Category: Church Leadership

Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Tim Keller, and the Abraham Kuyper Lecture

When I was in my early 20s, I was unclear about whether or not I was “allowed” to be a minister. By “allowed” I mean if it was something that I thought the Bible permitted. Even though I grew up in a denomination that ordained women, I went to a college that was a part of a denomination that did not, and so I was confused.

See, I loved (and still love) my faith and I took (and still take) the Bible very seriously. Some Christians said I could be a minister, and some said I could not. At the time I was working as a youth director at a great church. The pastor of the congregation listened to my struggle and said something to the effect of “I respect your high view of Scripture, it’s the same as mine.  I want you to know our denomination allows for the ordination of women from a reformed perspective.” He went on to tell me about that reformed perspective and how it included women in ordained ministry. He even told me about all the women he met in seminary and how gifted they are. He further went on to tell me about the gifts he saw in me. He challenged me to rethink my views and consider whether or not the Spirit was leading me to ordained ministry. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary. Without his influence in my life, I would have neither attended Princeton Seminary nor become a Minister of Word and Sacrament (Teaching Elder) in the PC(USA).

I’m thinking about that story this evening because I did a double take (ok, a TRIPLE TAKE) when I read that The Reverend Dr. Tim Keller is Princeton Theological Seminary’s choice of speaker for the Abraham Kuyper Lecture. He will also be awarded a prize for excellence in Reformed Theology and Public life.  Spoiler alert: Rev. Keller is arguably the most influential pastor of a denomination that is very clear in its assertion that women should not be ordained to ministry. He (and the denomination he serves) is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people.

I’ll let others argue finer points of Rev. Keller’s theology (hello, this is Princeton Theological Seminary here, arguing finer points is what we do.).  My personal soapbox is much less refined. It boils down to this: an institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings. 

But he’s not even talking about “women’s issues” or “LGBT issues,” some will argue. The lecture is on church planting. Who can argue with church planting? Can’t we look past what divides us find common ground? Of course we can find common ground. Let me state clearly and without equivocation: I believe Rev. Keller loves Jesus. I believe he is a man of faith. I believe he works hard and has a respectable career. I would happily go to the church he pastors and listen to him preach. He’s absolutely invited to come to the church I pastor and listen to me preach. We can totally hold hands during the hymn sing.  The reason that’s not enough in this case (and the reason he shouldn’t have been invited to give this lecture and receive this prize) is that this isn’t some minor thing. This is a giant lecture with a giant whoop-de-doo factor.  There’s a place for common ground, but unless Rev. Dr. Tim Keller is prepared to argue for the ordination of all the women students of Princeton Theological Seminary, the The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is not that place in my opinion.

I would love to talk to the people from Princeton Theological Seminary who made this decision to better understand their position. Give me a call. Let’s chat.

UPDATE: The Seminary responded by referencing this email to the seminary community:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

I am aware that many in our community are deeply concerned by the invitation of the Kuyper Center at our seminary to have the Reverend Tim Keller come to campus next month. He will speak on the work of the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, and receive their annual prize as one who embodies their aspirations for extending the mission of the church in society. The focus of the concerns that have come to me is that Rev. Keller is a leader of the Presbyterian Church in America, which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained ministry to Word and Sacrament.

Our seminary embraces full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church. We clearly stand in prophetic opposition to the PCA and many other Christian denominations that do not extend the full exercise of Spirit filled gifts for women or those of various sexual orientations. We know that many have been hurt by being excluded from ministry, and we have worked hard to be an affirming place of preparation for service to the church.

The seminary has many student organizations and several theological centers that bring speakers to campus. While my office issues the official invitations to campus, I don’t practice censorship over the choices of these organizations, even when I or the seminary disagree with some of the convictions of these speakers. It is also a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school. And so we have had a wide variety of featured speakers on campus including others who come from traditions that do not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals, such as many wings of the Protestant church, and bishops of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions.

So my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice.


Craig Barnes

If President Barnes and I were chatting over coffee or margaritas, I’d gently challenge some of these assertions and we’d probably have to agree to disagree on what his role is or should be in this. I admire many of the things he’s done for the Seminary, and I also appreciate that his job is unimaginably difficult in so many ways. It’s also worth mentioning that, though the buck stops with President Barnes and though he had (and still has) the option to be much stronger in his response, he’s not the one who extended this invitation. Those who still feel compelled to respond ought to write, not only to President Barnes, but also to the Kuyper Center who can be reached here:


UPDATE #2 on this. From President Barnes:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

On March 10 I sent a letter to the seminary community addressing the emerging objections to the Kuyper Center’s invitation to the Reverend Timothy Keller to speak at their annual conference and receive the Kuyper Prize. Those who are concerned point to Reverend Keller’s leadership role in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

As I indicated in my previous letter, it is not my practice to censor the invitations to campus from any of our theological centers or student organizations. This commitment to academic freedom is vital to the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community. In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus, I find that most share this commitment to academic freedom.  Yet many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained. This conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is an important issue among the divided Reformed communions.

I have also had helpful conversations about this with the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Reverend Keller. In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.

However, the Kuyper Center’s invitation to Reverend Keller simply to lecture at their conference will stand, and he has graciously agreed to keep the commitment.  We are a community that does not silence voices in the church. In this spirit we are a school that can welcome a church leader to address one of its centers about his subject, even if we strongly disagree with his theology on ordination to ministry.  Reverend Keller will be lecturing on Lesslie Newbigin and the mission of the church – not on ordination.

