Monday, April 9, 2018

Making a decision on a call

What goes into making a decision when a pastor has a call to a congregation? As I write this, remember that in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, a pastor is not required to accept a call that is issued to him. He can accept the call and become pastor of the congregation that called him or he can return the call (decline it) and remain at the congregation he is currently serving. I have returned the call to Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lindenwood, IL. Why? Because I did not feel that I was the pastor to lead them in the direction of ministry that I felt that they were going.

Penny and I visited Immanuel this last week. We found them to be a friendly congregation. They had hopes and dreams for the ministry of their congregation. They welcomed us with open arms. Larry and Linda drove us around the area, showing us the different communities where folks lived. Each community seemed to offer possibilities for ministry and outreach. We spent the afternoon and evening with members of Immanuel, asking questions, answering questions, talking about their lives, finding out what their hopes for a their new pastor would be. This gave us insight into the type of pastor they are looking for as they look forward to the direction the Lord is taking them. They had a "meet and greet" time in which we sat around and visited with members, young and old. I had the chance to ask questions about this type of ministry and that type of ministry. It gave me insight into the pastoral leadership that they were looking for as well as what I felt I heard them talking about in various conversations.

As the evening closed, Penny and I had gained an insight, albeit a limited insight, into the thoughts and dreams of Immanuel. We then spend time talking about what each of us heard, what we felt it meant and where we might fit into the picture. (Remember that all through this process, we are asking for the Lord to guide us. We are praying for direction. The folks at Immanuel were praying. The folks at St. Paul's were praying. The whole process was surrounded by prayer.) The drive time gave us the chance to discuss the ministry and their needs and wants. We spend the night in Bloomington, IL so that we didn't have to drive the whole way back. After all, it was a tiring day. It takes a lot of energy and focus to go through this process while meeting new people and being "on display."

We talked more that night and into the next day. As we finished the drive home to Troy from Lindenwood on Saturday, we had more time without having to be focused on anything else. As we reached home, I had a firm direction in my mind, one that Penny was in agreement with. We then had a family meeting, to talk things over with our kids. It was a phone meeting as Rach was in Litchfield, Brandon in Collinsville and Matthew in Lincoln, NE. We discussed it over, letting them know our thoughts, getting their thoughts and coming to a conclusion on when we should announce the decision.

Since it had been made, we did not feel that it should be dragged out any longer. It wasn't fair to either congregation to withhold the decision any longer. It only causes turmoil and leads people into the "unknown." It causes anxiety among many. It also was not fair to Immanuel to continue to drag it out when the decision was to return the call. This gives them the opportunity to move forward in the call process. To wait another week or two, would only cause them to be further along without a resident pastor. We wanted to be fair to both Immanuel and St Paul's as well as with our family. So we decided it was best to announce right away. We could wait a week, but Penny would be gone to Chelsey's bridal shower in Columbus, NE next weekend and she wanted to be here when I announced the decision. Rachael will also be at that shower and she wanted to be present. That would mean 2 weeks if we waited and that was far too long to make anyone wait when the decision had been reached. So I announced the decision this last Saturday/Sunday.

In reaching that decision there is nothing against the congregation at Immanuel. They are a good congregation with good people. I just didn't feel that the Spirit was leading me to be their pastor. The ministry they need and the skills I have, were not fully compatible. Could I have done the ministry there? Yes. Was I the best candidate for that ministry? I did not feel that I was. I believed that the Lord was telling me that I was not to take that call. I thank the people at Immanuel for the honor of being considered as their pastor. I pray that the Spirit would lead them to the man who will serve them.

Here at St. Paul's, we continue to look at the ministry we have here in our community. And that is for another blog.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

One week after announcing call

I wrote last week about receiving a call. When a pastor or other called worker receives a call to serve another congregation, it is a difficult or trying time. I have to say, it has been that way for me and Penny this last week. It was Holy Week, a blessed time. That is a week when we focus on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. For a pastor and his family, it guides the entire week. No matter what he does, the pastor has one more service to prepare, one more sermon to write. At no time does he really have time to relax. You finish one, you start the next one. There is no time to relax.

Then throw into that mix the call to another congregation and the week becomes chaotic. Penny and I tried to stay focused on Holy Week but it was difficult. Was this the last time we would celebrate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday with the folks at St. Paul's? We didn't know. The Lord hasn't shown us an answer yet. But it sat in our minds. We talked about it. We prayed about it. And we pushed through the week.

