Category: Pastoral Care

5 Questions We All Ask About Healing

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I preached from Mark 1:29-39, last Sunday, and chose to address the issue of healing. The 5 questions that I think we all ask about healing are:

  1. Why does illness and suffering exist?
  2. Why did Jesus heal?
  3. Does God still heal today?
  4. Why isn’t everyone healed?
  5. What can we do in the face of illness and suffering?

Here’s the podcast of that sermon where I attempt to answer these 5 questions —

5 Reasons to Write Books For Your Own Congregation

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Even though we are in the midst of a Christian publishing boom, writers often overlook their most obvious audience: their own congregations. I hate to break this news to all of us aspiring writers, but most of us are not going to write the next Purpose-Driven Life, or Love Wins, or any other bestseller.

But why not write a book for your own congregation? Here are five reasons I think writing for your own congregation is an opportunity waiting to be seized:

  1. You know your audience. I’m talking to pastors and church leaders primarily here, I suppose. I think the Number One reason to write for your own church is because you know your congregation. You know the struggles, opportunities, challenges, and spiritual needs your congregation is facing. You know your church’s theology, its practices, and its short-comings. Few writers get to target so specific an audience because most mass market books are geared for the widest readership possible. But when you write for your own congregation, you can tailor your subject, approach, illustrations, and suggestions to your unique ministry setting.
  2. Writing to congregations is as old as the New Testament. Could there be a better book to make the case for writing for your own congregation than the New Testament? Of course, Paul wasn’t the only New Testament writer to address specific communities. John, Peter, the Gospel writers, and whoever wrote Hebrews (if Paul didn’t) all were targeting specific Christian communities.
  3. You can publish your book for free. In this age of Amazon and Kindle, anyone can publish their book for free. I self-published my book, The Reconciling Community, for next to nothing compared to conventional book publishing costs. Actually, I could have published it for free, but I added some options like registering with the Library of Congress and getting some professional help with formatting.
  4. You can give your book away. I did not write my book to make money or become famous. That’s a good thing because I have achieved neither fame nor fortune. That’s fine with me. I published my book to make my ideas accessible to the widest audience possible. That’s why I’m on Amazon. I also published it to be able to give copies to my church. When my book was published, I offered a print copy free to any member of my congregation who wanted one. My author’s book cost is about $4 per copy, so I could afford to give it away to all who wanted it. I decided to give as many copies away to my congregation as I could because they supported me while I wrote it. The work is mine, but the time and encouragement to write came from them. In addition, a peer-learning group wanted to use it, so I donated 20 copies to our state denominational office for them. I have mailed out about two dozen copies to other individuals who expressed interest. Of course, I occasionally do sell a copy on Amazon. I’m averaging one print book and one e-book purchase per month! Not big bucks, but that small amount has almost paid for the few publishing costs I incurred.
  5. Your congregation will benefit from your writing. Whether you write a devotional guide, a Bible study book, a church history, or Christian fiction, your congregation will benefit from your writing. They will get to know you as an author, in addition to being their pastor. They’ll be able to share your work with their family and friends. And, finally, they will grow spiritually from your helpful writing. Just like Paul, you can offer guidance, correction, instruction, and encouragement, in the form of a book, to those closest to you — your congregation.

I enjoyed the experience of writing a book for my church so much, that in September I’m going to start another one. This time the congregation is going to help me gather information and insights from our church’s 157-year history. Together we’re going to write a new church history. But, this won’t be the typical “buildings, baptisms, and budgets” review. Instead, I have divided the church’s life into 7 eras from 1857 to 2014. We’ll look at each era, and examine the context of world events, local culture, and church life as a whole. The point is not just to record our history, however. The primary purpose is to examine our history in order to reflect on when and how we have been successful in our ministry, and when we have missed opportunities along the way.

The scheme for doing this involves taking each Wednesday night from September, 2014 through May, 2015 for study, presentation, and research. Congregational members will help by providing stories, photographs, and artifacts from each era. In addition, we’re utilizing the research available to us through the Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. The goal is to have a published book containing our annotated church history, plus our dreams for the future.

The working title for this project is Cast a Wishful Eye: The Memories, Hopes, and Dreams of Chatham Baptist Church. I took the phrase, “cast a wishful eye” from the grand old hymn, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand. I thought it was an appropriate image for our reflection on the past and gazing forward into the future. Here’s a link to the entire outline, if you’re interested in doing something like this in your church.

