The Life of a Pastor

Each week, my office is filled with an assortment of conversations. They can run the gambit from talking about an upcoming ministry to praying for someone who is having a difficult time of life. If anything, ministry has taught me is that you need to be prepared for any conversation that may come your way.

I have to be honest, though. This week a running conversation had caught me unprepared. Not that I didn’t want to talk about the subject, but that it wasn’t something I had ever been really open about with too many people in my ministry before.

It’s that pastors carry more on their shoulders than we will ever admit or are able to share.

Those words came up in several conversations and it has placed me in a reflective mood, which is often dangerous for someone who likes to incorporate writing these weekly reflections as a part of his ministry. Why is it that pastors have a hard time admitting this job is harder, emotionally, than what we often let on? Because let’s be honest and admit that being a pastor can be a lonely life.

One of the reasons we don’t share with our congregations what we deal with is because we are taught not to become too close with the congregants. There are several good reasons for this. You don’t want to build an unhealthy relationship with a member. You want to be able to maintain the proper leadership boundaries and functions. You never know when you might be moving.

All of those are good reasons, and, let me say, pastors must have proper and appropriate boundaries to protect themselves and the congregation. However, boundaries do not prevent healthy and appropriate relationships from taking place. Our congregants need to see us when we are hurting, because they need to know we are human and deal with the same things that they do.

At the same time, sometimes the reason we are reluctant to share with our congregations about the difficulties and loneliness of the pastoral life is because of our own fear. We can carry with us a fear that if we share something we are dealing with, no one will hear us. We also can carry the fear that if we share about a weakness in our leadership, it will hinder our ability to lead or could affect our future appointment.

As a result, we hold our cards too close to our robes. I am just as guilty as any other pastor of doing this, because I have been hurt before when I’ve shared about something I was dealing with or asked someone for an opinion about a problem within the church. The hurts we have experienced in these moments can, like anyone else, lead us to wear a mask in our conversations. We can project that we have it all together when, in reality, we do not.

So, I want to be as honest as I feel I can with you about what the ministry life can be like. While ministry is a fulfilling and powerful life and I would not want to do anything else, it is one of the most emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining jobs I have held. In any one day, you can be in a meeting planning a community outreach, working on a sermon, dealing with an administrative issue, handling complaints about an issue in the church, and offering pastoral care to someone in need. At the same time, you are trying to take care of the financial, physical, and emotional needs of your family and be present within their lives.

There is the old joke that we are forced to laugh at, but is really not that funny. It goes something along the lines of “it must be nice to work only one hour a week.” Worship is the end product of hours of work. A typical “work week” for me is about 60 hours, which includes about 20-25 hours in worship and sermon preparation. It also includes at least one or two nights a week where I am at the church for meetings or other events. What we often see is the end result of hours of work that gets unnoticed in our desire to have a good “show,” which comes at the end of this time.

Ministry is often lonely, because you never feel like you can have true friendships. In my life, at least, I have found that friendships in ministry are for a season, and that deep friendships are hard to find. There are multiple reasons for this, but you can often feel like you are on an island all by yourself in ministry. Pastors who serve in rural contexts can often feel this the most, because you often have to drive longer distances to connect with other leaders.

No profession is without its challenges. No life is without its difficulties. These are just some of the struggles and realities of a pastor’s life. They are some, though not all, of what I’ve experienced. Please pray for your pastors. Pray for the churches and communities they are called to serve. Pray for their families.

We need all the prayer, but also all the community, we can get.

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How Are We the Church

This past Sunday we continued our sermon series “I Believe” by looking at the phrase “I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of Saints.” We made the bold profession that we are the church. We are God’s mission in the earth to share the glory of the Lord. How amazing it is to be part of what God is doing in the world to share hope and love!

So, how are we being the church here at Ogden?

It is easy to focus on what is not – attendance, offering, discipleship, etc. – but I believe we build on what is

, so we may be the church that God is calling us to be in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton. I want you to know how proud I am to be your pastor and walk with you, because you inspire me in how you desire to be the church.472017_436765336365086_256924354_o

See, I believe Ogden is a church that seeks to support ministries and mission. Yesterday, our Finance Team made the decision to support our college ministries, camps, missions, and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) through our voluntary apportionments throughout the year. A couple of years ago, support for our camps, college ministries, and mission groups were cut along with apportionment requests. It was asked that local churches build partnerships with these groups to strengthen their ministries.

We as United Methodists believe we are in connection with one another, which means that we are all in this together. We do not exist on our own. We are part of a larger connection of churches and ministries throughout Kentucky and around the world. A Wesley Foundation, for instance, at Western Kentucky or Eastern Kentucky is your college ministry, because they are part of our shared life together. As it has been said before we are one church just in 800 locations throughout Kentucky. We are in this together.

It is because of your generous giving that we are able to be a church that builds partnerships and connections with our colleges, camps, and mission organizations.

