My Mentor on Perspective

My mentor, Jim, poured far more into me than he realized. It has been over 24 years since we first met and his investment in me is still bearing fruit. Over the next few days I want to share several pieces of wisdom that really helped me and I believe would be beneficial for anyone involved in ministry.

Evangelicalism in the 1990’s was embracing a business model, speaking corporate language, and tauting the pastor as CEO. From my vantage point, Jim resisted that mentality and gave me a better perspective for ministry and a more healthy way of viewing my time at a church. Even though he was a gifted administrator and leader, I don’t remember him living out of that story. Instead he used imagery pulled deep from scripture to describe our role. We were watchmen and watchwomen on the wall. 

I remember hearing several variations of this statement in my five years on staff with him. 

“This is our watch. We aren’t responsible for what happened before we got here or what happens after we leave. We are simply to serve faithfully during our watch.” 

Jim made it clear that this was not our church. Nor was it our predecessor’s or successor’s…no matter how much it felt like it at times. It was Christ’s church and He would build it. 

Jim did not use “watch” in a passive form by any means. Being on watch in this sense is a big responsibility. But understanding I was ‘on watch’ released me from the burden that many in ministry carry to their graves, the heavy lonely idea: “It’s up to me.” 

It sounds admirable at first…but I assure you it is a plot line that will lead a pastor down a paradoxical path of guilt and pride. When, “It’s up to me,” becomes our mantra we can enter into an adulterous relationship with the congregation, a twisted relationship with time, and a perverted understanding of our calling. 

People, even good people, will take everything you want to give them. They will make unreasonable requests at times. If you think “It’s up to you,” you will say yes too often and then learn the art of rationalization to make sense of it all. Being needed can be very addicting. It will reinforce and fuel your hunger for self importance. You will become a slave to the urgent. Your life will not be peaceful, strategic, or intentional. You will be hurried and shallow. You will be inconsistent… miserable at times and thrilled at others. And you will measure the wrong things. 

Pastor, staff member, full-time, part-time, volunteer, woman, man, married, single, rookie or veteran please hear this: IT IS NOT UP TO YOU. You are on watch. You are not responsible for what happened before you arrived or after you leave. You are simply to serve faithfully during your watch.

A mentor can keep you grounded and help you with perspective.
Who is that in your life?


Last Post on

This will be my last entry on however it will still be live. You will continue to be able to access and search it and I will link back to it at times.

I’m shifting my focus to which is one of the tools I will use to build my spiritual direction, retreat facilitation, and mentoring practice.

What are you up to?
While I have been blessed with a great job in Bentonville that provides a generous income and great benefits I still want to walk intentionally with people on their spiritual journey.

What does that look like?
There are more details at but in general it involves 3 things:
1. Offering spiritual direction to people in person or via Skype.
2. Promoting and scheduling speaking engagements such as camps, retreats, and leadership events
3. Mentoring people in ministry whether individually or in small cohorts, grouped together by season of ministry or stage of life.

Will you still be writing?
Yes, I will continue to write and pledge to be more consistent. Topics will be a variety of observations, questions, and insights concerning Christian spirituality, leadership, followership, family, and relationships. I hope to carry on the trajectory of mindful steps of spiritual discovery and divine surprise established at My goal is to post three times a week and include guest posts by other pilgrims, the first being my son Tyler.

How can I help? (I’m really glad you asked)
Subscribe/Like/Follow/Share – Please go to and you will see floating social media icons on the right side of the page.
Like my facebook page
Follow me on twitter and pinterest, and connect with me on google+.
Share – If you read something that you find helpful, please share it by posting a link on your social media outlets. And if you know someone who you think might benefit from my ministry refer them.

Thank you for the encouragement you have given over the years. I am very excited abou this next season of life and ministry.

A Leadership Lesson From the Back of the Boat

This past weekend I went camping with some friends. We had a great time. One of the most memorable moments was our rafting trip down the Pine River. There were lots of laughs…especially when I was the first one to fall out. But the most noteworthy image that came out of the trip was, “You can’t steer from the middle.”

