Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Right Stuff

My faithful weekly blogpost readers may notice that I am writing this week's post on Saturday rather than Monday.  The reason for this is because tomorrow morning, Star and I and our two daughters will be traveling to our new place of residence and the location of our new pastoral call.  Watch for more details on this in next week's blogpost….

For some reason, over the past year or so I have had many pastors, church leaders, seminarians and even business leaders ask me what the key ingredients in the makeup of a New Church Development Pastor are.  More simply put, people have asked me; "How do you know if you have…

The Right Stuff

to start a new church?"  Interestingly, the assessment process for determining the proper makeup and personality for a New Church Development Pastor has become quite formalized in recent years.  Christianity Today recently had a major article on the key ingredients necessary in the personality makeup of a New Church Development Pastor.  My friend Tod Bolsinger recently wrote a Facebook entry on the topic.  Numerous denominations have intricate procedures, exam processes, psychological intake tools and specially designated agencies to determine if a person is right to start a new church.  I know of one friend who was sure she wanted to be a New Church Development Pastor.  She underwent a very intense five-week training and exam course on the topic.  After the class was over, the "assessors" told her she was "unsuitable" for being a New Church Development Pastor.  Crestfallen, my friend found another pastoral calling.

(As a side note: I have always found it amusing that many of the so-called "professional assessors" for the proper makeup of New Church Development Pastor have never actually started a new church or ever been apart of a New Church Development themselves.  As one of my favorite cinema characters, Sean Connery in the movie "Finding Forester" once said; "Be careful of teachers of writing, they are sometimes the victims of never having made it as writers.")

In my humble opinion and experience of having started two new churches, and as a person who sits on the precipice of contemplating the start of a third new church (gulp…again, more about this in next week's blogpost), I have found that it basically boils down to 5 important factors:

1.  An Unquenchable Optimism
In his book, "Learned Optimism" writer Martin Seligman observed that all people have one of two words written on their hearts.  They either have the word "No" or the word "Yes".  Optimists have the word "Yes" written on their hearts.  Every single day in a New Church there is reason to become discouraged about something.  In fact, on a given morning, while worshipping in a movie theater, there are usually 50 reasons to become discouraged.  New Church Development Pastors always need to be able to look squarely in the eye of a problem and say, "Yes, we will get through this", "Yes we will prevail", "Yes we can!"

2.  A Deep Heart For People Outside the Church
I have often said that I sometimes enjoy hanging out with non-Christ followers more than I enjoy hanging out with Christ followers.  This is not to say that I do not have many incredible Christ following friends.  But I just love hanging around people with "rough edges".  A New Church Developer needs to have a heart that literally aches for those who don't know Christ, for people who have "rough edges".  I have found that this intrinsic personality make-up of loving outsiders cannot be manufactured.  You either have it or you don't.

3.  An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Entrepreneurs are basically problem solvers.  They love to look at a problem and come up with a technical solution.  I could spend hours listening to inventors like Dyson, the vacuum cleaner engineer who put his name on his new vacuum invention - The Dyson.  I love how entrepreneurs think.  A New Church Developer is basically a problem-solver.  The first problem to be faced is; "How do we get those people out there, to come into this church in here."  The answer to that question requires "out of the box thinking" - entrepreneurialism.

4.  The Ability To Raise Money
I will never forget the Presbytery meeting I attended a few years ago where a pastor stood up and said, "Why are we spending all of this money on New Churches?  Why don't we just do it the Biblical way, and trust the Holy Spirit to grow churches?"  My speech-givng friend was clearly not familiar with the apostle Paul and his ministry.  Paul was basically a good preacher, a strong leader, a wise pastoral sage, and perhaps most of all…a cracker-jack fundraiser.  In almost every one of Paul's letters he begins by thanking a certain church for their contributions and offerings.  Here's just one example; "When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you." (Philippians 4:15).  New Churches Cost Money.  That's just the way it is.

