Posted tagged ‘ministry’

Old Friends in A New Day

January 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 3, 2019

                              

“Friendship knows no barriers that it will not make its way through, knows no distance it will not travel, knows no time that will bring its end except the end of life itself.”

                                                                                                        -Me

A friend of mine once said that he had many acquaintances, but few friends. He was profoundly wise in his view of friendship. Many of us have an inconceivable number of Facebook “friends”. I just checked my FB page and found out that I’m at 1,043! That doesn’t mean I’m popular, it just means that there’s a lot of people I know. Sure, some of those are immediate family and relatives near and far. My cousin Suzanne lives in Park City, Utah. I haven’t seen her in a few decades, but it’s good to see what’s going on in her life.

I digress from my point, however! 

Carol and I spent New Year’s Eve in Charlotte, North Carolina with our friends Tom and Diane Bayes. Their son, Brandon and his wife Mary, and their two young kids came over for dinner. Brandon is reading this blog so I’ll detour for a moment just to say this to him- ”Hee, hee, hee!” It’s an inside joke that brings a memory back to him of the Holy Land tour he, his dad, and I were on years ago.

Back to Tom! Both Tom and I are now retired American Baptist pastors. For about 15 years of our ministries we served as pastors at two churches in the Lansing, Michigan area. The two of us, plus another American Baptist pastor, Chuck Moore, met for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the southside of Lansing every other Wednesday for about 7 years. We formed friendships that have carried through. We called our threesome “The BMW Group” (Bayes, Moore, Wolfe). We figured it was as close to a BMW that any of us would get. 

We differed theologically, and yet we respected each other’s views and beliefs in an uncommon way- we listened and didn’t belittle!

Carol and I arrived at the Bayes house about 2:00 in the afternoon and for the next eleven and a half hours we talked, laughed, ate, toasted the new year, and finally went to bed at 1:30 in the morning. It was as if we had never been apart.

Friendship is like that. It doesn’t struggle to chat, and yet is comfortable with the moments of quiet. It doesn’t need to impress, yet it willing to wade through the waters of discouragement that one or the other is trudging through. It congratulates and consoles. 

Both Tom and I…and Chuck have traveled through tsunamis of church ministry. Each of us has been at one time or another the solid post that the friend in the midst of the storm has grabbed onto in the dangerous ministry times of being swept away. Each of us has also been the one who has grasped for that post. It’s what friends do for one another! 

Brandon pressed the issue with us during dinner. “You two are both retired. Why don’t you meet up with Chuck in Chicago sometime?” (Chuck pastors in Champaign, Illinois now.) 

So we will! I texted Chuck about the idea and meeting and going to a Cubs game, but we really don’t even need a baseball game. We just need each other! Location is secondary! That’s what friends do. We don’t need an event to meet around. I’ll say it again…we just need each other!

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017

                                  

Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!

Chaplain Rich Blanchette, First Lieutenant- United States Air Force

July 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              July 2, 2017

           

I remember when they appeared at my church. Actually, it was the second time they were there. I had been on vacation the first Sunday they showed up, but heard about the young family with two kids who had visited. (It always seemed to happen that way! When I went on vacation visitors would show up. It made my congregation want me to take more vacations, or at least stay away!)

Rich and Casey Blanchette had moved to Colorado Springs from Highland, Illinois. He was beginning a new assignment at the Air Force Academy. Their two munchkins, Hailey and Richie, were about 7 and 2 years old.

Rich and I connected! He understood my humor. We laughed together a lot. They got involved in various ways at church. Casey was enthusiastic and full of energy, like a balloon you let go of and the air releases from as the balloon flies all over the place. Rich was a part of a small group I began of young guys.

And then Rich felt called to the ministry! He had to make a decision. Re-enlist for another four years, or exit the Air Force after 13 years and head to the uncertainty of seminary. He followed the calling. Although his G.I. Bill paid for tuition, the family endured tight financial times as they absorbed educational costs like books and travel expense from Colorado Springs to Denver three to four times a week, plus the loss of income. Entering a three-year seminary program as a 32 year old married father of two is a serious life re-routing, but he did it.

