Beyond the Pulpit: Thoughts on the Gift of Teaching

This is part two of my blog series about spiritual gifts, and today we are talking about the gift of teaching. 

I’ve always been surrounded by teachers. All my family are school teachers – both parents, all three of my siblings, and all of their spouses. My own father taught me seventh and eighth grade, and when he was sick, my mom was usually the substitute. I always thought teaching was important.  I often thought I would be a teacher, but much to my surprise I didn’t –  I became a pastor, making me the family vocational black sheep. 

This is where most people typically jump in and say: “But you ARE a teacher!  You teach us every Sunday morning when you preach!” And they are right. I didn’t understand it for a long time, but I see now that being a preacher and a teacher often go hand and hand. I did not stray so far from my family tree because teaching is not limited to a traditional classroom.

And in the same way that teaching in the world happens in more places than a school, teaching in a church happens in more places than a pulpit. This is easily forgotten. Often, if I suggest someone may have a gift of teaching, they dismiss it. 

“I can’t be a teacher!” they say, “I don’t want to preach sermons!”

We don’t always realize that teaching looks like a lot of things that aren’t just sermons, and this gift has more ways it can be used than we sometimes think.  Let me give you an example. 

Last winter I enjoyed getting to preach at a large and well known church in Southern Ontario.  The preacher at this church is truly exceptional. People flock to his teaching, and whenever I hear him teach, I admit I sometimes find myself slightly tempted to throw in the towel as his sermons are usually “wow-I-could-never-be-that-good” quality. Truly, he is a gifted teacher. 

But here is a little fun fact that I discovered when I was part of preaching at that church.  There are a lot of other people also using gifts of teaching there that help his gift be used well.  For example, one of the people on his staff has the role of research pastor. This pastor is a brilliant young woman who, along with other roles, also helps get the best information for each sermon. She explained to me, for example, that when a series is coming up, she reads a number of books on the topic, and selects the best, with highlighted sections, to pass on to her pastor.  He is then able to focus on that information and put that towards his sermon. 

The preacher at this church is definitely a gifted teacher…but so is his research pastor!  She has been gifted by God to be able to find and use good information. She uses this gift in the church in such a way that others are able to understand their faith better because of her gift of teaching. 

(Aside: This is also a great reminder for any of us preaching in a typical small church Sunday to Sunday to not compare ourselves to some of the big name preachers who may have resources we do not – such as research pastors!).

The gift of teaching doesn’t only mean you need to preach a sermon, or teach Sunday School, or run a small group. Gifted teachers can make amazing one-on-one mentors.They might be great researchers. They may be good writers. They can be good at gathering and sifting through information and sharing it as needed.They may be good at discerning what is true and what is misleading. They can train people in all kinds of things the church needs – from missionaries to sound techs. There are so many ways we teach.   

As you discern the ways God has made you, don’t be too quick to give up on the idea that God has made you a teacher because you may not be so fussed on stepping into a pulpit.  Maybe, like me, you are more of a teacher than you think.

Next week will be part three of this series on spiritual gifts, and will talk about the role of the apostle.  Click “follow” to get updates on new posts. 

The Gift of Shepherding (Maybe You Have It – And Maybe It’s Hard Sometimes….)

This fall, our church is learning together about the different ways that God has made all us and the important role each of us play in the world. We are using teaching from a part of the Bible called the book of Ephesians as we talk about this.  It reads: “It was (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…”  

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People are different. They are wired differently. They think differently. They see the world differently. I love that this is exactly how God designed things – God made each of us in different ways, and created a world that works best when we all use our diverse gifts.  

Each week at our church for the next few weeks I am preaching on each of these five unique ways that God has made us, and I will blog about each one. This week, we are talking about pastors. 

This is where things can get a little confusing….when we think of the word pastor, most of us think of people who work as ministers in a church. That is one way we use the word. But the way the word is used here in Ephesians is broader than that.  It can also be translated shepherds, and it refers to anyone who has been equipped in a God-given way to care for the souls, bodies, and hearts of others.  

