about race in new ways, especially in terms of understanding systemic racism and white supremacy.
  • Basic Mental Health First Aid Training – We who serve congregations could use help identifying, understanding, and responding to signs of mental illness and addiction as rates are up in a variety of mental health challenges.
  • Cultural Humility Training – We know that all Spanish-speaking people are not the same, right? That Immigrants from Nigeria and immigrants from Ghana are very different? Basic knowledge about cultural differences is good but cultural humility is better – digging deeper than cultural competence in order to better partner with our neighbors respectfully.
  • Community Organizing Training – As we consider my favorite question:  What breaks God’s heart in your neighborhood? we increasingly need skills for speaking truth to power, including how to build group-centered leadership and how to bolster one-on-one relationships for the sake of shifting power structures for the sake of justice.

What training – beyond the usual seminary Continuing Education courses – have you found to be especially enriching for 21st Century Ministry?   And maybe it’s a seminary that’s introduced a new skill you didn’t know you could use for professional ministry?

I’d love to hear what kinds of classes your Presbytery, Association, Conference, Diocese, or Congregation are offering these days for equipping leaders.  Improv?  Trauma Informed Care? Entrepreneurship?  Non-Profit Management? Juggling?  Please share.


Image of my friend Jeff Kreibiel who passed away last April and the book he wrote that we used in Chicago a few years ago.  I am taking Community Organizating Training this week because it would have made Jeff so happy.  His book can be purchased here.


Using Our Power for Good

CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 19 : Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth, Uber Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John, Emmy Award–winning writer Lena Waithe and singer Jamila Woods before the 2017 Chicago Ideas Week event “A Seat at the Table: Finding an Equal Footing through Storytelling.” (Photo by Tim Klein/Chicago Ideas)

“Power is the ability to change the rules.”  Rashad Robinson, Executive Director, Color of Change

I am looking for a new call, as my current employer knows, and it’s a fascinating exercise in self-reflection and calling.  Whatever God calls me to do next, I hope to have some power.

Yep.  I openly wrote that.

Power makes it possible for me to make the way clear for uniquely gifted pastors to follow their calling.  Power makes it possible to open avenues for creative new ministries.  Power is not about me (although it’s fun to wield it and share the joy.)

Rashad Robinson of Color of Change has used his power to successfully convince PayPal to stop processing the funds of hate groups and Fox to cancel The O’Reilly Factor.

Lena Waite, who spoke in Chicago last week with the editor of Teen Vogue and the Chief Brand Officer of Uber could not have inspired the audience more if she had been standing behind a pulpit.  She uses her celebrity to advance the careers of other writers, clothing designers, and actors.  She spreads the joy and the opportunities.

This is my calling too and it’s really fun.  We all need mentors and mentees. What can we teach another person and what can they teach us?

As leaders, we are only successful if our followers are being prepared to take over.  If there are any senior pastors out there, consider how you can give your associate pastors experiences that will prepare them to be senior pastors.

We’ve been hearing terrible stories in the past weeks about a Hollywood guy who used his power to assault and threaten people.  This is the day we put in a more concerted effort to use our power for uplifting and inspiring people.

Think – right now – about someone you can professionally lift up.  Let’s do it.


Image from Chicago Ideas Week.  It’s ends today but it’s back next year.  Become a member here.

This post is written in honor of ZR’s ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament today in Chicago.


Re-Forming with Play-Doh

We are handing out little containers of Play-Doh for Halloween this year in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  We also have M&Ms and Twizzlers for the purists, but I had a creative moment in Costco and thought, “Re-forming with Play-Doh! Brilliant!

It’s really not brilliant but who needs five pounds of candy?  We once lived across the street from dental students who gave toothpaste to their Trick or Treaters and nobody egged their house, so I’m hopeful about the Play-Doh.

We find ourselves constantly reforming who we are as the Church – not because God’s message changes but because we are changing, now more than ever.  What used to be true (the earth was flat) shifted (the earth was round) and it’s still shifting (the earth is egg-shaped and threatens to be scrambled by nuclear war.)  Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

On my best days, I find deep joy in neon-colored Play-Doh, in the color combinations and the smell and the feel.  I love the little container with the snap on lid.  If only things were this simple.

We pray this weekend for children whose monsters are real, in the words of Ina J. Hughes.

We pray for parents who are looking for clean water while the rest of us buy Halloween candy.

We pray for all  who do not feel safe in their own congregations.  Let’s continue to reform the Church for the love of God and for the sake of the world God made.  It’s a world in trouble, but we have the power to change it.