I want to thank all who have communicated with the administration of the seminary as this important conversation has unfolded on campus. We have heard many heartfelt perspectives from both sides of the debate. It has been a hard conversation, but one that a theologically diverse community can handle.

In the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues.


Craig Barnes

Well done, President Barnes. I appreciate this response, and you. This is the right move. Yes to academic freedom. Yes to listening to others whose opinions are different from our own (no matter how distasteful they may be.) No to giving large fancy prizes that can be confused with endorsement. Some may not be satisfied with this response. I think it’s a great compromise. Yes to this! -T

How to Transform Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality in Ministry

Do you feel like your ministry is marked by a lack of time, volunteers and money? You’re not alone. Many ministry leaders feel this way, and while there’s no “one size fits all” remedy, I’ve come to believe an abundance mentality is part of a successful ministry.

The idea of abundance mentality comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (now a classic!). Covey writes,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

In deep contrast to this mentality is the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality says there’s more than enough (time, volunteers, and money) to go around.”

I think this general concept is a very useful one for ministry, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Often, it seems, when we open ourselves up to abundance, we find it. When we’re in “scarcity mode,” we’re anxious, overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Scarcity mentality leads to cynicism and burnout.

Having an abundance mentality means focusing one’s energy on the belief that resources are not limited, and that there is more than enough to go around. Covey writes that leaders with a scarcity mindset will compete for resources even when there’s an abundance of them.

Properly understood, the abundance mentality can be helpful in combating some of the common struggles and challenges of ministry: lack of time, volunteers, and money. I’ll start with time:

Scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Abundance mentality: “I can delegate, prioritize, and let go.”

Being busy is often seen as such a badge of honor and evidence that a person is productive. It’s not true. Some of the most productive pastors, authors and parents I know have plenty of time to relax and enjoy life. Conversely I know some people who are constantly “busy” who don’t seem to produce very much. Lack of time is often lack of time management. When we feel like there’s too much to do, often the solution isn’t more time, it’s a better handle on how to complete the tasks before us in the time allotted. Have you ever had the experience of getting surprisingly little done when you didn’t have that much to do in the first place? That’s because of Parkinson’s Law which says work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. To have time in abundance, remember to delegate, prioritize, and let go.

  • DELEGATE – Ask yourself, do I need to be doing this task? Which lay leader or staff person might be better equipped to do this? If I feel I’m the only one who can do this, why do I feel that way?
  • PRIORITIZE – At the beginning of the day, ask yourself what absolutely has to happen today? Try, if you can, to get the “must dos” done as early on in the day. One abundance trick I learned recently was to put only three items on the to-do list each day and ask about each item “If this was the only item I got done today, would it be enough?” One of the tricky things about ministry, I think, is that there are so many balls in the air, all the time.
  • LET GO –  I used to have a little post it note on my desk that had two questions: 1. What is the value in getting this done? and 2. What is the risk in not doing it? There are a lot of things we do out of habit and think they are important when, in fact, they take up a disproportionate amount of time for their value. One classic example of this for pastors is Newsletter articles. I agree with MaryAnn McKibben Dana that many pastors should consider not doing them. 

Scarcity Mentality: “I don’t have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry.”

Abundance Mentality: “I can ask, empower, train, and thank.”

Most churches I know run on volunteer power, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. Working with volunteers is a huge part of ministry, yet it’s not taught or talked about in seminary very much. If you have people in your congregation, you have potential volunteers. To have volunteers in abundance, ask, empower, train and thank.

  • ASK – The first step in getting volunteers is to ask. Seems obvious, but often overlooked, at least when it comes to asking in a way that will get people to sign up. Some common mistakes in terms of getting volunteers, in my experience are
    1. Doing a blanket ask rather than a personal ask. Putting “all calls” in the bulletin or standing up in front of worship and trying to get volunteers is great, and sometimes it works, but nothing is more effective than thinking about the specific job you need done and making a phone call or asking a specific person face-to-face. It’s easy to ignore “if you’re interested in volunteering, please talk to me.” It’s much harder to turn down the personal ask.
    2. Being super apologetic/having a low standard for volunteers. This is something I learned from Doug Field’s book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry back in the day. In that book he talks about how Youth Directors often stand up and say “We need volunteers for the youth group. We’ll take anybody. Pleeeeeease help.” In reality, the pitch should be “Working with our youth group is an amazing privilege and opportunity for you. Apply to help out and we’ll consider you!” His point was that the youth deserve the best possible quality in their volunteers and the volunteers deserve to know that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. The same thing is true when asking for volunteers to do any other job in the church. It’s important to be confident you’re not asking them to do something painful, you’re asking them to participate in the kingdom of God on earth.
    3. Not being clear about what you want or need. “Can you help with the soup supper?” is a completely different ask than “Will you bring two bags of tortilla chips to church for the soup supper?” or “Will you come one hour before the soup supper and set tables?”
  • EMPOWER – One of the things ministry leaders need to be crystal clear about is that our ministries work better when we’re not the center of everything. I know many ministers who take on all kinds of tasks that would be better suited to volunteers, either because they don’t know how to delegate, or because they’re afraid that if they don’t do everything, their congregations will think they’re lazy. I appreciate the wisdom that says leaders are effective when they’re able to work themselves out of a job, or at the very least, not have catastrophe when they’re away. Empowering means allowing people to take ownership and do things “their way.”
  • TRAIN – Sometimes things that seem obvious to the leader or minister are a challenge to the volunteer. Organizing a youth lock in is a piece of cake to a youth minister who has done it a hundred times before, but to a volunteer, there are a daunting number of moving parts. Take the task you need done and break it up into simple steps. Walk the volunteer(s) through exactly what needs to be done at each turn. Creating guides or videos with the directions is a great way to only have to do the training once.
  • THANK  – Minsters get paid for the work we do. Volunteers are, by definition, unpaid. So often we are running to the next thing that we forget to say thank you. Notes, sincere hugs with “thank you so much,” announcements, and simple gifts of recognition are easy and they increase the likelihood that volunteers will stay engaged.