A lot of you reading this are shepherds. You are people who feel a definite tug to care for the needs of others. You may have found that this special way you’ve been designed by God has led you to work as a nurse, or a social worker, or a counsellor. In a church, you may be the person who organizes a meal train when someone has a surgery. You may be the one that people always seem to want to talk to you when they are going through a hard time – and you like it when they do. You notice when people are sad and you reach out to them. You care – deeply.  

Your gift and calling is so important. You, my shepherds, are the hearts of our body who love us well. You are the shoulders we cry on when we are hurting. You are the hands that feed us and care for us. You matter so much.      

But being a shepherd can also be hard. If you have the gift of shepherding, there are challenges and frustrations that you may have. Today, I Invite you to consider those frustrations and how you can care for yourself as you care for others. 

Being Taken Advantage Of

Our shepherds sometimes get taken for granted.  Your kind heart means you will care for people again and again, sometimes to the point of being manipulated. When you feel burned, your soft heart can start to grow hard.  

What can you do when this happens?

One important reminder for our shepherds is that you are allowed to set limits. You carry a special burden to care for others, but God has not asked you to call for all the people, all the time, in all the ways. You can ask someone to call you back later when you need a break. You can say “no” when someone is asking too much.You can admit when you are exhausted. 

Feeling Guilty

In my experience, our shepherds can feel a lot of guilt, a lot of the time. Instead of seeing all the things they ARE doing, they can see only the things they are not. They feel bad for not visiting every person, not making more meals, not sending more cards or messages. I get it. This is where I remind our shepherds to remember: Guilt is NOT from God. God may lay people on your heart, but feeling shame or failure for not doing enough is not God’s voice. When the guilt comes, pause and talk to Jesus. Let God remind you that you are loved, simply because you are you.

Burn Out

Shepherds can often experience burn out.  Many shepherds serve in emotionally exhausting fields. Some of them spend all day doing child protection for our most vulnerable. Some of them spend their days counselling people and absorbing THEIR needs.  Beyond their work, shepherds then often have friends and family who need them too.

If you are a burnt out shepherd, one invitation is to observe rhythms of life. Take a day off a week, and let it be a true day off. Intentionally set time aside that you do not answer a phone or care for others. Take your vacations.  

Frustration with Bureaucracy

Shepherds can find systems, procedures and policies really frustrating. “Why can’t we just give extra food to that family at the food bank? So what if they’ve already been this month!” “Why do we have to make things so complicated – let’s just HELP people!” “Why do we have to follow Plan to Protect – I just want to help children!”  

These are valid frustrations. For a shepherd, the person comes first. This sometimes means that rules and systems feel like they are in the way.  But as shepherds, we must remember this is not always the case. Sometimes our desire to thwart the system for one ends up causing bigger harm to others.  

Let’s use the food bank example. Let’s say the loving shepherd gives in and gives that one family an extra box of food, even though they were only supposed to get one a month.The next day, 30 families show up asking for their box of food, having heard from others that exceptions can be made. We can go down a ton of rabbit trails of where this can lead, but sometimes as shepherds we need to make peace with the structures put in place. What can help is to stop and consider how the big picture HELPS people instead of focusing on how it doesn’t.  

How Can we Love Our Shepherds? 

Perhaps you are realizing that you are not a shepherd, but you can quickly see people in your life who are. You have a role here as well, to consider how you can support and value the shepherds around you.  

Thank Them

Let those who care for you know you are grateful for them. Say “thank you.” 

Let Them Off the Hook

It’s easy to keep going back to our shepherds again and again when we need them. Sometimes they need us to let them off the hook, and say “You don’t have to help me right now.” 

Learn From Them

We need the voice of shepherds. We need shepherds helping us remember people and their needs. It can be easy for some of us to simply say “This is how it has to be!”  Shepherds will remind us – people need to be loved. We need them to remind us of the one child who is hurting, the person who may be impacted by a new system, the ways that people can get overlooked. 

Let me end by saying to our shepherds:  Thank you!  You are important to us, and we love you. Thank you for looking after us, looking out for us, and loving us. We hope you will also look after you! 

Next week we will talk about those who are equipped to be TEACHERS.  You can get updates on new posts by clicking “follow” here. 

“Nobody Cares About Me” (And Other Reasons People Don’t Call You When You’ve Missed Church)

“Why didn’t anyone call me?”

