It’s already late February. My birthday has come and gone, a big one actually this year in terms of milestones. (Yay for a new decade… I think.) Where has the year gone? I haven’t blogged as often as I like. I have been still figuring out what life is like in a new place, Nebraska, and in a new capacity, as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship.
My heart is full of joy, love, and purpose.
This I do know- I love my job, ministry, and call. I love my team of colleagues, friends, and peers, who serve alongside me and whom partner together to serve in their various vocations and callings- for the sake of their neighbor, God’s work and mission in the world, and the spreading of the Good News of the promises of God. I love the community and congregation my wife and I are a part of. And I am excited for the year ahead.
At the same time, my heart hurts.
I hurt as I see the continued rise in hatred and bigotry. I hurt as I see ill-conceived policies and decisions being enacted without apparent concern for compassion and humanity.
I could respond to a long list of decisions through news stories and commentaries, but I trust you see enough of those where you get your news and in your social media feeds. I could get on my soapbox and explain why theologically I feel so unnerved by many of these decisions. But today, I want to stick to a societal argument, if possible.
Policies and decisions enacted by leaders are not just for themselves. In a business world, there is truth that those decisions are for shareholders and customers. But in a civil society, those decisions are for the elusive and hard to define, “common good.”
Everyone defines the concept differently, but it’s one that we must hold at the center of our decision making to be able to collaborate and live together in community. If we do not, then we really do not have much holding us together at all, except for some malleable laws and rights, which hopefully have universal meaning.
It’s my opinion (and my opinion alone), that many of the decisions and policies currently being enacted do not have the common good in mind. And I wonder, if the reason for this is because there is a misunderstanding of the role of government and civil society? I was taught and modeled in school and previous career opportunities, that leadership in such environments is a privilege and a gift. But most importantly, leadership in such capacity is service!
Leadership is service. Government is service.
It’s not about popularity. It’s not about power. It’s not about partisanship on any side. It’s about service, and particularly serving for the common good of our shared ideals- those grounded in the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. And also adapting as those ideals must evolve as our understanding of science, people, technology, and the world change over time. But through such change, we must hold on to the importance of service for the sake of the common good.
Why does my heart hurt?
Because those currently enacting policies and decisions don’t seem to understand this- the very notion of service and common good.
Because instead of moving to unite across party politics, campaign rallies are still being held by those elected.
Because the fourth estate, the press, is being singled out as the enemy, and those who offer differing opinions and protest or resist are being dismissed as the enemy or a few “paid” people.
Until these concerns are addressed, my heart will likely continue to hurt. And at the same time, protests and resistance will grow stronger and louder.
So here I am. A person who is grateful for the role I am in, my vocation, and calling. At the same time, a person who is convicted by my understandings of leadership and theology by what I am seeing in my country that I love, and in God’s beautiful yet hurting and broken world that is thirsting and in need for reconciliation.
Wherever you are, know that I am here. A fellow Child of God, happy and willing to talk with you, because whether we agree or not, we are in relationship with each other as citizens of society, and people created in the Image of God. As you wrestle with your daily life, call, questions, ideas, dreams, worries, and wonderings, know that I too do so. We’re in this together. And God is here with us too.
On one other note, it is my plan to return to daily blogging on Ash Wednesday, blogging a short reflection each day during Lent. I hope to be able to follow through on that plan. We’ll see starting next week. Until then, blessings and peace friends, and thank you for reading, serving in your vocations, and being part of the conversation and work together. -Timothy
I have mentioned before about how grateful I am for my family of origin. Together over the past few years, they have discerned and created a new organization called “Collaboration Ministries.” Check out the organization’s website for more on the particulars, but in the following post, I share a few things that I am particularly excited about regarding this organization’s vision, mission, and scope.
It is easy to look around your community, state, country, and the world and be discouraged. You might wonder, how come we can’t work together? Why does it seem impossible to rally around the common good?
In response to such depressing thoughts, and in the hopes of a brighter future, Collaboration Ministries was born.
The organization began through creating “menternships” or gap year experiences for young adults after college and before jumping into the workforce or graduate studies. After a few years of these offerings, it was time to dream. The organization’s first real brainstorming meeting occurred around a hotel pool in the Twin Cities in Minnesota a few years ago.
From that, and in the work done since, Collaboration Ministries has become,
“a faith based social innovation consultancy composed of highly trained and skilled practitioners dedicated to facilitating strategic thinking and action of complex issues and problems. We are particularly focused on assisting faith based organizations, non-profits, government agencies and businesses striving to be social entrepreneurs in order to support Community Building, Creation Care, and Global Engagement.”
