Tech-less Thanksgiving

In 2013, I challenged my family, friends, and blog readers to take a day off from their technology. This year, I’m re-sharing the post to once again challenge those who read this post to put away their technology on Thanksgiving Day and simply enjoy the moment.

Can you imagine a day where you set all your technology aside and embrace the presence of those around you?

That’s my challenge for Thanksgiving…put your phones and tablets down…consider turning them off…leave them in the car and simply “be” with those you gather with tomorrow.

Here’s the deal…The world won’t end if you miss posting your uber-cheesy 30 days of thanks entry. No one will miss the pictures of your turkey or pie or that amazing bottle of hard-to-find craft beer. Let’s be honest…none of us are so important that others will suffer if we take a break from technology for a day.

For some of us, we’re so consumed by technology that we miss what’s going on right in front of us. Put it down and embrace, be, and live in the moment.

Surely we can all wait to post our adorable pictures, witty comments (trust me, most of us aren’t nearly as funny as we think we are), political posts that reveal how gullible and ill-informed we are, and “Jesus will cry if you don’t post this on your wall” crap.

You’ve been challenged. On Friday, I’ll check Facebook and Twitter and self-righteously judge all of you who don’t take the challenge.

How Young Life Taught Me the Importance of Authenticity

The other day, someone pulled me aside and said, “Pastor, I think I’ve figured out what your problem is!”

Now, with that being the opening line of our conversation, you can imagine the thoughts running through my mind. However, rather than saying, “What the…,” I opted for the more polite, “Oh, and what’s that?”

“Well, pastor, I think you are just a little too honest.”  The person went on to explain that some church folk want to believe that their pastor has it all together.

But, for me, that’s one of the biggest problems in the church today…a lack of honesty, a lack of transparency, and a lack of authenticity.

When pastors present themselves as having it all together, of having it all figured out, they aren’t really fooling anyone. Following Jesus is messy. And, if we can’t be open and honest about who we are and what we struggle with, what’s the point?

In high school, I actively participated in Young Life. To be honest, my main motivation in attending YL was that there were some really cute girls who also participated in Young Life.  No matter the motivation, God used YL to instill some lifelong lessons and values. Some of the friendships that came out of my participation in YL have been the richest, longest, and most valuable friendships of my life. But, one of the best lessons I learned was the value of authenticity.

I always looked up to my various YL leaders. Many of them helped shape and mold my faith and Christian values. Most of the YL leaders were totally honest, transparent and authentic. For the most part, it truly was a “what you see is what you get” experience. Some of my leaders, you knew if they spoke something, they believed it and did their best to live it out.

My freshman year at Ball State, I stumbled into a party and saw one of my old YL leaders. My first thought was, “Oh crap! I don’t want to run into one of my Christian friends in the midst of this mess.” You see, this particular leader had been one who tried to instill the “don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do” values into our crew. So, in a way, I felt like my presence and participation in that party scene would be a great disappointment to this leader.

Then, in a moment of great awakening I realized, “Hey, he’s here too!” So, I walked over and said, “Hey, dude.” He yelled, “Morris” and gave me a big hug. Then, he proceeded to offer me a beer and a hit off the joint he was sharing with a small group of folks I recognized from the one time I attended Campus Crusade. At first I thought, “Sweet!” But, then, in a brief moment of clarity, my thoughts changed.

Here I was, worried about disappointing someone who had been a fairly important part of my faith, a person I looked up to, and I walked away being the one feeling disappointed. You see, I really wanted to believe that those who “talked the talk” also “walked the walk.”  I found myself doubting and questioning the whole Christian shebang. I had always seen this guy as one who had it all together. And, to be honest, he had always presented himself that way.

That experience helped shape and mold my ministry.

Later, when I somewhat distanced myself from the intense party scene and started following Jesus, I made a decision that if I spoke something, I was going to do my best to live it. If I challenge others to do something, I’m going to do it too. If I challenge others not to do something, I’m going to do my best to avoid that as well. I’ll be open and honest about my struggles. I’m not going to be one of those Christian leaders who only focuses on my triumphs. I’ll be authentic and transparent…maybe to the point where people are made uncomfortable by my honesty!