I have heard this question more times than I can count in my 14 years as a pastor. I’ve heard this question from people who were part of our church anywhere from 3 weeks to 30 years.  I have heard this question from people who show up at our church, as an explanation for why they are looking for a new church home. I have heard this question coming out of my own mouth. 

It is a question that often carries a lot of hurt behind it, and the conclusions we come to about the answer can have big consequences. Sometimes our conclusions will lead to us carrying hurt for many years.  Sometimes they will lead to us leaving a church community for good.

There may be a number of reasons that nobody called (or texted, or messaged, or sent you a carrier pigeon) when you missed church, some of which might surprise you.  Let’s talk about them.

Option One: Nobody Cares About You

This is, of course, a viable possibility. It is possible that the reason no one has contacted you is because nobody actually cares about you.  It is possible that you don’t matter much to your church and you aren’t missed at all. It is possible that people DID notice you were gone and didn’t care one twit about it. 

My experience is that this is usually the default conclusion people make when they step back from their church and don’t hear from anybody.  I can totally see the logic in leaving a church for good if you felt this was the case, and indeed sometimes it is.

But what if that is not actually the reason?  What if there are other options, such as…

Option Two: No One REALIZED You Had Been “Away”

Did you know that today “regular” church attendance is considered attending three services out of every eight?  This means that even if you break this mode, and attend every single Sunday, most people around you are not. This means that it has become really hard to notice when people are “gone” and not just “not there.” 

Let me show you what I mean. 

Let’s say there are two people – Nancy and Jared.  They both attend somewhat regularly – let’s even say FIVE out of eight weeks – and they usually chat and sit together.  Now let’s say that Jared is going through a really hard time and doesn’t go to church for all five of those weeks. And Nancy doesn’t contact him!!  Why? Is it because she doesn’t care???

Well, the first two weeks he wasn’t there Nancy was away herself.  She was visiting some family. The next two weeks she came and Jared wasn’t there, but she didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t strange at all for Jared to miss a week or two, and, besides, she figures that he was there the weeks that she wasn’t. Then Nancy is away another week – she is sick.  She comes back, but again, she assumes Jared was probably there the week she missed. Then two more weeks pass and still no Jared. It is likely only then that she starts to think to herself: “I wonder if everything is okay with Jared.” At this point she pops him a message on Instagram, to which he replies: “I can’t believe you didn’t contact me!!  I haven’t been at church for SEVEN weeks, and you JUST noticed? I guess you don’t care.” 

See how it happens?

It may not be that people don’t care – it may be that people simply haven’t put the pieces together that you are GONE and not just “away.”  

Option Three: The Church has Gotten Bigger

The above story might logically lead you to then say:  “Well, at least the pastor should notice. The pastor is there every week.”  Fair enough. However, I can speak from experience, that if your church is getting bigger, it gets harder and harder for pastors to keep track of EVERYONE in the church.  Our church, for example, has about 350 people that call us home. That is a lot of people to remember and notice when they have been gone (while noticing if it’s just been more than the usual number of weeks that they are away…). I would LOVE to be able to notice everyone who steps back and reach out, but sometimes I simply can’t keep track. Which brings me to my next point…

Option Four: You are Not Connected or Involved

You may be hurt that no one noticed that you are gone, but it may be that you were, honestly, never very connected.  If you have not joined a small group, been part of ministry, or served in any way then it IS harder to build relationships with people that would have a chance to notice you are gone besides the pastor.  To be noticed, you need relationships with people who would notice you.

Option Five: People Feel Awkward

A few years ago our church tried to address this issue by putting everyone in a group of three – the idea was that if you noticed someone in your group of three was away that you would reach out to them, or at least let a pastor know that they had been away or needed support. 

I am sorry to say that this was a TOTAL BUST. 

I was stunned when I would hear people say: “My person hasn’t been there for a long time.” “Did you contact them?” I would ask.  “Oh no,” many would answer, “I didn’t want it to be awkward.” 

I discovered that some people really find this a difficult thing to do.  They feel like it will look like they are “checking up” on people. They are shy. They don’t want to make people feel bad.  I have been stunned by how many people DO notice people are away and just don’t act on it. 