Scarcity Mentality: “We don’t have enough money.”

Abundance Mentality: “We live within our means, take calculated risks, invest in what matters, and are faithful with what God has given us.”

Let me be clear. An abundance mentality when it comes to money is not the same as saying “If you think positive thoughts or pray hard enough, or are holy enough, you and your congregation will be rich.” I believe there is an important difference between the abundance mindset described by Covey and the message of abundance taught by advocates of the prosperity gospel.  Both are rooted in the idea that it is important to cultivate positive thoughts and think positively, but the prosperity gospel teaches that financial success and health are evidence of God’s will and favor. In writing about an abundance mindset here, I’m not implying that those whose ministries are struggling and suffering are not following God’s will. On the contrary, God always shows up among the marginalized and disenfranchised. That said, a scarcity mentality when it comes to finances often leads churches to destruction because they are unwilling to “think big” or invest in their futures. To have money in abundance, make the following true for your congregation: we live within our means, take risks, invest in what matters and are faithful with what God has given us.

  • LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS: In church budgets, as with home budgets, going into unsustainable debt is the quickest way to financial scarcity and anxiety. One of the biggest ways churches run into this kind of trouble is by having buildings that are too large for them.
  • TAKE CALCULATED RISKS: Many times in order to grow, churches need to try something new or take a risk. Oftentimes the best thing a dying church could do would be to spend money on consultants or other investments that would help them get out of trouble. With a scarcity mentality, there’s a belief that spending money in order to grow or get out of trouble is foolish, and “saving money” becomes a self-destructive idol. I love Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong  for more on this way of thinking.
  • INVEST IN WHAT MATTERS: Churches aren’t trying to make a profit, so the way we handle money is fundamentally different than the business world. Our “business” is the kingdom of God, so when we spend large sums of money on caring for those Jesus calls the “least of these,” we’re making an investment in something we can’t put a price tag on. Often churches find that when they invest in mission and outreach, the money follows. Why? Because people are inspired and invested and they want to be a part of it.
  • BE FAITHFUL WITH WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN: Recently the church I pastor noticed that a sum of money was in an account that, instead of earning interest, was actually being charged a small amount of money each month. A group of people got together, made a plan, and put the money elsewhere. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when we received a larger amount of money, we were prepared. A struggling church should ask the question “How will we manage our funds when there is a surplus?” and begin to implement the answers right away.


So what do you think? Where do you see abundance mindset working for your ministry? Comment and let us know!

Food for thought:


Sunday Planning Calendar – Free Download

Two years ago I put together a very simple “Sundays Only” planning calendar that lots of people downloaded. I’m happy to offer it again here as a JPG (just right click the photo and “Save As”) or a PDF (just click on the link!) I’ve also decided to make an editable version available for purchase on the Etsy site for just $2.00. You can check that version out here. Enjoy, and happy planning! Also, if there would be an interest in other calendars of this sort (either this sort of thing in other sizes, or any other sort of planning calendar for ministers or church leaders) let me know. I may be interested in creating more. I like to offer a balance of free resources and other inexpensive resources to grow the shop and store! Would love your feedback! Thanks to all who encouraged me to make this planning calendar again, and found it useful in previous years!


 PDF Download HERE

Editable Version HERE

Christmas Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist: A Review and Giveaway!


Last week when I posted about Advent Calendars, I mentioned that I’m planning on doing the “book a day” calendar with my children, starting on December 1. I’ve already wrapped all of the books (um, it took more time than I anticipated, but I was watching The West Wing, so it’s all good.) and we’re ready to go! The boys have already seen the huge stack of wrapped books and are ready to read them! For the first 20 books, I wrapped and then labeled with numbers randomly, so they’ll be a surprise, even to me, when we open them. For the last five, though, I selecadventbooksted the five most special books from the collection, five books that I think exemplify the Christmas message the best. These are the books that I want to be reading with my kids after school is out, and when we can snuggle up on the couch and savor them. The very last book, the most special book I wrapped up this year is Glenys Nellist’s book Christmas Love Letters from Godadventbooks2

This book is SO precious, y’all! There are seven separate Christmas Bible stories, each with a kind love letter directly from God, to your child. There’s even a blank so that you can pre-fill the child’s name in the book, if you’d like. The recommended age for this book is 4-8, so my two are right in the “sweet spot” for this book, but, honestly, I think it’s a great message for all ages. I’ve even recommended it to folks who are looking for a book to read to the congregation on Christmas morning. The reason is this: each and every story and letter is wrapped up in a single theme: God’s love for us. Everything is connected to that single theme. Is there any theme more important than God’s love for us? For me, that’s the message I want my children to hear time and time and time again. God loves you. You are lovely and beloved. All of these stories we read on Sunday mornings are about this one thing: God’s love. To me, this is the beauty of Christmas Love Love Letters from God.  