Ministry. What ministry does the Lord want to use me in at this time. The ministry here at St. Paul's is still alive and well. There is Word and Sacrament ministry taking place. What you need to understand is that the focus of the pastoral ministry is Word and Sacrament ministry. Taking the Word into the lives of the members. Sharing the gifts of Baptism and Lord's Supper with the folks. No matter what else takes place, that MUST take place. Without Word and Sacrament ministry, there is no church. Where is the Christian Church to be found? It is found where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered according to the Word of God. Everything else comes from Word and Sacrament.

As I prayerfully consider the calls I have (to St. Paul's and to Immanuel), I am asking the Lord to give clarity. Clarity of vision for me as pastor. Clarity of vision for St. Paul's. Clarity of vision for Immanuel. And then, how do the pieces fit together? How does He want to use these different pieces to reach folks with the message of life and hope.

What does that Word and Sacrament ministry look like here at St. Paul's? Does it entail more Bible study? Does it continue to focus in the 3 services each week? Does it mean that we will continue to support the Christian Day School? Does it mean that we will be able to grow our Daycare? How do all those pieces fit together? How does the Lord want us to move forward in the Word and Sacrament ministry?

Added to this equation is the struggle that we are facing at St. Paul's. How do we fund the work that we are doing here in Troy? The Board of Stewardship and Finance are actively working, working hard, to try to figure out this puzzle. How do we take the dollars that we have, and distribute them through the various arms of the congregation? And when there is not enough money to go around, what do you need to cut back on? How do you continue to move forward with the work of the congregation when the funding is extremely tight? Hard questions. Questions that play into the discussion of Word and Sacrament ministry of St. Paul's. What is the answer? That hasn't been shown us yet.

At the end of this week, Penny and I are going to visit the congregation in Lindenwood, IL to see what Word and Sacrament ministry they have in their congregation. At that time, we will be asking hard questions of them as to what they see the congregation doing and how we fit into that picture.

Through this all, we continue to pray for clarity. Perhaps this blog hasn't given clarity. That is because nothing is clear in my mind at this time. Please keep us in your prayers. Pray that the Lord's will shall be done. Pray that He will give guidance to us. Pray that He will show all of us the direction that He wants us to move at this time.

Nope. No answers yet. Nothing. Nada. Still praying.

Monday, March 26, 2018

What does it mean for a pastor to receive a call?

Life is in turmoil. It is like standing in a dusty field, surrounded by wildflowers, with the wind whipping all around, blowing dust and leaves into the air with a whirlwind, all the while knowing that at any moment, the darkened skies will open up and rain will begin to fall in sheets, not with the gentleness of a early spring shower. 

That, my friends, is what happens when a pastor receives a call to serve another congregation. He finds himself with the call to his current congregation and a call to another congregation. There are many thoughts and emotions that swirl about him. The members of his current congregation have a plethora of emotions - disbelief, fear, sorrow, joy, elation, hope, anger and complacency. Emotions are often the first things that are put forth.  

The family of said pastor faces many emotions as well. They have become a part of a community of faith, a family, and are faced with the struggle of what would be the best thing to do at the time. There are friendships that have been formed. There are feelings of anxiety and fear at the thought of the loss of these relationship. 

The pastor's wife faces many challenging things. People will look at her and put on her their own emotions. If they like the pastor, they will question if the wife is the reason that he has received a call. They might even blame the wife for this happening. Or they will try to use the wife to influence the pastor in his deliberations on the call. "Tell him that you don't want to move." "Let him know that..." She is put in the uncomfortable position of influencing the pastor in returning the call (or in some situations, to accept the call and move on).

Yes, I have received a call to serve as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lindenwood, IL. Why? It is because the Holy Spirit has lead that congregation to call me to serve as their pastor. They are without a shepherd (understanding that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the pastor is the under shepherd). They have felt that at this time, for whatever reason, the Lord has said, "Issue this man a call to serve as your pastor." 

What happens now? It should be understood that in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, when a call is issued, the pastor seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit on what to do. Some have misunderstood the announcement of having received a call to mean that I am leaving and have already started the process of saying "good bye." I understand why this is done. It helps to begin the process should I accept this call. 