During seminary our church helped him cover educational costs, brought him on staff with the title “Seminary Student Pastor”, and paid him a small stipend. However, the big plus was that it allowed me to mentor him, come alongside him, and get to know his heart for people. Seminary was hard for Rich, more because the demands of study limited his family time. There was always a bit of guilt about writing a paper for a class instead of hanging out with his kids. He struggled to find that balance. I remember both he and his wife sharing their frustrations as they tried to figure out a family rhythm. In the Air Force he had been deployed for six months to Afghanistan and knew the heartache of being away form his family. During his seminary days he would be in the basement of the house studying, just one level below his wife and kids, and still feel that heartache.

But he made it! After our church ordained him, he worked at the Springs Rescue Mission while he looked for pastoral placement. And then First Baptist Church of Goodland, Kansas called him. He interviewed with their search committee, and sent them a couple of sermon tapes. Pretty soon he was being presented as the candidate to be their next pastor…and they loved him, and Casey, and the kids.

Our church said goodbye to him, and they moved three hours away to their new church. I remember in those first few months of ministry he would call me from time to time to ask me questions. “Pastor Bill, what would you do…” “Pastor Bill, how did you go about…”

“Pastor Bill” was, and still is, my name to him even though we are both ordained clergy. In Rich’s mind it has always been a indication of his respect for me, but it also says something to the value that he places on people.

Almost three and a half years later his ministry, a ministry of depth and growth, at Goodland came to an end. Since the last Sunday in June was his final Sunday, the church is just in the beginning stages of grieving the loss of their beloved pastor, but most of them hold Pastor Rich in high regard and will love him always.

Why? Because he felt God tugging on his life’s guide ropes, leading him into a different direction that the Almighty had used the previous twenty years to prepare him for. He is now Chaplain Rich Blanchette, First Lieutenant, United States Air Force, on his way to his first assignment at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

I get somewhat emotional thinking about him. I remember the first sermon he delivered at our church and he took his shoes off before he spoke because he said this was holy ground he was speaking on. I remember taking notes on his messages and doing post-sermon critiquing with him the next week. “Rich, you had great content, but don’t try to feed them the whole haystack all at once!” “Rich, if you can’t illustrate a point with a real-life situation don’t use it!” “Rich, that was your best message yet, and your delivery has improved so much.” I remember traveling over to Goodland one Sunday with Carol and our friends, Ed and Diana Stucky. What an awesome time we had worshiping with the congregation and listening to their pastor preach. As he spoke my eyes got moist because of the symphony that God has orchestrated from his life.

The Blanchette’s stayed with us this past weekend as they began their journey to California. What a great time together! What a delight to be able to laugh so much together about things we had experienced and times shared together.

I have been blessed by him and his family, and in admiration of who he is and who he has become I think I’m going to start calling him “Chaplain Rich!”

No Grow and No Go

May 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 7, 2017

                                     

Recently a pastor friend of mine was sharing his church’s “simplified plan.” Our ministry support group of five people was sitting in a restaurant having lunch together. The noise and my aged hearing caused me to misinterpret what he was saying. His congregation’s simplified plan is “Know. Grow. Go.”

I, however, heard him say “No grow and go!” I thought to myself, “That’s an unusual plan…no grow and no go!’ I asked for clarification and my friend corrected my understanding when I told him what I had heard. All five of us got a good chuckle out of it, but then I thought about it a bit more. “No Grow and No Go!” might better define many churches of various flavors around the country.

There are many reasons why a number of churches don’t desire to grow as disciples and go and make disciples of others. First of all, growing requires commitment to something and surrender of part of my agenda. “Growing” is a marathon race and the church is crowded with sprinters and jumpers. In sports there are “fair weather fans”, and in churches there are “fair weather attenders.”

