3 Things Worth Doing in Groups

Thanks Skitter Photo

Thanks Skitter Photo

My primary role at New Community is to lead the small groups ministry. I do other things like preach and provide pastoral care and leadership when people need to meet with a pastor. But the biggest chunk on my job description, the thing I’m supposed to spend myself doing, is groups. I serve with a dozen leaders and a half dozen coaches in order to provide these smaller environments where people meet, talk about “things that matter,” and are challenged to serve.

I led a group this summer. I’ll lead a couple this fall. Every now and then I get to visit a group. I went to one last week, joking that the only times I actually visit church small groups is when something’s wrong. The comment got a chuckle, broke the ice in the room, and we kept going to talk about some significant things.

Their leader had decided to the leave the church. The group had been having extreme conflict in the last couple weeks. There was an overarching question about next steps for the group. It was a full conversation. And we did three things that I think any group should do, especially a church group. Whether a “small group” or a ministry group, here are the three necessary actions we did that I want to offer people in group life or group ministry with others:

  1. We thanked the leader. Leaders need to be thanked. They need other things too, but gratitude is essential. Whenever you think to express love and support for the people leading, do it. It won’t go to their heads. In fact, they’ll probably underrate and need to be challenged to actually hear it. But we thanked the group leader, and I invited them to be as specific as possible. It was a meaningful moment that should be as natural as anything else. I need to work on this more in my life. I thank every person I meet with–trying to name one or two things I really took in during the meeting–but I still need to devise a strategy for getting our church’s group members to regularly and normally say thanks to those who lead.
  2. We talked about the recent conflicts. This group had been through a hellish set of conversations over the last two weeks, which was my original reason for being invited. They needed me to help them do what they couldn’t alone. I loved that the leader asked me to come because it honored the fact that we work together in ministry; that we all have roles to play. My role was to instigate, facilitate, and contain real, raw words. I was there to help them be fearless in the face of conflict, which is an inherent part of reconciliation. We spoke honestly and even though they were afraid they only spoke up because I was there, I was able to underline how doing it once meant the ability to do the same again, whether or not a pastor was present.
  3. We discussed the future. Groups end. I thought that group would, and I told them so. But I was open and surprised that our pastoral staff was able to envision a different future. I brought both possibilities to the group so they would prayerfully consider them. We should be freed to assume no particular ends in church life. It’s not a failure to end things; it may be a clear mark of growth. It may exhibit courage to close down. But we have to talk ourselves to our futures. We have to pursue the unknown just as faithfully as we pursue what’s common. Being open to whatever comes is the meaning of life by faith. I’m a strategist, but I’m a Christian. The former grates at the latter. So I have to choose to be as Christian as possible, which means walking into mystery as much as possible. That’s our future. We may as well discuss it.

Prayers for Julia

Join me in praying for Julia who’s taking boards tomorrow:
Thanks to Fressonneveld

Thanks to Fressonneveld

Almighty God, you created Julia, which is another way of saying that you are creative and that you made not only Julia but every other person. What an amazing, remarkable thought. You made and you know us. Your memory about us is perfect. Knowing every hair on our heads as scripture says, you made us to be wondrous and wonderful.


As Julia studies for her boards, visit her with the same creativity, the same memory, the same particular genius with which you visited barren grounds and mud puddles in order make humankind in your image and likeness. Grant her what patience she needs for herself as she studies. Quicken her memory, build her capacity, stretch her confidence as she revisits old lessons, forgotten formulae, notes from class, annotations from articles, and all those books with their highlights and lines.


As Julia sits to take her test, sit with her and next to her and in her, anchoring her in ability to succeed and accomplish for glorious ends. Grant her clarity. Be good to her as she works, especially if there are things on the test she’s unprepared for. Place grace in that future. Help her to focus. Help her to remember. Help her to make things up in the same creative and spontaneous way you must have when you fashioned the seen and unseen.


When Julia finishes her exam, give her the clear ending inside that makes peace possible. Help her to celebrate the good work she’s done. Give her the gifts of rest and renewal and recreation. Bless her husband, Dean, with what he needs to take very good care of her. Make their time together nurturing, together and with their children. Help Julia surrender the results on the boards and in every other future moment into your loving hands.


I ask for these things; we ask for these things, in the name of the One who danced through creation with you and who redeems the same, Amen.

“…you can be creative…”

So I wrote something that I probably couldn’t have written anywhere else. This place where I live now, that I love dearly, is just full of interruptions. But I have succeeded; what I have been doing here in this last few years as my hobby is editing this material. And I find that this material helps me enormously. My own high moments help me. I would say that one of the things that has come to me in the immediate last few days is that this Cosmic Flow, which is God, call it what you will, is the life back of every cell in the body. It’s a nice metaphor, the river is the flow, because it has come to me more deeply that I am just sort of porous. That this is refreshing, healing love of God is flowing through me, and that’s a very marvelous thing to believe, if you are seventy-eight and you’ve got arthritis, and you’re burdened with the racial concept of old age that everybody gets sick and peters out and gets carried away. But it doesn’t matter where you are physically, if you’re sick or if you’re well. That this Reality, of this actual life, all spelled with capital letters, LIFE flows through you at every moment of your waking-sleeping experience. Consequently you can be creative to your last breath.

