Reality, Obedience, Grace [part 1]

I taught recently on the passage in scripture where Jesus says “I am the true vine.” My main thesis, given that it was graduation Sunday, was that there are a lot of things you can give your life to, and in fact there are some things you can give your life to that are really good.

But, are those things true?

Jesus, in all of his I Am statements, is making the very radical claim that there are a lot of options, but only one way that is ultimately true.


I read this post the other day, and I thought, as one who works with millennial, that there were many useful insights.

One thing the author says never to say to millennials is “stop being so idealistic…the real world doesn’t work that way.” I agree with the heart of this sentiment: we shouldn’t be killing the spirit of the next generation. Don’t be a wet blanket.

But, I also see idealism wielded as an ultimate trump card. A way to justify our own behavior and to do our own thing without being accountable to anyone, especially someone older, and potentially wiser, than ourselves.

[For the sake of integrity, I have used this trump card myself on too many occasions.]


Of course, I also see a tremendous amount of cynicism, especially in my peers. A friend who just left the ministry told me a story about talking to another pastor who asked him, in so many words: “Doesn’t it feel so good to be out?!”

That kind of stuff kills me…I don’t ever want to be there.

Pastors do see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and there is a lot of the bad and the ugly, but we also know and preach and teach the good news about Jesus, which is fundamentally hopeful.

[For the sake of integrity I can be one crotchety, cynical mess at times.]


Back to the vine. Jesus constantly cuts across the grain of all the false narratives we can construct for ourselves.

Idealism sounds so good, and presents itself in such a positive light, but it quickly runs off the cliff of reality, becoming a balloon floating on the wind with nothing to anchor it down.

Cynicism wallows in “reality,” but in a way that keeps everything at arm’s length to mask the pain we feel, and as a result becomes an un-reality.

The true vine gives life and sustains us because it is true. It is reality. Jesus, the good news of his resurrection, is what is real, and what is true, and what is sustaining.

I see too many people choosing to avoid reality: the reality of their situations, of the decisions they’ve made, of the challenges they face.

But avoiding reality leads us to shallow perspectives and prevents us from ever maturing.

Choose what is real.

On Being a Pro and Writing Stuff Down

A good friend who used to be on staff with us, recently transitioned into the “workforce.” He shaved, got some nice, professional clothes, and went to work at a job where if he screws up it will cost his company money and clients and (God forbid) worse.

I love my job, and I love being able to wear flip-flops and shorts to work, but if there is one thing that bothers me about ministry it is that a lot of people don’t treat it like “regular work”, for lack of a better term.

I saw this tweeted the other day:

“Be professional. Arrive on time. Actually be early. And be organized.

I offer up a wholehearted AMEN to that tweet. (Turns out the source is one of Brad’s articles, which you can read here, and it is very good).

I don’t know a lot of people who treat ministry with the professional mindset. In fact, there is almost an anti-professionalism that permeates a lot of Christian leadership. There are some good reasons for this. No one wants to be cold, distant, or a dictator.

What’s interesting to me is that many other non-traditional professions seem to revel in professionalism. I see this a lot in the writing/blogging world. You can read any number of posts and articles on the beauty of discipline, structure, and professionalism.

Why haven’t more ministry leaders adopted this mindset?

Some like to argue against my point by throwing the “in the world, not of the world” mantra back. And while I do think there are some ways in which we should think about ministry in different categories than the world (money comes immediately to mind), there are other ways (like being a pro) that should be held at an even higher standard than the regular workforce.

The other day our staff team was working on crafting content for our small groups this fall. We are going to talk about parables, and the parable of the Shrewd Manager came up in the conversation. It is a weird parable, and one that many people (myself included) struggle to understand.

In Luke 16:8 Jesus says:The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

I think this has direct application to ministry and work and professionalism.

We, in vocational ministry, should be just as shrewd (read: professional) in our work and craft as those who are in other vocational callings.

In addition to Brad’s list (I especially like 4, 5, 6, and 14, although I will print out the whole list and put it in my planner today), I would suggest 3 simple things to improve your professionalism:

  1. Write Stuff Down: in our technological world there are so many ways to store and keep track of things. I find that people who rely too heavily on the digital world tend to be more scatterbrained, forget more meetings, and lose things more often than those who write things down. This is not scientific data, but there’s something about putting pen to paper that, in my experience, seems to improve memory, demonstrate care, and produce results (like showing up, and showing up on time).
  2. Prepare: write stuff down before you go to a meeting, or a one on one. Prepare for those moments the way you would prepare for a talk in front of 50 people. And write stuff down afterwards so you don’t forget! (There’s a theme here).
  3. Act Like You Care: this means that sometimes you wear a shirt with a collar. Sometimes you call AND leave a voice mail (instead of texting). Sometimes you choose your words carefully (and you don’t use certain words you might use in other contexts). Sometimes you over follow-up. I could go on.

I am one of the more informal people you will ever meet, but I have found (sometimes from painful experience) that I want to err on the side of being a pro. It demonstrates care, it demonstrates a strong ethic of work, and it enhances (rather than diminishes) the legitimacy of what I do as a pastor.

Practice your craft, be a pro, and get a pen so you can write some stuff down!

Tired and Hopeful

Well, another semester, another year, is wrapping up, which means time to look back and to look forward (and to start blogging again).

I’m usually pretty tired at the end of a semester, which means I’m also a little more grumpy/cynical than normal. This is the natural outcome of another year watching people make the same mistakes over and over again (even though your advice and guidance is so golden). Of another meeting where someone is on their phone the whole time. Of another person late for the millionth time. Another cancel. Another flake.

That’s life. That’s ministry. And at the end of a semester it sure feels like it has added up into a huge mound of “why-can’t-people-get-their-stuff-together.”

But despite that I can’t remember a year ending and feeling this good about life.

Fundraising has gone well, with the usual unbelievable stories that go along with it.

I am so proud of our students. This year has been packed with great stories, life change, and a very clear front-row-seat to God moving.

I love our little community in Roslindale. Having multiple friends right down the street has been life-giving.

Our family is amazing. Amy is an incredible mother, and Marina is a joy to be around (those things are very strongly correlated).

And I have a lot of hope that there are some very cool things coming up just around the bend. The future is bright. Praise the Lord.