Embracing Our Inner (or Outer) Loser

The Atlantic magazine recently included this story from Ivana Trump’s new book:

It was New Year’s Eve, 1977; she and Donald Trump were together in the hospital room after their first child had been born, discussing the matter of what name to give their new infant. Ivana suggested that the son should be named after the father: Donald Trump Jr. Donald, however, balked at this.

“What if he’s a loser?” he said.

Steve Taylor wrote the song Jesus Is For Losers and I agree.  Actually, #@!*-ups of the World Unite offers the same sentiment and it’s a better song.

Jesus is for the losers, the liars, the crooked, the hated, the weak, the lost, the ridiculous, and the condemned.  Jesus’ point was to bring justice and healing and love to the world’s losers.

Our culture increasingly equates financial success with everything from goodness to intellect – which is obviously a false equation.  Nevertheless, many  believe that the poor are bad or lazy, when actually, most poor people are trapped.  They are poor because liberty and justice is not actually for all.

Last week I attended one of the New Poor People’s Mass Meetings in Chicago (and you can check out dates for future Mass Meetings here)

We heard brief stories from:

  • a young mother whose children are sick because coal ash – which contains arsenic – is dumped in her neighborhood by corporations who would never consider dumping it in their own.
  • another young mother who works two full-time jobs at minimum wage ($8.25 in Illlinois) and she cannot get ahead.
  • a young war veteran who is dealing with PTSD after returning home from Afghanistan.

Some people would call them losers.  Some would call all of us who gathered in Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church losers.  But there are many things worse than being tagged a “loser.”

Years ago on The Apprentice, Mr. Trump said this to a contestant named Alex:

“I’ve always said, if you hang out with losers, you become a loser.”

Embracing our inner (or outer) Loser is what Jesus was all about though.

What if he’s a loser?  What if she’s a loser?  It might actually be what saves his or her life.  And maybe it’s what moves us to walk alongside others who deserve a win.

These Are My People

After spending four days with “Mid-Council Leaders” of my denomination, I return filled with great joy.  These are my people.

These are people who know what it’s like to have a church on fire – both literally and figuratively, in good ways and in not-so-good ways.

These are people who care whether or not the Church is making a broad impact for good.

These are people who understand that authentic relationships have the power to heal, inspire, motivate, and move people.

Institutional Church Haters haven’t met the folks I’ve met.  My people realize they are God’s People and they share that amazing news with others.  This is why I serve The Institutional Church.  I see God in their eyes.

Have a lovely Wednesday.




“If You’re Here, We Can Have You”

I was about thirteen years old in my happy place:  the Public Library on the corner of Franklin and Boundary Streets in Chapel Hill.  It was summertime. I was looking over the biographies, bending down to see the books on the next-to-the-bottom shelf, when I felt a hand coming from behind me, reaching up into my shorts.  I jumped and turned around to see a boy I recognized from Junior High – a year or two younger than me – with a really creepy smile.  Really creepy.

I didn’t say a word.  I didn’t tell anyone.  I just got out of there.


It would not be the last time a male person grabbed me without my permission.  It would not be the last time I felt ashamed even though I didn’t do anything but be in the presence of a boy or man who took advantage of a moment in time.

I’ve shared before the story of a friend who was among the earliest generation of clergywomen, who – for decades – was the only woman at clergy meetings.  She told me that for the first twenty years of ordained ministry, there was never a meeting with clergymen when at least one of them didn’t say or do something inappropriate.  One of them actually said to her, after she rebuffed him: “If you’re here, we can have you.”  It was the price for being in a male profession.  It was the price for daring to believe she too could be a pastor.  They were married and single, older and younger.  It was never every clergyman.  But it was always one of them.

Maybe there are women out there who’ve avoided being grabbed or ogled or catcalled or pinned against the wall by a man without her consent, but I don’t know any.  The men who assault women are friends and strangers.  Assaults happen in homes, dorm rooms, and friend’s houses, in trains, buses, and cars, in offices, classrooms, and church buildings.

The good thing about #MeToo trending is that it reminds us that we need to make our culture safe enough for a young girl who was grabbed in the library to tell someone.

And we need to teach what consent means, maybe even in Church classes.

Image of my twitter feed trending with #MeToo.


For Your Own Good

I remember reading somewhere in the history of Women’s Track and Field that there was no women’s marathon in the Olympics until 1984 because it was unknown what in the world might happen to a woman who tried to run 26.2188 miles.  Their organs might just explode.  They could be rendered lame.

Therefore, women should not run marathons for their own good.

For your own good” is a response that can feed resentment and defiance.  We teach children to eat their vegetables, buckle their seat belts, and refrain from talking to strangers for their own good.  And then they grow up and  – we hope – make good decisions for themselves.