I believe Ogden is a church, also, that cares for our youth and children. One of my joys has been watching our youth and children grow in their love of God. Through our Kids 4 Christ and youth ministries, I’ve seen our youth come together and share life with each other. I’ve seen our children ask questions about faith that our deep and holy. I’m thankful for Lisa Shaffer and our volunteers who make these ministries possible. We often believe our children are the future but let me say this … they are our present.

Finally, I believe Ogden is a church that loves each other. I see your love for one another in conversations after worship, throughout the week, and in your concern for people who are going through difficult life moments. The church is a fellowship of connection and concern – a family – and I appreciate your love for each other.

This is a great congregation. You are great people.

Now, let me say this … there is work still to be done. Work to build deeper partnerships with our connectional ministries. Work to help inspire people. Work to share the love of God with others.

What would it look like for Ogden to not just give money and send students to Loucon, but to volunteer and help as needed? What would it look like for you to come along side our youth and children to help them grow in their faith and love of God? What would it look like for you to share the love of God with people who believe the church is not for them?

As we said and sung Sunday, we are the church so let us be the church. Let us continue to be the church that God calls us to be. Let us be the church that makes disciples and finds new ways to reach new people.

I know we can, because I already see it here at Ogden and I can only imagine what God will continue to do in us moving forward.

Celebrating God’s Blessings at Ogden Memorial From 2017

Recently, some of our church leaders and I have worked to put together our end of the year reports. The end of the year report is a snapshot of our ministry and work together for the previous year. It is one way we tell the story of the ministry God is enabling us to do in Princeton and throughout our area.

I’m appreciative of Betty Veal and Lisa Shaffer for their tireless work in helping to organize our information. They are both great blessings to our work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton.

There is much to celebrate as we think back on 2017 and the work God entrusted us with as a church.

One point of celebration comes in increases to our average worship (101 in average worship attendance in 2017) and Sunday School attendance (39 average attendance). This is the first time both our worship and Sunday School numbers had increased in several years. Thank you for your dedication to worship and Sunday School. These are important aspects of how we love God and grow together as a congregation.

As a congregation, we have set a goal to seek further increases in our worship attendance in 2018 by 3 percent. We can reach this goal as we make being in worship a priority for our families, and also as we reach out and invite people we know are not attending worship to join us.

There are other places to celebrate in 2017 as it relates to our outreach into our community. I am thankful for ministries like Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, and others that help share the love of Christ with our community. We interacted with approximately 445 people in 2017 through community outreach events. That number includes Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, Service of Hope, and our Fall Festival.

These ministries help us share the love of Christ in meaningful ways. Our goal is to increase our outreach efforts in 2018 to reach people where they are in our community. One such way will be our Day of Caring on Saturday, April 28, when we will go out into our community to perform community service projects. You will hear more about this great event in the coming weeks.

Finally, I want to celebrate with you how you partner with ministries across Kentucky and around the world to share the love of Christ. As a congregation, we gave more than $26,000 to United Methodist ministries. This includes the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Home, Camp Loucon, the Western Kentucky Wesley Foundation, Red Bird Mission, and the Thailand Methodist Mission. We also donated approximately $7,000 to help support local ministries, such as at Brightlife Farms and the Hope and Cope Center.

Each of these places is worthy of celebration. I’m looking forward to where God will lead us as a congregation in 2018. I believe Ogden Memorial is ready for a mighty and impactful year in our work of making disciples. It will happen as we build upon the foundation that is here and seek to continue to make disciples and share the love of God together.

Are We Willing to Take a New Direction?

For Christmas vacation, my family and I traveled to West Virginia. Though we have been to the Mountain State hundreds of times to see family and reconnect with my home we decided to take a different route. We took a route that was less familiar, but offered more places to stop (which is an advantage when traveling with a 4-year old).

We didn’t know the route as well as our normal road, but we were confident we knew where we were going. We had family members who had talked about the route and its advantages. We stayed on major highways and interstates. If all that failed us, we had our trusty guide of an in-car navigational system on our phone to keep us going in the right direction.

All of that made taking a different route a simple trip back home to visit family.

What if none of that was available?

Would we still be willing to take a new route to get to the destination? What if we didn’t have family members who had traveled the road before? Would we still take the new road? What if there were no major interstates or highways to make the drive simpler? Would we still take the new road? What if we didn’t have an in-car navigational system?

Would we still take the new road? Continue reading

A Letter to Young Clergy

Dear Fellow Young Clergy,

I write you, today, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was, and is, and is to come. My prayers are with you. The purpose of this letter is to express my anguish of how we often relate to one another and my hope for us going forward.