It may be that you are noticed and missed, but people you know simply aren’t the type to call you up about it. 

(Also, there are some generational differences here.  I have been told by many of our younger church members that being called when they are away makes them feel guilty. They don’t feel loved – they feel like they have let people down.  For them, the idea of calling people to see why they haven’t been at church is 100% rude and weird. If you’re away, they may be trying to RESPECT you by not tracking you down).

Option Six: Different Expectations

A number of years ago a woman came to our church who had moved to the area and left a church she had been in for many years.  She went through a difficult time, and I heard from her that she was “very hurt” that more people from church hadn’t visited her.  At the time, we had a team that did a lot of visiting for elderly people in our church. When our team met, I learned that someone had visited her EVERY week that month!   What did she mean that “nobody” visited her? 

Later I talked to someone from her old church. That church was very small and deeply connected. When someone was sick, you know how many times someone visited? EVERY DAY. 

No wonder she felt let down!  We had totally different expectations of what being “connected” meant! 

If you are joining a church, it may be wise to discover how they address people being away, pastoral needs, etc.  It could be good to know if you can expect a visit from the pastor if you’ve been sick, or how much people who’ve been way have follow up.   

You may also want to consider if you have realistic expectations of your church.  Are you expecting someone to visit every day? That is very rare.  Are you expecting to hear from everyone at your church? That is also unlikely.   Maybe your church has felt they cared for you better than it felt to you…

 

These are just a few options as to why you might not hear from people when you’ve been away from your church. I haven’t even mentioned that people might not know how to contact you (does your church have your contact info?), that they may be trying to give you space, or that they don’t get your status updates in their Facebook feed when you passively aggressively share that you miss your church. 

Why did I write this post? Because I grieve the hurt that people feel when they assume their church doesn’t care about them.  It is even more sad when that assumption is not true. That’s why today, if you have felt unloved or forgotten by your church, I invite you to consider what you could do to address options 2-6. 

Reach out to a friend or a pastor and TELL them you’ve been away and ask to talk.  Get more involved so that you form deeper connections. Show up more than 3 out of 8 worship services a month.  Let people know how you would like to receive care, and then talk about if it’s reasonable together. Make sure the church has your contact info!  

Most of all, don’t give up too quickly. The hurt of feeling forgotten is real, but it may be a hurt based on things that aren’t true.  Before you despair, check out all the options. You may be loved more than you realized. 

I Loved Eleven: Reflections on the Night Before My Son’s Twelfth Birthday

Tomorrow, my precious first born turns twelve years old, and there is a whole lot of me with a whole lot of feelings about it.  Of course I find myself thinking about all the things I miss about having a younger child. I miss kids books and bedtime snuggles and how excited Josiah used to get whenever he saw a digger.  I miss new baby smell and the weight of a young child in my arms. I miss his three year old laugh.  

baby josiah
I mean, what is NOT to miss?

But even as I miss these things, I can honestly say I would not turn back the clock if I could.  Little kids are so wonderful, but big kids are really great too. For me, having an eleven year old was one of the best things to ever happen to me. 

I realize, however, that we don’t always hear much about the great things that come with kids getting older.  Our narrative is so often focused on the lament of our children aging that we can forget the joys that come with each new season.  I think that’s a shame. That’s why, today, with just a few hours left before my son turns twelve, I want to celebrate those. I celebrate with this – my “Homage to Eleven” (*the age, not the character on Stranger Things).

Eleven, you were so good. 

You were growing.

You were getting nearly as tall as me and outgrowing both your grandmothers. 

You were a crazy mohawk you didn’t want to cut, sneakers you outgrew before you worn them out, and growing out of all your pants in four months so that we had to go shopping the day before we left on vacation.

You were eating a full medium pizza by yourself and telling everyone about it. 

You were ordering from the adult menu in restaurants.

You were big enough for the big water slides and the high ropes courses and not needing to do the swim test every time we went swimming.

You were giving away your toy trucks and loving when another little boy enjoyed them as much as you had. 

You were independence.

You were walking to school by yourself.

You were “go pack your bag” for vacation, and knowing you would do it fine on your own. 