This vision alone gets me excited, but there are a number of things which I am excited about to watch this organization’s work and future unfold, as a family member, and as someone supportive of the organization at an arm’s length (or more) of distance.**
With the vision understood, here are my top nine other things that get me excited about the organization and its potential.
Whenever my parents get excited and are passionate about something, things happen. Seeing how they are both creating opportunities and pursuing possibilities is exciting to watch from afar.
The principals combined have experience working on three different continents in a wide range of countries and contexts.
The principals bring a wealth of experience and education to the table to think creatively and strategically. Between the team, there are six bachelors degrees and six masters degrees. Fields of study have ranged from management to social work, from music to religion, from psychology to economics, from theology to urban and regional planning.
In the organization’s early days it provided full year “menternships” for at least three young adults in post-college discernment. From those, one has become a pastor, another a music teacher and professional, and another, a congregational and community director and coordinator.
Collaboration Ministries is built on the principles of accompaniment, appreciative inquiry, and the potential of world spirit labs, with a great appreciation for the power and importance of vocation.
The strategies and practices have been diagramed in organizational and leadership diagrams which, for a management trained person like myself, are fun to look at and think about.
Collaboration Ministries does not claim to offer easy answers. Rather, it wants to come alongside, discern, journey with, and work together for long-term sustainable growth and change in response to needs in communities and unique contexts.
Project areas have included areas related to: climate stresses & eco-system stresses; congregational problems; economic opportunities; housing; infrastructure and services; juvenile justice; public health & well-being; racism; stakeholder engagement & organization mission achievement; and technology and connectedness.
This organization offers cross-sector experience to respond creatively and sustainably to particular problems and challenges, bringing innovative and entrepreneurial ideas to bear. For example, how might a congregation (nonprofit) partner with a local business to create life supporting jobs and opportunities, housing, and meet other needs to help build a community? These are some of the type of questions that Collaboration Ministries can help explore.
What are your big questions? Might an organization like Collaboration Ministries be able to help you think about them?
Check out the organization’s website, and see what you think. If you have feedback, ideas, or questions, please send them to the team.
**In the interest of full disclosure, Collaboration Ministries is led by my parents. In addition to them, my siblings, spouse and I are all part-owners. However, because of my role as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, I am currently a partner in name only. In caution for any perceived or potential conflicts of interest, I will not be doing any work or networking in Nebraska as part of Collaboration Ministries while serving in the Nebraska Synod, and most likely I would only be contributing through occasional writing projects and review of other projects from afar.
Today is my Dad’s birthday. I have already had a great phone call conversation wishing him a happy day today, and last week we got to celebrate a week early in person with a wonderful steak dinner out in Nebraska. But today, in honor of my Dad’s birthday, I want to share some personal reflections about my family.
As I look proudly and gratefully at my family of origin, I can’t help but notice at least five things:
A Deep Sense of Vocation and Calling
Each person in my family (including my wife and myself) have a deep sense of vocation and calling. I am sure that my parents can trace this back to their families of origin, but my brother, sister, and I can certainly trace this back to our parents. We all deeply believe that God is at work and present in the world, calling us all to use whatever has been entrusted to us- our gifts, passions, stories, questions, strengths, capacities, ideas, etc., in service to our neighbors and communities. I live this out in my current role as the Nebraska Synod Director for Stewardship, but I also see this propelling on the rest of my family in the birth and continued growth of Collaboration Ministries.
Passion for Partnership and Relationships
Though there may be some introverts in my family, everyone has a passion for working with others for the sake of the common good. We all might define common good differently, and we certainly all go about our work differently, but we have a passion for working together in relationship with each other, those we agree with most of the time, and some we hardly ever agree with. If there is potential for improving the world in some small way that we can be a part of, we want to be a part of it, accompanying others, because we feel that is part of our call and purpose.
We’re Lutheran Christians
This may be obvious to those of you who read this blog often, but I come from a family of Lutheran Christians, particularly those who are members of congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This faith identity and understanding of God’s grace, presence, forgiveness, love, and promises propels us forward as we live our lives in our unique joyful responses to the pure gifts and good news of the gospel.
I believe that this is true of everyone in my family, but speaking for my brother, sister, and myself, we deeply recognize how privileged we are to have grown up in a family with deep support of pursuing our passions and vocations in service to our neighbors. We are grateful for growing up in a family with the means of supporting our education, and in a home where questioning and processing were always held up as values, even when it might have made daily life a challenge.