5.  The Desire to Work Hard
New Church Development is the hardest work I have ever undertaken.  It is literally exhausting work.  Every morning at Highlands, my brother Jamie and I would wake up at 4:00AM to haul the trailer down to the movie theater.  There we would set up.  Then we would lead music, preach, meet people, and teach.  Then we would tear down the equipment and head home.  And that was just on Sundays.  Again, every time I read an epistle from the Bible, I have newfound respect for the apostle Paul who started many many new churches.  Paul must have been quite an athlete!  Starting New Churches is hard work!

So, that's basically it.  If God has called you to start and new church, and you feel you have these five aforementioned gifts, don't allow any professional church "assessor" tell you otherwise.  As a New Church Development Pastor, you just might have…

The Right Stuff!

All For Now,

Monday, May 26, 2014

2 G's for Tough D's

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a young wife, and mother, who lost her husband, and the father of her children at a tragically young age.  This young wife's husband died way too soon to causes that mystified the imagination and that boggled all rational thought.  Incredibly, only a year after her husband's death, I found this young wife and mom to be remarkably up-beat and to be dealing with her personal crisis in the most compelling way.  I asked this young widow what her secret was.  She said this.  "Every day that is really tough, I try to make a concerted effort to experience to things":

Gratitude and Generosity

When I asked my friend to be more specific, she said; "Every day that you live, there is something you can be grateful for.  Even the worst days have things you can be thankful for.  Every day has a sunset, a sunrise, a beautiful mountain, a gorgeous ocean, a person who comes into your life at exactly the right moment, a meal that is simply delicious, a card that arrives in the mail at precisely the right juncture.  Gratitude!  And every day you can find some way in which to be generous.  Every day you have the ability and the chance to give something away, to be kind to someone who doesn't deserve it, to help out another person who is hurting, to offer support to someone who is in crisis, to offer a few dollars to an individual by the side of the road.  Gratitude and Generosity.  It's what has gotten me through the toughest days of the loss of my husband."

I have thought long and hard about my friend's recipe for coping with difficult situations.  2 G's (gratitude and generosity) for tough D's (days).  Could it really be as easy as that?  Is it possible that all of us, no matter what our difficulties are, can get through them with...

Gratitude and Generosity?

For the past three months or so, my family and I have been in a bit of a transition of our own.  I would never compare our challenges to the tragedy of losing a soul mate or a life partner.  However, we have been transitioning from our lives in Colorado Springs to our new life in California.  This transition has involved selling a house in Colorado Springs, my wife searching for new work in California, moving my daughter who is in kindergarten to a new school in California, saying goodbye to old friends, packing up boxes, and the list goes on.  Early on in my transition, I remembered the advice of the young mother who spoke to me many months before.  Remember…

Gratitude and Generosity.

I must say that I have found this advice to be invaluable.  Early on in our move from Colorado Springs, Star and I made a concerted effort to try to be - Grateful.  It wasn't hard.  We have so much to be grateful for.  Some days it was small things; a gorgeous mountain-scape, a fresh snow-pack at a ski-resort, a helpful real-estate agent, a delicious meal, a precious moment with our daughters.  Each time that I felt grateful I simply let out a quiet phrase under my breath, "Thank you God, Thank you!"  And then, we have tried to be - Generous.  We gave money away.  We gave away an old spinet piano we had had for years.  We gave away a couple of end tables.  We gave lots of baby clothes away.  We gave dining room tables away.  I have given away my favorite books.  We gave away a painting or two.  We gave all our garden tools away.   Actually, now that I think of it, we have given half of our life possessions away, in this transition.  We feel wonderful!

Gratitude and Generosity.

It really works.  I have actually come up with a helpful pneumonic for this little life axiom.  I say, "2 G's for Tough D's".  Two G's (Gratitude and Generosity) when you are having tough D's (days).  King David said, "I will praise the name of God with song, and I shall magnify Him with thanksgiving (gratitude)" (Psalm 69:30).  QOHELET, the mysterious "caller" and writer of Proverbs said, "Whoever is generous to the poor, lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed" (generosity) (Proverbs 19:17).