I was sitting at the rear of the raft, the position that steers the craft. In front and to the right of me was Aaron. He had canoeing experience and paddling skills because he was a boy scout, a detail he reminded us of jovially and repeatedly. When Aaron recognized we need to make directional changes he would try to steer. While his assessment was accurate and his actions were technically correct, they were often not helpful because of the position he was sitting in.

All this made me think of the situations I have been in, am in now and will be in in the future.

Even in organizational environments that encourage collaboration, most are structured for one person to steer; He has the final say. The buck stops with her. If you have been granted that position, be open to the input of those around you then communicate clearly where we’re going and what needs to be done. If you are sitting in another seat, offer your input then follow the instructions you are given. Over the last 27 years I have missed the mark and hit the sweet spot on both of these but I don’t think the lesson was ever more clear than Friday.

If you’ve been doing what you’re doing for any amount of time, chances are you can assess situations with wisdom and accuracy. Chances are you have mastered skills that are technically precise. But have you checked lately which seat you’re sitting in? I’m sitting in Aaron’s seat where I work…so I am confronted with a choice: stop trying to steer or find another boat to pilot.


What about you?

A Lesson in Tenacity

I hit my threshold of office occupancy for this afternoon so I headed to the nearest Starbuck’s for an iced Americano and renewed inspiration. After getting my drink I took a seat on one of the soft chairs facing the windows. As I began to read I realized the woman sitting behind me is using this space as her coffice too. Rather than reading or typing she is making cold calls attempting to generate appointments.

Over and over her pleasant voice recites a version of the following script: “Hello, my name is Marie and I would like the opportunity to review your insurance coverage and see if you are getting the best coverage for your insurance dollar.” Over and over she makes her pitch with kindness. Sometimes she gets hung up on before she finishes her first phrase. Others wait until the end. I can tell some people give her excuses of why they aren’t interested or that they aren’t the right person to talk to. Her tone hasn’t changed. There is no discouragement in her voice. She doesn’t seem to take any rejection as personal. She just says “thank you,” and calls the next.

I don’t know if this is a new job, old job or whether or not this is her dream job. What I do know is that Marie is relentless…not in the high pressure sales way but rather in knocking on proverbial doors way. Somewhere along the line she decided that if she was going to sell insurance she was going to do the hard work of talking to people she doesn’t know, making contacts and chasing down leads.

There are a few things I’d like to give myself to in the last third of my life.

  • I want to love well.
  • I want to walk with leaders in ways that will facilitate health and longevity.
  • I want to help people exchange caricatures of God for a clearer portrait.

I came to the coffice hoping for inspiration. I got it…and a lesson in tenacity.

The video I posted yesterday reminded me that fear can derail my dreams. Today I am confronted with the fact that our dreams won’t happen without dogged determination. So in the words of Marie (who continues to make calls behind me) “Thanks for your time and have a great day! Goodbye”


Chernobyl: Tragedy, Anniversary, Memories

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. 1986 I was 24 years old and Ukraine was just a far away corner of the USSR. But last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev, got to know some of its people and visited the Chernobyl museum among other things.

Our tour guide at the museum skillfully guided us through the exhibits and imagery. There were city signs hanging from the ceiling. As you entered you see the white signs with black letters that are similar to our “Welcome to…” signs. But when you are inside the museum and turn around the signs are black with white letters and red slashes through them. He explained these were all the cities, towns and villages that do not exist any more. They and their people are completely gone.

We stopped at a case that had two newspapers. One was the soviet paper. It was from April 29, three days later. On page three there was a small paragraph that said there was an accident at Chernobyl but they had it under control. Next to it was the New York Times from April 27, the day after. Its front page highlighted the disaster. The guide said while there were other forces at work (economic and political) this was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The people realized that the government did not care about them.

