How Much of Your Work Day Do You Spend Staring Into Space?


At last week’s Fall Polity Conference for my denomination (translation:  polity = ecclesiastic form of government & it’s more fun than it sounds), one speaker suggested that 21st Century Pastors need to spend:

  • 75% of our time strategizing for the future and
  • 25% of the time ministering pastorally to those grieving the past.


The truth is that the grieving tend to expect more attention.  And I’m not talking about people who are grieving the loss of loved ones.  I’m talking about the ones who grieve a way of being the Church that worked for them but doesn’t work for most people anymore.

All the grieving is killing effective ministry.

I’m not saying that those who long for the past glory days of the Mainline (or any) Church should be cast aside.  I’m saying that – if they can see that cultural shifts require Church shifts –  they will agree that looking forward is crucial.

How pastors really spend their time is both a mystery (to most parishioners) and a challenge (to juggling pastors.)  No single week is the same and that’s part of the fun, but here’s what some pros have said:

Life Way in 2014:

  • Effective pastors (those ” in the top five percent in conversion growth in American churches”) spend 22 hours/week in sermon preparation compared to less effective pastors who spend about 4 hours on sermon prep.
  • Effective pastors spend 10 hours doing pastoral care (hospital visits, baptism/wedding/funeral preparation, and pastoral counseling) compared to other pastors who spend 33 hours doing pastoral care.
  • Effective pastors spend five hours/week “sharing the gospel” compared to 0 hours for slacker less effective pastors.

Duke Pulpit and Pew in 2002:

(from a national survey of local church solo pastors or heads of staff, both Roman Catholic and Protestant)

  • 33% of work week preparing for sermon and worship leadership
  • 19% of work week doing pastoral care
  • 15% doing administration
  • 13% teaching and training people
  • 6% doing denominational or community work

I presume the other 14 % of the time is spent praying/staring into space.

Friends – every context is very different and so there is no clean and tidy prescription for setting up the pastor’s schedule, In some churches, the pastor vacuums and prints the bulletin.  In some churches, it’s still expected that the pastor will keep regular office hours while other pastors are expected to be out in the community most days.

I’m not interested in a recipe here.  But I do believe that 21st Century ministry requires a different set of responsibilities.  Maybe something like this:

  • 75% strategizing for the future.  This means connecting with local leaders (school principals, police officers, the mayor, the director of the women’s shelter, other faith leaders, community organizers) to know what’s going on in your community, exegeting your neighborhoods so you know who’s there, discerning ministry needs with your congregational leaders and training them to address those needs, discussing and re-tooling what’s working and what’s not working (in terms of hospitality practices, organizational structure, fund-raising, education, worship) all for the sake of connecting people to God and each other.  Work in teams that have been equipped.  Study Scripture – especially the book of Acts – to glean God’s wisdom.  Pray. Considering staffing needs for now, not for 20 years ago.
  • 25% ministering to those who grieve the past.  Spend time with the oldest and most long-standing members hearing their stories.  What did they love about their church and why?  When did they feel closest to God and why?  What memories are sparked by their favorite hymns?  What is their favorite Bible story and why? Take these saints seriously.  And ask them what they would be willing to do to help their church thrive in the future.

Save time to stare into space and just sit.  Ask God to speak.  Take a nap.  I’m telling you, this is a great time to be serving the Church but we need to let go of pastoring like this guy.

Seriously? You Thought I Could Write a Post This Morning?

rizzoThis happened.

I Am an Optimistic Christian. And Yet . . .

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8

your-comfort-zone-and-real-lifeA favorite tweet from the recent DisGrace Conference a couple weeks ago was this:

The issue is not the de-Christianization of America, but the de-Europeanization of American Christianity.

The first European church was in Philippi and the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian Church from prison, most likely.  Even from prison, he could be an optimistic guy, and at the end of Chapter 4, Paul wrote words that are among his most popular.

I sometimes hear these words repeated when things get tense and uncomfortable as in . . .

“Let’s not think about unpleasant things.  Remember that Paul wrote, ‘whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.‘ “

Let’s not talk about white college students dressed in blackface for Halloween.  Let’s not talk about the injustice of breaking a treaty at Standing Rock, ND for the sake of profits.  Let’s not talk about racial prejudice in our congregation.  Let’s not talk about Uncle Pete’s drinking problem.

Let’s talk instead about honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, praise-worthy things.   It’s in the Bible.

There are countless glorious things in God’s creation.  This is true.

But what’s also in the Bible is God’s call to speak up for the widow and orphan, the hungry and naked, the enslaved and oppressed.  In fact,  if we cannot bring ourselves to address the ugly realities of our world, we become part of the ugliness that perpetuates systemic injustice.

When preachers and prophets make us uncomfortable in church, some call it “meddling.”  Some discount it as being “political.”

We forget that Jesus was arrested for sedition. He was political.  He made powerful people uncomfortable.