I also think you’ll love the beautiful illustrations of this book. To get a taste of it, take a look at the video here.


Pretty, eh?

In addition to Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys Nellist wrote the original Love Letters from God  (I reviewed it HERE) and LITTLE Love Letters from God (the board book.) She also wrote Snuggle Time Prayers  and Snuggle Time Psalms, both of which my family uses and loves! Any one of those books would make a great Christmas gift or addition to your library.

I also encourage you to keep up with Glenys on her Facebook Page and Blog for information on what’s coming next in her fantastic line of children’s books!

Now for the fun news! The author, Glenys Nellist is graciously giving away a copy of Christmas Love Letters from God to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter, just comment on this post and say who you’d give the book to (or whether you’d keep it!) and a random winner will be chosen on December 5 at noon! 


UPDATE: I used the simple “random number” generator to generate the winner which was #12, Deana! I used the email address you put in the comment to let Glenys know, and she should be contacting you about your book! Congratulations!


Interested in more information like this? Sign up for my email list. It has resources to family faith books, blogs and other goodies like this. Emails go out about once per month and the addresses are never sold or shared!

Note: This post contains affiliate links and I also received review copies of the books listed. I only link to products I personally use, love and would recommend.


5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.


  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!


2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.


4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.




HOW TO: Make Your Own Corsage and Boutonnières on the Cheap… New Members, Confirmation, Etc.


I love getting good ideas (and giving them) for DIY stuff on Pinterest and have a whole board full of ideas for church stuff. For me a perfect “Do it Yourself” project should have all of the following to be considered a success:

  1. There should be some significant reason to do the project myself vs. purchasing (either it’s easier, cheaper, better, or all of the above)
  2. The time investment in the project should not negate the money saved. (Time is money, people!)
  3. The end result should not look tragically “DIY’d” (See Pinterest Fails for some great laughs in this department.)
  4. The project should be fun and enjoyable (Admittedly this is subject to interpretation.)

One past DIY project that fits all of these criteria is the DIY photo booth I’ve written about here. I have several DIY “fails” that I’ve done once and never again because they’re not worth it. (Making your own baby wipes? Disaster in my experience. I digress.)

Here’s how this flower project came out using my criteria:

To point one: reason to do it yourself — For this project, the reasons were cost and convenience. Cost: Corsages/boutonnieres are $8-$15 on the inexpensive end of things, and these cost less than $2 each. (If I divided up all the money I spent on the number of coursages/boutonneires I made, the cost was $1.75 each, but I had a ton of supplies leftover, so the actual cost is even less.) Convenience: In my case, I had forgotten to order the flowers and remembered the day before I needed them. I called one place that couldn’t do it in time and wondered how much time I’d really be saving by the time I located a place that would do it and then drove over there to get them. I’m so glad I just took the plunge to give this a try.

To point two: time investment — The whole project took me one hour to do for 10 of them (five corsages and five boutonnieres) plus the time to shop for the supplies. It would have taken way less than that if I had done it before. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how to make a bow that looked ok. I also spent about fifteen minutes watching various tutorials and researching the strategy before diving in. Now that I have all of the supplies I need (with the exception of flowers) I think making these in the future will be a breeze. Given that I saved (conservatively) $60.00 by doing these myself, I’d say that’s a good investment of time.

To point three: end result — These did not, in any way, look tragically DIY’d. They were certainly not fancy or over the top, but they got the job done, particularly for the occasion (a new member reception at church.) If I were doing these for a wedding or other formal occasion, I think I’d want to spend some time practicing in advance to make sure that the end result would be what I wanted to see.  I’d also play around with adding different greens or different kinds of flowers. The most challenging part (read: easiest to screw up) is the bow and ribbon, and those could be made in advance if you’re worried.

Other reasons to DIY corsages, especially in a church setting:

  • You can make them more eco friendly than buying (No plastic boxes or packaging needed to transport. You can skip the ribbon if you want.)
  • Endless customization options… Customize with funky jewelry you have lying around, for example
  • Fun project for a group (membership committee, for example)

Ready to give it a whirl? Here’s what I did (along with links to some really helpful videos):

First, gather your supplies.


If you think you might want to do this sometime in the future, stock up on the supplies for everything sans flowers and make it easy on yourself when it’s time. Here’s what you need.

  1. Flowers (I used roses and baby’s breath. Both of them were from the grocery store.)
  2. Floral tape, like this. As you can see from the photo, I bought two packages. Didn’t even need 1/2 of one.
  3. Floral wire
  4. Ribbon: One of my biggest goofs in this process (and one I’ll definitely correct once I run out of the ribbon I have!) is to have bought a ribbon that doesn’t have a little bit of wire structure in it. This would have made the bow making process way simpler. I suggest something like this  (comes in a ton of colors!). What I had was more like this one. It worked fine, but it was hard to work with.
  5. Corsage pins (Don’t forget these! Can’t have corsages without being able to pin them on!)

Step two: Cut the flower(s) and tape.