But telling adults that we are doing something for their own good is trickier.  It smacks of condescension and possible deception. Among the “for your own good” comments I’ve heard in professional ministry:

  • Our meetings are closed because most of our work would not interest the average church member and sometimes we need to discuss sensitive issues.  It’s for the church’s own good.  (Note: there are very few issues that should not be shared with the whole community for the sake of transparency and open communication.)
  • We can’t tell you the real reason ___ is not longer on staff so you just have to trust us. It’s for your own good.  (Note:  Sometimes this is actually true.  But sometimes, there is secrecy because of institutional missteps or power games.)
  • Only six people get keys to the building.  It’s for our own protection (i.e. for our own good) in case there is a crime in the building or something breaks. (Note:  This is not about protection.  This is about power.  Or insurance company overreach.)

Our imaginations can run wild with conjecture when secrets are kept and trust is wobbly.  And keeping people from information and access nurtures dysfunction which kills communities – especially spiritual communities.

How can we create spiritual communities of trust and health?

  • Encourage authentic relationships. Connect even in times of conflict out of genuine care for one another.
  • Reward emotional intelligence.  Nominate your most self-aware people into leadership.
  • Have open conversations. Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them.
  • Make ministry the focus.  What we do is not about perpetuating structures and choosing the easiest path.
  • Create a safe culture.  Dysfunction runs rampant when people do not feel safe.  Things that make us feel unsafe:  An inability to speak up for fear of retribution.  An inability to call someone out because no one will believe us.  Disparaging colleagues behind their backs.

Look out for anyone who says, “We are doing this for your own good.”  Ask questions.  Expect transparency.  Seek deeper conversations that satisfy the curious. There is so much good work to do out there.

Maybe healthy ministry feels as overwhelming as a marathon.  But so much good is possible in a world starving for Good News.

It’s time we trusted each other and were worthy of trust.

Image of Joan Benoit Samuelson who won the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984.  Her brain did not explode.

Things I Wish We Talked About in Church

As I head to St. Louis for denominational meetings this weekend (The Moderators’ Conference and the Mid-Council Leaders’ Gathering) we will talk about many things.  Among the things we will not be talking about:

  • Your church building’s boiler problems.
  • Whether or not congregations should host Halloween parties.
  • Harvey Weinstein.  (Ok, somebody might bring this up.)

I love a Church that’s willing to grapple with issues that impact the way we live our lives.  I love a Church that’s a safe place to disagree with each other (while still respecting and loving each other.)  I love a Church that takes time to remember our mission and regularly consider if we are fulfilling that mission or not.

Specifically, I’d love to know if your church offers opportunities to discuss these things:

  • Sex.  Sexuality.  Sexual Health.  Yes, our kids should learn about these things at home.  But if we can’t talk about them in Church as well – in the context of being created in the Image of God – where can we talk about them?  Imagine if every kid in the world had a trustworthy church person he/she/they can talk to without fear.
  • Skin Color.  A Pew Research report in September found that “most Whites think White people get little or no advantage from their race.”  This would be a good thing to talk about in predominantly White Churches.  Ta-Nehesi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power would be a good book to read together unless you still haven’t read Waking Up White by Debby Irving.
  • Poverty.  Among the comments I’ve heard recently in church contexts are these:
    • There are no poor people in the United States (at least compared to refugees.)
    • There is nothing we can do to alleviate poverty.  (“The poor will always be with us.”)  For the love of God order this book right now.
    • I have my own debts to worry about.
    • Poor people only have themselves to blame.

Could we please talk about these things in Church?

I know, I know.  You don’t want to get into politics.  And it’s so much easier to talk about boilers and Halloween and Harvey Weinstein.  But the Bible doesn’t talk about frivilous things.  The Bible talks about money and power and abundant life.

When was the last time our congregations had a healthy conversation about money and power and abundant life?  People’s eyes glaze over when I talk about the institutional Church but this is what we are talking about in Church Meetings if we are taking God seriously.

Please pray that all of us will take God seriously this weekend.  We could start by turning to one person and saying something like, “Could I talk with you about something that’s been on my mind?”  And then, go talk.

What a Difference a Tragedy Makes

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Matthew 6:10

A friend of mine is dealing with a terrible chronic illness and it has changed the way she parents her child.  Big things are bigger.  Little things are essentially unimportant.  Crisis reorients the way we live.

Our nation and world have experienced enough crises over the last two months to bring us to our knees over and over again:  storms, fires, earthquakes, The Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History (until next time.)

Does anyone doubt that there will be a next shooting that’s worse?  Does anyone doubt that there will be future natural and human-made disasters that will involve imperfect disaster relief?

What a difference A Tragedy makes (unless it doesn’t.)  