Now, I’ve always extended grace to myself. I’ve struggled to extend grace to others. I was disappointed in that leader. I wanted to believe that he practiced what he preached. Yet, he was just like me…someone who so desperately wanted to believe, wanted to live in a way that honors God, but struggles. A few years later, I ran into him and we talked about that night. We discovered that we had a lot more in common than we originally believed. We were both in some pretty dark places at that point in our lives. We were struggling to figure out if we were going to be part of “Team Jesus”. He was still actively participating within the Christian community while he figured things out. I had been placed on the “inactive” list.

But, we were both on the journey together. We both were trying to figure things out. Heck, I’m still trying to figure things out. Maybe that makes some people uncomfortable. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I’m thankful for the ministry of Young Life. I’m thankful for the imperfect people that God uses to help transform our lives. I’m thankful that God still uses imperfect people.

Young Life

Pastor Appreciation Month

October was “Pastor Appreciation Month”. Yep, the Christian bookstore and card manufacturers created an entire month to recognize/appreciate pastors!

And, today is November 2nd. So, I’m going to blog about Pastor Appreciation Month after the fact (that’s just how culturally relevant I happen to be!).

Let me be clear, the typical pastor did not enter ministry for the pay, the accolades, the pats on the back, or to have an entire month dedicated for their appreciation.

Yet, at the same time, it is nice and humbling to have people express their thanks and appreciation for the hard work of ministry.

I have been fortunate to serve congregations that go above and beyond when it comes to pastoral appreciation!

However, I have colleagues who serve congregations that don’t even have the politeness to pretend to appreciate the pastoral staff for a day, let alone an entire month! Some of my colleagues don’t even have someone from the congregation share the obligatory “I Appreciate My Pastor” meme on his/her Facebook wall! Because I know what it’s like to experience the “above and beyond”, I want my colleagues to experience the same!

The United Methodist Church website featured THIS article that gives some suggestions for expressing thanks and appreciation.  .

Here are some suggestions I have:

  • Feel free to express your thanks and appreciation outside the boundaries of Pastor Appreciation Month.  Random cards, emails, texts and so on are extremely encouraging!
  • Don’t forget the pastor’s family. While a pastor might appreciate whatever card or gift is given, recognizing that the pastor’s family makes contributions and sacrifices for the sake of ministry should not be taken lightly. Sending cards and/or sharing gifts on the birthday of the pastor’s spouse and children goes a long way…trust me!
  • Ask the pastor if he/she has an Amazon wish list and use that as a helpful guide. Some folks aren’t fully aware what their pastor enjoys to read or what her/his hobbies happen to be…
  • Make a donation to a mission or ministry the pastor is passionate about in her/his honor.  Pastors generally don’t need more “stuff” and this is a great way to honor your pastor while “doing all the good you can!”
  • Be creative! Some of the best and most memorable gifts of appreciation are the heartfelt gifts that maybe didn’t cost a dime, but express a great deal of thought.
  • Don’t assume someone else will take care of appreciating the pastor!
  • Don’t ignore it, even if you don’t like your pastor! So, you don’t like your pastor? Do you think he/she will get any more tolerable if you ignore them and express little to no gratitude for his/her service? Some of my colleagues who saw other pastors posting pictures of gifts and words of thanks found themselves a bit depressed and jealous (yes, pastors are human too) and questioned their effectiveness. That doesn’t do much for pastoral motivation! Plus, you just might find that if you think hard, you might find something to be thankful for and realize your pastor truly isn’t that bad!

Again, I’ve been fortunate to serve congregations that go above and beyond and have overwhelmed our family with thoughtful words and gifts. But, I know that’s not the case everywhere.

So, if you or your church have set the bar too low for pastor appreciation, start fresh and go all out! The better you treat your pastor and her/his family, the better they will want to serve the church!