For the boutonnieres, I simply cut off the rose with a nice long-ish stem, maybe two inches. Cut longer than you think you want it at first, you can always make it shorter. Then I wrapped with the floral tape and called it good. (Note, do not tape over the very bottom if you want to get these in water if there will be a long time between when you make them and use them.)  I didn’t even add baby’s breath for the boutonnieres, though doing so would have made them a little more fancy. (Green leaves would be nice, too, but not an option at the grocery store.) For the corsages, I wrapped the baby’s breath together with the rose stem. Several of the tutorials I watch suggested wrapping a wire around the stem as well to give added strength. I think this would be more necessary with a flimsy flower stem. I didn’t mess with it for these because the rose stems were very sturdy. (Note: A friend with lots of flower experience reminds me that putting the wire through the stem and up in to the head a little and then taping will prevent the flower from drooping, particularly if you’re going to have some time between making and using. I didn’t notice any droop, but it was only about 18 hours in my case. Next time, I think I will do the wire step, just to be sure. It doesn’t take a lot of extra time.)

For the wrapping you should know that floral tape sticks on itself and works better when stretched a little bit. Also, it’s less sticky than you’d think. It takes a little bit of stretching and fussing to get it started, and to finish it off (at least in my non-experienced experience).

Step three: make a bow and attach to the corsage with wire. This is the trickiest part of the process, and I think there are a lot of options. The simplest option is to skip the bow all together. Ha! I’ve seen a bunch of intriguing bow making kits on amazon, but I know nothing about these. What I did was make the bow by wrapping the ribbon around my hand several times, slipping it off and wrapping a bit of wire around the middle. Then I wrapped that wire around the corsage itself. To get an idea, take a look at this video. The ribbon part starts at 3:23. (I did about 3 or 4 loops around my hand. The man in the video does 6.) Also, that video is great and shows the wrapping process as well. Wrapping starts at 1:45.



Step Four: Admire Your Work!



I stuck pins in the back so they’d be ready to go and then stuck them in the fridge. Not sure how long they’d last in the fridge with no water, but these were fine for the 18 or so hours they were hanging out before use. If you have less sturdy flowers or a lot of time between when you make and use, you might want to invest in some tubes like this. (I would imagine you could even re-use these, though I’m not sure.)

Other Videos I Consulted:

Corsage Bow – I tried this and it didn’t work for me. Looks pretty, though. I think using the type of ribbon shown in the video would help.

DIY wrist corsage – This one was mesmerizing to watch, but not all that practical for what I ended up doing.

How to Make a White Rose Corsage and Boutonniere – Same one that is linked above. By far the most helpful video.

Good Luck! Have you done this? If so, share your tips!  

Note: This post contains affiliate links. 

How To: Plan a November Gratitude Challenge For Your Church


I’m not sure which wise mentorfriend (that’s a word, right? Mentorfriend?) of mine said “You know, I heard that pastors, if they are lucky have about three sermon ideas that they just keep recycling all the time.” I’m not sure what my other two, but one of mine is definitely gratitude. I tell people that if I had a spiritual prescription pad, gratitude would be the “prescription” I would write for just about any spiritual ailment. Research about the physical, spiritual and psychological benefit of gratitude is well known.  There are many ways to motivate people to develop a gratitude practice, and the month of November is a wonderful time to do that. Here’s a step by step guide to making it happen!

Step One: Decide on the parameters of the challenge. Here are some ideas:

  • Everyone will write down one thing per day you are thankful for
  • Everyone will spend five (or ten or twenty) minutes per day in a gratitude journal
  • Everyone will take a photo each day of something that they are thankful for
  • Everyone will get a word each day that will be the starting point for a gratitude reflection, piece of art, etc.

In my congregation we are going to encourage people to write down one thing per day they are thankful for, using my gratitude calendar. We are encouraging people to take a photo of the daily gratitude as well.

Step Two: Get (or make) the tools you will need. For my congregation, they’ll be using the daily gratitude calendar for 2016. I made it available to churches for purchase here. It has one (specific) thing for folks to write down each day. I thought it would be nice to do that to connect everyone with the same thought each day. That way, when they share on social media or in church, they’ll all be on the same page. If you don’t want to buy one, either give everyone a blank calendar (you can make one here) or use your own ideas to make one.  In my congregation, I’ll also be encouraging people to take a picture each day. To organize the photos, they can be stored on the gratitude 365 app which is free to download.


Step Three: Decide how everyone will share their daily reflections: Some ideas:

  • Everyone will gather together at a end of the month luncheon or coffee hour or education hour to share how the experience was and share some of their reflections
  • Create a Facebook group where participants can share each day
  • Encourage sharing on a church webpage, shared dropbox or other online forum
  • Invite participants to share in worship on Sundays

Step Four: Publicize your challenge: Put the parameters in the bulletin, church newsletter, church website, facebook, etc. I love using Canva for things like this. Easy and inexpensive! Added bonus is that explaining the challenge and sharing information about it can double as one of those monthly newsletter articles we often find so challenging! Here’s an example of an easy graphic I made on canva, this is a generic version, but I also made one with our church website and an invitation to join. Consider making a hashtag for your challenge that can be tracked through all social media platforms.


Step Five: Evaluate the Challenge – This will be our first year trying a November gratitude challenge. We’ve done advent photo challenges before and lenten “word of the day” challenges. Each time we’ve refined a little and changed based on what we learned. Have fun, and don’t worry if there are some wrinkles to iron out.


So… what do you think? Will you be doing a November Gratitude challenge? What ideas do you have to make it a huge success that might help kick-start your congregation toward a practice of gratitude? 