Especially for those of us in the dominant culture (white, straight, healthy, employed, cisgender people) we often walk away when things get uncomfortable. We don’t want to talk about how the world works for us in ways it doesn’t work for others.

Heads up:  We are called us to talk about it and more.  Let’s not use Paul’s words to the first European Christians as an excuse to ignore real life injustice.   Real life is sometimes ugly, unfair, and brutal.

We are called to notice and step up.  We are called – sometimes – to be in uncomfortable conversations.  We are called – sometimes – to take on uncomfortable truths.

How Not to Interview Your Next Pastor

Church interviews are not like corporate interviews necessarily, but healthyjob-opportunity-2_1 congregations offer a positive portrait of who when they interview potential staff members.

Here’s what not to do when you are interviewing your next pastor, for example:

  1. Let your candidate find her own way from the airport to your church building.  Better:  Pick her up at the airport if she’s arriving by plane.  Best: Ask her if she’s eaten lately and take her out for food before the interview if she’s starving.
  2. Set up your candidate in someone’s home for an overnight. Extroverts might love this but if you can possibly arrange it, have your candidate stay in a hotel for some down time. Most pastors are introverts and will need a chunk of time to regroup.
  3. Argue amongst each other during the interview.  Nothing screams “toxic church!” like a pastor nominating committee that has disdain for each other.
  4. Interview filter-less.  Watch what you blurt out.  It’s not helpful (but painfully revealing) to say these things during an interview: “You appear to be a mediocre preacher.”  “The first thing we need you to do is get rid of our lazy secretary.” “We’re actually not sure we can afford a full-time pastor.”
  5. Interview without doing your research.  (e.g. you don’t know whether or not you can afford a FT pastor.)  Better:  know everything you can possibly know about your candidates.  Read their blogs.  Take note of their social media presence.  Google them.
  6. Ask random questions.  It makes sense to ask all candidates the same prepared questions so you can compare and contrast the answers.  Do not ask “If you could be an animal, what would you be?” questions.  Do not ask historically contextual questions like “If your ten year old son broke the rose window, how would you punish him?”
  7. Leave no time for the candidate to ask questions.   This is a two-way street, folks.  Strong candidates will come with questions of their own, so leave lots of time for them to ask away.  Be prepared to answer their questions honestly and clearly.  Note:  If your candidate asks a simple question (“Why does your church exist?”) and nobody has a good answer, that will speak volumes to your candidate.
  8. After the interview, say, “Well that was great.  We’ll be in touch.” For the love of God, give the candidate a clear understanding of Next Steps and then close in prayer.  Have the candidate pray so you can see how he does it.  And then give him a ride back to the hotel. Or go to dinner with everyone.

Candidates will learn who you are by what you do and do not do in the hospitality department.  Keep this in mind as you welcome your guest.

Some Pastor Nominating Committees are pros.  They have their acts together and they recognize that pastor interviews are both professional and spiritual endeavors.   But I’m noticing that some Pastor Nominating Committees sabotage themselves by not thinking through their interview process.

We make better choices (and we please God) when we consider hospitality while meeting with anyone with whom we hope to share our lives.  Especially our next spiritual leaders.




lucie-and-thorntonI have the privilege today of meeting all the new incoming Moderators of all the Presbyteries throughout all of the Presbyterian Church (USA.)  “Why is this worthy of a blog post?” you might ask.

It’s because these 172 people have taken time out of their regular lives to lead their particular corners of their broader spiritual communities for the next year. In some Presbyteries, the commitment is much longer than a single year.

These are the people who will preside over the ordinations of new pastors and the dismissal of old churches.  They will pray for and with “their” churches.  They will appoint people to commissions and committees.  And they will do this while also serving in their Day Jobs.

They have come to Louisville because it’s the home of our denominational headquarters. Louisville is also known for bourbon, baseball bats, and a famous derby.  But everyone who comes through here has an important story to share.

I look forward to hearing some of those stories today from sisters and brothers who hail from places called Glacier and Cimarron and Kiskiminetas.

Image of an historical marker in Louisville which reminds us that some of the stories are about people who passed through here against their will.  Lucie and Thornton were people of National Historical Significance and I’m grateful we acknowledge this – or at least Canada does.


Some of my best friends are lawyers.honore-daumier-the-opposing-lawyers-art-poster-print

Some (many?) people do not trust lawyers. And yet, I once served a congregation comprised of many folks with law degrees and they were – for the record – stellar human beings.  They cared about justice and integrity and social righteousness.  For that matter, I serve a denomination strongly influenced by a lawyer.

We live in a litigious society but we don’t have to.  As I write this, I’m surrounded by denominational leaders doing God’s work who are aware that we could (and sometimes are) concerned about legal issues.  Someone wise pointed out that people in the church don’t pick up their church constitutions until they want to stop something legally.  We use our constitutions as a weapon or a shield instead of a permission-giving faith document.

