Church Leadership

When to contact your minister

August 1, 2017

“You didn’t visit Susan* in the hospital. You’re not doing your job. You’re not being a good pastor.”

Those words hung in the air for a few moments before I explained on the phone that Susan nor her family told me that she was in the hospital. It didn’t matter. The caller didn’t care. In the caller’s mind, I was responsible for information that I didn’t know about. It was very painful to be accused of not doing my “job”.

I’ve thought about that conversation many times in the years that have passed.   So, I worked more hours and harder at being omnipresent. Continue Reading…


Breastfeeding in church, a sin?

April 27, 2017

A breastfeeding mom in Virginia was told to leave her church’s sanctuary and go into a private room because “the church does not allow breastfeeding without a cover because it could make men, teenagers or new churchgoers uncomfortable.”

The Washington Post reported that Annie Peguero, mother of two, whose husband is on deployment, “posted her own livestream video on Facebook — with her baby, Autumn, at her breast — telling viewers what happened and urging women to stand up for breast-feeding.” Despite that Virginia law allows for mothers to breastfeed anywhere, the church clearly did not know about the mother’s rights. This isn’t the first time a mother breastfeeding became a national news story. A church in Dallas, TX in 2014 became the center of a social media debate about breastfeeding in church.

Currently, an individual can go into a church packing a gun in Virginia, but for some, a mother packing a nursing boob for a baby is just too much.

Continue Reading…


Lazarus, not John, was the disciple whom Jesus loved

April 13, 2017

Traditionally, John the Gospel writer was the disciple whom Jesus loved. However, upon closer study, there is another follower of Jesus that is a stronger candidate that you have likely not considered: Lazarus.

The identity of the “beloved disciple” or the one John calls “disciple whom Jesus loved” is unnamed and has remained a mystery. Irenaeus and Eusebius both identified the beloved disciple as John as early as the second and fourth century respectively. Scholars, such as Raymond Brown, have written heavily upon John as the one whom Jesus loved.  Despite the fact John does not self-identify nor names himself as the writer of the Gospel of John or the beloved disciple, we have relied on tradition and church history.

If we are to rely on the tradition of the identification of the beloved disciple, what about the internal evidence of scripture? Surprisingly, scripture does offer dramatic clues to the mystery of the beloved disciple.

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Confession gone wrong?

April 3, 2017

As a non-Catholic, going to confession is not within my religious framework. Richard Foster reminds us that confession has spiritual and cathartic value.  This weekend I stumbled on a confession note that just didn’t seem right. Instead of commenting on the note, I did the most ecumenical thing possible: I shared the note with the monks of Unvirtuous Abbey. The results were… well, expected:

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Meredith Gould on her book, “Deliberate Acts of Kindness”

March 31, 2017

I recently had a Q&A conversation with Dr. Meredith Gould on her updated book, Deliberate Acts of Kindness: A Field Guide to Service As a Spiritual Practice. Dr. Gould is well known for her writing and work within the fields of spirituality, church communications, and social media (among other disciplines).  She makes a compelling case to go beyond the proverbial random acts of kindness and to embody kindness that is intentional and authentic. It is a wonderful book that will help point readers to practical and spiritual direction for service in the church and the world.

Q1: You wrote the first edition of your book in 2002. What has changed in 15 years in our culture and spiritual lives of people that called for a second edition?

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Associate Pastor

The untraditional associate pastor

February 24, 2017

It’s been a little over four years since I wrote, The Work of the Associate Pastor (Judson Press) and a lot has changed. As church budgets get smaller and the pews reveal increasingly empty space, many church leaders cannot fathom having an associate pastor on a church staff.  A Hartford Institute for Religion Research study found that from 2010 to 2015, part-time clergy jumped from 29% to 38%. If it’s hard enough to staff one pastoral position, how could a church even think about two?

The answer is: it’s time to consider another model of associate pastor. Continue Reading…


What the Bible says about refugees

January 31, 2017

Donald Trump’s executive order denying refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries entry into the United States has led to widespread outcry across the political spectrum. Despite promises, even Christian refugees have been turned away from the United States. Being a nation of immigrants, this policy is antithetical to the notion that America is the land of liberty and freedom.  Politically and morally, policies and provisions that exclude a religious group is ethically wrong.