15 Reasons Pastors Should Visit As Much as Possible


A couple of weeks ago an article called “Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much” by Thom Rainer was circulating widely on Social Media. It has been rattling around in my mind for a few days and I’ve debated whether or not to post my own thoughts on visiting. Ultimately, I decided to write my own list of fifteen reasons I take a different approach to visiting. My goal is not to say that my way is the best way or that the original article isn’t worth some food for thought. Different churches require different leadership styles, and no two church (or minister) is the same.  My own philosophy is to visit as much as I can, knowing that balancing all the demands of ministry is always a challenge. There are seasons when I feel like I’m woefully behind on visiting and other seasons when it’s great to catch up on folks.  Here are fifteen reasons I think pastors should try to visit as much as possible. I’ve tried to address the opposing view of many of the arguments in the original piece.

  1. It is biblical – The Ephesians text about pastors training others to do ministry reminds us that church members must be mindful that visiting isn’t exclusively the job of the pastor. This doesn’t mean that the pastor is “off the hook” for visiting because he or she has trained others to do the work. Pastors have many examples in scripture about the importance of bearing one another’s burdens, visiting the sick and needy, and praying for one another. These verses don’t speak exclusively to pastors, but pastors do well to remember them as we visit out in the world.
  2. Visiting sets a positive example for members to follow – It is absolutely true that ministers should not be the only visitors in a congregation, but pastor can lead by example as we visit our members, even bringing other elders and members along with us as we do this.
  3. It brings in people who are out on the margins – The most important people to visit are those who don’t have strong connections to other church members or strong family relationships. Visiting these members helps them to maintain connected to the church, particularly when they’re not as connected as other people. There are simply some people who fall through the cracks. The pastor is often in a unique position to know who these people are and visit them.
  4. It fosters an “out in the world” mentality – I have written before about how important it is for pastors to be out of their offices  and visiting is a great example of that. When folks stop by or call and hear the office administrator say that the minister won’t be able to take the call because s/he is out visiting, it sends a strong message that the church is out in the world.
  5. It enhances sermon preparation – Sermon preparation requires study and office time, to be sure, but it also requires a connection to the living word in the world. The pastor’s sermons are enhanced by getting out of the office and visiting his or her members. It connects pastors to the people to whom they are preaching, and it helps ground the weekly message.
  6. It helps ministers understand the community in which they are ministering and serving – When pastors are visiting, we are in homes, hospitals, retirement communities, detention centers, jails, schools and countless other places in our community. It is on these visits that we can learn about what life is like for our parishioners on the six days a week they’re not in worship.
  7. It strengthens relationships – We can only get to know one another so well in five and ten minute snippets. Its during longer visits that we have the chance to hear the whole story about how Mr. and Mrs. Jones met and fell in love, or what happened so many years ago during that Christmas Eve service.
  8. It allows congregants to get to know their pastors on a deeper level, and even give back by caring for them – I am usually visiting to help show love and care and concern for my church members, but they always show that same concern for me. It’s a joy for me to be able to share stories about my call to ministry, my family and my views on where the church is headed with congregants and visitors, and they appreciate hearing these things too.
  9. It means so much to the people being visited – I have heard people tell about visits they had from a pastor that happened years ago, when someone came by to offer a special word of encouragement and prayer when it was most needed. Visits provide community, comfort, conversation and connection.
  10. It can be energizing for pastors and remind us why we went into ministry in the first place – To be engaged in a person’s life at the happy and sad moments is a true honor and a privilege. There is truly no more important task in ministry.
  11. It provides an opportunity for “out of the church” thinking – Sometimes folks think differently about the church when they’re not sitting within the walls of the church. This goes for pastors and parishioners alike.
  12. It is an investment of time that is multiplied many times over – When the pastor visits one person, that person often tells other people. Instead of being a negative as pointed out in the original article, this can be wonderfully positive. Congregations gain a sense of assurance that their leader cares for them. Just because there is potential that someone might feel slighted (why wasn’t I visited?) doesn’t mean the solution is to not visit anyone.
  13. It can be wonderfully affirming for pastor in a very healthy way – So much of ministry is never finished. There are always more goals to reach, new projects to take on. Sometimes the satisfaction of saying “There is still suffering in the world. I did not get all of the things crossed off the to-do list, but for one hour today I know that my presence made a difference in someone’s life” is enough to help a pastor to feel encouraged.
  14. It can share the good news about your congregation to many more people than just your members – When we visit we get to meet our congregation’s family, their friends, their co-workers and their neighbors. Sometimes we run in to people we’d never meet within the walls of the church.
  15. It is a sign that the church is alive and well – Visiting should not happen to the exclusion of other, equally important and vital tasks, but I would never say that a pastor who visits his or her members is a symbol that a church is dying. If so, we ought to redefine our definition of life and death.

Good leaders lead by example, and visiting is a very important part of a healthy ministry. I’m curious about your thoughts! Do you think visiting is an important work of pastoral ministry? Why or why not?

Sermon Remix: Elijah and the Prophets of Ba’al

Sermon Text: 1 Kings 18:20-39 

The Hebrew Scriptures of our Bible, what we call the “Old Testament” are full of what I like to call “flashy” stories. Sure, the New Testament has some pretty flashy stuff as well and Jesus being raised from the dead is the flashiest of them all, but when it comes to a nice dramatic story, this story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is just about the flashiest story of all.

The story starts out with Elijah, the prophet, asking his people a question: “How long will you go around limping between two options? If the LORD is God, than follow him, but if it’s Baal, then follow him.”

