The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light


Church and Ministry

Domestic Violence and Pastoral Care

At Christ the King Lutheran Church in Lodi, Ohio, we have a page on our website devoted to resources about Domestic Violence.  Here it is.  I’ll grant you, it’s a little outdated – editing it is on my to-do list.  For instance, I need to add a video I did this summer discussing the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the so-called “Power and Control” wheel.  But I’ll wait until after I attend a workshop by the Office of the Prosecutor in a neighboring county on “Responding to the Needs of Victims” so I can have the latest on what the law enforcement professionals are thinking and telling victims of domestic violence and other crimes.

SOME OF THESE FOLKS MAY BE OUR CHURCH MEMBERS.  Not only law enforcement professionals, but also victims and/or perpetrators of domestic violence.  As pastors and church workers, I think we have a duty to learn what the criminal justice system and victims’ advocates are doing and saying in our communities so that we can exercise our pastoral care for such souls in a responsible way.  If such a workshop shows up in your community, take a Continuing Education Day to learn what you can do to help.

Asylum Quilts

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Not too long after we finished the “Essentials” seminar at Ashland – which emphasizes that one of the components of healing is “community” – my wife and I had the opportunity for a little vacation to Columbus, Ohio.  Before we headed home we decided to make a stop at the Ohio Historical Center, just to look around.  I was completely dumbfounded by this exhibit of quilts done by residents at the Ohio Asylum for the Insane in Athens, Ohio in the mid-1900s.  These remarkable works of art and craftsmanship – done as part of the physical therapy program and then given to other residents – exhibit a beautiful mix of healing components that we as caregivers might well consider in our own ministries:

gathering into small groups (since it is well-known that it is difficult to quilt alone);

working on some project together keeps the hands (and maybe the left brain?) busy, leaving the right brain free to talk with others (and it’s also well-known that quilting in a group is not a silent activity!)

working on a project together might give participants a sense of working toward a visible, tangible goal

the idea that the quilt would be given to another resident might make the project and the effort seem all the more worthwhile, and result in a sense of accomplishment but also a greater sense of well-being among the recipients:  “We not only did something together, we did something good together for someone else!”

What other healing factors might you notice about a project like this?  Is there a way you could encourage this kind of project more often in your ministry?




At the Formational Prayer Essentials Seminar Part 2

If we resemble Jesus enough to allow the woman of ill repute to break the bottle of perfume at His feet (Luke 7:36-50), soon others like her will be lined up around the block, each bearing their own bottle of perfume to break as they cry their hearts out for gratitude at the mercy of Jesus we are showing them.

If we are instead like the Pharisees who are around Jesus trying to prevent the woman from approaching Him and breaking the bottle, others who may have brought their own bottles to break will learn that they will be shamed if they do so.  They will keep those bottles hidden and, perhaps, stop coming altogether.

If we receive the broken and the breakers, the wounded and the wounders into the church with the mercy of Jesus, soon word will get out and others will come bearing their own sins and wounds and brokenness, knowing that here is a place where they can receive healing and forgiveness.

If we insist on public shaming of the broken and the breakers, public condemnation of church leaders who “fall” or “fail,” soon word will get out and others who have their own sins and wounds and brokenness will learn to keep their sins and wounds and brokenness to themselves.  The church will not be a safe place for them to be, and eventually, perhaps, they will stop coming altogether.

Multiple Mindedness and Ministerial Resilience

Here’s an article from “Faith and Leadership” over at Duke University Divinity School on “Multiple Mindedness and Ministerial Resilience”

The Church is a Love Story

I’m always gritting my teeth when I’m reading and hearing people talking about the Church as “an organization” or suggesting that we need to “run it like a business.”  I have a hard time seeing that model in Scripture.  We’re so fascinated by the “success” models of American business that we think we have to see them in the Church, too – everything from “the pursuit of excellence” to “best practices” and beyond.

