Category Archives: Ministry

When the Gusto-Meter is Down

I saw this tweet and was reminded of something that happened the other day while I was putting my son to bed.

Sometimes Micah will tell me he doesn’t “want to” pray at bed time. Maybe it’s simply that I want him to. Maybe he’s just too emotionally spent at the end of the day. He’s six; who can really say why? So the other night I start praying and he starts repeating everything I say, in an attempt to be annoying and, I think, to get me to stop what I’m doing. The way kids do.

My gut reaction was to stop, and teach (OK, lecture) him about being respectful toward his father and his Heavenly Father. By God’s providence in that moment, however, I pivoted to another approach. I fed him words. I prayed in the first person what I wanted him to pray. And, for some reason, MrH didn’t fight it. He repeated after me.

One of the graces of a liturgy that includes responses for the people is that we give people good words to pray. Too often, I think, leaders in worship can default to any of several means to get people to participate more sincerely, more enthusiastically, more passionately, more obviously. We will say that what is important is the inward orientation of a worshiper, but when the gusto-meter is at an 8 instead of 11 on a given morning, we will try to exhort (extort?), cajole, manipulate, prod, or lecture our people into turning it up a notch.

What if we trusted the process of putting the trusted words of the saints who have preceded us—and, indeed, the very words of God!—on their lips? Expression is a healthy part of worship, and a core tenet of being an Anglican is that expression ought to be in “a tongue … understanded of the people.”1 Nonetheless, there is tremendous power in putting wholesome and life-giving words in the mouths of those who may all-too-often find themselves unable to generate their own extemporaneously. What if, in doing so, we could assist people toward the sort of worship we think God deserves—from the inside out?

  1. Yes, “understanded.”

Clutter and Cleaning

I have been reflecting over the last few days on how easily my life becomes cluttered. Recently on the one day of the week I have set aside for ministry- and church-planting work, I found that I had done really every sort of activity but what I had intended for the day. Each one of those things had crept in, one at a time. None of them were bad, exactly, but that day they amounted to noise rather than real work.

I have long imagined that it would become be less true if/when I can devote myself to a single vocation (i.e. the priesthood). But the truth is, I’ll never have a single vocation. It may come to pass that I become paid full-time for ministry work in (more or less) a single community. Even if that transition occurs some day, I will still be a husband, a father, a son, a NAMS companion.

I therefore appreciated this post from Dan Wilt.

The whispering stops as I learn to handle the informative power of my phone, rather than the informative power of my phone handling me. A new virtue emerges in the place of my first order impulse, as I learn to face down my [fear-of-missing-out].… And my heart is quieter, more focused, more attentive to the voice of my Shepherd, more ready to be present to the cultures in which I will represent Jesus, when I succeed on this battleground every morning.

When I force myself to not even look at my phone until after I have spent time with the Lord Jesus in the scriptures, and spent time in prayer, I find I almost instantly in a better spiritual place. One change in the morning routine results in a life that feels more orderly. I am more attentive to what is happening around me spiritually. There may not be less “stuff” in my life, but it’s more manageable. It feels, metaphorically speaking, like more of the stuff is in its rightful place instead of pressing in around me.

I have also observed that when I set the bar at the level of

  • reading and meditating on the Bible (rather than reading a certain amount to check off a to-do item),
  • evaluating my life in light of what I have read,
  • offering up my cares and concerns to God,
  • and listening to him speak into my life

that I don’t have to meet the bar perfectly every day to maintain a certain degree of health. What I mean is that even if I rush through the reading, or find that my prayers were really just me reading off a wishlist to God and hurrying through the end, or what-have-you, I am still in a better place for having done it. Even if the discipline was not undertaken whole-heartedly that day, I have still set aside that time. When one day I have hurried through my routine, I found it much easier on the following day to make an incremental improvement (slowing down) than to be faced with completely adjusting my priorities.

So I guess what I am saying is: legalism may be unhealthy, but a strict discipline of avoiding my smartphone until I have kept my morning appointment with God has been immensely helpful.

Crusty old rollers.

Planting Update, Spring 2016

Elise and I have owned our condo in Fleming Island for almost eight years, 1 and we’ve always been juuuuust about to paint. When we moved back last November, we decided we were really going to do it. Nearly five months later, we have two bedrooms and two bathrooms painted. 2 I suppose I should post a few photos—perhaps when it’s light out.

As we were working on our bedroom earlier this week I thought to myself, I really thought we’d be further along than this by now. I was thinking of the big picture (more of the condo painted by this date) and of the room I was in (it was after lunch and we hadn’t started rolling yet).

That’s the story of our church plant. It’s a lot more like painting our bedroom than I understood a year and a half ago. See, the reason it was taking so long to see any real difference in the room is that we had much, much more prep work to do than I accounted for. And all of that prep work took far longer than I had estimated. I really want to be in the “rolling paint on the wall phase” of planting—the one where suddenly people are streaming to weekly worship, people are coming to know the Lord Jesus right and left, our church is making a difference in our community. I believe that stage is coming. I believe there will be visible fruit of our labor, and that it will be really visible fruit.