Perhaps I should begin by expressing how I to becoming a clergy since many of you likely do not know me. I am a lifelong United Methodist. Born in Beckley, W.Va., I was baptized and confirmed at Perry Memorial United Methodist in Shady Spring, W.Va. I left when after high school on what I thought would be a long career in journalism. My own “warm heart” moment at Christ UMC in Chapel Hill, N.C., led me to a life of ministry which has taken me to where I am, today, serving in the Kentucky Annual Conference.

That’s the short story of a longer story. As I entered ministry, I sought to learn from and build relationships with many of you. I believe the more we build relationships with one another the better our ministry together can be. I also believe this not just about our work in our own churches, but our shared ministry with Christ that we have a part in. We need each other. Continue reading

The Church Should Not Be a Place of Polarization

Like many Methodist pastors, last week, I followed from a distance the activities of the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. I am not a delegate or an observer of the deliberations that will determine our structure, mission, and purpose for the coming four years and beyond. I am observing the activities through technology and social media trying to grab hold of the latest news and tidbits coming out of Portland.

What I have witnessed, thus far, has made me sad as a pastor, as a lifelong Methodist, but, more importantly, as a follower of God. I have seen the anger of division in our comments towards one another. I have seen the discord of bitterness reflected towards those who do not share the same viewpoint as we may have. I have seen the negativity of ridicule spoken towards those who may share another side of the discussion.

So far, General Conference has become the conference for the angry and the bitter. It has become the conference of the either/or. Our General Conference, which should reflect the best of who we are in our discernment as a community of faith, has become a reflection of the same polarization and disagreement we have witnessed in the public square of the political process.

This should not be a surprise to those who have paid attention to both society and the church in recent years. Society, especially in the United States, has become splintered along ideological and soci-economic lines. Anyone who does not share the same exact – and often extreme view of the world – is seen has the problem and should be defeated and disregarded. This has created the polarization of today. What this does is it pushes the sides further apart and creates a situation where the things we hold in common are less important than where we disagree.

In this, the voices of those who find truth in the middle are silenced. There is little room for moderating voices in our society today who seek to find truth in both positions and find a workable way forward. They are denounced as part of the problem.

I fear this same scenario is happening in the church, today, especially in The United Methodist Church. For several General Conference seasons now, groups representing all theological viewpoints have created a dividing line between “their” side and the “other” side. Only “their” side is true to the movement of the Holy Spirit, to the church, and the people we are called to walk with. It is the “other” side who are harming the mission of the church, its people, and are not hearing from God. Through this, much like society at larger, what we find in common with one another is silenced in the face of what we hold in disagreement.

There is not much room, in this current make-up of the church, for those who believe that the church and society should not be an either/or, but a both/and. Our theology and practice of ministry is at its best when we do not initially seek out polarizing responses, but responses that captures the heart of Scripture and God’s love for all. We are at our best when we hold together the truth of holiness and the call to justice.

The church should never be a place of the extreme. It should be a place that sits where Jesus comfortably sat. We often ascribe to Jesus as being on “our side,” yet Jesus often found himself in the middle of the conversations willing to challenge the extremes and to bring both sides together towards a deeper engagement of what it means to follow the Lord. We see this in how Jesus held firm on the importance of the law while holding to its deeper, and more difficult rendering, while also honoring the importance for seeking justice and caring for the least of these.

Jesus never called us to one side or another. He called us to a faith that is both/and and not either/or. Jesus calls us to honor both the need to be “holy as your heavenly Father is holy” while also seeking to care for others in the name of Jesus. When we try to say that the church has to be one or the other, and only that which is defined by our own viewpoint, we miss the depths of what Jesus calls us to be about as a church and a people who seek to follow the Lord.

There is no path forward for a church, so long as it seeks to be defined by the same either/or tendencies of our polarized society. There is a pathway forward to honoring God, reaching people, and sharing the same love of God that Jesus calls us to have on our hearts, if we seek to be the church of both/and, of both Scriptural holiness and the call to justice and mercy.

That is my prayer and hope for this General Conference as the second week commences today.

Sunday Sermon: By Serving Others

Back in 2009, I had an opportunity that was an unbelievable privilege. During the season of Lent, I was invited to preach at my hometown church, Perry Memorial United Methodist in Shady Spring, W.Va. I quickly accepted and was humbled by the chance to preach from the same pulpit where some of my favorite preachers stood.

As I look back, I remember feeling some pressure and a lot of temptation leading up to the service. Keep in mind this was the same congregation that saw me running up and down the aisles, stealing microphones as a child, and doing a bad impersonation of a singer during the Christmas cantata. They knew me and I knew them. I felt a lot of pressure to preach an easy message, one that would be easily received by the congregation and would allow me to maintain the “hometown boy does good” status I had earned.

The passage I preached from was not easy. It was from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, where Paul speaks of the foolishness of the cross. The message I preached became a message that would serve as a centering point for how I try to serve. What I said was that the Gospel and the cross breaks down the barriers we often create and welcomes all people. In a way, that message set up how I have tried to preach ever since. Continue reading