But the model of the Church that I see time and again in Scripture is the Church as the Bride of Christ.  I’ve written on this before, and probably will do so again.  But here it is from a different source.  Bearing in mind that of course the Pope is going to understand / equate the Church with the Roman Catholic Church, he is still right on target in reminding us that there is more to the Church than spreadsheets and bottom lines.

Pope Francis: The Church is a Love Story.


Retirement? Really?

I’m a member of a group of Lutheran pastors that meets regularly to discuss all kinds of ministry-related issues.  This morning as we were discussing “bullying in the church” we were on a side note along the question of when manipulation becomes bullying.  The subject of pastors’ behavior in retirement came up  (three of us are retired, three of us are active).


(Note to my non-Lutheran readers:  in our denomination, pastors are not “assigned” to congregations after their first assignment out of the seminary.  We have a “call” system and for the most part it is the decision of the pastor and – presumably – the Holy Spirit as to when and under what circumstances he leaves that call and that congregation.)


So one of the scenarios that we have observed in our system is that it is possible for a pastor of long tenure in a congregation to retire from the office of the pastor of that congregation yet not leave the geographic area.  Often the congregation grants him the title of “Pastor Emeritus” to honor his tenure and ministry among them.  But what is his role there after he retires?


Some pastors make it a practice to disappear from the congregation for as much as a year – worshiping elsewhere, taking no funerals or weddings, being out of communication almost entirely with the congregation for such a long time.  This is hard to contemplate perhaps, but it has the effect of saying to everyone “This era is at an end.  Everyone (congregation and retired pastor and incoming pastor) now needs to deal with it and move on well.”


Some other pastors stay in the area and participate in congregational life, but as a layman.  This is harder to do – to turn down requests for wedding or funerals for people you’ve served in love for years, but it has a similar effect as above.  It’s also hard because the people you’ve served and loved for years keep calling you “pastor” and coming up to you for advice or complaints.  Sometimes it’s just easier to take up membership in a nearby congregation (we have one man who has done this in my church, where he serves as a trusted and gentle Elder) where everyone knows he is a retired pastor but he has never been our pastor.


The problems arise when the retiring pastor tries to manipulate congregational life after his ministry ends.  Some pastors do that by staying around and listening to the complaints and concerns of people rather than setting boundaries and directing them to the interim/vacancy or succeeding pastor.  Some pastors try to manipulate the future with elaborate plans and schedules involving the date of their retirement relative to the date of the installation of the new pastor.  We even heard a story of a pastor who talked his congregation into calling a man to be his associate for a few years; then they switched roles and the older man became the associate and the newer one became the senior pastor; finally the older man retired but hung around acting like the Senior Pastor until the newer man left years later and continued that way several years into the ministry of the next man!


Having heard all these stories, here are several observations we made:


As with many retiring people who form their identity based on their job, the pastor whose identity is based on his role as pastor will often be depressed or discouraged and have a hard time letting go in retirement.  The best recommendation here is, as I have heard Dr. Terry Wardle of Ashland Thelogical Seminary say numerous times, “don’t base your identity on something that can be taken away.”


We’re often afraid to confront manipulative / bullying people in the church (including pastors) because (a) we’re afraid they may get angry and leave or (b) we think that we must suffer because Jesus suffered -and “the servant is not above the master.”  Yet although Jesus was not afraid of His own suffering, neither was He afraid to set boundaries against some folks so that they would not cause others to suffer (e.g., the little children parents brought for His blessing, the prostitute being criticized for pouring perfume on His feet).


Toward the end of Moses’ ministry God took him up to the mountaintop and handed the reins over to Joshua, then removed Moses from the picture by taking his life (He did the same to Elijah).  For both Joshua and Elisha, for the people of Israel as well, the ministries of the great predecessors had definite ending points that all had to deal with together – with neither Moses nor Elisha in sight to oversee the transition.