We grew up in a family where talking about faith, money, politics, society, and economics (among other potentially conflict inducing topics) was welcomed around the dinner table, in the car on family road trips, and everywhere else. It’s because of this that for me, even on the hardest of days, I know I can’t backdown from asking critical and sometimes unpopular questions in the pursuit of growth and in following my sense of call.
Global Appreciation and Accompaniment
My family loves to travel locally, domestically, and internationally to learn, and experience all that the world has to offer. Experiencing cultures, learning from other viewpoints and perspectives, and listening to stories near and far I believe makes us all better people, human beings, and better members and participants in the larger human community. In this ever increasing globally connected world (even in this recent uptick of relative isolationism seen in political elections), it is imperative to have a global appreciation for each other.
It is critical to be willing to listen and come alongside, to serve and learn together; rather than to share an opinion as loud as possible and if someone doesn’t agree go in another direction kicking and screaming. Accompaniment, which means coming alongside, is the way to build relationships. It’s also an example of real leadership, as opposed to some people who seem to believe that leadership is about having the loudest voice in the room or the most blunt criticism in 140 characters on Twitter.
I could go on obviously, but this evening, as I think about my Dad, I am grateful for his leadership, for his and my mom’s passion to raise my brother and sister and I to be faithful people who are part of the larger world with senses tuned to continually discern how we might be called to be a part of God’s work in it.
I wonder, who in your life might be like my dad for you? What do you give thanks for about them and why?
According to the title page, “This directions paper shares the key messages harvested through conversations across the ELCA. We invite you to comment on the directions and priorities that have emerged.” If you have not yet seen the paper, please read it here.
After reading the paper, and then going back through it a couple more times, I am very happy with this. I believe it is a great step in the process of conversation, discernment, and decision making as we are church together, continuing to discern and articulate who we are, who we are becoming and “why we do what we do.”
Instead of some just quick immediate reactions, I want to walk through the paper with what stands out to me.
Opening of the Paper- Purpose, Mission, and Perspective
In her opening letter to the paper, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton notes that, “There is broad consensus about the church we want to become, but in some of the areas that are highly important we do not have a clear or effective strategy.” I think this is an important recognition, which you can see if active in a congregational, synodical, or churchwide capacity. To help address this, there is an open invitation for feedback, shared discernment, and conversation within the paper.
The release of this paper signifies the end of the first of three stages in 2016 of “Conversations across the church about the future.” Now the church is entering the next stage of “Consultation on directions and priorities that emerged through these conversations,” which will then lead to the third stage of “Reaching decisions about where the ELCA is heading and to what it will give importance” (page 1).
I am particularity inspired and excited to see the repeated questions raised about the importance of connection, collaboration, and clarity. For example, “How can the ELCA maintain strong congregational participation and ownership and become more connected as one church?” (2) “How can we be clearer, better focused and more effective in the way we tell the good news and embody God’s love for the world?” (3)
There is a stated understanding that “While God’s mission is clear, as people of God, we must constantly discern how to express and carry out that mission in a faithful, relevant and compelling way in today’s world” (3). What that looks like will be dependent on context, skills, passions, needs, etc.
Growth, Membership, and Data
There was an interesting discussion about the commitment to growing membership, and I found myself writing in the margin in this section that these data points illustrate why it’s critical for rostered leaders to cultivate stories and be story tellers themselves. On a more personal level, for me this is yet another reason why I believe my wife Allison has been called to be a pastor in this church in this unique time and space, and why in part that I believe I have been called to ministry as well.
There was also important discussion about diversity, interdependence, generations, age, and mutuality.
Within the section sharing “Key Messages From Across the Church,” big points of identity and what it means to be a distinctively Lutheran church were articulated (8-9). I particularly appreciated the insight about collaboration and relationship I read in the statement, “As church together, through formal and informal relationships and networks, we can achieve things on a scale that would otherwise not be possible” (9).
“God’s Work. Our Hands” and the idea of a Relational Church
I found myself underlining much of the section explaining that “We are a relational church.” Perhaps that is a product of me serving as a mission developer this year? Whatever the reason I love the way that this section begins, “We are a faith community, some would say a movement…” (9) I also am glad that the importance of ecumenism was named and explained, as well as the importance of engaging in dialogue and collaboration across faiths and other parts of civil society, government, and business for “the sake of justice, reconciliation and peace in the world” (9).
It seems that from the conversations and listening process, the tagline, “God’s work. Our hands” was affirmed, and hoped to bed retained and broadened in use (10). I was also glad to read within the section, “A Christ-centered thriving church,” there has been a “call for the ELCA to be a more public church,” which is something I have written about much before on this blog over the past few years and months (11).
