Posted tagged ‘pastors’

The Few Seconds Visitor

March 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    March 28, 2018

                                     

I had lunch last week with a friend of mine who needed to vent some…and laugh! He had just spent the previous thirty minutes with someone who had stopped by his office and asked the question:

“Got a few seconds?”

Being someone who is responsible for a workload that is enough for two people, as well as being a nice guy, he said yes. The few seconds extended past a few minutes and into one long rant. It took a few minutes to bring him back down to the humor involved in just being human, but a long lunch later he was ready to return to work.

I remember those days of having an unscheduled visitor stop by the church office and, with a smile on his/her face, ask me that question. One man who was a representative of a mission organization would cause me to grind my teeth as I struggled with the spiritual dilemma fueled by my deeply-rooted Baptist guilt of telling him I was unavailable. That internal wrestling match had come as a result of several experiences with this man of God, and several of those “Got a few seconds” pop-ins!

People who ask for a few seconds usually have no concept of time. In their minds time is infinite. A few seconds could mean a decade in the vastness of time.

In my 36 years of pastoring the only productive meetings I had with someone who asked me if I had a few seconds was when another staff person approached me. Since we were working in the same building it meant that there was something vitally important for me to hear. Otherwise, the person who would stop by, like I was a Starbucks coffee stop, would produce anger, frustration, and cost me a half-day. The half-day cost would be because of how difficult it would be to shift my mind back to one of the other tasks I had to get accomplished that day. After the unannounced visitor left I was still dealing with the frustration of what had just been talked about.

If it was the week leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday I could expect someone to grab my ear for a while. It, of course, was “something that just couldn’t wait!”

“The Few Seconds Visitor” was usually a single-issue person, thinking that the whole church was also disgruntled about the same thing. He/She often saw himself/herself as being the mouthpiece for a larger contingent, like an elected senator speaking for the voters.

In ministry the pop-in person usually has an issue that could and should be handled by a committee or staff person, but the visitor doesn’t like how the team or staff person is handling it. Forget about process and rules of procedure! If he can bend the ear of the pastor/director/principal/administrator for a while to get his way then so be it!

If Jesus had been stopped by someone who wanted just a few seconds of his time he would have said “Get behind me, Satan!”, or perhaps he would have performed an exorcism of the one-issue demon the person was afflicted with.

Let me get to wisdom! The wise person is one who identifies the few people who he trusts, and who, when asked, tell him the truth and advise him on the decisions to be made. The wise person is the one who seeks to receive “a few seconds” of thoughts from people such as that. The wise person knows he needs those trusted few who he can filter situations, assumptions, ideas, and perceptions through. He needs those few people who can lead him to the right decision through clarifying questions.

My youngest daughter would often come to me with a request of something she wanted me to buy her. As she reached her high school years, when her requests seemed to grow in the size of their price tags, I would ask her the question, “Is this a want or a need?” She hated that question because it put things into perspective.

The person who wants just a few seconds of your time is usually someone who has a want not a need. The healthy organization, and effective leader, is one that is able to separate personal wants from organizational needs, personal agendas from organizational priorities, and personal rants from absolute truth.

Thanks for taking a few seconds to read this!

Eighty-Eight!

June 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 18, 2016

                                           

My dad is celebrating his eighty-eighth birthday today! Unreal!

He is the last of the generation immediately above Carol and me on the age pyramid, a gentle gentleman who never seems to be rushed in the sharing of wisdom. Wisdom and advice needs to be dished out and savored like smooth Kentucky bourbon whiskey…slowly and with great contemplation. I wouldn’t know, but my older brother, a tour guide at the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, has told me so.

It is remarkable that my dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, has made it this far. He has overcome a boatload of challenges through his nine decades…if you round it off to the nearest whole number. Named after two Baptist ministers, Laurence and Hubert, who helped his dad get out of the bottom of the drinking problem barrel, Dad brought us up Baptist. My brother, sister, and I frequented services and events at church three times a week…Wednesday night, Sunday morning and evening. I equated the trusted firmness of Dad’s arm with the unwavering love of God, as I leaned up against him about the time Pastor Zachary launched into his sermon. I will never know how heavy my head felt to him by the time the sermon was rounding thirty minutes and heading for an hour, I just knew that my “lean-to” never wilted.

That memory, that picture, is a telling illustration of who my father has been and still is. Consistent, solid, dependable, tender, strongly compassionate.

