Posted tagged ‘grace-filled’

Mentors For the Journey

January 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 4, 2019

                                      

I’ve been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life that have allowed me to try and fail, hone certain skills, and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. 

Dr. James Payson Martin, senior pastor of Arlington Heights (IL) First Presbyterian Church was my first mentor when I joined a church staff. He was gentle but firm. Grace-filled, but demanding. I was between my second and third years of seminary, looking for a summer ministry experience that would stretch me…and it did. Loved it and learned from it! Grew as I groaned! 

Jim Martin was the catalyst for my growth. His daughter, Cyndi, remains a long distance friend of mine (She still lives in the Chicago area). I get choked up thinking about her and her dad. Jim passed away suddenly the week of Easter about 30 years ago. 

And then there is Chuck Landon, my first mentor in a church ministry after I was ordained and on a church staff full-time. I had been on the staff of another church for about 15 months after seminary graduation and it did not go well. I was defeated and discouraged, wondering if I was really called to ministry. The senior pastor was rarely around to guide me. The rumor was that he spent more time on the golf course, which had one of its fairways rolling right behind his backyard. This “Wolfe” often felt like he was being fed to the wolves!

Lansing First Baptist Church rescued me from leaving ministry, and Chuck Landon taught me more about being a pastor than anyone else I have known. His work ethic flowed out of his passion for Christ, pursuit for excellence, and love for the people he pastored and community he served in. When I was willing to settle for less he let me know it was unacceptable. When I did something well he affirmed the excellence and effectiveness of it. When I wore my softball cleats (They were rubber cleats, okay!) to a Diaconate meeting in the pristine church parlor, he read me the riot act the next day! He taught me responsibility, and he taught me that perception, no matter whether it is accurate or not, is the reality.

Those two men mentored me to become a good pastor. They prepared me to mentor others to be good pastors, and hopefully those people will mentor others.

I’ve had other mentors through the years also in other areas of life. Don Fackler mentored me to a good basketball coach. When I assisted him in coaching the Mason (Michigan) High School Girl’s JV team, he laid the foundations in my life on how to coach. Now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself using some of those same learnings, and speak some of the same terms that he spoke. 

As I write more these days there have been a few mentors to bring my writing quality up. God has blessed me to have my life path converge with Ed and Diana Stucky. They’ve pressed me to not settle for less, to reach for quality and to be a wordsmith in conveying ideas. 

Mentors are essential for our development and success. If we learn in isolation we will experience the storms of being isolated. If we realize that we are “not all that!” and allow others to speak truth into the rough edges of our lives we will be better, and we will be better prepared to be vessels that flow with purpose!

Conversing with Church Runaways

July 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 July 16, 2017

                             

Josh Packard wrote a book a couple of years ago entitled Church Refugees. A sociologist, Packard had noticed that there had been a good bit of research and writing about the “Nones”, those people who select “No Religious Affiliation” when they are filling out a personal information sheet; but there hadn’t been that much study conducted that dealt with the “Dones”, those people who had been involved in a church and left it to go…nowhere!

It doesn’t take me very long to recall a number of “Dones” that have been involved in a church that I’ve pastored. Packard labels the “Dones” as “church refugees”, meaning that they have left where they were a part but aren’t quite sure where they will land. There is a vey good chance that where they land will not be in “churchland!”

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who would classify herself as a church runaway. I deeply respect this person, and value the conversations I’ve had with her. She exited the church of her upbringing mainly because of the judgmental posture of some of the church people she had known for years. They assaulted the experience of community that she longed for. She observed inconsistency in their words and actions and finally exited by whichever door was closest and never looked back.

The thing is…I can not argue her reasoning! She’s right! Church people often ration out grace and pour out judgment. Grace is too fluid and judgment is very clear, so judgment becomes the “go to.”

Some of the neatest, most incredible people I know are intimately involved in churches…and some of the meanest, most vindictive people I know are involved in churches. The blessing of the church is that everyone is welcome (At least that’s what the marquee says!); and the curse of the church is that it will accept people that no one else would put up with!

And it’s not like the church at one time had it all together and then lost its way! 1 Corinthians deals with a dysfunctional congregation that needed an outside consultant to come in and do a full body analysis! Spain didn’t join the American Colonists in their Revolutionary War fight against England because Americans were “too Protestant!” In other words, they did not belong to the one true church. On the other hand, in the early 1800’s very few Protestants celebrated Christmas in America because it was “too Catholic!” Churches have been prone to pointing their fingers at other churches and shaking their heads in contempt.

And so many churches are no longer seen as being safe locations but places that are caustic. And we have no one to blame but ourselves!

Here’s the interesting, and perhaps disturbing, thing! I feel much more comfortable having a conversation with my church runaway friend than I do with a lot of people who sit in pews each Sunday morning. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it is a bit unsettling!

Church Covenants

February 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 23, 2017

                                        

Churches are weird places! I know, I know…that’s a hard thing for a person who pastored for 37 years to say, but I’m owning up to it. Weird…strange…loving, but disapproving…like the free offer you get in the mail, but then find out there’s strings attached.

And the thing is, churches don’t intend to be that way, they just kind of warp into that!

One of those weird things about churches is a document that is called “the church covenant.” Depending on the congregation, the church covenant can be very affirming and loving, or it can be more like Ivy League entrance requirements.

I remember the covenant of a church I was on staff for that included restrictions on partaking of alcohol and participating in gambling. Everyone knew that there were a number of church members who included those two activities in their lives, but didn’t talk about it at church.

No church covenant has “abstaining from gluttony” as a part of their membership requirements!

Church covenants get glued on to the last page in the hymnal, like they were an afterthought, but they get trumpeted at hastily called church business meetings to support someone who has an axe to grind!

They are documents that create a “who’s in and who’s out” atmosphere.

The interesting aspect of church covenants to me is that they come out of communities of believers who are saved by grace, and yet operate out of rules and restrictions. Very rarely does a church covenant include procedures on how to restore someone who has screwed up, and yet grace is often referred to like it’s the holy grail of beliefs.

Churches rarely read their covenants. They are like the fine print that Apple puts on their products that read on for infinity. Click the “I agree” button and head to lunch! That’s why the covenants are in the back of the hymnal instead of the front, like the shed in the backyard that you rarely enter because you hate spider webs.

There is the covenantal language of the Bible…and there is church covenantal language. Church covenants say things like “It shall be the duty of members to familiarize themselves with the church covenant…to endeavor with all earnestness to practice the same (Huh?)…to attend habitually the services of this church.”

My suspicion is that most church covenants were “sacredly stolen” from some other congregation. Why reinvent the wheel? So most covenants are like on-line wills that someone has done all the work for already.

Should we have church covenants? Yes, but make them simple! Create them out of mindsets of grace to help people in their walk, not afflict them in their struggles.

I wonder…yes, I wonder how the covenants of new church plants shape up compared with the documents of long established congregations? What is the language like? Or, better yet, do newer congregations even have church covenants? Do they come to a point…like ten years into their journey…when they decide in their warping…they need one?

Or do they simply covenant to journey together, normal people and weird ones, in their pursuit of being the people of God?