Category: Being a Pastor

I’ve had what feels like a rash of funerals (three in a little more than a month). That has meant conversations with families, back-and-forths with the funeral home, worship planning sessions, funeral sermon writing, and a bunch of other work that only shows up around funerals. It’s also meant hearing people laugh as they tell stories, funeral luncheons, working with other clergy, and occasional panic. You see, there’s a lot of pressure around funerals. I lead Sunday worship just under fifty-two times a year, plus worship services for Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, and other holidays. If I deliver a…
A couple of weeks ago, some posts in my Twitter feed started talking about a vacation bible school curriculum from Group Publishing called Roar! The reason that people on my Twitter feed were talking about it was that it had a couple of deeply problematic lessons. In one, the kids were asked to pretend to be slaves while an adult leader treated them like slaves. In the other, the kids were asked to make up names for themselves using an African “click language” (like Xhosa). My Twitter feed was full of mainline and progressive Christians struggling with a basic…
A while ago, I was having trouble with a sermon that I was working on. I had read the scripture carefully and I had a message that I wanted to deliver, but the words just weren’t coming. Every story I tried to tell felt wrong. Every sentence’s feel was just a little off. And, weirdly, it all seemed very familiar. I kept feeling like I had delivered this sermon before… so why wasn’t it working now? So I went back and checked the sermons I had given in the past. And it turned out that I had given this…
For my birthday this year, my wife generously bought be a new tenor saxophone. I started on clarinet in sixth grade. In college, I switched to tenor saxophone (and still doubled on clarinet), and played on school horns. A few months after college, I bought a late-60s King Cleveland off eBay. Despite hundreds of dollars of repairs and adjustments, it’s never been a high quality instrument. The octave mechanism stick, there is always at least one leaky pad, the action is slow, it feels like it’s made out of tin, and it’s always a little stuffy. Now I have…
As a pastor, my schedule is pretty fluid. There are some fixed points: worship is at 9:30am on Sundays, confirmation is at 6pm on Wednesdays, office hours are from 9am to 1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so on. And there are things that need to be done, but can fit in wherever there is space. For example, I write sermons on Mondays; but if they spill over into sometime on Wednesday, that’s okay. That leaves a lot of time that is open and unpredictable. Hospital visits happen. Funerals — though I haven’t had one yet — happen on relatively short…
After seemingly every tragedy that gets national attention, one colleague or another shows up in my social media feeds to remind us all that if we aren’t preaching about it that Sunday, we’re doing something wrong: “Preach with your Bible in one hand,” as Karl Barth didn’t quite say, “and your newspaper in the other.” That’s always bothered me. It creates the temptation to respond to every current event before we’ve had time to reflect on it, or to twist scripture to suit our response to the news, or to preach on some narrow set of issues that we…
It was going to happen eventually… and it did. A member of my congregation made a small complaint, in passing, to my moderator, who passed it on to the pastoral relations committee, who passed it on to me. It wasn’t a harsh complaint. In fact, I’m not even sure I should call it a complaint. It was a question: What does he do? He’s only here a couple of half days a week. Now, I think part of that question was a misunderstanding. It’s true that my official office hours are Tuesday and Thursday from around 9am to around…
The United Church of Christ is a non-creedal tradition. That means that we don’t have a list of Things People Have to Believe. There is no central authority that tells our congregations or our members what they have to believe or how they have to worship. Instead, as the United Church of Christ website puts it, We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the apostolic faith. The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith. And that creates a neat little challenge for preachers….
One of the first questions I had when I was called as a local church pastor was how to schedule my time. There are a lot of competing demands on a pastor’s time, from congregants demanding a pastor who is available and working 24-7, to other pastors telling you that good self-care requires two days off a week. How is a first time pastor supposed to do everything that needs to be done without burning out? This is my first attempt at drafting a schedule that will work for me and for the congregation. There are just a few…
In an earlier post, I wrote about refocusing this blog on three topics: charity, fundraising and communications, and being a pastor. In this post, I’m taking a little time to talk about one of these foci: being a pastor. As I wrote earlier, I’m taking on a new adventure as the pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeWitt, Iowa. I’ve been part of the United Church of Christ my whole life. I graduated from seminary more than a decade ago. I’ve worked and volunteered in the church — and in church-related organizations — for years. But this is…

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