You were packing your own lunches and putting in more than pudding and fruit snacks. 

You were not needing us to tuck you in, or run your showers, or carry your money for you when we went on vacation.

You were being able to be left on your own for a while.

You were being able to watch you from the beach while you went swimming and not having to go in with you.

You were doing your own laundry, mopping the basement every week, and using your backpack to hold your I-Pad so you could listen to podcasts while you did your chores.

You were learning. 

You were learning to cook and bake. You were making crepes and scrambled eggs and a full week of breakfasts for us one week. You were cooking a meal of “spaghetti nests”  one night when we were out with Lucy.

You were passing three levels of swimming.

You were learning to sail at camp and loving it. 

You were school projects on food trucks and a speech about why apples are good for you. You were feeling proud that your writing mark went up a whole letter grade after working so hard. 

You were new things.

You were starting middle school.

You were joining school council.

You were making the basketball team. 

You were your first youth retreat, your first year in youth group, starting to help in Sunday School. 

You were sitting in church for the service and starting to joke: “You’re going to use that as a sermon illustration, aren’t your Mom?” when we heard new stories.

You were deciding to try out for every team at school, even the ones you knew you wouldn’t make. 

You were getting baptized, and making your faith your own.

You were helpful.

You were “Can you help me carry this?” – and you could.

You were “Can you figure out how to fix my computer?” – and you could. 

You were “Can you watch Lucy?”- and you could.

But what I liked best, eleven, was that you were so much fun.

You were starting to figure out sarcasm. 

You were liking the good movies and being able to play the good board games…

You were Cities and Knights of Catan, Indiana Jones, Marvel. 

You were long bike rides we could do together, basketball in the driveway, diving contests when we went swimming. 

You were getting the jokes.

You were going to a show in New York City, Harry Potter Studios in England, and eight kilometre hikes up mountains in Newfoundland. 

Eleven, you were special.

You were brave.

You were discovering who you are. 

You were not regretting getting older. 

Thanks Eleven.  Tell your friend, Twelve, I’m really looking forward to him.

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Tired Pastor: Reminders For the Weary in the Third Week of June

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I’m at the “count-down-how-many-sermons-I-preach-until-vacation” time of the year.  

It’s also the “give a little cheer when I cross something off the bulletin” time of the year. And the “I can’t do that until I get back from vacation” time of the year.  And the “I refuse to buy more groceries when we are leaving soon so I am having crackers and a granola bar for lunch,” time of the year.  

Furthermore. 

It’s the “this will be our last session until fall” time of the year.  It’s the “end of year dinner” time of the year. It’s the “we’ll put that on the agenda for September” time of the year.    It’s the buying teacher gifts and trying to schedule summer birthday parties before school ends and dragging kids out of bed in the mornings and “how many days left of school?” and booking guest preachers and advertising summer camps and debriefing a year of ministry and final swim tests and remembering to put on sunscreen in the mornings time of year. 

And it’s also the time of year when I feel so tired.

Perhaps, Pastor, you are feeling tired too.  It has been a hard or wonderful or profoundly normal ministry year.  There have been the normal ebbs and flows on the calendar. The series preached.  The visits made. The meetings had. The crises averted, confronted, avoided.

And now you are sitting in your office and your eyes are blurring a bit as you try to write a sermon, or you are finding yourself sighing when a certain name appears in your email or you are saying things like: “There better not be anyone die this week.”  

I have come to realize these feelings are to be expected this time of year.  But what is funny is that every year I seem to forget this, and I find myself thinking the same things:  “Is there something wrong with me? Am I totally burnt out on ministry? Do I need to get my iron checked?” 

It’s funny that even though every June is the same, it still takes me a few weeks to remember: There is nothing wrong with me.  I am not sick. I am not failing at my ministry. My heart is not hard. My iron is not low…I am just tired.

It has taken me fourteen years in this role to learn what I need to remember when the June exhaustion hits.

This is Normal

Growing weary is not a bad sign. It is a very normal sign of living a normal life, and we all go through it.  There are seasons where this feeling is natural, and this one is one of those for me. 