Samuel, on the other hand, was “voted out of office” when the people decided they wanted a king.  While God told him that they were acting against God and not Samuel, I guess Samuel had to live with that.  But since they had rejected his leadership he couldn’t very well pretend to keep leading them, could he?  So perhaps he lived the rest of his life as a sort of pundit / prophet, commenting but not leading.  Yet I’m pretty sure that this is not the most healthy role for a retired pastor, either, as there can be a mighty fine line between “prophet” and “grump.”


Finally, David had in mind to build a temple for the Lord but was told “not you, but your son will build the temple.”  David was satisfied with this, though, and spent considerable effort gathering resources and materials so that Solomon wouldn’t have to waste time doing that himself.  Perhaps it is wise to make appropriate preparations for retirement, to prepare the congregation and the people for the need to face the event and the issues; but like David to understand that though you can assemble the materials, it really is the successor to whom it falls to build them into the next ministry.


The Garden Tractor Pull

Over at Indispensable Churches I have a comment or two on today’s meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society.  Here’s the link:

Indispensable Churches:  Focusing on the Poor

So often we pastors who are assigned to minister in these churches become tired and discouraged because we don’t “see any progress.” Our mailboxes (and email boxes) are flooded with mailings about seminars and conferences about the latest programs or technologies.  Pastors of churches larger and more “successful” than ours come around on speaking tours to tell us how they became “successful” and what we can do to be as “successful” as they were (if we only follow their recommendations exactly).  Even the district executive comes with his / her agenda as to how to make our congregation more successful, more “missional,” more “transformed.”  All operate on the premise that there is some way in which this Indispensable Church is not what it could be, and they have ways to make it better.

I suppose that works OK to a certain extent.  But here in Lodi at past Corn Festivals we’ve had a little contest called a Garden Tractor Pull.  Now a Tractor Pull works like this:  you get someone who soups up a standard farm tractor with a blown engine, supercharger, and whatever else he can think of to give that tractor more power that you can imagine.  He and a bunch of other guys and their super tractors get together, each to try to drag a huge sled filled with massive weights over a set distance.  The super tractor that drags the most weight over the longest distance wins.  A Garden Tractor Pull is just like that, only on a much smaller level.

The thing is, no matter how much you soup it up, a garden tractor is just a garden tractor.  It’s purpose is to mow the grass, to plow the garden, and to mulch leaves.  Not much more than that!  For the Pull you can get it to do things it wasn’t meant to do, but then it isn’t a garden tractor anymore – now it’s useless for mowing, plowing, and mulching.  Yet those things still need to be done, so what happens – you get another garden tractor for the mowing, plowing, and mulching.

Seems to me that in the church there are those who are building bigger and better tractors; and there are those who are bent on selling us all kinds of equipment to soup up garden tractors; and there are those who say “but we need something simple, plain, unremarkable – but indispensable! – to do the mowing, and the plowing, and the mulching.”

To sing or not to sing?

I’ve been thinking about music in the liturgy recently.

We have now at our church a new organ, and a very nice person who can play that organ very well.  Up to this point we haven’t had someone who could play the organ very well, so we’ve used CDs of hymns to accompany our singing (they’re well-produced by professional organists, so there’s no issue of quality there).  However, we’ve spoken most of the liturgy and whatever “incidental” music we’ve had has come from a variety of sources.

Now that we have this very nice person who can play that organ very well, I’m wondering about some of that “other” music.  I don’t have answers to these questions, I’m just posing them.  If you have thoughts or answers, I’d love to hear them:

Why is there music while the offering is being collected?  Organists call this an “offertory.”

  • Is it because this is the “special offering” of the organist?  If so, why does the organist get offering envelopes?  If so, why don’t we encourage everybody to bring “special offerings” every Sunday?
  • Is it because we want some sound to cover up the clink of the coins hitting the plates?  Then why is there “offertory” in churches that take up the collection into cloth bags?
  • Is the Offertory just “incidental music”?  If so, why do we need it?
  • Or is there a formative, transformative, worship / adoration purpose for the Offertory?  If so, then probably any old Bach prelude or Maranatha! song won’t do.  If so, then we would do well to carefully choose music that would speak to the relationship of the people to the God who loves them as a prodigally generous Father loves His children.