There was a monitor that displayed how the radioactive cloud drifted.

Mostly I will remember a woman named Galina that we had dinner with. She lost her husband because of the meltdown
and continues to care for her daughter who was effected by the radiation. She told us her story of struggle, loss and faith. It can be found here.

Today I am reminded of what happens when we can attach faces to things. It brings disaster close to home. It keeps us from making sweeping generalizations. It gives us pause before we pronounce judgement on a people or issue or cause. Today I am reminded of how easy it is to forget or dismiss the tragedies that happen far away from us, but how they become part of us when we attach faces to them.

Not, Don’t, Won’t or Am, Do, Will

I was at a party the other night and I met some new people. The conversation started out well as one couple asked me about going back to school, the adjustments and eventually the degree I’m pursuing. The wife grew up in a very religious community full of churches, Christian colleges, and a couple seminaries which led to, “What kind of seminary is it?”

Because of what I assumed about the culture of her youth, I attempted to distinguish what George Fox was by describing what it was not. A few comments made sense but then I quickly and completely lost them. The glazed look followed by loss of eye contact was the sure sign. I don’t know why I did that but I know I’ll never do that again.

Articulating our beliefs by what we don’t believe, defining ourselves by who we aren’t, and explaining our mission by making clear what it isn’t – is a bad idea whether your motivation is to protect, include or win an argument.

  • It is a bad strategy because its a conversation ender. If I met you and my entire tone highlighted what I’m against, why would you offer what you believe? Conversations are give and take, speaking and listening. Very few people would put their positions out there for fear of landing on my list and become someone else I don’t agree with. They may start to listen but soon they will withhold their opinions and be looking for an out.
  • It is a poor testimony to our God and faith. Consistently speaking out of the negative makes me sound angry, cynical and judgmental. (BTW – Those are not fruits of the Spirit) Jesus engaged people with questions which opened them to hear what he had to offer: Life. Paul looked for common ground (Acts 17, 1 Cor. 9) in order to share the gospel = GOOD news.
  • It is a weak stance because most people expect more from us. Most of my friends are not looking for more things to avoid. They are looking for a compelling reason to live. Jesus offers that and commissions us to be salt and light, mixing in adding flavor and illumination. If this Jesus we claim to follow is ‘all that’ our words and life should point to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.

I close with a few things I’m pondering this morning…

Do my neighbors and co-workers know more about what I stand for or what I stand against?

Would my friends describe me as someone is for something or against something?

Does my family know what/who we believe in or just what/who we don’t believe in?

p.s. Jesus used both negative and positive language. In Mark 10:45 he said, “[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Maybe that’s a good ratio for us: 2/3’s of who we are to 1/3 who we aren’t.

STOP: apologizing, talking, doing, worrying

Sunday was a good day for the congregation that I lead. It was the first time I told them I  had nothing to give them. I was wrung out from the events of last week and I needed to hear from God that day. In my 20’s I wouldn’t have even been aware I was worn out. In my 30’s I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know I was worn out. In my early 40’s I wouldn’t have let myself take the time off. But Sunday, during the welcome, I opened my heart and exposed its emptiness without apology. It has taken 27 years in ministry for me to think that’s normal.

What’s normal for many (if not most) pastors is very different.

Yesterday a friend and I had a conversation about that. She asked me, “Why are pastors the only ones who feel bad about taking a day off, apologize for going on vacation and feel like they need to explain purchases and how they use their leisure time?” My response: “I don’t know.” But since then I’ve had time to think about it….