Dependability seems to be in short supply these days, as fathers do their own thing and seek to romance whatever or whoever pleasures them. Dads who stay the course, who keep their promises, are a rare breed.

Dad has been that rare breed. Interestingly enough, my siblings and I didn’t know that was unusual. We thought our dad was like all the other dads. We thought all dads embraced their wives in the midst of the kitchen, like my dad did, and then obediently would give my mom a kiss after she had said to him “Kiss me slobber lips, I can swim!” We thought that was normal! We thought we were normal! We thought all dads were patient, and all dads were home on Sunday nights after church eating popcorn and watching Ed Sullivan on TV. We thought all dads listened to their wives vent about what Myrtle had said to Thelma about Betty’s potato salad that had been brought to the Penney’s employees’ potluck that day. In those days there were no baseball games on TV to divide a husband’s attention, so Mom had both of Dad’s ears…and she used them with no consideration of moderation. Like Dad’s arm in the Central Baptist Church sanctuary pew, he was my mom’s “lean-to” for listening. He stayed with her in the midst of her rational and irrational moments.

Moving ahead a few decades he also stayed with her as she dealt with ill health, and then became bedridden, and then as her illnesses took away her ability to verbalize her thoughts and feelings. In their sixty-five years of marriage he had heard her say enough to know what she was thinking even when she could no longer say it. Even in the midst of Mom’s confusion towards the end of her life when she thought that Rachel Ray was Dad’s new girlfriend because her picture was on the front of a magazine laying by her bed, Dad stayed the course.

Now that he has his own apartment in a senior adult living complex that is heavily populated by widows, and lean on widowers, he gets to listen to a swarm of women every day. And they love him! He’s now the lean-to for a bunch. Valerie, Bonnie, and Bernice bring him his morning newspaper. Bernice is 93! She looks at his dinner plate as he passes by to see if he is eating healthy, even though she isn’t! Bonnie’s door is right across the hall from Dad’s staring at it, in his son’s opinion, too uncomfortably close! Robin, the building’s manager, is wonderful as she converses with him, always seeming to cause a chuckle to rise to the surface.

A lovely ninety-six year old was talking to Dad this week about the women all buying bikinis, and she was considering going topless! Dad listened and laughed. I blushed!

Tomorrow Carol and I begin our road journey home. We will worship together with my sister, brother-in-law, and Dad, and then say our tearful goodbyes. It will be hard to release the embrace, but we have our own family…that is, two generations below us on the age pyramid…to go home and hug. Three children, two son-in-laws, and three grandchildren to be the “lean-to” for. Tomorrow I’ll sit in church with Dad, just like I did fifty-five years ago. His physical strength has waned since then, but I know that his strength of character is abundant.

In new kinds of ways he’s still my “lean-to!”

Laurence Hubert: A story of redemption and grace

November 10, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   November 9, 2015

                                   

I never knew my dad’s dad. He was killed in a mining accident when my dad was in his early teen years. When you don’t know someone you miss out on part of the family story. You forget that there was family history before you ever were!

A little more of the family past was revealed to me by my dad when I was visiting him back in Ohio about a month ago. I hadn’t really thought about why my dad had been named “Laurence Hubert Wolfe”. He just was…that’s all! I never knew him by any other name and didn’t question it. It’s like breathing…we don’t think about it just is. For all I knew,

But there is a wonderful story of redemption and grace behind my dad’s first and middle names. His father, Silas Dean Wolfe, had a tendency to drink too much. Alcohol was destroying his life one shot at a time. He was losing his grip on things. My dad never said that my grandfather was an alcoholic, but he had one foot stepping into that problem.

When it seemed that he was a lost cause two Baptist ministers came into his life and walked with him through the struggles. They stayed beside him in the midst of the temptations, and lifted him out of the depths. The names of the two Baptist ministers were “Laurence” and “Hubert.” The impact of their tough love and restorative grace was so profound that my father bears their names as his names.

For many of us, our names are passed down from one generation to the next. My two names comes from a great uncle and my Uncle Dean. Some of us are “Juniors” or “the third!” But my dad’s name…Oh, my! His name is a constant reminder that the depths of a person’s life can still be ascended from. His name reminds him of where his dad had fallen and how he had risen again. His name reminds him of people who come into our loves as messengers of redemption, stand beside the broken, and never leave us!

