SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Leadership (Page 1 of 4)

Reading, Writing, & Listening

The aim of church leaders should be to balance active ministry and compassion for our neighbors with prayer and a life of study and contemplation, so that our hearts dwell constantly with God and at the same time are mindful of the needs of others.

Christopher A. Beeley in Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today

2012-10-20 13.21.14I have heard it again and again. At the core of pastoral life is a life of prayer, study, solitude, and active listening. These are key postures of the Christian life, of our discipleship. If pastoral leaders are to lead the Christian community into a deeper relationship to God and neighbor, then it makes sense that we are leading the way by example.

Life happens though. Our plates get filled up with meetings, “emergencies,” and general “busyness.” I am not sure what my “busyness” was exactly in 2012 but I found myself in busy mode often. Then there are our other responsibilities in our home and in relationships, the “stuff of life.”

Some years ago I wrote a short New Year’s post called The Yearly Examen. There I called on all of us to look back at the year as part of our “examination of life” and begin to see the places and times where God seemed fully present and the places and times where God seemed absent. It has been an exercise that has produced much fruit in my life through the years.

This year as I began this exercise some weeks ago I began to notice a hunger in my soul for more prayer, more study, more contemplation. I recognize how little writing I had done outside of my weekly sermons and church communication, how little reading I had done outside of the “required” stuff, how little listening I had done in meetings, gatherings, and in daily life.

Now that I knew the places where I could shine a light on God’s work in me I had to do something about it. These are not resolutions, these are goals for the year. I am thankful that I have found some companions to share this journey with in 2013.

With my brother Joshua Hale (@expatminister) I plan to read four books this year and blog some reflections on them at Liturgical Nerds. We are beginning with Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life by Scott Cairns, followed by  Isabel Best’s The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Stephen Long’s Keeping Faith: An Ecumenical Commentary on the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith of The United Methodist Church, and James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. I look forward to this journey with Josh as we read, write, and listen to what God is up to in us through these texts.

On January 2011 I embarked on a Bible in 90 journey that included daily blogging on the portion of scripture that spoke to me that day. This year I embark again on a Bible in 90 adventure but this time I do so with a group of friends and colleagues. Some of us will probably post some reflections along the way. Reading the bible in this way has given me a renewed appreciation for the great narrative of scripture.

I am sure that along the way I’ll find a few more books to read, reflections to write, and conversations to listen to. My prayer is to be fully present to what God’s up to in my life and in the life of the congregation by prioritizing the life of study and contemplation that is at the core of pastoral life.

Thank you for being part of the journey!

What Next? – Gospels in 90

“The women went out quickly; and when they were outside the tomb, they ran away trembling and astonished. Along their way, they didn’t stop to say anything to anyone because they were too afraid.”

Mark 16:8 (The Voice NT)

The Gospel according to Mark has three endings: verses, 8, 20, 21 (or later part of 20 depending on translation). All of these possibilities are vying for attention, each of them making a significant difference in the way the story is heard.

I join the group of biblical scholars that believe that verse 8 is the “original” ending to this amazing gospel. It makes sense that this gospel would end as it opened up, fast, to the point, open-ended. It almost seems like the writer wants us to place ourselves in the narrative and come to our own conclusions based upon our own experience with the risen Christ.

As we continue to think about our life together and our way forward we might feel the same kind of whiplash that this gospel closes with . . . we might have many questions, it all might seem “fuzzy,” and we might still be wondering what is coming next.

The most repeated phrase asked of me is: “Tell us what’s next? What is the plan? What are the next steps?”

I can honestly say that I do not know. I stand with you, like the women who came to see Jesus, experiencing the risen Lord. We are wondering together what all of this might mean to us and to our community of believers. There are no clear answers, but there is the reality of what the risen Lord has done, is doing, and will do through us. There is also an awareness that at times the way of discipleship is scary, uncertain, and difficult.

Early Christian communities encountered the abrupt ending and added their own take on what happened next. These were amazing tales of the invincible nature of true discipleship. Today we stand at verse 8 and I want us to ask ourselves, who are we going to be as followers of Jesus in light of our encounter with an empty tomb? What will our discipleship look like? What does that discipleship mean for our life as a congregation?

The Gospels in 90 Days

As readers of this space know I am a believer in systematic reading of scripture. I have used different reading plans throughout the years from the fast and furious bible in 90 to the two year daily office lectionary. For me is about having a method to my engagement with the narrative of faith. Last year I began 2011 with the Bible in 90 days, this year I have invited my staff and leadership team at the church to join me in reading the gospels in 90 days (actually 89 days, one chapter a day).