Why is there music during the distribution of Holy Communion?

  • Is it to give them something to do instead of chatting while they’re waiting for their turn to come to the altar?
  • Our sanctuary is small.  My voice can easily be heard without amplification from the chancel all the way to the narthex.  As I’m giving people Communion, and pronouncing the blessing/dismissal on each group of communicants, everyone in the room can clearly hear it.  If our sanctuary were so large that you couldn’t easily hear that pronouncement, would you need a Communion song so people wouldn’t talk amongst themselves?
  • Do these two questions assume that, if left to themselves, Christians gathered in worship for Holy Communion would be unable to focus on Communion and the desirability of encouraging one another in worship and in their faith?
  • In our small sanctuary, in some services there are lots of people and in some there are not so many.  Sometimes we can sing an entire hymn during Communion, and sometimes we just can’t.  So should this be a consideration – that there are enough people present to make it worthwhile?
  • In our small sanctuary, is it important that the people who are waiting for Communion have something to distract them, or is it important that they have something to focus their worship, or is it important that they be able to hear again and again “This true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and uphold you in the true faith to life everlasting.  Depart in Peace” whether they are at the altar or not?
  • Is there music during Communion because that’s the tradition, because the organist is expected to play it for some reason?

Why is there music at all, other than to sing hymns with?

  • In a world filled with increasing and often unceasing noise, what would be wrong with the community of God’s people together following His urging to “be still, and know that I am God”?

See?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I don’t know that there really are any answers.  I’m just muddling along here, trying to help our folks know the God who loves us a little better.

What do you think?

Church and Ministry 2

See the previous post for an explanation of what prompted these reflections.

2.  Describe your understanding of the Office of the Public Ministry

If the church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is the Bridegroom, those who stand in the Office of the Public Ministry fill the role of the Friend of the Bridegroom.  They take care of the Bride, keeping her safe and protecting her so that she is ready for the wedding.  They take care of the arrangements, the food and drink that the guests will have.  They take care of the guests, providing them with the robes of forgiveness and righteousness that they will need to celebrate this wedding properly and enjoyably.  They make sure everyone has a place and feels welcome in the celebration.

And they look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of the Bridegroom.  He has been away a long time and has entrusted all the arrangements to His Friend.  The Friend is glad of His trust, and wants everything to be good and right.  He is not afraid of losing the approval of the Bridegroom or of disappointing Him; but he is such a Friend to the Bridegroom that He cannot imagine how anyone would not want to join in the celebration.

5.   Describe your pastoral approach and practice

In addition to the basic Friend of the Bridegroom image above, my approach and practice center on the idea that the word “Pastor” means “shepherd.” It does not mean any of the following: chairman, CEO, leader, vision-caster, strategic planner, fixer, analyst, or administrator.  Each of these words carry with it a certain array of tasks to be done and skills to be exercised, but even taken all together they do not entirely comprise the calling that is named “pastor.”  Yet in the United States in this day and age many in the church tend to look outside the church for models of how to operate.  We find exciting, “successful,” and “growing” techniques and images, and turn to them because they give us a sense of accomplishment.  Yet it seems like a shepherd rarely “accomplishes” anything – he just cares for the sheep over a long period of time, without any measure of “success” or “achievement.”  But he probably doesn’t care about those kinds of things, because he just loves the sheep that are entrusted to his care.

My “approach and practice” has been growing in recent years to be much more like a “shepherd.” In the end, I’d be disappointed if people summarized my “pastoral approach and practice” by saying things like “he was a successful pastor” or ‘he knew how to run a church.”  In the end, I’d much rather that people summarized that “approach and practice” by saying things like “we caught glimpses of Jesus in him.”

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