  • I thought I was supposed to be on duty 24/7 365. Not true. Not biblical. We have it completely backwards. We’re not on 24/7 but God has commanded we be off 24 hours out of every 7 days. There are rare times when tragedy strikes but these are the exception rather than the rule.
  • I thought I was supposed to be all things to all people and our church was supposed to provide all things to all people. Not true. Not possible. In the often misquoted reference to 1 Corinthians 9, Paul was talking about finding common ground with people not being the answer to their every need.
  • I thought everyone in the congregation had a say. Not true. Not realistic. While pastors are responsible and accountable to the congregation, most structures employ a leadership team that gives direction. They are to live in the tension and work for the health of both the pastor and the church.
  • I feared people’s disapproval. Ouch. Most of us in ministry really want to be liked and want others to be happy. We sometimes confuse the role of consensus and think our job is to keep everyone playing nice in the sandbox. Often we’ll sacrifice time for us and our families just to avoid disappointing someone else.
  • I didn’t trust God to be God. Double ouch. Many of us forget the Kingdom was doing just fine before we arrived and will keep on going when we depart. It is God’s church and His people and He is capable of handling it.

If you’re a pastor…Take your day off every week. Go on vacation and use all the time you are granted. Turn your phone off periodically throughout the week. Stop apologizing about following the 4th commandment. Listen to your spouse…if they think you’re spending too much time at work you probably are.

If you’re a congregant…Talk to God before you call your pastor. Respect her/his time off. Be careful how you talk at the dinner table so you don’t instill unreal expectations in the next generation. Invite me in to give your pastor a break and help your church better understand the need for this.

Most of this disfunction comes from a neglect of true Sabbath. If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s “Abuse of Sabbath is cumulative.” Things may seem fine now but at some point the wheels are going to come off because we weren’t created to live at the pace many of us our living.




St. Patrick Revisited: belong, become, believe

The bulk of this is my post from March 17, 2010

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which is one of my favorite holidays. Not because of green beer or corned beef but because it celebrates one of my favorite characters from church history. Most people don’t know much about it beyond; you’d better wear green or you’ll get pinched and at some point we’ll see a clip of the Chicago River dyed green. I didn’t know much about it either until about ten years ago.

I had the opportunity to hear George Hunter III speak. Hunter had just written a book called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. That day he unpacked the life of a boy named Maywin Socket. Kidnapped as child by pirates. Sold as a slave to a man where he watched livestock in the Irish fields for long periods at a time. He learned the language. Through something called natural revelation he grew close to God. After six years he had miraculous escape and returned to England.

Maywin went into the priesthood and his name was changed to Patrick. He felt compelled to return to Ireland. Unfortunately the church in Rome had determined the celtic tribes were barbaric and unreachable. How ironic – he was denied permission to go while the church was on the edge of collapse due to corruption. Patrick was undeterred. He was convinced that all that had happened in his life was preparation to take the good news of Jesus to Ireland. Eventually the leaders of the church consented and Patrick, accompanied about a dozen others, departed on their missionary journey.

When they landed they did not use the Roman way of evangelizing (provide people with information then give them a chance to respond and if they choose to believe then you welcome them in to your fellowship). Does that sound familiar? It should. It is the way many evangelicals are taught to “evangelize.” Believe > Become > Belong.

Patrick used a much more relational way. He and his group would find a village and ask for permission to set up their camp outside the village. They would then build relationships inviting the Celts to know them, eat with them, and participate in each other’s lives. Through the relationship they shared their faith in Jesus and helped those where receptive to understand intellectually what was going on in their hearts. He reversed the Roman way. Belong > Become > Believe.

In his lifetime, Ireland went from the most barbaric arm of the far reaching Roman church to the most Christian. All during some of the darkest days for the church back in Rome. God used Patrick’s mission and method to save Christianity in the west.

The church in the west is in trouble again. What do we do? How can the tide of our irrelevance and others’ disinterest? I believe it starts by our rejection of the Roman way and our embrace of Patrick’s way.



Who are you walking with? Mystics, Skeptics, Practitioners

I’m fascinated by the relationships; where they form, what happens in them, and how they shape us.

In March of 2004, a mystic, a skeptic, and a practitioner walked into a canyon. That’s not the beginning to a bad joke. On the contrary, it is the beginning of a real life journey that would effect every other walk these three men would take and impact the course of their lives forever.