But the prep work is taking longer than I thought. And I know if that if we don’t get all those edges taped up, and all the furniture moved out, and two coats around the edges even up at those 11-foot ceilings, and all those other little detail things done now, we will regret it later. What’s left as a result of our work would be less satisfactory if we didn’t do those things.

So we’re continuing to prep. Specifically, we’re pouring into the work of recruiting for and developing our leadership team, so that when there is growth, we will have the capacity to fold in new people and help disciple them into disciple-makers in Green Cove Springs.

Image from: Alex Rubystone used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.


  1. of course for three of those years we didn’t live in it

  2. Mostly. We’ve some work to do on the baseboards and other moulding.

Karen Marie Yust in Real Kids, Real Faith:

When adults act as if religious education is mainly a tool for children’s moral development, children quickly catch on to the irrelevance of religious culture for the grown-up world. They have no incentive for committing themselves to a particular spiritual identity in adolescence if faith is portrayed by adults as something one sheds with childhood.…If they discover that our own spiritual practices are given little explicit attention and power to shape our lives, they are likely to imitate our indifference to the religious culture.

Leonard Sweet in From Tablet to Table, emphasis added:

I have had people challenge me on bringing up my children without religious choices. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit imperialistic and colonialist, not letting your children choose what religion they want to follow?”

My answer is, yes, I am being a bit imperialistic and colonialist. But I’m that way about plenty of other things besides religion. I didn’t ask my child, “What language would you like to speak?” or “What economic level would you like to be a part of?” These things are circumstantial to our birth. They are stories we are born into. So if you’re born into my house, guess what? “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). A child doesn’t decide to have toes; she discovers that she has them; this is how a child of mine discovers that he or she is already part of the body of Christ.

Important words for Christian parents, and for churches thinking about how they incorporate children into congregational life (particularly worship and the sacraments).

Final Service at Christ Our Lord Church

The finality of today has not fully sunk in yet.

The service was less emotional for me than I expected. Christ Our Lord Church has been such a blessing to me, and to my family, that I really cannot believe my time here has ended. Will I really never kneel at the back of the church with a throng of children gathered bout holding up the dismissal sign?

I suspect I’ll be overcome with emotion next Sunday—my first Sunday actually away. And I have no doubt there will be moments of grief in the coming months, as people who have been such an integral part of my life over the last twenty-six months are no longer there for me to turn to.

The remaining work to be done at home preparing to move later this week has also provided a convenient emotional distraction.


We know all that should matter is what our Maker says to us about who we are—more specifically, who we are in Christ Jesus.

We know this. And yet…

I got a phone call yesterday morning from an old friend. He complimented me on something I had done for him as a favor. It was behind-the-scenes work, not extensive by any stretch of the imagination. It was, however, work that I took pride in. It wasn’t “ministry” work, or pastoral or priestly. Nonetheless, it was something I think I have a bit of aptitude in doing.1

Later in the day, I thought about what he’d said. It was nice to be appreciated. It was nice for somebody to notice the small thing wasn’t just done but done well. It was really nice to hear this old friend who I look up to greatly express that appreciation. If I’m being completely honest, I was beaming a little bit inside—a combination of receiving encouragement while emotionally drained, the affirmation that somebody else agreed with my estimation of the work, and my great admiration of this man. I even looked forward to telling Elise what he’d said.

But as I prayed through Morning Prayer this morning, I was convicted. Looking back over the readings now, they don’t speak particularly loudly to this issue, so I can only say that it was the Holy Spirit. It can be easy to set aside others’ opinions of ourselves others when they disagree with our own.2 But if we’re not careful, we run the risk of putting too much value on those opinions when they agree.

When we have a poor understanding of ourselves, we may find ourselves agreeing with what the bully says. But if we have too high an opinion of ourselves, we can find ourselves delighting in—well, ourselves. Of course, it’s no good to dismiss the praises of others entirely. And I seem to find it easier to redirect the glory heavenward when I’m praised for something more directly related to my priestly ministry. But clearly, I have a blind spot.

We can make excuses (“I used to work for a certain kind of person, and…”). Or, we can suffer the sting of that conviction. I’m sorry, Lord. I’m sorry, Jesus, that I valued his opinion so highly. I’m sorry for being proud of a gift that you gave me in the first place. This way is less fun; I can only hope that by being open to the correction of the Holy Spirit, he will shrink that blind spot a tad.3

We all have blind spots. The danger in this one for me is that I can find myself seeking the approval of others—especially those whom I admire—instead of the One who has actually called me into ministry. By all means, continue to encourage your pastors and others around you. But if you are close to men and women who lead in the church—help them pay attention to their blind spots.

Lovingly, please.

  1. Could I make this more mysterious?

  2. Apologies for the awkward sentence.

  3. It hasn’t escaped my notice that I’m kind of writing a blog entry that says “Look how good I’m doing at not being proud! Look how spiritual I am!” Kyrie eleison.