Try it the next time you are having a tough day…

2 G's For Tough D's!

All For Now,


Monday, May 19, 2014

One Of The President's Men

This past week marked the death of one of the most interesting figures to intersect both the political and the theological arenas in the history of the United States.  He was a man of soaring intellectual giftedness (earning degrees from Williams College, and the University of Chicago), while at the same time seeming at times to lack the most basic modicum of common sense.  He was an individual of deeply rooted spiritual depth, while also having the capability for extreme graft and corruption.  He was a person who rose to the heights of political power in this country, and who would also sink to the deepest depths lostness.  He would be incarcerated in a federal prison, and will always occupy a place in the footnote of the worst moments in our country's history.  And yet, today as I write about him, he is with God forever in heaven.  He was the;

Rev. Jeb Magruder

In March of the year 1972 (two months before I was born), Jeb was working as a White House communications advisor and deputy director for President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign.  Depending on which account you believe (there were three different accounts that Jeb himself offered during his own lifetime), Jeb was either asked indirectly by one of Nixon's other campaign aides (G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt), or directly by Nixon himself to burglarize the Democratic offices located in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, DC.  He was then asked to furtively bug the phone of Lawrence F. O' Brien, the Democratic party chairman.  According to last week's obituary in the New York Times; "In later testimony, Mr. Magruder denied giving the burglars any assignment concerning the Democratic headquarters.  When that was shown to be a lie, he was convicted of perjury and given a 10-month to four year prison term.  Hugh Sloan Jr. later testified in federal court that Mr. Magruder had told I'm to disburse $199,000 to Mr. Liddy for 'intelligence gathering'".  Magruder's roll in Watergate hotel break-in would eventually lead to President Nixon's resignation, the first ever of it's ilk in the history of the American Republic.  Jeb was responsible for one of our country's most nefarious moments.

It is what Jeb did after he left prison in 1975 that is so interesting.  Jeb went to seminary and became a Presbyterian minister.  He served as a pastor in San Mateo, California (not far from where my family have served as ministers for four generations), in Columbus, Ohio, and in Lexington, Kentucky.  When I asked my father, who is an ordained Presbyterian minister in Sacramento, what he remembered about Jeb's ministry, he said; "Jeb was just a good pastor.  He wasn't a razzle dazzle 'stem-winder' of a preacher, or a particularly memorable leader, but a just a good churchman, a good person, a man committed to his calling."  Jeb would later go on to serve on ethics boards and panels of pastors who considered deeply the influence of corruption in religion and politics.

The intersection between politics and religion is of course not a new thing.  For years politicians have become pastors (Mike Huckabee is probably the most popular recent example).  And for years pastors have have entered the political arena (John Danforth, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson are some popular examples).  This is nothing new.  And corruption is nothing new.  One finds both large and small examples of corruption and dishonesty - all the way from "K street" in Washington to, sadly, the elder board rooms of many, many churches in America.  As the apostle Paul said in the book of Romans, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

What is deeply interesting to me about the life-story of Jeb Magruder, 41 years after the fact, are two aspects: (1) the means by which Jeb engaged in evil in the Watergate scandal, and (2) the way in which he became "saved" from that evil activity.  Jeb's exact roll in the Watergate cove-up was the disbursement of money.  Jeb is accused of the oversight of $199,000 to be dispersed to the burglars.  It was the apostle Paul again who said, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).  Money and power and control are always at the heart of the worst evils to befall humankind.  It was the desire for control that caused Adam and Eve to stray from God's perfect life for them in the garden, and it was the love of money that propelled Jesus' death on the cross (Judas' handful of silver coins).

Years later, Jeb would write a book about his roll in the Watergate scandal entitled, "An American Life:  One Man's Road to Watergate".  In it he would admit to the sins of his early political life.  In Christian terms we would say that he "repented".  Here's how the repentance came about.  A small group of Christians, called the Yokefellows just cared-for and loved Jeb.  Jeb wrote that; "The Yokefellows, unlike most people, accepted the prisoner as brother, in fact a wounded brother in need of special care.  None of them made any speeches or wore any labels, but each time they came, their presence was telling me that I was a person, someone worthy of Christ's love and forgiveness.  They didn't have to tell anyone they were Christians; in the simple giving of their love and care, they said it all."