For Christians, such rejection of refugees and those seeking safety runs counter to what we read in the Bible. Here’s what we discover in the Bible on refugees, strangers and political aliens:   Continue Reading…

blog, Christmas

Why the “inn” is a Christmas myth

December 16, 2016


If you have been to church in some point in your lifetime during Advent or Christmas, you’ve most likely seen an adorable Christmas play or pageant.  Poor Joseph and Mary, often in bathrobes, are portrayed by children who  are turned away by an “innkeeper” who lacks compassion. “No room!” is the line. The problem is, when you read the Gospel of Luke or Matthew, there’s no innkeeper or an inn. Such things are a Christmas myth.

Putting aside the adorable nature of children’s Christmas plays, the account of Jesus’ birth must be placed into context of where the birth of Christ took place: Bethlehem. The town of Bethlehem, thought to contain around 1,000 people at the time, was David’s hometown. Since it was David’s hometown, there was sure to be family present because Joseph, along with other family, had to return to be counted for the census. We read from the King James Version of Luke 2:

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

From the passage, we learn two things. First, Mary gave birth while in Bethlehem. Apparently, Mary and Joseph were there for some length of time. Second, Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no room in the “inn”. The trouble here is that the King James Version translates the Greek word katalumati as “inn”, but the translation of “guest room” is more accurate – as the New International Version renders the word.  The interpretation of katalumati is more of a product of 16th and 17th century European understandings of a guest room when the KJV was first published. Generally, “inns” in the time of Jesus were found in larger cities, not small towns, and inns were no place for a woman in childbirth.

We read later in Luke when Jesus eats his last supper the disciples gather in a katalumati – guest room, also translated, “upper room”:

As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.  Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, “Where is the katalumati where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” (Luke 22:11)

In all reality, Jesus was most likely born in a house.  Many assume that Jesus was born in some sort of stable, where animals were kept. However, in the time of Jesus, humble folks lived with their animals. According to ancient Near East culture expert, E. F .F. Bishop notes the the arrangement of people and animals:

“One of the Bethlehem houses with the lower section provided for the animals, with manger ‘hollowed in stone,’ the dais [or raised area] being reserved for the family. Such a manger being immovable, filled with crushed straw, would do duty for a cradle. An infant might even be left in safety, especially if swaddled, when the mother was absent on temporary business” (“Jesus of Palestine“, p. 42)

When I visited Israel in 2012, I went to Bethlehem to a site that recreated, based on historical evidence and archeology, a house that included a lower section for animals and an upper section for living quarters. At the lower portion of the house was a manager, or feeding trough for the animals. After seeing such a home, the birth story of Jesus made sense – sans the inn and innkeeper.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for the myth of an “inn” in the Christmas story is that Luke uses another word for a rental inn. Luke used the Greek word, pandocheion, to describe a place one could stay for a price.  In the story of the Good Samaritan we read in Luke 10:34:  “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an pandocheion (inn) and took care of him.” If there was truly no room in the “inn”, Luke would have used pandocheion in the Christmas story.

Imagine for a minute, everyone of Joseph’s family is in town for the census, the house is full with guests and relatives, and Mary has to go through the very painful and messy delivery of a baby. With the guest room and main living areas full, Jesus was placed in a manager to sleep – as Luke describes.  Ancient Jewish customs and cultural behaviors were not have allowed Mary to stay in an ancient version of a Motel 8. Mary was most likely cared for and surrounded by people in a time of great expectation of Jesus’ birth.

With this perspective, your Christmas nativity scene in your home or church is still accurate, but imagine it as a home – not a stable. It should give us comfort and relief knowing that after everything Mary and Joseph had been through, they were among family, and well cared for with all the extended family around to hold the newborn Christ child.

blog, Christmas

The Bethlehem you don’t know

December 12, 2016


The wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. In the background right, you can see the Mount of Olives , which overlooks the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem.

As millions of Christians around the world sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” this Advent and Christmas. If you visit Bethlehem today, you would see that it is indeed still, but not in that Christmas-y way. The hopes and fears of all the years are real and have been made worse by a years of conflict and a massive concrete wall.

