Archive for July, 2021


Life in the Same Lane

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Years ago the Eagles made popular a song titled, “Life in the Fast Line,” depicting the toil and pain that comes with living life filled with hard partying. If you change the song title and chorus to “Life in the Same Lane,” you’ll find a fair description of Ecclesiastes.

Beginning next week I’m going to start a series of posts on my reflections from this Book of Wisdom, which never seems to lose its relevance to contemporary readers.

This will be the second series of serious studies I’ve done in over a year, and I’m excited to dust off my exegetical and hermeneutical skills and share my insights with a public audience. When I left the pastorate a year ago I discarded every sermon I had written, so it feels good to get out some blank paper and study this book with a fresh perspective.

I hope you’ll find it helpful!

Categories : Ecclesiastes
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Why People Resist Change

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I’m currently reading Tempered Resilience, by Tod Bolsinger, which includes this fabulous quote from the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky:

“People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.”

Therefore, when a leader proposes change in an organization, it should come as no surprise that the organization’s stakeholders will resist the change, not because it’s new or different, but because it threatens loss. People who are deeply invested in a church will often become enmeshed to the degree that it becomes their identity. Thus, change creates a loss of identity and even threatens their sense of personal power within the church. It’s not the additions that come with change. It’s the subtractions that come with change. Perhaps this is why churches can create new programs easier than discontinue old, ineffective programs.

Unfortunately, when people feel threatened due to the losses created by change they engage in sabotage. Tod Bolsinger writes, “Acts of sabotage are not the bad things that evil people do to stop good being done in the world. Acts of sabotage are the human things that anxious people do because they fear they are losing what little good is left in the world.”

He continues, “At times of crisis or crossroads of change, anxious relationship systems default back to what is known, believing that it is the only path to self-preservation and survival, even if it means returning to slavery (Exodus 16:3).”

If you’ve served in any kind of organization with any level of longevity, these words will ring true. So what should leaders who aspire to lead change do?

  1. Don’t take resistance personally. Resistance isn’t about you, or even the proposed change. It simply reveals something in nature of those who are resisting. It’s not easy to confess that change makes you feel insecure or threatens your sense of significance. It’s easier to sabotage the change or become adversarial to the leader(s). It’s only personal if you make it personal.
  2. Lead collaboratively. Leaders who want to take personal credit for the new idea will ensure they are the targets for personal attacks. The wise leader will lead collaboratively when introducing change, using whatever governance devices are available to depersonalize the initiative. Even if it’s the leader’s idea, some sabotage can be diffused by introducing the initiative through boards, committees or teams.
  3. Be patient. Leaders can legitimately see change as true no-brainers. But not everyone responds to charts and graphs, not matter how colorful they may be. People need stories that are rooted in the church’s history where they are reminded that change is part of their rich history and such changes have led them to that point. Be willing to communicate and present the idea until people are actually tired of hearing about it. Few things in life are communicated in one message.
  4. Be courageous. The white’s of their eyes matter, so go the second mile by sitting down knee to knee with those who are resisting the change. Give them the time of day. They matter to God, so they should matter to you. You may not win them to your cause, but you can care about them and empathize with the loss you are asking them to accept. And that’s not nothing.

Bolsinger’s book serves as a companion to the book, Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman. If you find yourself in the crucible of leading change, I’d recommend you purchase both. They’re timely and timeless additions to your leadership library.

Categories : Books, Change, Leadership
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Canoeing the Mountains

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The year following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to find the most direct and practical water route across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of commerce. For over 300 years explorers from at least four sovereign nations had been looking for a pathway that would lead from the Mississippi River all the way through the North America to the Pacific. Lewis was joined by Second Lieutenant William Clark and together formed the Corps of Discovery to under take the challenge from President Jefferson.

The Corps of Discovery began with a faulty assumption. Everyone was certain that the water route to the Pacific was there. All they needed to do was discover it. But they were wrong. There was no passage. When Lewis and Clark came to the end of the river they realized that nothing before them was like anything they had experienced that was behind them. There were no manuals, maps or journals that could help them. They literally marched off the map into the unknown.

What the Corps of Discovery learned over 200 years ago is what we are learning today in the life of our church. The world of ministry is not like anything we have experienced in the past. The cultural landscape has changed to the degree that our assumptions about reaching and serving are experiencing diminishing returns.

Today we are recognizing that many of the ministries we found to be effective in the past are no longer having the same impact today. Like Lewis and Clark, we must realize that we are marching into an age where our canoes may no longer help us reach our destiny. Like the Corps of Discovery, we are finding the need to trade our canoes for horses so that we can stay focused on the mission. Those who choose to love their canoes more than the mission will risk becoming stuck at the headwaters of the river and fail to reach the ultimate goal.