Mixed Nuts and Other God Events

June 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  June 5, 2013

 

I used to be a separatist. The peas never touched the carrots on my dinner plate. Although the salad was tossed in to a heap of disarray it was kept in a separate bowl barely in the same zip code as the baked chicken. Gravy was allowed on the potatoes, but only if they were mashed!

And then I discovered mixed nuts- cashews in the same can with filberts, walnuts chumming up with almonds, Brazils cross-culturing with Macadamians. I found out that nuts of different shapes and sizes could be tasty together. This only came after a childhood of salted peanuts. Pecans were something that Georgians had. Our family kept to the basics. If I would have seen a Barzil nut back in those days I would have kept my distance.

Now, decades later, one of the simple pleasures of life is to throw a handful of mixed nuts into my mouth and chew. I feel a little cheated that I didn’t get to indulge earlier in my years.

At a recent meeting of our neighborhood pastors (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Mennonite, United Methodist, Evangelical Covenant, and American Baptist), the idea was thrown around about folks from our different congregations gathering together for conversations on faith questions.

Radical!

The peas were touching the carrots!

Call us radical, but the idea excited us. For most of our weeks we’re in separate “cans”, protected by the “wanna-bes”, and now the possibility of talking with people of other congregations about things of faith was rising to the surface. In the past most of the time that has happened has been because a para-church organization has been having a fund-raising dinner and we rub elbows with the Nazarenes, Episcopalians, and Catholics because we were assigned to the same table.

What might an American Baptist learn from a Mennonite about living out faith? Is the gospel the same for a Presbyterian as it is for a Lutheran? How does the proclamation of Christ happen in different denominations?

So often we have been content to stay in the same can with all the other “nuts” that look like us. Our understanding of scripture is challenged infrequently because we’ve been conditioned to be like one another. “Body life” is important for a congregation, but sometimes we become “body dead” as a result of stagnation. Evangelicals become suspicion of liberals. Pentecostals are leery of liturgists. Caucasian Protestants are nervous about Hispanic Charismatics.

It seems safer to stay in our own comfort zone, where we have a better handle on what is going to happen…so we do!

Over the past seven or eight years our neighborhood churches have gotten to know each other in  several ways. The pastors exchange pulpits one Sunday each January. The congregations have loved it, and then we get back to our own “can” again. We’ve teamed together in serving the neighbors in our community two Saturdays each year. This fall we are going to have a recreational volleyball league in our gym, where a devout Mennonite can give a Baptist “a peace of this” in a holy-moly spike.

As pastors, however, we want to take our congregations to the next level of discovering that we’re not that much different from one another, and that we do not serve multiple Jesus’s.

When we can talk about out faith it may bring each one of us to a new understanding as to how to live out our faith.

Pass the pistachios, Merv!

The Dread and The Draw

October 26, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         October 26, 2012

 

To be a pastor is to blessed and cursed at the same time. Before you start a petition to have me thrown off a cliff…kind of like the crowd’s reaction to Jesus first sermon (Luke 4:14-30)…let me expound! I’m good at taking a few words from Scripture and talking about them for 30 minutes!

The blessing is to walk alongside people in their celebrations and struggles. It’s to know that you can be used by God to share a word of encouragement with them; or just sit quietly with them as they grieve and be present; or be the storyteller to a group of children; or lead people in worship and discovery. Extraordinary blessings!

It’s a curse in that your time is not your own. There is always the anxiety of a date night with my wife being detoured towards the hospital. Saturday nights are not spent relaxing in front of the TV, or reading a mystery novel. Sometimes people get upset with you because you were suppose to automatically know about their mother’s surgery even though nothing had been said.

Most weeks, however, the blessings tip the scales heavily away from the curses.

It points to another tension that is evident in most pastors on Sunday afternoon or evening. It’s the dread of another week beginning, but also the draw of a new beginning. Monday brings hope, but also tired realism. The sharing of “a word from the Lord” is a blessing, an opportunity; and yet, Monday is the face smack moment of knowing that there needs to be a new word for the next Sunday. A pastor feels blessed that people want “a word” from him. A pastor feels cursed in that people expect “a word” from him.

I know that I need to vacate for a few days when the dread on Monday creates a tsunami of despair on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Every pastor, no matter the gender, race, denomination, or size of congregation he/she serves, goes through periods where there is a vacancy sign in receiving words from the Lord. Our rest is interrupted by the scene of standing before the congregation on a Sunday and saying “There is no word from the Lord this week!”