My prayer is that we’ll have a common narrative as we engage our leadership this year. Each time I engage the story of faith I am amazed at what I hear, learn, and struggle with, I am sure this time it will not be any different. I am not promising a daily blog on the chapter of the day but I can guarantee that I will have things to say along the way. I am excited to be reading the gospels in The Voice New Testament translation, a different translation forces us to hear the story in a different way, and this one is truly different.

Jacob was the father of Joseph, who married a woman named Mary. It was Mary who gave birth to Jesus, and it is Jesus who is the Savior, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.

Matthew 1:16 (The Voice)

Jesus is the savior, the anointed one, the one who frees us from sin and death. I tell this to myself often as I engage in ministry everyday. It is difficult to recognize our need for a savior, our need for an anointed one, it is even more difficult to recognize our need to be freed. This is why we need this story so desperately, this is also why we need the community of faith to remind us of our common need for God.

In my own life I am still trying to understand what this savior means in my everyday life. And as a father of three children I also struggle with what it means to raise our children in the way that leads to life. Then we read the narrative and recognize that we are not alone, that many others have struggled with it too.

In the end a savior is needed, we need to be made whole, need to be freed. I am thankful that a way forward was provided for, that the way of redemption has been provided. It is amazing to hear, read, and experience how God provided for this way.

I know that this story will be transformational, it always is! Let the journey begin . . .

Passion & Possibility: Exploration 2011

How did you decide to become a pastor? I often hear this question as I meet people for the first time, especially young people. For me it was this inner voice that has been part of my life for a long time. So many times I tried to ignore it and walk in different directions. Now as I continue my pastoral work I am more aware than ever about the importance of the practice of discernment.

Discernment takes time, it needs a community, and should help us connect with our inner longings to live out our God given passions.

I am thankful for the community that Exploration builds. It provides the space to struggle with and discern what God might be up to in our lives. We gather from different places, we come with our dreams, visions, and hopes for the future. We come wondering what God could do through us. So many possibilities . . .

Much prayer went into my journey. Now I join many others to pray for you and for all of those who will gather to hear God’s voice at Exploration 2011 in St. Louis, MO, Nov. 11-13, 2011. I pray that God will speak, clarify, and direct. I pray for all the small group leaders, plenary speakers, and the staff. I pray for resources to travel and attend. I pray for leaders willing to make this possible. I pray for the many churches that have young people waiting to be told of their gifts for leadership and for those who have already called their own and are sending them out. I pray for the Holy Spirit to go ahead of us and sanctify our efforts to provide a place where God can be heard, seen, and experienced.

God is calling . . . come and see!

______________________________________________

FOR MORE INFORMATION & TO REGISTER CLICK HERE:

The Bible in 90 II

As many of you know last January I began a bible in 90 adventure. It was a transformative time as I engaged the great narrative of our faith. After I finished I tried to start over reading the bible in 180 but life happened, a move came, and transition interrupted the plan.

Tomorrow (September 1) is time to begin again and again remind myself of the great story (this time I’ll be reading from the Common English Bible). Is a perfect time to begin, kids are in school, boxes are unpacked, and we feel at home here in Baton Rouge. I don’t begin alone, this time my partners are not going to be on the blogosphere (although there might be a post or two about what I learn ;-)) instead I am joined by friends and colleagues the Rev. Katie McKay Simpson and the Rev. Drew Sutton.

We are going to read together, pray for one another and share what God is telling us along the way. We are going to be thinking and discerning together about our vocation, about the church, and about our discipleship. We are going to let the great narrative help us see what God is up to in our neighborhoods and our communities of faith. Is going to be a wonderful journey.

So stay tuned, there is no telling what the Spirit will say along the way . . .

2011 Calling Congregations Conference

In the summer of 2002 I had the great honor of being part of the Fund for Theological Education’s (FTE) summer conference. FTE gathered a group of young adults who were eager, passionate, and gifted to lead the church into its future. We gathered to meet each other and learn together. It was life-changing to know that we were not alone, that there were other young people like us who were hearing the call, and who were being called to lead with pastoral imagination.

We had arrived to that place because we had been blessed by congregations where our call was heard, clarified, and put into action.

In the close to ten years since that amazing summer I’ve had the great honor of becoming a pastor. Some of the dreams and hopes planted in me have grown and are bearing fruit, and others are still being watered and cared for, each congregation served adding to my pastoral identity.

It has become clear to me that our work as pastoral leaders can only go so far. Unless there are congregations ready, able, and with the tools needed to be about their work in their local communities, the church will not be able to be about its transforming work in the world. Congregations need to reclaim their identity as places of public proclamation, of teaching the faith, and of mutual care. They need to reclaim their identity as places where God calls.