They didn’t know what they were getting into. They didn’t know they would be graced with paradoxes; communal solitude, raucous laughter and deafening silence, sharing meals and carrying burdens. Neither did they know how this trek and this canyon would become so vital in their lives and for their living.

There is no way I can articulate the complexity of our relationships in one post. But here is an overview and hopefully it will get my point across.

Mystica follower of a mystical way of life (Webster’s Dictionary) This friend was a 50 year old kid, enraptured with the beauty that surrounded us…no matter how cold our feet were from the muddy water. He’d scramble up a pile of rocks and yell, “Mark this moment as a moment you were truly alive!” This hike was a snapshot of his life. A slice of life that we’re all desperately in need of. He is comfortable with a big God who is full of mystery. His faith is simple but not simplistic. He’s familiar with saying, “I don’t know,” and being completely ok with it.

  • Are you walking with someone who reminds you that Jesus goal was not to start a new religion?

Skeptica person who habitually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs (World English Dictionary) This friend refuses to swallow catchy phrases as truth and knows the difference between mission and motto. He hears what’s being said behind the words of others and is an artist at pushing back on stated positions. He is kind and because of that I realized that questioning is good, necessary. We all need to have a healthy amount of skepticism. Doubt has an important role in faith for without doubt there would be no faith.

  • Are you walking with someone who asks you, “Why do you believe that? Why do you think that? What if there’s something more to it?”

Practitionera person who practices a profession or art (World English Dictionary) I entered the canyon as the practitioner. Lifelong church staff member recently turned church planter. My entire adult life had been spent employed by and attempting to serve the church. The lens practitioners look through is, “How does what we’re talking about apply to my work?” That’s a good question. We need to ask it. And we need colleagues around us that help us convert philosophical issues into practical application.

  • Are you walking with someone who is familiar with vocation and who shares your joys and frustrations?

I left the canyon with the deep realization that I needed to take the practitioner hat off on a regular basis. I need to spend concentrated time as a mystic to be silent and learn the art of listening. I need to spend time skeptically examining what I think and why I think that. The only way to do that consistently is to walk with such people.

Who are you walking with? trustworthy peers, voracious readers, creative thinkers

Walking is one of my favorite metaphors and “Who are you walking with?” is one of my favorite questions.

Today at noon I will be at my preferred BBQ place with some men I walk with. They are two of my closest friends. We do this almost every week and have for quite some time. Last week Dave brought a notebook from a couple years ago and we scanned it for previous conversations. He quoted one brief exchange…

  • Darrel: “Tell me if you think I’m full of crap.”
  • David: “You’re full of crap.”

I could give you a laundry list of their qualities that enrich my life, but today I am thankful that I’m walking with men who are trustworthy peers, voracious readers, and creative thinkers.

Trustworthy Peers – I can be completely myself with these guys. There is no posturing or pecking order. We have walked through career changes, the transition to empty-nestedness, failures, triumphs, marriages and divorce. And because of that they have seen me at my best and heard me at my worst. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

  • Are you walking with one or two safe people?


Voracious Readers – My friends are great story tellers, communicators and can paint vivid pictures with words because they read so much. Sometimes we read the same book and talk about it. Other times we share the books we love with each other. Our conversations never get stale because of our love of books (which one friend wrote about earlier this morning). I don’t know how anyone can lead, teach or preach without reading.

  • Are you walking with others who read and inspire you to read?


Creative Thinkers – Good thinking comes from great questions. Our booth is a safe place to question systems, ourselves, each other, and status quo. We share our ideas. We air our doubts. I can’t imagine not having that sanctuary. I don’t know how you can do ministry without this kind of community.

  • Are you walking with anyone who pushes you away from your intellectual default position?


“Do you want to go for a walk?” is not an exercise question – its a relational question. It is a question we should be hearing and asking. I’m glad we asked it and took the first step years ago.