Someone approaches a pastor after worship and says, “Great sermon, pastor!” Although the affirmation is appreciated, there is also the renegade thought running through the pastor’s mind about whether next week’s message can be as meaningful. Pastors have nightmares about sermons that are complete disconnects with the hearers.

As I said, however, Sunday night brings that tension point of dread and draw. The draw is that Monday is a new beginning. The Christian walk is about new beginnings, new life, new things, new hope. Monday is a reaffirmation that God is about something new. It’s about seeing his truth, and presence in another new way.

Monday is like the beginning of a new book. The danger is that books can become never-ending and overwhelming, like a seminary student who looks at the stack beside his study desk and realizes that there are twelve other new books that will need to be started in addition to the one he has just opened.

That’s the dread! An ongoing avalanche of newness that results in a desire for some oldness. Sometimes our soul sings “Tell me the old, old story!”

Pastors can identity whether they are in a period of dread or a period of draw. We’re pretty sharp in many ways, even as we’re clueless in others.

All of us have heard the wisecracks about pastors working only one day a week. The truth of the matter is that, even with a day off, we pastor seven days a week. It’s a constant calling that we can not separate ourselves from, almost like being a father or a son is an “always.”

Bad Ideas and Leadings from God

October 9, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   October 9, 2012

 

Sometimes people say things to me like, “You’re a pastor! You’ve got extra influence with God.” Or “You’re a pastor! Would you say a prayer for me, since God listens to you more than me.” I’m tempted at that point to respond with a “Show me where Scripture says that” , but usually the person saying it doesn’t have muchof a grasp on Scripture.

And I want to also tell them that I often confuse bad ideas as being the leadings of God. After all, pastors are suppose to have leadings from the Lord, and when we walk through a desert period in our spiritual lives we’re sometimes guilty of inventing leadings. It’s kind of like when a group has a prayer time and the group members are told to pray that they feel led. Sometimes there are the heart-felt prayers that are spoken, and sometimes there are prayers uttered because of the uncomfortableness of silence.

Someone needs to pray something.”

There are leadings that are really reactions. People get ticked off at one another, and “are led” to do some things that I can’t believe God would lead them to do. Pastors have often been “led by the Lord” right after a heated church council meeting. I’d like someone “to be led” to do a study of what percentage of pastor resignations come within a week of church board meetings.

There are leadings that shine the spotlight on a person, and leadings that get leaked to the media. The word “revelation” gets substituted for leadings on occasion. For some reason it seems like it’s more spiritual for pastors to talk about “receiving revelations from God”, but everyone else has to use the term leadings.

Leadings can sometimes be responses from our tendency to not just stand there but to do something. Peter felt that urge after the Transfiguration of Jesus on top of a mountain. Spontaneous as he tended to be he came up with the “leading” of building three shelters to recognize the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. One translation uses the word “tents.” I remember reading that when I was growing up and I couldn’t get a Boy Scout camp-out image out of my mind. I started envisioning Jesus sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows with his guests and disciples. I discovered that it was my imagination, not a revelation.

Leadings can only be so far, also. What I mean is that a leading can be so far out there that people lose sight of it. The shepherd doesn’t lose sight of the sheep because some of the sheep tend to lose focus. And yet the shepherd knows when it’s time to move…to be led to a new place of grazing.

Bad ideas sometimes emerge out of a desire to be relevant. Relevance is something that the people of God need to keep in mind, but sometimes it is relevance that is driving the cart. It shows when it seems that a lot of people are being led by the Lord to suddenly dress a certain way, or start a certain ministry. My cynical side asks why God didn’t lead someone to open a coffee house in their church back in the 70’s? Why does it seem that there are so many leadings of that ministry in the past five years with the Starbucks explosion?

Of course, you can take that reasoning and “why asking” only so far. To take it to an extreme is a bad idea. There is always a danger of questioning a new idea simply because we question anything that is new.

I pray consistently for the leading of the Spirit, but realize that the leading is in the Spirit’s time not mine. Sometimes the Lord leads with a stop sign, and sometimes he leads us in retreat.

My hope, as well as my fear, is that on Sunday morning when I stand before the gathered saints and faith journeyers that he will have led me to a word…a word from the Lord to share with the church. It is a moment of trepidation because of the fear of sharing, not a leading, but a bad idea…and a fear because of there always being the possibility that the Lord didn’t lead me to a word that week. Perhaps some Sundays the sermon should simply be silent!