From Miss T in an interview as reported in Fowler’s Stages of Faith, pg. 197

Thanks to Szolkin

Thanks to Szolkin


CPE: Supervisory Education Student Training

Thanks to Danist Soh

Thanks to Danist Soh

I finished my residency in clinical pastoral education at the end of August. As part of that ending, I was in transition to stay in training by beginning work in supervisory education. I needed to stay on somewhere since the church was keeping me part-time. And an opportunity opened.

In effect, my life will continue to look like it has over the last year. I’ll continue to serve my church as one of the pastors, and I’ll continue to serve my patients as a one of the chaplains.

Most people in my church seem surprised when I mention my CPE training. They don’t feel the impact of my work. They don’t notice the differences in how I spend my days.

As a church that focuses its mission on twenty and thirty-somethings (and certainly not exclusively), most of our people are involved during their days. They aren’t coming to a church, meeting with pastors, or attending ministry meetings. That was very much the culture of my last church. At New Community, people I meet with meet me at night or on weekends because they work, study, or otherwise occupy themselves.

So, attending weekend activities at church, while working during the day at a hospital and working at night to see our church people, lends to a congregant’s surprise when learning that I’m also working in CPE. But I am continuing that work. And I’m glad to be doing so.

It’s been an interesting mix of experiences starting my program these last weeks. I’m still serving as the primary chaplain in the medical intensive care unit. I’m observing the work of my supervisor as he works with a new set of interns, starting to see supervision from a different ledge. I’m preparing didactics, reading a lot, still seeing the ups and downs of people’s lives in a busy level one trauma center that sees death daily. I sit with people going through hard spots. I pray all the time. It seems that way. It’s getting easier to sit quietly.

I’m not sure how that’ll impact my posting. I’ll still post quotes of people I read. I’ll write reviews of some of the books I’m appreciating as a way to keep my mind engaged in a number of ways with the authors of those books. I may not be able to post as much as I like.

The process before me is faith-filled. Like any growth process, the most constructive parts are unseen. The strongest impacts ahead aren’t written in a description. And I couldn’t tell you all the gifts I’ll receive as I step into what’s next. There will be love there though. There will be people that love me and people that I’ll love.

There will be learning and I’ll necessarily make more mistakes. My average has already gone up this year for mistakes! I’ll require more from my family and friends, and I’ll return the gains I’m getting from one work environment toward the people within the other environments I’m placed. I’ll deepen my conversations with my spiritual director. Me and Dawn will speak and listen more meaningfully. Bryce will get a better dad. And we’ll see what else there is.

“…who live by faith.”

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

We have imaginations, intuitions, and moments of awakening that disturb us into awareness of dimensions of circumambient reality that we can only name, on our own, as “mystery.” And yet our feet mire in the clay of everyday toil–getting and giving, spending and being spent–in the struggle for survival and meaning. In the midst of contingency, suckled on uncertainty, we spend our blessed and threatened years becoming selves through relationships of trust and loyalty with others like us–persons and communities. We attach to one another in love; we struggle with one another in fidelity and infidelity. We share our visions of ultimate destiny and calling, our projections in hope, our moments of revelation in awe, and our fear in numbness or protest. We are language-related, symbol-borne, and story-sustained creatures. We do not live long or well without meaning.

That is to say, we are creatures who live by faith. We live by forming and being formed in images and dispositions toward the ultimate conditions of our existence.

From James W. Fowler’s Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, pg 39.

Reasons I Read bell hooks

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

I have books by bell hooks on my shelves, and I try to read something of hers every year. This has been a habit of mine.

I’ve cradled her words about writing, savoring her observations back when I started writing curricula when I was finishing seminary.

I’ve read and listened to her about relationships, about being a man in a relation to women, about her criticism of culture and how culture misshapes us to believe bad things. Of course bell hooks doesn’t use the phrase bad things. You have to pick up her work to see her turns of phrase.

Nonetheless, I read her because I don’t think I can be a good pastor without her influence upon my life, my work, and my practice of being a man who is a husband to Dawn, a father to Bryce, a pastor to people, and friend to women and men.

I think bell hooks is a great teacher of men on how to be a man-in-relationship. She’s been a splendid, hard-hitting, loving addition to my collection of “teachers through text” for more than ten years.

I heard her speak at Hampton University when I started college. I heard her again at Northwestern when I was in seminary. I have no idea what she said during those speeches. I remember rooms full of black and white people–mostly black–and I remember feeling at home in the presence of this woman I was a stranger to.

Her readings are that way. I feel embraced and checked, loved and corrected, and that marks a good writer, a loving one, particularly when you’re reading about love in response to patriarchy, race, gender, and oppression.

I just finished one of her earlier books, Sisters of the Yam. It’s a book about black women and self-recovery. I should say that all of bell hooks’ books are about black women, and all of them are about all the rest of us too.

Her work is accessible and generous, and if you love black women and if you (want to) love yourself, you should get any of her work. She blends her experiences of being a woman/daughter/lover/writer/sister/teacher/truth-teller, and she offers us inestimable lessons on being.

I am blessed with many mentors. I was reminded of that when putting together materials for my current clinical pastoral education exploits. I’ve named those men and women and each time I revise those types of documents, I’m reminded of the treasure they bring me. And there’s a section in my writings where I name mentors through words, teachers through texts, and bell hooks is in there. She should be one of your teachers too.

Work Fully Done

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

The difference between work and play is only a matter of attitude. Work, fully done, is play. When the body works, it is dancing. When the mind works, it is dreaming. Appreciating the joys and sadnesses of both, one moves within the process of life.

From Gerald May’s Simply Sane, pg. 87