Theologically, I greatly appreciate the emphasis given to both sacraments (baptism and communion) and their relationship and connection to the Word (12), as well as the great importance for leaders and leadership development. I loved the majority of this section, especially the wide view of the importance of education and formation at all levels (13). I agree that continued leadership development, education, and life-long learning are imperative to being a leader in general, and especially in a world that is changing so rapidly.
Key lines that caught my eye included recognition that,
“This church needs leaders who are passionate about Christ, spiritually grounded, theologically fluent, ecumenically committed and growing in their capacities to lead in a complex world” (13).
“Leaders for tomorrow will need a more mixed education- with a strong theological and vocational orientation and knowledge and skills relevant to different contexts. The rapidly changing world requires church leaders who are compassionate, adaptable, courageous, committed evangelists with strong relationship and communication skills and cross-cultural competence. Future leaders must be able to explain theologically and practically who we are as a Lutheran church and why we do what we do” (13).
There it is again, one of my favorite phrases, “why we do what we do,” which is offered a few different times in these 19 pages.
Different Expressions of Ministry
There was a good acknowledgement of social ministry and the joyful response of service that are part of the church (13-14). However, I honestly would have expected more conversation here given the large umbrella of Lutheran social organizations that there are that most members and congregations are not even aware of.
There was also a helpful discussion about “Youth and young adults,” though I did sense a bit more fear here than in other sections, which I think reflects the average feeling within congregations who are dealing with big questions related to “life, death, resurrection,” and the present and future. I guess that tone shouldn’t be surprising to me, but it does leave me hoping for more intentional multi-generational and cross-generational work, because that will be critical for both being a “now and not yet” church (14).
The stewardship leader and organizational behavior management student in me was excited to read the “Church structures and relationships” and “Stewardship of resources” sections, but honestly I didn’t learn anything really new here. That probably has more to do with my current roles and reading interests than anything else. If this is an area of ministry or leadership that is new to you, then it probably would be a very helpful summary (15-16).
Tensions and Next Steps
The theological nerd in me appreciated the paradox and tension acknowledgment towards the end of the paper where it is written, “Lutherans are comfortable living with ambiguity and uncertainty. This is a strength when it comes to being church in an increasingly complex world” (16). I was equally appreciative to read at the end of this section that, “The Future Directions Table was keen to see that living with tension does not become an excuse for not making hard decisions,” thus, even though there is tension, that cannot prevent action and forward movement, or paralyze us to act (17).
Perhaps a central question to this whole paper is, “How do we get the right balance between the autonomy, interdependence and being church together?” (17)
Priorities are proposed (17) and thoughts about implementing them are shared (18).
If I had to pick one element that caught my eye towards the end was the desire and importance of having “more gatherings and networks that bring people together for spiritual discernment, future planning, problem solving, and learning exchange” (18). Of course, I did underline much of this section.
I am still digesting my thoughts on this document. But my first reaction is that I am encouraged. I am grateful and appreciative for the team and table members doing this work (19), and look forward to being part of the conversation and work of the church together in thinking and acting on this in the year(s) ahead.
In an upcoming blog post I will start offering some answers to the questions I highlighted above. For now, I invite you to also read and sit with this paper.
What do you hear? What do you wonder? How are we called forward together in Christ for the sake of the world?
As I have done in previous Lents I am sharing a daily reflection as part of my Lenten discipline. This year I am using the “Wilderness Wanderings” theme compiled by the “Lent Photo a Day” group. The word appointed for today is “Wise.”
I have a number of wise family and friends. I also know a number of wise people in person and online. If I have learned anything from these people, it might be this: never presume that you have all the answers, and always be willing to take a step back to ask a question or calm yourself, especially in the heat of the moment.
I am reminded of the gospel story of Jesus and “The Woman Caught in Adultery,” found in the Gospel of John 8:1-11. Responding to the legal precedent of sin and justice, Jesus proclaimed, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Naturally, at that, everyone gradually left. No one present in the crowd whom Jesus was addressing was without sin. To me today, that is the first story I am reminded of when it comes to being wise.
As people we can often get caught up in our way of thinking as the “right” way and the only way. I am just as guilty and susceptible to this as well. Watching social media over the weekend was horrifying in seeing some of the responses to Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing. Though I hardly ever agreed with his reasoning or viewpoints, I appreciated his willingness to clearly articulate his beliefs, to engage in conversation, and to be able to befriend and be in relationship with those he publicly disagreed. I read a story about him from David Axelrod about his hope to have Justice Kagan on the Supreme Court. It was an enlightening story which I think speaks to the importance of having a diversity of perspectives on the court, and really in any decision making process. If we all have the same view point, we get caught in our ways of thinking. We get tunnel vision, and sometimes lose sight of other perspectives, possibilities, and needs. At its best, a court and legislature reflects this principle by offering different viewpoints, but being able and willing to work through these viewpoints for the common good.