Listen to It

This very normal feeling is something to heed.  It reminds me that I am not invincible, that I need God, that I need to rest.  I can’t run at full speed forever. Everyone needs time to fill the gas tank.  This feeling is a reminder: “Pull over.”

Pause

It’s time to take a breather.  I don’t need to figure everything out right now. I can’t even rationally think about the fall; I can’t effectively process the last year; I can’t fix everything that needs to be fixed before I go on vacation next week. I need to push the pause button and things will feel different after some rest. 

And, finally, and most importantly:

Calm Right Down

I don’t know about you, but when I get tired, all the big emotions flood over my whole life. I find myself irrationally questioning my call, my job, my purpose.  I want to quit everything. I want to say “There is no way I am doing that next year!” 

But I need to calm right down, and remember that those feelings are not to be trusted. Tired Leanne’s feelings LIE. 

After some rest, I remember, I may feel differently.  After some rest, I may have a new perspective. After a pause, I almost always feel ready to hit “play” again.  

That’s why I have learned to monitor my responses this time of year.  When someone asks me “Are you going to do this next year?” and all of me wants to respond by saying: “No! I cannot possibly do another thing ever!,” I have learned to say instead: “Let me get back to you after my vacation.”  

I have learned to remind myself:  I’m not crazy. It’s just June. And June doesn’t last forever.  As the rhythms of life ebb for a little while, as I gratefully receive God’s gift of rest, as I pause and as I listen, Tired Pastor will fade away, as she does every summer.  Renewed, Rested, and Ready Pastor will return. 

Even better news?  Rest and Pause works great for all the tired versions of you, too. 

In the meantime – two lunches and one sermon to go!

If you would like to get updates on future posts from Leanne, remember to click “follow” in the corner of this site. 

Pastor Mom: Reflections on My Son’s Baptism and Life as a Mother in Ministry

It started when I was pregnant.  

I knew that when I had a baby, it was going to change the way I did my job as a pastor. I didn’t anticipate how much even being pregnant would impact the way I did ministry, mostly because I was very sick my entire pregnancy.  I had to preach sitting down.  I would attend meetings and have to lie down half way through them, saying: “Don’t mind me! Keep going!” as I continued the discussion while lying on the closest couch.  At our monthly ministerial, I would ask for prayer from a group of men who tried hard to be empathetic, but who had no idea what it was like to lead worship with morning sickness.

Then I had the baby – and the first maternity leave for our church to figure out. Then I had to return from maternity leave – and there was the first returning-from-maternity-leave to figure out.  

And then there were Sunday mornings with a clingy toddler.  Negotiating what to do if my son was upset in the nursery while I was preaching.  Managing night meetings around bedtime routines. 

Being a Pastor Mom was complicated.

My son got older, and I had another baby.   I was still learning to navigate the life of a pastor mom, and now the realities of what that meant were timed by two. There were more board meetings that had to be held at my house to compensate for bedtimes, more sermons written during fleeting nap times, more bodies to get out the door on a Sunday. There was more stress that I was messing everything up.

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Actually looking like we are pretty put together on our way to church one Sunday. Probs why we took a picture…

Like other working parents, the struggle of a pastor mom has lots to do with schedules and work hours and fitting everything in. But it also has to do with what sometimes feels like the clash of one call with another.  

Parenting versus pastoring.  

Mom versus minister.

It’s been eleven years, and I still wrestle with the tension.    

I wonder, often, how my job makes my children feel about church, a place I want them to love, but also a place that often seems to take their mother away from them.  Will they love the place that makes them say: “You have to go to church AGAIN?” on a night that they hoped I would read another chapter of Harry Potter? Will they resent the place where they always have to show up early, and where they are always the last to leave? What is it like for them to have their MOM be the one who preaches the sermons they hear, and how do they process how others respond to that?  (Once, my son came home saying that his friends hadn’t believed him when he told them what I do: “Women aren’t priests,” his classmates had chided him).

Of course, there is also the unique guilt that comes with having a job that some Christians don’t even think I should do in the first place.  There is little empathy from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ about finding work/life balance as a woman pastor when they think I shouldn’t be a pastor anyway.  