Growing requires change and, whereas we are fluid in many areas of our lives when it comes to change, we are also entrenched in other ways. For example, I need a new pair of jeans but I love the pair I’ve been wearing for about a decade. The pocket that I’ve carried my wallet in has a hole in it that resembles a woodpecker’s carving. I’ve tried changing pockets, but then I feel like I walk funny. I’m considering the option of not carrying my wallet with me rather than buy a new pair of jeans that I have to get used to. That’s how we are in various areas of our lives. I drink my morning juice out of a certain plastic cup, but I drink my dinner milk from a glass. I write my blog from a certain stool at a certain Starbucks. To vary that always gives me the feeling that the quality of the writing has diminished…unless I’m visiting my dad in southern Ohio, and then it’s okay to write from the Starbucks across the river in Huntington, West Virginia.

On the other side of the equation are churches that have a hard time figuring out what that “growing” element looks like. Our recent history shows the jumping around of churches trying to nail the discipleship block. But growing followers of Christ is not easily contained in a program or a curriculum, and that’s a hard truth for many of us professional church leaders to admit. It’s not that programs and curriculums are bad or unnecessary, but rather that we often put all of our eggs in one basket and there’s, so to speak, a growing number of spiritual egg-haters!

Moving on to the “go” part we’re often unmovable! Jesus’ Great Commission too often is the great omission in congregations. To sum it up, most of a typical church’s budget goes for what happens inside the walls, and what is designated as the mission budget is what gets sent outside the walls to support people not from the church in mission work. When the budget gets evaluated each year the mission budget lies there like a clay pigeon ready to be shot at. Want proof? Just notice how many people in your church come to a potluck dinner, and compare that to how many people participate in a community service or ministry project!

“No grow and no go!” symbolizes the “standing firm congregation.” We’ve mis-translated that great hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” a bit! Jesus didn’t intend for us to be stationary and anchored to what has always been, protective of our resources and unsympathetic towards a broken world around us.

Out of Shape Churches (Part 2)

April 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 22, 2017

                          

I heard a presentation a couple of years ago from a state high school athletic association commissioner who expressed the growing concern about the number of one-sport high school athletes who were getting injured. I remember him referring to the NCAA’s growing concern about this. More athletes, who were coming to college with full-ride athletic scholarships, were missing some or most of the competitive seasons because of injuries. The sports affected the most were volleyball and baseball. The main cause of the injuries was “over-use” of certain areas. In those two sports it was appearing in the rising number of shoulder injuries. Bottom line,  those muscles were overused and exhausted.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to figure out that out-of-shape churches are susceptible to injury for the same reason. The saying that has been heard to ad nauseam is that “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” The truth of that statement also leads us to discover a couple of things. When twenty percent, or less, of the people are doing almost all of the work their spiritual exhaustion makes them vulnerable to hurt and injury. In the workout world a common term is that a certain body part, like a knee or a lower back, “just gave out!” A sudden movement or moment changed everything. In churches “the twenty percent” is in danger of the same thing happening…”just giving out!” Someone who has been heavily involved in a ministry- one of those constants that people just take for granted- suddenly stops showing up. In simple terms, they just pooped out! Exhaustion mixed with frustration frequently results in absence!

The other dilemma of the twenty percent is that some of those people are a bit warped to begin with. They may volunteer for anything, but no matter where a psycho church member is serving he/she is still a psycho! Put another way, if an elephant volunteers to work in a china shop there is bound to be damage!

Several years ago I injured my lower back. To be more precise I herniated a disc. The injury was because of lifting some heavy objects and putting too much stress on that area of my back. In my physical therapy sessions the therapist showed me some safer ways to pick up things that won’t cause injury, and some exercises that would help strengthen a weak area. Looking back at that, now it is evident to me that I was doing things wrong. Injury was bound to happen at some time.

I’m helping with the middle school track team right now. We spend a lot of time stretching at the beginning of practice and then at the end of practice. In other words, we do a lot of prep work before we start depending on various muscle functions. Years ago when I was planning on running the Pike’s Peak Ascent, a 13.2 race UP Pike’s Peak (affectionately referred to by my wife as “The Death Race!”) I would go over to Barr Trail, which runs up the mountain, and train. I’d run up five miles and then back down the five miles. On other days I’d run around our neighborhood for a few miles. Although the Ascent was a challenge my training preparation was essential in getting me to the top of the mountain…and surviving!