I would encourage you to consider writing for your own congregation. Both you and your members will benefit. And, you won’t have to ask all your pastor friends to write a review on Facebook. That’s reason enough for me!

5 Evangelical Trends for 2014

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In keeping with end of the year predictions, here are mine. Of course, several years ago I predicted $5 per gallon gas. Thankfully, we never got to that point. But in light of my obvious fallibility I’m framing my prognostications in the familiar “what’s in and what’s out” categories. Here’s what I think (and hope) are in and out for 2014:

1. Out: Celebrity Christians. In: Communities that model love for God and others.

More articles and blog posts appeared in 2013 lamenting the culture of “celebrity” that has infected the evangelical world. Celebrity Christians include people who are already celebrities, like Paula Deen and the Duck Commander, but celebrity Christians also include regular guys and gals who are clawing their way to the top of the bestseller list and the next big conference. Christian book publishers love the celebrity culture, but the rest of us are beginning to feel a little used.

In for 2014 are faith communities that model love for God and others. These communities are multiplying in American Christian culture, and have great appeal to everyone’s target group, Millennials. Beyond their attractiveness, communities like Grace and Main in Danville, Virginia are replacing celebrity with service and fame with friendship. Watch for more like them in 2014.

2. Out: Big evangelical conferences. In: Small local peer groups.

Apparently there are about 75 major evangelical conferences each year. Most of these target pastors, and obviously no pastor can attend all or even most of these conferences. The big conference model is coming to an end, just like the big electronic conventions of years past. Time and cost will be major factors in their decline. Also, if celebrity Christians are out, conferences which feature celebrity Christians will also fade away.

In for 2014 are small local peer group conversations. Book discussions over lunch, peer-to-peer support, and contextual problem-solving will grow in importance in 2014.

3. Out: Coaching.  In: Spiritual direction.

Coaching has reached critical mass in the church world. Anyone can be a coach, and unlike in the sports world, church and pastoral coaches aren’t graded on the success of their coaching. Coaching is a metaphor borrowed from the sports world that is losing currency in the church world.

Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is a traditional and appropriate helping ministry in the Christian community. Spiritual direction focuses on spiritual disciplines and insights such as discernment, guidance, insight, wisdom, vocation, and mission. The growth of spiritual practices such as lectio divina, the daily office, and the use of prayer books portend the rise of the ministry spiritual direction in 2014.

4. Out: Major Christian publishers. In: self-publishing for local ministry.

With a few notable exceptions, major Christian publishers continue to churn out pop books from celebrity authors. The costs, distribution, marketing and mass audience targeting of Christian publishing results in fewer authors with higher profiles (“celebrities,” see Item 1).

However, self-publishing platforms like Amazon provide free access to the author who has something to say, but has a limited audience. More self-published books will be available in 2014, and more of these will be written for a specific congregation or community. Mass marketing, in other words, is out, and contextual publishing is in.

5. Out: Preaching for “life change.”  In: Pastoral care.

Rick Warren popularized “preaching for life change,” which most pastors interpreted as preaching topical sermons on practical subjects like parenting, finances, and marriage. But not everyone is as good as Rick Warren at this type of preaching, and it easily degenerates into telling people how to live.

Pastoral care in sermon and practice, however, walks with individuals and families through all of the significant passages of life, and life’s unexpected difficulties, too. This “alongside” preaching and practice ministers to people in their life experiences, and encourages them to find God’s presence in moments of joy and sadness.

Those are the trends I see for the coming year.  Of course, there are negative trends that we in churches will have to deal with, too. I’ll leave those to others, and wish you a Happy New Year!

My Dissertation Arrives

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Two bound copies of my dissertation arrived today. The title is The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry.

I lived with writing this for almost two years, so it is very gratifying to see it done, bound, and approved. Still waiting for my DMin degree to be posted and for my diploma to arrive.

The next project is converting the academic research into a more accessible form for publication. Two years to publication probably. Sisyphus redux.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…

lJust a quick update on my health: after spending the past two days at doctor’s offices, I am both frustrated and determined. I am frustrated that no one seems to know what to expect about the regression of my symptoms, or how I’m to wean myself off the dozen medications I am now taking. The good news is that I am slowly improving. Today I am walking without my cane, albeit slowly.