But I have not accepted this call. Nor have I declined it. It is far too early in the process to say either of those things. I am in prayerful consideration. Now I will be in discussion with 1) St. Paul's and 2) Immanuel. I will spend time asking what is the ministry here at St. Paul's and how do I, as pastor, fit in into that ministry. Has my time here run it's course? Or is there more that the Lord wants to do through me? If it is the later, what is that which He wishes to do?  

One thing I ask when someone says, "You can't leave," is "Why?" It has to be something more than "I like you. I want you to stay." It feels good to be wanted and loved. Trust me, it does feel really good. But why do you want me to stay? What ministry do we have to do together? What ministry does the Lord have for me to do here at St. Paul's? 

At the same time, I will be in discussion with the members of Immanuel. I will be asking what is their vision of what the ministry looks like at Lindenwood. The question will be raised is the needs of the congregation such that it will be blessed by my ministry there. What is it that they see that I will provide to them to assist them to continue to move forward with the message of the Gospel?

What does all this mean? It means that we, pastor, family, St. Paul's members and Immanuel members, will prayerfully ask the Lord to give guidance at this time. We ask for clarity in sight as to what He wishes to have done. 

Stay tuned. I plan to blog my way through this process. 

Lord, I pray for Your guidance, Your wisdom and Your direction as I consider the two calls that I have - the call to St. Paul's and the call to Immanuel. I am Your servant, lead me. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thoughts while eating sausage

Today, Sunday, March 4, is the annual sausage supper at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Troy, IL. It is a day when all the folks of the church get together to serve a dinner for the community. Why? Really? You have to ask that question? It is a fund raiser for the church. Between the Trivia Night (May 4, 2018) and the Sausage Supper, we see the two biggest fundraisers at St. Paul's. If all goes according to plan, we will serve 1,200+ dinners through this day. That is a lot of sausage, mashed potatoes, green beans and dessert.

All right, if you want to be technical, if you read the title of this blog today, you should know that I am actually writing this blog before I am eating the sausage supper. So I am thinking prior to the supper. Why now? Because I won't have time throughout this day to doing anything like this. And when it is over this evening, Penny and I will be too tired to do anything other than sit down and unwind.

Sausage supper is a great time to see folks that I haven't seen since last year. Many people pass through the doors of the Ministry Center that won't do that again until next year on the 1st Sunday of March. As I serve as the one who calls the numbers and moves people from the lobby to the dining room, I have the opportunity to say hello to all the folks that come through. Over the past 9 years, I have found that there are "regulars" who will come to the dinner. It will be nice to reconnect with them. To see how their year has gone.

There will be new people that I have never met before. It gives me a chance to say hello and see where they are from. I get to see families gather together, friends meet up and smiles being shared as talk takes place in the lobby. No, I won't be in the dining room to hear the conversation continuing. But the brief time that I get with people is priceless. I enjoy meeting new folks and talking with them. Maybe next year, they won't be "new" any longer. They will be "old" friends who come to the diner.

Then there are the workers. There are so many that must work together in order to make this day work. There are the guys who are frying the sausage and the folks working in the kitchen preparing the other parts of the meal. There are the hostesses seating the people in the dining room. There are those who prepare the tables, serve the food and then clear the tables. There are dish washers and garbage carriers. There are folks at the dessert table and people at the carry out table. And don't forget the people who sell the tickets. There are those who set things up and those who clean up afterwards. Then there are other parts of the day - the Country Store and all that goes into preparing for it, the book fair and the ones that make it happen. All of them are necessary to make the dinner be successful. We thank each one for the time that they give to make this event happen.

Is it worth it? Really worth it? There is so much that goes into having a sausage supper. Hours and hours go into this day. When it is over, is it worth it? If you look at it from the financial point of view, you would have to say, maybe. Really? Just "maybe." Yes it brings in a goodly amount of $. But if that is the only benefit of the day, it might not be worth it. There is the "working together" component that takes place at the dinner. That really is the plus of the day. This is the time when people work together for a common cause. It is a day of service to the community. Now you are talking about why today is worth the effort. Add to that the fact that many folks will come into out Ministry Center to eat the meal. For some, this is the only time they will be in St. Paul's facilities. We welcome them in and hope they have a good experience. They will judge St. Paul's on how they are accepted and treated on this day. In putting our best foot forward, this will help folks to have a positive impression of St. Paul's.