As a Christian and Lutheran, I think this is a good reminder to know that we don’t have all the answers. It’s also a good reminder to why its essential to partner with and accompany with others, and to listen. All of these pieces are crucial for being in relationship, for building relationships, and being about the work of discerning where God is leading and how we might be part of God’s work and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.
Thinking about your own lives, who is someone wise that you look to? What makes them wise?
As I have done in previous Lents I am sharing a daily reflection as part of my Lenten discipline. This year I am using the “Wilderness Wanderings” theme compiled by the “Lent Photo a Day” group. The word appointed for today is “Child.”
Last weekend I did something I don’t often do. I took some time for myself and enjoyed the gift of a few days at Disneyland. Allison and I hadn’t been to Disneyland since we were dating, and it was a great joy to be able to enjoy some time there while also presenting, learning, and networking at the Youth Ministry Extravaganza.
While there, we got to enjoy the Grizzly River Run ride at California Adventure a few times. If you haven’t been before, this is a river rafting ride, a round raft that spins around a bit through rapids and down a few falls. It’s a ride where you are promised to get a little wet, and some people certainly get soaked.
During one of our times riding this ride, we were joined by a mother and her four children. It was clear it was their first time on the ride. Their joy, glee, and wonder was palpable. Have you ever experienced something with a child when they experience it for the first time? It’s so authentic, real, and special. To see their faces light up as they got a little wet from the ride, to hear their laughter as we bounced around, and to see them smile bigger than one could smile after going down the final drop. The ride is fun enough as it is, but getting to enjoy it with that family for a few minutes, really made my trip to Disneyland that much sweeter.
It reminds me of a recent experience in worship. As a Christian and Lutheran, when getting to worship and join people of different ages, experiences, and perspectives in worship can be eye opening and give new meaning. Recently I was worshiping and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a child and presumably her mother at the altar rail. The mother was ready to return to her pew after some prayer and receiving communion. The child, however, was not ready. I heard later that the reason why was that the child was not done praying. That warmed my heart. Sometimes, it’s best to have the faith and outlook on life of a child, isn’t it?
Happy Fat (or Shrove) Tuesday! Each week on the blog I get to share some of what I have seen, read, and found interesting and thought provoking over the past week. To help make sense of all of these links, I have grouped them by the following categories: Church and Ministry Thought & Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought & Practice; Millennials; Neighbor Love; Social Media & Blogging; Stewardship; and Vocation. I hope that you enjoy these links!
Carey Nieuwhof listed “9 Things that Worked in the Church a Decade Ago that Don’t Today.” The things that Carey points to include: relying on an automatic return to church; appealing to people out of guilt or obligation; simply being better than other churches; gimmicks; inauthentic leadership; a self-centered mission; random programming; assuming people know what their next step is; and relying on what you’ve learned in the past.
Greg Satell shares some important insights in “Manage For Mission, Not for Metrics.” Within this post, Greg writes and reminds, “a successful enterprise is built through motivating employees, earning the trust of partners and serving customers well. Nobody cares what your internal metrics are.” What do you think?
David Brooks penned what I think was a fair op-ed column on President Obama and leadership writing and sharing, “I Miss Barack Obama.” I was particularly struck by two quotes. First, David writes, “Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.” It’s hard to argue with this. Second, I appreciate his conclusion as well when he writes, “Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.”
Jon Mertz at Thin Difference wrote about and unpacked, “Millennials: The New Leadership 101.” Within this Jon highlights the following principles: Lead a business to have a positive impact on society. It can.; Healthy organizations achieve success with a more holistic balance sheet; leadership scales bigger than self-agendas; personal values are important when making business decisions, know yours; social leadership translates to active leadership, active leaders leverage social for positive change.”
Friend, blogger, and ELCA World Hunger educational director, Ryan Cumming wrote about “Finding Faith in Flint.” This is an important read. Within this Ryan writes, “Long after the media has left, Flint will still be dealing with this catastrophe. The lead will still be in the pipes, and the chemicals and bacteria will still be in the river. But people of faith and people of goodwill will still be here, too, to accompany one another and to hold government accountable. And that should give hope in Flint and urgent anxiety in Lansing, where both are needed.”
That concludes this edition of the links. I hope you have enjoyed them. As always, if you have particular questions or topics for me to think about on the blog, please share them. Also, if there are things you would like to see included in the links, please let me know that too. Thank you for reading and being a part of the conversation! Blessings on your week-TS