Through repentance, and forgiveness in Christ, Jeb was saved, and now, as we speak, lives eternally with God.  This same means of salvation is a free gift for all people, no matter what they have done in their lives.

This is good news for all of us!

All For Now,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fire and Snow

I have experienced two great opposing forces of nature while I have lived in Colorado...

Fire and Snow

In June of 2012, my family and I were driving our old Toyota Highlander (loaded to the gills with household accoutrements) across the western plain of Colorado.  We were full of anticipation and excitement about what we would experience in our new call.  We were elated.  Little did we know that we would arrive in Colorado in the middle of the largest and most devastating fire ever to beset Colorado Springs. The date was June 26, 2012 (the night of The Waldo Canyon Fire).  Ashes literally rained down on our heads as we drove into town.

Tomorrow morning we will be officially leaving Colorado Springs in the middle of a historic snowfall on Mother's Day Weekend.  In Colorado, we have truly experienced:

Fire and Snow

I will never forget the moment when we first arrived in Colorado.  I called my wonderful pastoral predecessor on the phone and said; "Hi Jim, I can't wait.  I'm almost there!  I am almost in Colorado Springs.  I am so excited to be beginning my ministry there, among such a rich and wonderful group of Christ followers and believers." Jim said; "There is something you need to know.  Colorado Springs is on fire!"  I said, "Wow, amazing, you mean that the Holy Spirit is really on the move?  There is an in- breaking of a great opportunity for revival.  This is an Acts 2 moment?  The Third Great Awakening is about to happen!"  Jim said; "No, Graham...Colorado Springs REALLY is on fire.  Three hundred homes are just now burning down.  Lives are being upset.   It's just terrible!  This city really is on FIRE.  Get here quickly.  We need you here now!"  My incredible pre-, pre pastoral predecessor, John Stevens, would later say to me; "Graham, I have lived in Colorado Springs for more than 40 years, and this is the worst calamity to ever hit our city.  We need to you be a strong pastor in the midst of this.  This place needs God more than ever."


The ensuing months of my ministry in Colorado Springs would be an awful and epic melange of praying with family members who had just lost homes, ministering to people who had literally lost everything, helping a congregation in shock and grief to work through a great corporate and deeply painful personal loss.  It was….


Tomorrow morning, Star (my wife) and Haley (my 5 year old) and Sheena (my 1 year old), and my mother (a Saint of a woman!), will begin our official move and exodus out of Colorado Springs.  Weather reports are indicating at least 5 to 10 inches of snow on roads on May 11, 2014.  Tonight as I write this post, 6 cars are reported to have turned over and crashed as a result of the...


Fire and Snow!

What to say about this bookend polarity of a ministry?  God is all powerful.  God is ALL POWERFUL.  God invented one of the hottest substances in the sphere of this earth that we live upon - Fire.  God concocted one of the coldest substances that we experience in nature - Snow.  Fire and Snow can both be destructive agents.  Fire and snow can both be beautiful signs of God's love.

My simple life falls somewhere in between the two extremes of Fire and Snow.  When it boils down to it, like you I am just one person.  I am simply one man: a father, a husband, a pastor, a believer, a sinner, a follower, a son, a grandson, a friend.  God is the bookend of all of my life.  On the one end is Fire and the other end is Snow.  I am a delicate being that is mashed in between these two forces.  You are too!  The Bible tells us that; "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).  In David's great hymnal, the book of Psalms it says, "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow."  We truly worship a God of;

Fire and Snow

All For Now,

Monday, May 5, 2014

May Day

Fourteen years ago, last week (May 1, 2000 - May Day), my wife Star said yes to me when I asked her to marry me.  Well, that's not exactly how it happened.  On May 1, of 2000, I was about to graduate from Princeton Seminary.  I had been dating Star for about 6 months.  I knew almost the instant after I met Star that I would want to spend my life with her if she would have me (who wouldn't?).  So, I told my friends that I was going to formally propose to Star.  Some were worried.  Would Star say yes, or no?  They weren't sure.  I wasn't sure.  So, I drove Star out to a romantic field in Princeton, New Jersey, in my aqua-blue colored Volkswagon Golf.  I got down on bended knee and gave the best request presentation I was capable of.  Her first answer was, "Oh my !?!?!?"  That wasn't the response I was hoping for.  Then she said, much to my relief, and eternal appreciation, "Yes!"  All of my friends back at seminary were waiting for me.  Some of my more pessimistic friends had signs that read, "We are so sorry, Graham, better luck next time."  Others had signs that read, "Congratuations to Star and Graham."  And that's what began, what I jokingly refer to, as "my 14 year affair" - with my wife Star.