I remember the moment when I – simplistically – figured out that some Christians focus solely on personal piety and some Christians focus solely on corporate justice.  We all know people who beat the pavement for human rights but their personal lives are a shambles of their own making. We  have other friends whose personal lives are squeaky clean but they look the other way in terms of noticing inequality or oppression.

I am still shocked when self-professing Christians choose not to speak out against misogyny, racism, bullying, discrimination, and obvious evil involving our political leaders (even if we voted for those leaders.)  I wonder if we are reading the same Bibles.

God gets our attention in times of tragedy.  There are clearly people suffering after the hurricanes and fires.  There are clearly people whose lives have changed forever because of gun violence.  We are jolted into caring for people whose names we don’t know.  And yet we cannot seem to do more than offer those platitudinous thoughts and prayers.

  • Is it that we don’t know what to do?
  • Is it that we are overwhelmed with the breadth of the world’s troubles?
  • Or is it that we have carpool today and then a work project and then choir practice and then laundry and then helping the kids with homework and we just can’t think about global things?

Is it that we who believe in God trust that God will take care of it?  I believe this is true too, but God often takes care of it through us.  It’s our calling/purpose in life to help make earth as it is in heaven.

Are these tragedies changing the way we live now?  Are we giving up a Starbucks or two so that we’ll have some loose change to send to a disaster relief organizations?  Are we talking in our churches and temples that we can do more as congregations?  Are we aware of the students in our local high schools who are terrified that their DACA status might be taken?  Are we informing our elected politicians when we observe that they are making or taking away legislation that hurts people?

How does our faith in God manifest itself in these days?  If nothing has changed for us in the way we live our daily lives in the last two months, why is that?

Images of Elogio Delle Mani by Paolo Delle Monache (2006) outside the chapel of the Bose Monastery in Magnano, Italy

Five Women We Should Know

After returning from Bose Monastery last week where I met many people whom I’d like to know better, SB suggested that I pick a few and recommend that you get to know them too – if only on social media.  They will expand your horizons and inspire your souls.  Also, most of them have the super power I covet:  they speak multiple languages.  Here we go . . .

Moumita Biswas is Executive Secretary of the All India Council of Christian Women in the National Council of Churches in India specializing in Gender Justice issues.  We should all know her because she is a funny and fearless kick ass leader who has experience working against human trafficking and other violence against women. And she has stories that shed light on the efforts that South Asian women are making every day to overcome cultural hurdles.

Julie Kandema serves as Vice President and Church Growth Coordinator of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda.  If you’ve ever struggled with forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply, read about the reconciliation between Rwandans in light of the genocide of over one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu  in 1994. This ministry is no joke.  Julie’s entire being exudes calm and dignity.  We can learn so much from her and even in the throes of dealing with the soul-crushing, she has a light touch in relationships.

Fulata Moyo is Programme Executive for women in Church and Society at the World Council of Churches in Geneva.  She is an expert in Gender and Sexual Ethics, and she taught us how to prepare and eat caterpillars.  (Still not convinced but I would do almost anything else this woman told me to do.)  She is very funny and brilliant and you might be able to catch her speaking as a visiting scholar somewhere in the United States or beyond.  You would love her.

Rola Sleiman  made international news on February 26, 2017 when she became the first Arab woman ordained to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.  She serves the Presbyterian Church in Tripoli, Lebanon. When I first spotted her at the conference in Italy, I was almost tongue-tied.  “Are you Rola Sleiman?”  (She is totally Church Famous but the most humble of Rock Stars.)  Also she is very funny. 

Liz Vuadi Vibila is a theologian, sociologist, and Presbyterian clergywoman from the Republic of the Congo.  She is currently a professor in Sri Lanka and a global expert in Education, Ethics, Gender, Health, Human Rights, Justice, Poverty, and Religion.  And she too is a funny and warm colleague.  

Are you noticing a pattern here?

Each of these leaders deal with heart-wrenching human issues every day, but they are neither morose nor hopeless about their ministry.  There is nothing funny about sexual violence or genocide.  But they are light-hearted.  They are funny in a warm way.  And their good humor balances life’s heaviness with life’s need to relate to each other.

Al Gini wrote in The Importance of Being Funny  “humor is a necessary ingredient in the ethical equation of learning to live with others.”  Such humor must be authentic and is never at the expense of others of course.  But we cannot deal with the crushing realities of life without being in relationship with each other.  And the five women I’ve mentioned here are also experts in connecting with people in ways that build community against the ravages of life.  Check them out.  They are each a sign of God’s grace.

PS The MacArthur Genius Grants were announced this morning.  We should know these people too. (AAM: Every day’s a school day.)

Image of some of my sisters from the Ecumenical Consultation on the Role of Women in the Church at the Bose Monastery in Magnano, Italy last week.