What are the practices needed in order to sustain churches in their work? How can we help congregations become places where God calls people to deeper engagement in the way of Jesus, to leadership, to discipleship? How can our congregations become a place where people, especially young people, can hear the call to religious leadership?

The Calling Congregations Conference, sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education, provides the space for congregations to wrestle with the important questions that guide a congregation into a “deep dive into communal practices to care for courageous leadership, the next generation, and the church’s future!”

As readers of this blog know I care deeply about the church and its life together. I am thankful to be part of the FTE family and know that the practices that you will engage in and learn about in this conference will transform your leadership, your congregations, and your community.

Peace, Juan+

A Butterfly in the Heat: A Lesson on Reverence

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

©2011 Todd Rossnagel

It was a hot and beautiful afternoon and as we walked,  Katie (friend and colleague Katie McKay Simpson) noticed the most beautiful butterfly! It took her attention and as she pointed, it took mine. There it was, in some ways so out of place in the middle of an urban jungle.

Since then I’ve been thinking about being present. I’m sure that often in my struggle to get things done and be “successful” I miss beauty and the opportunity for awe and wonder. Duty calls and it grabs us so strongly, it demands our attention, and requires our devotion. In the meantime the butterfly goes by . . .

In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, calls us to “reverence” as the “practice of paying attention.” She says:

“From [my father] I learned that reverence was the proper attitude of a small and curious human being in a vast and fascinating world of experience.” (19)

Small and curious we can be, if only we took the time. Unfortunately we spend so much time trying to be big and well informed, leaving little room for the possibility of the unknown, mysterious, and surprising to come and visit us.

No wonder so many of us struggle to pray, to listen, and to live in community. It all takes attention, intention; it takes the practice of being present, the practice of reverence.

Until I read Taylor, I would not have called it “reverence.” Then I thought about the title we give pastors, “the Reverend.” I have often struggled with it for I don’t consider myself worthy of reverence. Then I realized that we are to be agents of reverence. We are called to facilitate the ministry of paying attention.

In one of my favorite bible stories a blind man “hears” that Jesus is passing by. In the midst of the loud crowd Jesus “stands still,” hears him cry out and calls on him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, “. . . let me see again,” says Bartimaeus. The bible tells us in the Gospel according to Mark that “[i]mmediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.” (Mark 10:52b)

So let us stop and pay attention, pay reverence. Let us be surprised by butterflies on a hot and humid afternoon in the middle of the city. Let us be agents of this reverence so that many can find healing of body, mind, and spirit.

“Glory be to God for dappled things . . .”

Leadership as “Story Telling”

In his book One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells us the story of humanity, the humanity of his experience, the primal story of his people. The story is haunting, at times confusing, but it seems so real, the human condition lined out in each sentence, the possibility of grace always around the corner. It’s first lines sets us up for an adventure into our own story:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude

Each time I encounter writings like this I am reminded of the primal stories of the Christian faith. These stories are about re-membering, about home, about promises made and promises broken. At the beginning, like at the beginning of Garcia Marquez epic, the world is recent and we find ourselves having to point, in order to be made aware of the story that is being told.

I say all this to say that at the core of congregational leadership is story. More specifically story-telling and story listening. We are constantly re-calling, and recasting the great story and it’s pointing towards our world today. We too have a rootedness in this epic, our “Macondo” is the land of promise, our “Colonels” are the story tellers that narrate the story of faith.

We must take this story telling seriously. In conversations, in decision making, in sermon, and in teaching we are to constantly frame and re-frame in light of the great narrative of faith. Constantly pointing towards realities not yet named and asking the community of faith to take ownership and claim the unfolding future, the unexpected turn, and the surprise ending as part of God’s continued story in us and through us.

Leading as a story teller and story hearer can be difficult work. It takes patience, time, and a rootedness in the narrative. It also requires our constant immersion in other stories and those who tell them. From novels, to short stories, from songs to poems, from essays to blogs, the leader as story teller immerses him/herself in the narrative of everyday life. At each turn we as congregational leaders ask the God questions, the questions of the human condition, and begin to exegete these as part of our dealings with the sacred story.

Little by little, each story heard, read, and seen becomes part of who we are as congregational leaders. The stories become the narrative extension of the great story of faith: spoken, sung, & prayed. It is our task to connect the dots and call the community to see their own stories, their own narrative, to be a narrative of redemption, a narrative of grace, to be part of God’s activity in their life, even when God might seem absent, when God’s presence is not “felt,” when life seems to be out of control.

I am thankful for the stories that live in me, for those that I am honored to hold, and for the many that I am yet to hear. I am also thankful for the story I get to share each and everyday, a story that I am constantly pointing towards, a story that reminds the community of its name!