Out of shape churches are too quick to press a warm body, or an overly-committed body, into ministry work. They expect their volunteers to attack a mountain when they still breathe hard just going upstairs.

Healthy churches do a lot more preparation before the ministry race starts! Healthy churches understand the value of the Holy Spirit in the functioning of ministry.

The Entitled Church

March 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 March 23, 2017

                       

     A few days ago I wrote a piece on the entitled church attender. I presented the idea that there are a lot of church attenders who mirror one of our cultural themes as they relate to the church. That is, there is a heightened sense of entitlement, and focus on what the church can do for “me”, as opposed to how I can join a community of believers in service and ministry for Christ.

An old friend of mine responded to that writing with another view that got me thinking. Having lost her husband in the last year she experienced a church that seemed to place its needs above her grieving. She had held a couple of positions within the congregation, and it seemed as if the church was more concerned with her continuing on in the work of those positions than it was in her journey of grief.

She was right on! The shoe is on the other foot this time! There are a number of churches who treat their servants like the Borax Mule Team. The focus is on getting things done, as opposed to being a community of believers who lean on others and are available to be leaned on.

We talked about it quite often in my years of pastoring: burn-out! The exhaustion of the saints and the pastor. It seemed that there was seldom good balance; that it was either the pastor burning the candle at both ends, or the twenty percent of the saints who were doing too much. Sometimes it was the pastor who drove “the mules”, and sometimes it was the church leaders who barked behind the pastor like an army drill sergeant!

Rarely were there situations where the rhythm of the saints and the clergy found a healthy balance.

And so my friend finds herself, after years and years of serving, now wondering about the church. Did it consider her to be like middle-management in a corporation? Did it really care for her, or simply care when it was convenient?

Honestly, that scenario has been played out too many times. Sometimes the church even uses the excuse of the Great Commission to minimize the importance of its messengers! “We’re all about Jesus, so put your pity party on the back burner!”

Entitled churches are simply gatherings of entitled church attenders who have control of the reins!

“Hahh, hahh!” says the guy with the whip riding behind the mules.

Year End Review

December 29, 2016

                                                                                   December 29, 2016

                                           

Most of us have gone through that white knuckle, anxiety-raising experience called “our evaluation.” For some it’s termed “job performance” and for others it’s the “year end review.” Whatever it was called most of us dreaded it with a passion, even though it usually ended up being a positive experience. I still remember the first evaluation I received when I was the very, very part-time youth director at First Baptist Church in Marseilles, Illinois. The pastor gave it to me and I thought it was totally unfair. My seminary professor who read the evaluation commented to me, “Sounds like he doesn’t care for you too much!” Perhaps that experience put the dread of evaluations in me. Funny thing is that the young people in that first youth group taught me a lot, and allowed me to figure out things. Forty years later I’m Facebook friends with a couple of them as we continue our journey, but from different parts of the country.

I’ve received evaluations that have helped me focus on areas of weakness and allowed me to become more grounded; and I’ve received evaluations that left me feeling defeated and deflated.

BUT now I’m retired! So who does my evaluation? There’s a few people who I’m sure would willingly volunteer, but…NO!

I guess it’s…ME! I guess I’m the one my evaluation falls to. Oh, I suppose Carol will continue to evaluate me in some ways, but that’s on a daily basis! Looking back at my first year of retirement after 36 and 1/2 years of full-time pastoral ministry means that I get to be my own judge. I have the honor of determining the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So here goes!

Needs Improvement- 

Time in The Word- Interesting that I thought I would have more time reading the Bible this past year, but it didn’t happen! I gleaned many things from it, but not nearly as many as I thought I would. No excuses or soppy-sounding reasons! It was just one of those things that didn’t happen enough. Hoping the coming year brings improvement here.

