to those contemplating vocational ministry…

meet abby...but I like to call her "pond"

meet abby…but I like to call her “pond”

My friend Abby is going off to pursue her masters for ministry, and she sent me five questions as one of her preliminary assignments (interview someone who does what you anticipate doing one day). These are my answers. I don’t know if this is what they are looking for, but it’s what I have. So I submit it to you, whoever might read this with that inkling in their head “I think I want to be a minister.” Below is what thirty-three years at this has taught me. Take it or leave it.

What types of tasks are involved in this ministry?

Today I filmed three small group videos to equip small group leaders for their monthly meetings.

Then I met with a couple about their upcoming wedding, discussing the arrangements, talking about possible premarital counseling.

Then I met with a man who has been battling brain cancer for two years; he wanted my help in planning is memorial service as he now has less than a month to live; he doesn’t want that burden on his wife, who was with him today. We talked about the flow of memorial services, the part the mortuary plays, the part the officiator plays; we talked about putting together the PowerPoint; we talked about their six year old son. We prayed.

And that was just from 9 to Noon.

When I started out on this ministry path, I thought it was about being a pulpiteer, a Bible teacher composing goodly homilies, sermons, and lessons.

realityBut mostly I walk with people while they live and die – and I bury many of them, young or old; and too often this involves being in the hard and holy place of deathbed vigils as life ebbs away and pain and grief awake.

So yes, there are the Bible lessons, the counseling, the phone calls, the administrative meetings, the budgets, the events to plan and help execute, the leaders to identify, launch, mentor, love on, and release.

But by and large it is what I would call soul care or soul craft.

And there are few formulas for it.

You absorb a potent mix of life and death, suffering and joy, heartache and happiness which Paul says translates into “death working in us, but life in you.”

I guess that’s as close to a formula as it gets.


What skills are needed to do this ministry well?

Love in buckets.
Huge draughts of patient endurance.

“Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early……..and the latter rain.”bienvenu

Yes. Lots of that.

“The earth brings forth fruit by itself, he knows not how.”

You are embarking upon a vocation in which you have no control, in which you make nothing happen. This realization is pivotal. Lose this, and you end up with a religious machine with people as cogs – or worse, grease. So, yes, organizational skills are great; leadership aptitude as defined and promoted within American corporate culture can be a boon (or alternately a curse). People skills also come in handy. Study skills can be pivotal.

But without the love, patient endurance, and release of control, you will end up with a noisy gong of a ministry.
Maybe a really big, successful noisy gong, but a noisy gong nonetheless.

Also a crucial skill: switching off.
And that means from the Bible too.

Ideally one day a week and one month every seven years.

In other words, practice Sabbath or you’re dead.


What are the most frustrating and fulfilling aspects of your ministry?

Most frustrating: no matter how much you labor with tears and sweat as great drops of blood falling to the ground,
seeing people stagnated and stuck in the same old mess.

And then looking in the mirror and realizing that this is you.

blown away lisa


Most fulfilling: watching people soar – and realizing it was because of something you said or did that you don’t even vaguely remember saying or doing.


What advice would you give to someone beginning to train for this type of ministry?

Do something else for a living if at all possible.

In other words, make sure divine “necessity” is laid upon you. If this just seems “fun” it will either eat you alive (of course, it will anyway!) or you will end up taking the more manageable route of running a religious shop in which you will eat others alive.

Also, commit to the habit of Sabbath now before your full time ministry life opens up. It’s easier to bend the branch while it’s still green than after it’s hardened around established habits of busyness in obedience to the god of productivity.


What type of organizations should I consider to fulfill the kind of ministry role to which I am aspiring?

Organizations that aren’t devoted to their own survival or growth but instead to seeing the kingdom of God flourish, even when that means their demise.

Organizations that own their institutional sins rather than foisting them on disgruntled members and ex-members.

Organizations that see themselves as structural support for people to find and fulfill their own trajectory of spiritual life and growth instead of seeing people as a consumable for corporate benefit

Organizations that encourage you to breathe, and make a practice of it themselves.


ah, that wondrous art of switching offffffff...

ah, that wondrous art of switching offffffff…


Posted by on July 20, 2014 in haverings, Pastoring


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absorbing evil

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 12.40.15 PM ~ Richard Rohr

What a refreshing way to view what was accomplished in Jesus’ suffering.
Not merely an eternal accounting transaction,
but an absorption.
Absorbing evil until it becomes resurrection.
And what an interesting nuance to add to that age-old invitation,
“Come, take up your cross, daily.”

Absorbing evil. Daily. Until it becomes resurrection.

Like John Coffee in The Green Mile.

Okay, maybe we should just stick with accounting.


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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Quotations, Suffering


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birdsong from inside the egg

from Rumi.
the first sentence alone is worth the price of admission.

There is an excessrumi2

in spiritual searching

that is profound ignorance.

Let that ignorance be our teacher.

The Friend breathes into one

who has no breath.

A deep silence revives the listening

and the speaking of those two

who meet on the riverbank.

Like the ground turning green in a spring wind,

like birdsong beginning inside the egg.

Like this universe coming into existence,

the lover wakes, and whirls

in a dancing joy,

then kneels down

in praise.

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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Poetry


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words are life

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 12.01.47 PM

The Book Thief.
Enjoyed the film.
But the book is so much more
Can’t bring myself to finish.

But this byte from the film…infinitely chewable.



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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Books, Quotations


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life is too short not to read



Amen, Joy.
But define bad

More simply, life is too short not to read.

But then again, I’m convinced that there will be books in heaven.
The new heavens and the new earth will have a library
a planetary library as per Silence in the Library
(just no Vashta Nerada lurking in the shadows).

I’m counting on it.

“And the books were opened.”

So we don’t have to be feverish about this
even though we frequently will be.

And since Jesus also speaks of drinking wine with us there too
winebibers can also take heart.

Guess I need to develop some vintage taste buds.

So we can relax and learn to savor both.

Life is too short not to.

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Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Books, haverings


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what is it with books?


best. gif. EVER.

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 12.49.18 PM

When it’s a film based on a book, I watch the film first, then read the book. It tends to keep my disappointment/ frustration level down in the comparison between the two – and when I do read the book it’s like the ultimate director’s edition extended cut filled with deleted scenes and the occasional alternative ending or two.

But this scene in The Book Thief.

When Leisel enters the Mayor’s library and encounters those shelves of books, the film makes me flash a knowing smile, but Zusak’s word portrait in the book touches chords deeper in me than I can even understand. Which makes the gif at the top of this post the sexiest best gif ever. It makes me want to invade used bookstores and libraries, anything with vintage books – there’s just something about those vintage books! – and run the back of my hand along the spines.

Oh yes.

What is it with books?

won't work in most bookstores. most.

won’t work in most bookstores. most.




Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Books, haverings, Movies


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a hole in a flute

Image: by nibujohn

Image: by nibujohn

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 8.00.48 AM

Seized by this.
Watching for more from Hafiz.

I think we aspire to be the instrument
when we are only the hole
through which his breath moves.
Most religious efforts seem directed at plugging holes
in the world
in ours or others’ morals
in ours or others’ belief systems
more interested in filling and being filled
than in being hollowed out.
Beautifully puts into perspective those harsh passages
“Deny yourself, hate your father, mother, son, daughter,
and your own life also
take up your cross and follow me.”
What is the cross but the ultimate hole
into which we are invited to fall?

Which takes me to Alice
and to Gabriel’s Oboe…

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Posted by on July 12, 2014 in haverings, Quotations


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