Four years ago this week, I journeyed with a group of fellow American Baptists and a group from the Church of the Brethren on a goodwill-peace and perspectives trip to Israel and Palestine, which was organized by The Telos Group.  It was a trip that went beyond visiting holy sites but sought to understand the conflict in Israel firsthand. If you enter into Bethlehem from Jerusalem, you are greeted by a Cold War like military wall complete with lookout towers, rusted fortifications, armed soldiers, and checkpoints. The Berlin Wall was about 12 feet high, but the wall that separates Bethlehem is 25 feet high. To the Israeli government, it’s not a wall, but a barrier to protect against suicide bombers and attacks. Unfortunately, in the minds of many, the terrorist organizations that operate in the West Bank are equal to the average Palestinian. However, not all Palestinians are Muslim. They are Christian as well – and of other faiths.

If you travel along the wall in Bethlehem you’ll read stories and see art work of how the wall has impacted people in Bethlehem…

The stories are stories of death, oppression, injustice, rape, injury, and violence, that accompanies the wall, checkpoints, and military security. There are messages of hope as well.

At one of these checkpoints, our small bus was boarded by four Israel Defense Force soldiers. We were asked by soldiers the nature of our visit from the West Bank into Jerusalem. They asked for our passports. Our bus driver and guides explained that we were Americans on a Christian pilgrimage and visit.   As the soldiers pointed their loaded M-16s in our faces, one announced that all the men would have to come with them to be questioned. Our guides were stunned. In all their years of traveling with American groups, such a thing never happened. As the bus driver and soldiers discussed our entry, we sat waiting to hear what was going to happen next. It was extremely tense situation. Thankfully, the lead soldier discovered that our driver had family in the soldier’s hometown and the two continued to talk. This enabled the out-ranking soldier to release us on our way. As we talked to Israelis, Palestinians, and other non-nations on our trip, we found that this checkpoint interaction is common.

The Israeli government is understandably concerned with security. Between rocket attacks, shootings, bus bombings, and other mass casualty attacks, the country has a duty to protect. Certainly, there are enough instances of Palestinian aggression and violence. The unfortunate reality is that some Israeli protection policies fall within a gray area. Due to the vast restrictions on Palestinians, even those Christians from Bethlehem, it has led to border crossings that have included shootings and “harsh conditions of overcrowding, long lines, and cases of humiliation during inspection.” Due to years of persecution, most Christians have left Palestinian towns like Bethlehem for better economic opportunities and basic freedoms.

For some, to object to the treatment of displaced peoples in Bethlehem is to object to Israel. To question any policy of the Israeli government can be seen as anti-Israel or even anti-Christian.  We know that Americans question American government policies everyday, but that does not make someone automatically anti-American.  It is easy to treat this Middle East challenge as a binary issue, but it is not.  For the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there can be a third way. There can be pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace solutions. However, it is hard work to find a third way. It is easier to draw lines and pick between two options. The more we draw lines the more we separate ourselves from our neighbor. At the basic human level, all three major world religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all have some form of teaching or instruction for respect and love for neighbor. This must be considered as a way forward.

For people living in Bethlehem this will be another Christmas that sees continued divide among neighbors. If you sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem… How still we see thee lie…” remember that modern-day Bethlehem is far from peaceful or still from the imaginary Hallmark Christmas card version. The Bethlehem you do not know and the complex conflict around it requires our prayers, attention, action, and support.

Advent, blog

Advent outrage: Would Jesus curse?

December 1, 2016

The PG version. For the real Advent devotional, scroll down.

(WARNING: If you are offended by coarse language. Don’t read this.) Advent is here! Advent is a time for Christmas trees, lighting candles, waiting for the coming of the celebration of Christ’s birth and… dropping F-bombs?

A new Advent devotional is pushing the edges of decorum with such words and hashtags as…

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Join me tonight on Twitter #chsocm

November 15, 2016


I’m moderating #chsocm on Twitter tonight @ 9:00 p.m. If you are a church-ie social media type, just join in on Twitter with the search and hashtag #chsocm. It’s pretty easy to join in. Just keep #chsocm in your search on Twitter and follow the conversation.

My topic tonight will be centered around social media listening and responding post-election:  Continue Reading…