And even among those who support my calling and role, there is often little understanding of the differences my life has from my male colleagues with wives at home.  No, I can’t do an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting – I drop my kids off at school. No, I can’t do a three day ministry retreat. We have no family close by and my husband works in Toronto. I have turned down countless ministry opportunities and speaking events because this is a season where my kids need my “yes” more than another conference does.  

I am burdened by the questions every pastor asks:  “Am I leading this church well? Have I portrayed God’s love to those who need it? Have I done all I can to present the hope of Christ?”

But the burden multiplies because there are two people in my church that I really want to hear that message: my children. I worry about every program. Every Sunday School lesson. Every aspect of youth group.  I worry as a pastor, and as a mom who, I feel, carries double the responsibility.

There are many days I wonder if I am short-changing everybody.  My kids. My church. My husband. Myself. God.

There are lots of hard times, times I second guess everything.

Times like: “I’m not allowed to visit you in hospital when you’re dying because of doctor’s orders and I wonder if you regret hiring a woman who is now pregnant.”

Times like: “Why are you out ANOTHER night, Mom?”

Times like: “All of us had such a great time at the conference you could not attend.”   

Times like: “Oh shoot I think I just started leaking breast milk while I was preaching.”  

Times like: “You finish the movie while I work on my sermon.”

Times like: “Sorry we can’t go away for the weekend because I work Sundays.”

Times like: “You’ll have to miss the baseball tournament unless someone else can drive you.”

And, always, times like:  “Is any of this worth it?”  

But this week I got to have one of those times when I knew that it was. This week, on a sunny Easter Sunday, I got to baptize the child that I had carried in my womb and in my heart, the child whose gestation had caused me to preach from a stool and whose presence forced me to change everything about my schedule and my life.  The child who first made me Pastor Mom.

This week, I got to stand by my son as he shared with his church family why he wanted to follow Jesus and get baptized.  I got to follow along with his notes as he read, ready to help him find his place if he got lost. Then I got to hold his hand as we stepped into the warm tank of water, white robes billowing around us.

j speaking
Photo Cred; Richard Evelyn

I also got to do something else special. We have a tradition in our church of letting those being baptized ask someone to stand in the water with them, someone that has been important to them on their faith journey.  For several weeks my son kept saying he couldn’t decide who should join him in the water. He finally explained that the reason was that he had SO MANY people he wanted with him.  He actually wanted all of his Sunday School teachers to be with him as he was baptized.

Well, being pastor mom gave me a little sway, and I told him that if that’s what he wanted, we could ask all of his teachers to come and stand around the tank with him. The Mom in me loved being able to give him this gift. The pastor in me loved being able to show the Sunday School teachers what a difference they’d made.

So this week,  I got to ask eleven years worth of my son’s Sunday School teachers to come and stand around a child they had taught as he was baptized. I got to see a dozen people step forward who taught my son God loved him, people who had held my son in nursery, people who had taught him as a shy preschooler, the particularly patient who had managed him in a class of rambunctious ten year olds. I got to see the tears glistening in their eyes as we stood together.   

teacher
Photo Cred: Richard Evelyn

And in that moment, I got to remember something –  it had never just been up to me, Pastor Mom. I am only one part of the family of God, living my role and calling, just as others live theirs.  This family of his has been, all together, all he needed.  I didn’t need to be anything other than Pastor Mom and what that meant for me. With the help of all those with me, and so many others, it had been enough.

Then I got to lean in and whisper in my son’s ear: “I love you,” right before I got to say:  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I got to lift him down under the water, and lift him back out again  into a new life in Christ, got to see him flick his too-long mohawk out of eyes, hear him catch his breath.  Got to see his smile. Got to hear the whole church cheer.  All of this I got as a pastor mom. 

after baptism

As I write this today, I think of one other struggle I had as a pastor mom – not having other pastor moms to talk to.  I think back to what I would have liked to have known in those early days as a pastor mom, how alone I sometimes felt, and how often I wanted to ask some other pastor mom if it would all be worth it.   

Today, I would say this, learned from my son’s baptism, to all my sister pastor-moms.

You are not alone.  As you live into your calling, trust that others are living into their calls too.  Together, as God’s church, you will show your child the fullness of the story of God.    