I know that many who read this blog post regularly have been married for many more than 14 years.  I know that some who are reading are just married, and others are just thinking or praying about getting married.  But, for what it's worth, I thought I would offer my best four best pieces of advice for a happy marriage.  In my years of counseling couples I have also found these four chestnuts to be almost universally helpful.  Perhaps they can also help you, or someone you know:

1.  Marry Someone You Have Fun Just Being With
I will never forget the night that I first met Star.  I was working for admissions department of Princeton Seminary (actually, I drove the van between the seminary and the hotel for students who were hoping to attend). Star was applying for enrollment.  I asked Star, "Why do you want to become a seminarian at Princeton?"  I was used to worn out and cliched answers like, "I just feel died in the blood of Jesus," or "God has called me to change the world for Christ."  I will never forget Star's answer.  She said, "Actually, I don't know if I want to go to seminary, or I want to become a ski-lift operator in Colorado."  I was smitten!  What a fun girl she was, and still is.  Fun can get you through a lot of life's difficulties.

2.  The Arguments That You Think Are Important, Really Aren't That Important
One of my favorite story tellers and modern day prophets is Garrison Keillor.  Keillor once told a story about a Norwegian couple, the Lindqvists, who lived out in rural Minnesota in the middle of nowhere.  When this couple first got married they argued all the time.  The Lindqvists would argue about anything and everything (house-work, kids, farming, politics, religion, the weather).  But then, as the years rolled on, they stopped arguing so much.  Keillor says, "They decided that arguing wasn't as much fun as it used to be.  The Lindqvists just didn't have it in them anymore to argue - they didn't even argue for recreational purposes."  Arguments, for newly married couples, and even some seasoned marriages, are often about "recreation" and not conflict resolution.  Trust me, there are much better recreational activities to engage in together.

3.  You Will Go Through Tough Times, But Those Tough Times Don't Last
Like most couples, Star and I have been through an entire panoply of life struggles together.  Some of these include; infertility issues (8 years), two New Church Developments (one that failed), moving to 7 different houses in 14 years of marriage (I figured out this past week that I have actually packed and unpacked our wedding china now more times than we have ever used it), urban church settings and very rural ones, at least two very tough pastoral call situations, the death of a beloved dog, saying hello and goodbye to more people than we can count, and the list goes on.  But here's the thing - these tough times have never lasted.  One of my favorite pastors, Robert Schuller, used to say, "Tough times never last, tough people do."  After 14 years of marriage I might revise that just a tad, "Tough times never last but persevering marriages do."

4.  Pray Every Night Together 
In about our eighth year of marriage, about the time Star and I were basically giving up on the idea that God would ever give us children, we began praying together every single night.  Now, I want you to know that for some readers this will sound like the most nauseating - 'Good for you pastor Graham' moment I have ever written about.  But we did pray, because we literally had no where else to turn.   We have prayed every single night ever since.  God eventually did bring us two of the most incredible little girls anyone could hope for.  Now Star and I pray every night together.  Prayer is a kind of intimacy that you can't experience outside of a relationship with God.  We pray for big things and small things.  We pray for our ministry, we pray for our friends, we pray for our family, we pray for a good night's sleep.  Prayer matters, and makes a difference.

So, those are my best pieces of marital advice.  What are yours?

One last thing.  If you are planning on getting engaged, and you are a guy, pick a date for proposal that you won't forget - in my case it was May 1, May Day.  Just for clarification, I got engaged on May Day, not Mayday (as in Mayday, Mayday, the plane is going down…).

All For Now,