Leadership as “Decision Making”

©2011 Todd Rossnagel

I know I might be stating the obvious but leaders “make decisions.” Everyday a variety of choices and options come through our lives. These choices and options do not just impact us but as congregational leaders they impact people given to our care. Our decision making affects a whole community.

We make decisions everyday. Most of these might have little to do with what we normally might call “pastoral” responsibilities. These decisions are about roofs, staff sales calls, other leaders, opportunities, and room assignments.

Then there are those times when the “decision making” is serious. People’s livelihoods are at stake, the state of their inner lives is on the line, the reputation of the body could be damaged. In these cases decision making matters and not making a decision could be even worst than making the wrong one. The leader must lead, must decide, and must carry the burden of the community’s life together.

How does the leader make such decisions? Does “decision making” matter?

The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola tells us:

By the grace of God, we are meant to recognize the influencing powers by evaluating those motions which are good so that we might let them give direction to our lives and those which are bad so that we might reject them or turn aside from them.

David L. Fleming from Draw Me Into Your Friendship – The Spiritual Exercises: A Literal translation & A Contemporary Reading

Decision making in the Christian community is not done alone. As a leader we lean on the practices of our community. We lean on discernment to help us “lean into” what God might be inviting us into through our decision making. The community story and its participants are also guides. The leader must surround him/herself with wise counselors and advisors to help “think through,” to assist in “testing the spirits,” to help “see God’s vision” in the decision making.

It is easy to want to do it alone, to carry the entire burden and to desire to be the savior through our decision making.

It is also easy to not want the burden of the decision making. To hide, put off, minimize, or ignore. Here we wish it would go away or we ask another to make the decision for us.

Both extremes negate the power of the Spirit that moves in each of us and in the community we call the church; the power that connects us to one another and has been called upon the ordained for the task of leadership in the Christian community. The power of the Spirit gives us the wisdom to evaluate the spiritual motions in the everyday decisions of pastoral ministry.

Decision making matters! I am learning to lean on the Spirit, to continue praying for clarity and to be willing to engage those “wise sages” that form the inner circle of my relational life. I am learning to test the spirits and make decisions with confidence, boldness, and humility.

Leadership as “Vision Casting”

"Whitby" by James Whitesmith

I’ve been wearing glasses since the 8th grade. I can still remember attending chapel with my parents during my 8th grade year and having my dad ask me if the preacher always wore the same suit and tie to chapel to which I responded that he was too far away for me to see him, he looked blurry. The next day I went to the eye doctor for the first time. A week later my first pair of glasses arrived and when I put them on it was like a miracle! I could see far away, I could see the leaves on the trees, and the birds flying in the sky. I also could see that the preacher did wear the same suit and tie to chapel every week.

To cast something is to make a copy of it, a representation in three dimensional form, from a mold. The mold is not the actual item, the final product is, but the mold itself has to be made, has to be formed by an original of something.

Another definition of casting is throwing a fishing line. Here the fisherman chooses the bait that will be attached to the line and casts that line with the bait in the appropriate place for a successful catch.

I’ve heard many congregational leaders refer to vision casting as the second definition. Here the leaders chooses the bait and throws out the vision in hopes that the congregation will “bite.” More often than not, like fishermen, the leader finds him/herself bringing the line back and throwing it out there over and over again. Frustration sets in, the bait is changed, but little else does. Is the congregational leader really a “vision caster?”

Yes!

I’ve been thinking that the casting that we do is not of the fishing type but of the mold type. The mold is the shape of God’s kingdom and we as pastors come with the symbols, images, stories, and gestures (thanks Gordon Lathrop) of the Christian faith and begin to give shape to God’s kingdom in a particular place at a particular time. The vision is cast and if observed carefully and interpreted, the vision will begin to bear fruit in its particular place and time.

The leader is constantly pointing back at the vision of God’s kingdom. Constantly reminding the community of its shared story, of its identity, of its mission in the world. At each turning point there are decisions to be made about life together, about bills, buildings, resources, and relationships. The pastoral leader goes back in each case to the cast vision, to how these characters of life together can best be utilized/deployed for the vision that has been cast, for the re-presentation of God’s kingdom in this place.

Many times as pastoral leaders we find that the vision is fuzzy, blurry, in need of adjustment. Our temptation is to cast it again as in fishing, changing the bait, or maybe changing the location. I am reminding myself that no such movement is needed. Instead I’ll immerse myself in the narrative of faith, in the symbols and gestures of the assembly, and in the life and work of the people of the community around me. Each of these will allow me to help the congregation “see” their way forward, see God’s kingdom made flesh by their life and work.

May God give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hands to cast a vision of God’s Kingdom through the people of St. John’s UMC, knowing that

“. . . no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.”

Wendell Berry (Sabbath Poem X 1979 in A Timbered Choir)

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