Yes, there will be many hard, tension-filled, uncertain days, but there will also be days like Easter Sunday 2019 was for me, days when you look to God, and know with every certainty: It was worth it.

“Room for Woe” – Why Churches Need Space for Sadness

This year during lent, I decided to preach a series that I called “Woe to Us.”  Lent is the season in the Church that leads up to Easter, and it is traditionally a time that Christians use to reflect on their need for Christ.  This lent, it felt fitting to preach about the ways that we need to say “woe to us.” In a world that often wants to hurry past sadness or discouragement, we decided to make room for woe. We named together the ways that we are like many of the people in the story of Jesus who made mistakes or didn’t live up to their own good intentions. 

woe cross
Our cross of woe that we created during lent

But I didn’t want this to just be about sermons and the spiritual woes we experience.  I also wanted to make space for real and honest lament of the many ways we feel pain. As a pastor, I look out at my congregation each Sunday, and I see a lot of woes. There are many people who are hurting, and I realize how often churches may not feel like safe places in the times of our greatest anguish.  Churches are usually full of happy songs, upbeat music, and stories of redemption. And sometimes – we’re not there.

Sometimes, we have a story where we haven’t seen the redemption yet

Sometimes we are hurting too much to find joy in the happy music on a Sunday morning.

Sometimes, we need room for woe.

I realized making room for woe meant making space for the real stories of woe in people’s lives, and so each Sunday I asked someone from our church to share a story of woe.  They had only one rule – they were not allowed to (quote): “Tidy it up with a nice Christian bow at the end.”

(You know the bow I mean, right? The “But-God-is-good-and-all-things-work-for-good-and-praise-God!” bow).

It’s not that I don’t believe God is good and not always working to redeem our lives.  It’s that sometimes we need space to let the sadness be, just as it is, before God and before others in our lives.  Sometimes we need room for woe.

I lined up two people to share our first two Sundays of lent. The first week someone talked about losses they had experienced during retirement and having to sell their home.  The next week a woman shared the raw pain of living in depression. After that, which was no surprise to me, I didn’t have to ask people to share anymore. People started volunteering to tell their story of woe.  Someone shared about struggling with being single in a church full of families, another about caring for her mom with Alzheimer’s. Another week we heard from someone who had experienced a sense of failure in their career and the next week someone talked about the grief of having recently losing a loved one.

I admit, it was painful some weeks, to just let the woe sit there.  To hear someone you love simply end a story by saying: “It’s really hard” – and sitting back down.  Sometimes it took lots of willpower not to jump up and start the “But God is good – all the time” chant.  I didn’t. It was time to make space for woe. 

And it was so very very beautiful when we did.

Each week, I would hear the gentle sighs and see the nods of people thinking: “Me too.”  I would physically feel the love in the room as someone shared and people stayed with them, every minute.  I would talk to those who shared after who said: “Thank you for letting me to do that.”

And after six weeks of woe, I have learned something: There is great power in making space for pain.  In fact, over the last number of years, I have come to believe this is one of the callings of the church. The Church SHOULD be a place where real, honest, lament can be expressed with no judgement and no need to rush to explain it all away. 

Sadly, this isn’t always the case.  We have not always made room for woe. We have been good at quick “God has a plan!” explanations – not so good at simply saying: “I share in your pain.”  

Making room for woe doesn’t mean that we all need to do a “woe to us” series.  It can be as simple as letting someone share their story without jumping in too quickly with Christian platitudes. It can mean carving out time for lament in churches in the same way we do for celebrating.  However we do it – we need room for woe.

And remember that we can make this room because we know woe is not the end of the story.  We have been in lent, but Easter is coming. After six weeks of woe, I am so excited for this Sunday when we can celebrate the joy of the resurrection, and what that means for all our woes.   And I believe our joy this Sunday will be even fuller not because we have denied the woe, but because we have made space for it.

So, this Sunday, we will sing happy songs.  We will hug each other and say “He is risen!”  We will eat treats and laugh and celebrate. There will be joy because that is the hope of the resurrection.  We have spent some time in the tomb – but the tomb is not forever. And the darkness of the tomb only makes the light of resurrection shine brighter.