This morning I determined that no one is in charge of my health but me. So I’m taking more control of my own recovery. I’ll start physical therapy next week, and that should help me recover my strength and balance. The doctors gave me some leeway in fooling with my medications, morphine being the big one I want to get rid of. If I get off the morphine, then I can also ditch a couple of others that counteract the effects of morphine on some body functions. Of course, I’m not going to do anything totally crazy, but I am determined to be more aggressive in asking questions and posing possible scenarios for my recovery to my doctors.

All of that leads me to this disclaimer: since I am not dying today (or hopefully anytime soon), this is the last post about my health that I’ll write. The rest of this journey is just going to be determination and some work on my part regarding diet, exercise, and regulating my medications. So, if you got on here during my illness, thank you for your prayers and concern.

Tomorrow this blog will return to the theme I have been pursuing over the past 7-years. Of course, that’s small church stuff, and I have some new insights, ideas, and articles that are churning around in my head. If you got on to keep up with my health and  feel the need to cancel your subscription, I understand, and again thank you for your prayers and interest. I’m going to be fine, and the best way I know to be fine, is to get back to my life as it was 6 weeks ago and press ahead. For those of you who will be sticking around, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Thanks, again, for each expression of concern — now back to our regularly scheduled program!

Five Things I Learned in the Hospital

duke_univ_hospWith my almost 3-week hospital stay behind me, I realized there are several things I learned from the experience. Here are five of them:

1. People who are in the hospital are really sick.

You might think that would be obvious, but when I say sick, I mean really sick. With today’s cost-driven medical care, you’ve got to be really sick to be admitted, and really, really sick to stay for almost 3-weeks like I did. Recognizing the degree of a person’s illness should have a great deal to do with how we minister to those in the hospital.

2. Brief visits are good visits.

While I enjoyed seeing everyone who came to see me, when I was at my sickest the shorter the visit the more I appreciated it. There are several reasons for brief visits. First, the patient is really sick (see Item #1 above). Second, being really sick means your attention span, your strength, and your ability to carry on a conversation are all limited. Third, hospital patients often have to use the bathroom more frequently than others due to the nature of their illness and medications they might be receiving. Keeping your visit short avoids the embarrassment of their having to ask you to leave while they call for the nurse for assistance.

3. Privacy and Dignity Need to Be Preserved by Visitors.

I discovered that being in the hospital means that doctors and nurses ask you about bowel movements, urination, incontinence, and other personal body functions. Often they do this right in front of everyone in the room, assuming that its okay to ask any question with guests present. Visitors should help the patient preserve what little privacy and dignity they have left, by excusing themselves when the doctor enters the room, or the nurse comes in to check on the patient. By exhibiting sensitivity toward the patient’s privacy and dignity, guests will show respect for the patient.

4. Let Sleeping Patients Lie.

Believe it or not, hospital life is not conducive to sleep. Almost every night at 3 AM, a lab technician would come in to draw blood for lab tests. Of course, she had to turn on the overhead light, and I had to sit up for her to find an unused vein (they grew harder to find each day) from which to draw blood. So, if you come into a hospital room where the patient is asleep, write a note and then quietly leave. The patient will appreciate your visit and your thoughtfulness.

5. Offer specific ways you can help.

Offer specific ways you are able to help make the patient’s stay easier. While there we had people offer to take our dirty clothes home and wash them. Others brought us food, or drinks, and some offered to do so when we got home. Two men in our church installed a new shower head in our shower so I could shower seated. Others offered transportation, help with travel and parking expenses, and many assured us of their prayers. Saying, “I can’t do everything, but I can wash clothes. Can I take yours home and wash them and return them tomorrow,” is a great way of offering to do something specific.

Of course, I learned more than 5 things while in the hospital and maybe I’ll share some of those later. But for now, these are things that can enhance your hospital ministry whether you’re a pastor or concerned church member. I’m also interested in what you’ve learned from your experience being hospitalized. What things would you add to this list. Put them in the comments, and I’ll add them in a later post. Thanks, and it’s good to be home again!

My Biopsy Is Negative

We got good news this morning from the surgeon who performed the biopsy surgery. My biopsy was negative for lymphoma. They attribute the PET scan results to “reactive” lymph glands which can be the result of an infection.

Possibly the infection came from the virus I had in January. In any event that seems to narrow it to an auto-immune disorder. I still am struggling with the symptoms of numbness in hands and feet, and some loss of activity in legs and some body functions.

I have a follow-up with the Duke hematologist next Tuesday, then my neurologist at the end of April. I appreciate your continuing prayers for whatever the next steps are. During this Easter season an “alleluia” or two is our response to this good news!