What if we – instead – lived each day more focused on what we can do in obedience to God’s calling instead of what we can’t do for fear we will find ourselves in a legal entanglement?

I admit that I personally need to be reminded occasionally that our denominational function is beyond church law or institutional support.

We are called to demonstrate the message of Jesus in the world.  We are called to reach out into the world in love – responsibly, of course.  Legally, of course.

But we have got to realign who we are in the realm of our Creator.  We exist to serve God’s purposes.  We do not exist to avoid legal issues.  Let’s be brave.  Let’s be forgiving.  Let’s remember that we are trying to follow One who was arrested for sedition but who was actually serving God perfectly.

Image is A Criminal Case by Daumier


A Listening Revolution

Listening is not waiting for your turn to talk.


On November 9th, our country will be just as divided as it is today  – if not more so.  There will be gloating and blaming and excuse-making.  Whomever wins will be handed the  monumental responsibility of trying to pull everyone together, although it might feel too onerous a task even to try.

But I hope she/he will try.  (It’s something to start praying for.)

The enormous divides between us – whether the issues are related to socio-economic, racial/ethnic, political, or educational differences – can only be healed by listening and learning.  But most of us are terrible listeners.

  • Somebody says something that makes me feel uncomfortable so – instead of really listening and trying to understand – I jump in to refute it.
  • Somebody says something that makes me angry so – instead of really listening and trying to understand – I respond in anger myself.
  • Somebody says something that deeply hurts me so – instead of really listening and trying to understand – I shut down or run.

I’m talking here about the tough but important conversations that we need to have with each other about who we are and what we’ve experienced and why healing is essential before moving on.  I’m talking about thoughtful sharing so that we can learn and understand.

There are restorative justice circles in schools doing this.  There are national truth and reconciliation groups doing this.

My hope is that the Church will also be willing to lead in a listening revolution. Imagine being will to hear each other – as tough as this will be –  so that we can find healing and work together for good.

There’s talk about “revolution” following the election, and it sounds ugly and violent.  What if we traded that for a listening revolution?

Are we willing to listen to people whom we don’t understand (and maybe haven’t even wanted to understand?)

Image source here.

So . . . Who’s Reading Waking Up White?

waking-up-whiteIt’s been a couple months since Denise Anderson and I suggested that the PCUSA read this book.  I’d love to hear who has read it, who is reading it now, and who plans to read it.

Are you reading it in Small Groups?  Book groups?  Coffee klatches? By a light of a single candle?  I would love to hear about it today. Thanks.

Heroes & Mentors (Don’t be like them)

Throwback Thursday:  But don’t be like Mike.

I remember reading years ago that Michael Jordan taught his own sons not to be like him.  He told them to be like Marcus and Jeffrey.  Whether or not his thinking was theological, I don’t know.

But – theologically – I completely agree.

We can observe and learn from our heroes and mentors.  We can hear and understand.  We can admire and be inspired.  We can even try to emulate them.

But leadership is not the same as imitation.  (A wise woman recently told me this.)

We are not called to be somebody else.  God calls us to be the people we were created to be.  Thinking about this today.


PS  Okay there is one exception:  we are called to be like Jesus.

Foreign to Each Other

“We can’t even say prayers in our own schools anymore. But yet, we can build mosques across the country.”  Arlene Hawk of Ravelli County, Montana

rural-urban-mosaicI can’t stop thinking about this article. (Heads up:  there’s profanity.)  And the interview quoted above made me want to pull my hair out.  The interview was on NPR.  Of course it was.

Here are things I love:  NPR, The Atlantic, The New York Times, urban
coffee shops, Chicago Ideas Week.  I am an urban snob.  I grew up in a college town with well educated people from all over.  I have lived in cities for most of my adult life.  I have enjoyed privileges that come with white skin, college degrees, and money.  My car has heated seats for heaven’s sake.

Here are other things I love: the smell of cow manure and freshly mowed hay, church pork dinner fundraisers, men in dirty farm shirts with big bellies, women in aprons frying fish, diner waitresses with lots of blue eye shadow.  My extended family is from rural towns with populations under 1500.  My first call was in a tiny village with a population under 700.

The Cracked article helps explain why many people are angry.  Their jobs have gone away.  They are mocked.  They are called “a mass of ignorant, rageful, crude, cursing, spitting subhumans.”

No wonder our nation is divided.  We don’t understand each other.  We don’t even want to.

We are foreign to each other.

Even people who share the same religion and read the same Bibles disagree with the meaning of these words:

  • “So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19
  • “The alien has not lodged outside, for I have opened my doors to the traveler.”  Job 31:32
  • “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;” Matthew 25:35

Welcoming the aliens includes welcoming people who have alienated us and welcoming people whom we have alienated.  Maybe the foreigners are from Syria and maybe they are from Montana.  But we have got to stop mocking each other, stop demonizing each other, stop sharing misinformation about each other.

Fear of the other is killing us.