What a great question How long will you go around limping between two options? You can hear Elijah’s frustration as he asks the question. Baal is sort a false god who is contrasted with Yahweh, Elijah’s God, the God of Judaism and Christianity. In our story, Elijah is seriously outnumbered. There are 450 prophets of Baal, but only one of him. He proposes a test – the prophets of Baal will put a bull on an altar, and so will he. Then they will wait to see which God burns up the offering with fire. The prophets of Baal go first. They cut up their bull and wait for Baal to burn it up with fire. Nothing happens. The prophets of Baal start to get nervous, walking around and around. They even cut their arms with swards — highly dramatic. Elijah isn’t a very gracious competitor at this point. He starts taunting them “Maybe your god is on vacation” he says “Perhaps he’s snoozing and you need to wake him up?”  Now it’s Elijah’s turn to put Yahweh to the test. He’s not messing around. Instead of just asking Yahweh to rain fire down on the offering, he decides to be a bit more dramatic about it. Elijah asks the people to dig a ditch around the offering. Then they pour water all over the offering and fill the ditch with the water. Elijah wants to be very clear: Yahweh will not only send fire, the fire will burn up the offering and all of the water. So now it’s time for the big showdown. Elijah is very plain in his request to Yahewh, he says “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”  I find this part of the story really compelling as well because Elijah is proving, by his request to Yahweh that the whole point of this show is to bring glory and honor back to Yahweh. “Answer me so that this people may know you.” Not “answer me so I save face” not “answer me because all of these people are depending on me.” Answer me so that this people may know you are God.

God answers the prayer, loudly and clearly. God answers, clearly and unequivocally. The fire consumes the stone, the offering and the dust. It even licks up the water in the trench. 

I’d like to lift up a few things about this passage and what it might be saying to us about living a devoted and faithful life as we try to live our faith in the world.

First, Elijah, though he is outnumbered 450 to one believes that Yahweh is important enough to take a stand for  He starts with that important question “how long will you go around limping between two options?” Elijah knows something important: the prophets of Baal are worshipping a false God.  As I read this story, I’m not so interested in thinking about it in the sense of “my God is better than your God.” That is, I’m not convinced that the message for us, here, as we listen to this story is that we ought to prove to faithful adherents of other faiths that Yahweh will win some sort of contest. On the contrary, I believe Christians are called to interfaith dialog and understanding. I am interested, though, in speaking up against the false gods of our time. We might each define the false gods of our time in different ways. One way for me to identify them, I think is to look for the “ism” words: consumerism, materialism, narcissism,, sexism, racism, nationalism. These are the false gods that we’re asked to speak out against in our age and culture. When we’re asked to bow down to the god of the marketplace, the god of owning the most stuff, the god of “whatever I need and want must be best” the god that my gender, my race, my country are the best. These are the baals of our time. Sometimes we try to dabble in both worlds, just like the folks in our story. What would Elijah say? How long will you go around limping between two options.

The next thing I’d like to lift up about Elijah from this story is that he’s willing to do the work to bring people along. When Elijah first makes his proposal that the people are wavering between false gods and Yahweh, the text says that the people were silent. They didn’t even speak a word. When it’s time to put Yahweh to the test, though, Elijah has brought them along. He builds the altar, he cuts up the bull, he gets people to haul the water. It makes me think of the work that we do in our community and in the world to speak out against the false gods of our time. It’s hard work, and if we’re doing it right, we’re not doing it alone, we’re drawing others in to the story with us.

Finally, Elijah is letting God be God in this story. At the beginning of this chapter, in a part that we didn’t read this morning, we learn that this whole thing is taking place so that the drought can end. Why is this important? Well, two things: one it makes the water part all that much more impressive. Elijah is pouring water on the offering to show that it’s not spontaneously combusting. Second, Baal is supposed to be the god of storms, so if the drought ends without this “showcase of the gods” the people might take it to mean that Baal has gotten his power back. We already talked about the fact that Elijah is outnumbered here, but I didn’t mention yet that this whole showdown is taking place on Mt. Carmel. Guess where Baal is supposed to live? That’s right. Mt. Camel. So all of these prophets of Baal are actually allegedly on Baal’s home turf here. There is so much stacked up against Elijah in this story. So much. He knows that if he does “win” this encounter, it will be for one reason, and one reason only: Yahweh is truly God. It’s not that Elijah isn’t righteous (he is), it’s not that Elijah didn’t work hard (he did) but the offering is burned up for one reason alone and it’s this: The Lord, indeed is God. The Lord, indeed, is God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and sustainer of us all, Amen.

The Age of the Spirit

Happy Birthday, church! Today is Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to the early church. To me, it’s one of the most exciting days of the church year, right up there with Easter and Christmas. It’s a huge celebration, a party. There is much to be thankful for when we come to church on Pentecost. We come to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third person in our three person trinity. Christians believe in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Holy Spirit are distinct, but also the same. They are completely different and absolutely all the same. Christians believe in one God, not three.  If that’s hard for you to grasp, I have good news: nobody understands the trinity. Even theologians whose job it is to understand the trinity don’t understand the trinity. We try to explain it with symbols like the fleur de lis or a shamrock, but we always fall into some sort of heresy when we try to explain it.  This week, in preparation for Pentecost I’ve been reading a wonderful book about the Holy Spirit called The Age of the Spirit by theologian Phyllis Tickle. The book takes me back to seminary a little bit with all of the history of Christian theology it contains. The book traces the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit throughout Christianity in the East and West and talks about some of the questions Christians have had about the Spirit and how we have resolved them (or not, sometimes!)  It’s fascinating stuff, and I strongly recommend it for anyone who is looking for some theological brain food.