So is it worth it? Yes. As I greet each person, it is worth it. As they are seated in the gym, it is worth it. As they get up from the table after having a really good meal, it is worth it. To hear the positive words as they walk out of the dining room, it is worth it.

Yes, today is going to be a good day. Thank You Lord for giving us this day in which we can serve the people of our community.

See you are the Sausage Supper.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A drought and a drought buster

Ramblings on a a rainy. Enjoy.

It is President's Day. A day off work for me and for Penny. It has become an unusual thing for the two of us to have the same day off. My day off is Friday and hers is Saturday and Sunday. So when we get the day off together, what do we do? We go on calls together. Yes, I know, a day off is supposed to be a day off, meaning that you don't work. But there are individual spiritual needs which need to be addressed. As we have done throughout the 30 1/2 years of ministry, we go on some calls together. We still spend the day together. It brings us joy to be able to share in the ministry into which I have been called. One of the wonderful things that we have is the fact that we are in the ministry together. No, she is not Mrs. Pastor. But she is a vital part of what I do. She is my support and encourager. You might say that in many ways she is my Barnabas. (Look up the meaning of Barnabas.)

And so, today, we are heading out on calls. Spending time in the van together, enjoying the time the we have been given. The good thing is that I don't have a meeting tonight. That truly is a day off for me.

It is a rainy day. The Carpenters would sing "Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down." I don't feel that way. True, it is a pain to drive in the rain. But we really need it. All winter we have not had the rain or the snow that is needed to water the ground. We are in what Dave Murray would call a mini-drought. He said that this rain would not be a "drought buster" but it would do good to help us out.

A drought buster. I thought of that. What does it take to be a drought buster? You would have to ask Dave Murray that question. But I thought about it in spiritual terms. What is a spiritual drought and what would be a spiritual drought buster?

A spiritual drought is when you haven't worshiped the Lord for months. You haven't received the Lord's Supper for months on end. You haven't spent time God's Word for longer than you can remember. Your soul is in a spiritual drought. "But I can still be a Christian without going to church, taking communion or reading the Bible." Yes you can. Congratulations. You have joined the countless host of people who throughout the years have made that claim. Many of them have suffered terrible spiritual drought. You might even be suffered such a drought. You might not even be thinking about it being a drought. You just got out of the habit of worship. You haven't seen the need to worship. You got upset with someone at church and you refuse to come back to church until that person either apologizes or leaves (you might even feel that way about the pastor).

It doesn't matter how you got into the spiritual drought. You are in it. Perhaps you think that if you go to worship on Christmas Eve or on Easter, that will be the spiritual "drought buster" that you need. Or maybe you think that since you went at Christmas or Easter, that means you don't have a spiritual drought at all. That thinking is like today, we are getting some rain. The ground soaks it up. But if you were to dig down more than an inch, the ground would still be dry as a desert. Spiritually, going to worship on Christmas and Easter is not a "drought buster" for the soul that is spiritually dry.

What constitutes a drought buster? Spending time daily in God's Word. Joining in a regular Bible study. Attending weekly worship. Receiving the Lord's Supper when it is offered. In short, making use of the Means of Grace that the Lord has given you. Like rain is needed on a regular basis to water the earth and break a drought, so the Means of Grace are needed on a regular basis in order to break the spiritual drought in your spiritual life.

I would encourage you to avail yourself of the time of worship that is set before you. Attend the church of which you claim to be a member. Reach out to your pastor and ask him to help you in your spiritual walk. Forgive that person who offended you. Don't let the devil, the sinful world or your own sinful nature continue to cause you to live in a spiritual drought.

Let the water of the Word flow over and through you.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Rambling without a direction.

Winter continues without much winter weather here in Troy, IL. We have had some cold, especially back in January. We have had a little bit of snow. Nothing to really complain about. There have been some gray days but nothing like I just read about in the Lutheran Hour Ministries devotion for today. Moscow having only 6 minutes of sunshine in January? Really. That is hard to imagine. And we complain when we have 4-5 days in a row without sunshine. That reminds me about how selfish and self-centered we can be. We are tempted to make all things about "me." But that isn't why I am writing today.

Actually, I don't know why I am writing. I just had the compulsion to blog. It has been a while and I felt the need to put down random thoughts on "paper." Nope, not really on paper. I guess it is random thoughts on the Internet. It will be "out there" for the world to see. The world for my blog is the few of you who spend the time reading these ramblings.