Time in Theological Reading- Pretty much like I just said above. My hope as I entered 2016 was to read some of those books of theology that have been in my personal library for…ever! Moltmann, Barth, Kung, Pannenberg…they’re all still there…staring at me with dusty covers!

Visits to the YMCA- Our monthly membership fee keeps going up and my number of visits keep going down. Playing basketball with “old farts” at 6 A.M. isn’t as likely to get me out of bed as much as it used to!

Average-

Since I’m evaluating myself I have the option of not putting anything as average. Seriously, the only thing I can think of as being average are the sack lunches I take to school when I substitute teach- peanut butter and honey on wheat bread, with a baggie of carrots and grapes, and a bottle of water…every day! TYPICAL would be a better word to describe most of my life. I go to bed about the same time each night, read at bedtime, sit on the same Starbucks stool, drink the same blend of coffee, play the same people over and over again in “Words With Friends”, type with the same three fingers (Notice I said “3!” One on my right hand and two on my left!), and watch the same TV shows week after week (mostly DVR’ed)…Elementary, Criminal Minds, and Modern Family.

Doing Well- 

Writing and Creativity- Today is the 167th posting on my “Words from WW” blog this year. Viewership this year increased by almost 30%. Feedback has been good, and I never seem to have a shortage of subject matter. I’m thinking about a book sometime entitled From My Stool At Starbucks. That’s where I write almost all of my blog posts…the end stool, mind you, at the right end of the counter that looks out at Pike’s Peak. Yesterday I came by Starbucks and my stool was taken, and like an old geezer set in his ways…I went back home! On the other side of things, I’m about 35,000 words into a novel, but I almost always do my novel writing at the public library! Weird, but productive! Carol thinks I have a girlfriend who works at the library.

Pastoring- I’ve transitioned, along with my friend Steve Wamberg, into being the unofficial pastors of First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. I say “unofficial”, but they even call be Pastor Bill now. I even received a mailing from our denomination’s region office last week inviting me to a conference in February that deals with pastoring the small church. Understand that all I’ve done so far is preach 2-3 Sundays a month, and lead the church in a couple of planning sessions as Steve and I help them figure out the future. I will probably never officially be pastor, but they see the two of us that way. And, quite frankly, I thoroughly enjoy the people there. They are great people who love the Lord and each other. It has allowed me to fall in love with the church again!

Coaching and Substitute teaching- I am extremely blessed to coach three different middle school teams…and to get paid to do it, and to mostly substitute teach middle school students. I love it, love it, love it! An added plus is all the writing material I receive from entering this world of adolescents. It’s like watching a new episode of The Wonder Years every day!

Spiritual Growth- This is a hard one for me to self-evaluate. Two of my best friends, Roger Mollenkamp and Steve Wamberg, continue to be my peer supports. We meet every other Friday at Starbucks for coffee, conversation, and each one of us has begun reading the book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I seem to be more grounded, and on a daily discovery of what God has me in the midst of. My writing is often a prime way for me to ponder and pound out on the keyboard what it is that God is saying to me. I also continue to be in a group of pastors called our “TIM group”…Together In Ministry…that meets monthly for study, sharing, lunch, and prayer. Great group! These two groups that I am a part of continue to challenge me and support me in my spiritual journey.

Frame of Mind and Attitude- Carol gets to evaluate me on this one. She has said, and told others, that I am much more relaxed and less stressed. My annoyances are now more with achy joints and cranky knees. Carol would tell anyone who wanted to hear that this past year has been a good year for me. Four vacations together: road trips to Arizona and Ohio, another trip by plane to Arizona, and an awesome trip to Hawaii. Frequent trips together to places like Target and King Soopers- something we didn’t do as much when we were both still working. In other words, we are mostly enjoying our journey into the world of the elderly!

Year End Evaluation- Keep on doing what I’ve been doing…just better! Value family and friends, for they are the ones who add richness and depth to the journey. Seek the Lord and be amazed at what is found! And have fun!