It is through this book The Age of the Spirit that I became acquainted with a theologian named Joachim of Fiore (or, if you want to be fancy and use his Italian name it’s Gioacchino da Fiore). Joachim of Fiore lived from 1135 to 1202. Before I go any farther with this, can we pause to think about that fact for just a second? This person that I learned about this week died 814 years ago. Eight hundred and fourteen years ago. And yet, when you hear about his theory, it’s going to sound so modern to you… so unbelievable. His theory was this, that modern history could be thought of in three relative ages that correspond with the three persons of the Trinity, first the age of the Father, which he said characterized the Old Testament. Makes sense, right? The Old Testament is full of all of those wild stories about obedience to the law, and a strong sense of the majesty and holiness of a God who is wholly other. Second was the age of the Son, the age in which the New Testament was written and understood. The third age, the age of the Spirit, was the age in which was to come, an age in which Christians would relate to the Spirit most of all. Phyllis Tickle’s book references this and asks the question “What if we’re living in that age, right now?” What if the age of the spirit that Fiore was pointing to is the age in which the are living at this very moment. It makes sense, I think, that we would be living in the age of the Spirit. After all, as Tickle reminds us, there was a time when it was easy and normal for Christians to pray directly to Jesus Christ, but this doesn’t seem exactly right to us now. It seems as if the Holy Spirit is becoming the more relatable person of the Trinity these days. Does that make sense to you? It does to me, for sure. Of the three persons in the trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit, the Spirit feels the most accessible in this day and age. Even people who don’t easily recognize themselves as Christians identify with the Spirit and spirituality. Have you ever met someone who says they are “spiritual, but not religious?” A lot of times people who talk about being spiritual but not religious are actually invoking language and traditions about the Holy Spirit that go back thousands of years. Part of our job as Christians, I think, is to interpret the Holy Spirit and to remind people that that spirituality they claim is part of our tradition, that the Spirit they identify with is that same Spirit present all the way at the beginning of our story, literally. In the second verse of the bible, Genesis chapter 1 verse two we read that the “spirit was hovering over the waters.” The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ruach and it is the same word as breath.

What is it that this ruach has to say to us now, today? I think to understand our faith presently, we can gain a lot of insight by going all the way back to the early church and think about what life was like for those earliest Christians. At that time, Christians didn’t call themselves Christians, the believers were Jewish in every sense, sticking to Jewish laws and customs and also following Jesus, but it didn’t stay that way. Soon other believers, people who had nothing to do with Judaism and didn’t necessarily want to started following Jesus. Again I am quoting from the book the Age of the Spirit “It became apparent to all that the beloved community had a problem… Were these gentiles, these pagans, really Christians or merely lookalikes and wannabes? Every evidence of genuine belief was in their lives and in their conduct.” To decide if followers of Christ had to become Jewish before accepting Jesus, a conference called the Jerusalem Conference was held, the evidence of which shows up in the book of Galatians and the book of Acts. We know what the result is, or we wouldn’t be here today. The believers decided that no, one did not have to become Jewish to follow Christ. Thus is the beginning of what I see as a long, consistent history of Christianity’s tradition of welcome and inclusion and embracing outsiders. Yes, it is true that Christianity has spent a lot of time trying to decide who is “inside” and who is “outside” of the faith, but isn’t it also true that we have often discovered that this faith we proclaim is much broader and wider than we ever imagined? Christianity has spread and grown and thrived and lasted for thousands of years and has grown to include believers from all corners of the earth. This is certainly the work of the Spirit. On this Pentecost Sunday it might be good for us to meditate a little bit on what the Spirit has done over the past two thousand years and what the Spirit might be doing in this time and age. As I look at the world around us, I see the Spirit inviting us to continue to open our minds and our hearts and see how broad Christ’s message is. I believe the “spiritual but not religious” around us might just find that the Spirit they so know and love is not a new thing, but that same Spirit that was hovering over the deep in Genesis, and present at the baptism of Jesus, and like tongues of fire coming down on the people at Pentecost. People often talk about “new age” faith, but the Spirit is actually as old as the creation of the world.

Our scripture for today tells us “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” The Spirit delights and surprises. The Spirit shows up when we least expect it to. Our job is to listen for the Spirit and to not be surprised when it shows up in strange and unexpected places.

I have been surprised and delighted to see the Spirit showing up all over the place at Northwood  in ways that ring true to that verse “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”  I hear the sound of the Spirit as women gather, monthly, to work on Days for Girls kits to send all around the world. I don’t know where that is coming from or where it is going. I hear the Sound of the Spirit as I listen to our new Parish Associate, Krin, talk about his journey to ministry (it’s a great story that I hope you all get to hear sometime). I don’t know where our friendship with Krin has come from or where it is going. I hear the sound of the Spirit when I hear Owen talk about plans for a Choir Camp this summer or Jamie talk about what is happening with the youth. I don’t know where those things have come from or where they are going. Ministry to our community, ministry in Zambia. The Spirit is present. We hear its sound, but we can’t really control it, it blows where it pleases. Our job, then, is to be open to receiving it, to welcome it, and to follow where it leads. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all, Amen.