The Southern Illinois District begins the triennial convention this evening. We will be in convention for Thursday evening, Friday all day and Saturday morning. What is done at a convention? There is worship and study, elections of officers and board members, and resolutions discussed. What is the goal? The goal should be to better equip the congregations of the Southern Illinois District to share the message of the gospel in their communities. The goal should always be the sharing of the gospel. If we are not sharing the gospel, then we are nothing more than another civic organization. No, the Church is meant to be something different from other organizations. The Church is meant to point folks to the Savior Jesus Christ. It is meant to proclaim the good news of salvation in a world that is in desperate need of this good news. Let us pray that is what is done over the next 3 days.

What else is going on in the my life that you might want to know about? Christ forgives me. Christ leads me. Christ loves me. I pray that everything I do reflects that wonderful message.

Baseball season is almost upon us. I enjoy baseball. It is a fun diversion from the actions of the world. Boy do we need that diversion. Over and over again we see the struggles of the world. We feel those struggles in our lives. Financial struggles. Relationship struggles. Health struggles. Emotional struggles. Societal struggles. Spiritual struggles. We need this diversion to help us find some joy in the world. As a Cubs fan, I enjoy watching my team play and win. Yet, I have to say, even when they don't win, I still enjoy watching them.

As I watch the Cubs, I am reminded of the struggles of life. Sometimes you do really good. Sometimes you do really bad. You have to stay the course to make it through each year. Spiritually, that is the way it is too. Some days are really good. Some days are really bad. Through it all we live in the forgiveness of Christ and the love of the Father. We need to stay the course in both good and bad times. I would encourage you to focus your eyes on Christ as you go through today and each day. He will see you through. It might be a struggle. It might be easy. It might be overwhelming. It might slip by without so much as a whimper. Whatever you day brings, may Christ guide you through it.

Yes, I have no clue what I am going to write today. There is it. Peace and joy on you today as you live in Christ's mercy and grace.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Football playoffs made me think

Do you watch football? I know that some of you do. Yesterday was the playoff games to see who will be going to the Super Bowl. In such games, there are moments of joy and moments of sorrow. There are those who celebrated the victory of their team and those who mourned the loss of their team. It is the way it has to be. You cannot have a football game without a winner and a loser. We don't like to use the term "loser" because it might cause someone to feel bad about themselves. So they are the team that played well but did not see the outcome that they would have liked to have seen. Whatever. One wins. One loses.

That is the way of games. That is the way of life. In the business world, there are winners and there are losers. One company gets the contract, another doesn't. One city gets the Amazon center while another doesn't. In most areas of life, we see that there are winners and losers. It even happens in the church.

That is a statement that I wish I couldn't make. There really should be no winners or losers in the church. We should all be working towards the same goal of sharing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a world that is lost in the darkness of sin. What happens is that we allow our sinful desires to get in the way. We put our thoughts, our feelings, our desires before the work of the Gospel. It becomes "my way or the highway" type of thinking.

This happens when a member doesn't like what the pastor has said or done. If they cannot get the pastor to change to fit their thinking, they hit the road, go to another church and try to get their way at that church. This happens when a discussion of what color to paint the walls or to get in carpet comes forward. This happens when it comes to how to move forward with the ministry of the congregation. Each one has their own agenda. Member and pastor alike. Each one lets their own desires come before the good of the church.

How do we change this? We look at our motivation. Is what I fighting for really what is good for the church and the gospel or is it something that I personally want? This is a tough question. It makes me look at my motivations and my desires. Why am I so adamant about this issue? Is it really something that will make a difference in the sharing of the Gospel? Is what I want the "only" way to accomplish the goal of sharing the Gospel? Are there options that I need to consider, options that may not be in accord with my desires? Tough questions.

I firmly believe that in the ministry of the church, there should be no "winners" and "losers." If we see things in those terms, then I believe that we have left behind the gospel and have become self-focused. All that is done is meant to move forward for one purpose, to reach out to others with the message of life and hope.

When things don't go quite like I desire, I need to step back, and see how the Lord wants me to become a part of this action. After the decision is made and the direction is set, instead of continuing to fight about it, how can I become a part of making it happen? How does the Lord want to use me to move the ministry forward?

Yes, ramblings of the preacher on a Monday morning. Agenda? Nope. Just thoughts. Have a blessed day.