Tod Bolsinger shared this anecdotal story to form the motif of his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He uses this historical event to describe the type of adaptive leadership that is needed in the 21st century. It was written prior to the global pandemic, and coming out of the pandemic is more timely than ever.

Bolsinger suggests five characteristics every leader must possess in order to lead a congregation or organization in unchartered territory:

  1. Recognize you are in uncharted territory, and that the world in front of you is nothing like the world before you.
  2. No one will follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map. Competence and credibility on the map is required to develop the necessary trust to advance into the unknown.
  3. Adaptation is the key to leading in uncharted territory. Adaptation is the process of learning and loss. Once we realize the losses won’t kill us, we can embrace a growth mindset and learn.
  4. Adaptive leadership requires both collaborative relationships and navigating resistance. Today’s leader can no longer go it alone. Successful change is not achieved until the leader has survived the inevitable sabotage.
  5. Finally, everyone will be changed, especially the leader. Survival comes when the leader is willing to allow people to speak into his or her life that previously have gone unheard.

If Bolsinger’s book was important in 2015, it is invaluable in 2021. If you’re an organizational leader who is looking to lead into the dynamic future instead of being content with the static present, this book is a must read.

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Don’t Look Back

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Many years ago I engaged a church member in a conversation about an obscure verse found in Luke 17:32. The verse simply read, “Remember Lot’s wife.” These words were spoken by Jesus in the context of a teaching he was giving about his return. The original hearer would have heard the phrase and recalled the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Genesis 19) where the cities were destroyed following Lot and his family’s escape. According to the story, Lot and his family were to leave the city without looking back, lest they be turned into pillars of salt. Well, Lot’s wife didn’t listen to the warning and subsequently was turned into a pillar of salt. So in our conversation we talked about what it meant to stand at the crossroads of a difficult decision and following the Lord’s will to the best of our knowledge, without reservation or regret. In other words, those kinds of decisions have to be made whole heartedly with singular focus on what lies ahead. And as illustrated by Lot’s wife, that can be a hard thing to do.

Old guys like me have practices and rituals that, in my case anyway, serve well and merit repetition. One of those rituals has been to find a verse in the Bible that speaks to my current situation in life and then use it as a sort of guidepost for the year. In 2021, my verse has been Proverbs 15:24, which says, “The path of life leads upward for the wise, they leave the grave behind” (NLT). This verse has become a daily mantra and a source of reflection.

I love the book of Proverbs and read it daily, and I love the contrasting nature of this particular verse. Here, the writer contrasts movement and stagnation; life and death; up and down; wisdom and foolishness; and forward and backwards. And the principle that I’m learning this year, based on this verse, is that break throughs are always break withs. In order to move forward, some things by necessity have to be left behind. In many of those cases the things that need to be left behind are not life giving. They belong in the grave with resounding finality.

One thing we all share in common is the need to be wise and walk away from those graves toward things that are life giving. Maybe it’s an unhealthy work environment or a toxic relationship. Maybe it’s a proud attitude or habitual behavior. Maybe it is the inability to uncouple from past successes that serve as present day limitations, keeping you affixed to the “good old days” instead of living in the fulness of the present moment. In the words of one athlete last week, “When you focus on the past, that’s just ego.” These examples are just a small sampling.

I don’t think it’s healthy or even possible to simply “move on” from past difficulties. To me, that implies one is going to continue to carry the emotional baggage of the past. I do think it is possible to “move forward.” Moving forward suggests that the past has been dealt with and that the time has come to embark on a new journey, assuming one is willing to walk away and walk toward.

It’s been an interesting 12 months in the Deatrick house. But God, my family, and a team of friends have consistently and patiently walked with me. As a result, I’m not just standing, I’m moving forward with passion and energy toward things that are life giving. I am forever grateful for your listening ears and words of insight. I can fully embrace the future, because the past doesn’t need me anymore.

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Here’s some research from Christianity Today on the Decline of Mainline Denominations and the Impact on Evangelicals.

The main takeaway for me is that while mainline defectors first preference for relocation is in an evangelical church, evangelical defectors number one relocation spot is to become part of the rising “nones.” Surprising to no one should be the statistic that the number cause for the decline of both mainlines and evangelicals is the attrition due to aging.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Perspective Matters

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Once there was a man who walked alone down a dark street late at night. Out of nowhere appeared a man who was wearing a mask and carrying a knife. The masked man cut the man and took all of his money.

A passerby found the man lying on the sidewalk and called an ambulance. The ambulance quickly arrived and paramedics placed him on a stretcher and drove him to the hospital. When the man arrived at the hospital he was rushed into surgery, where out of nowhere appeared a man who was wearing a mask and carrying a knife. The masked man cut the man and took all of his money.

Motivation matters.

Context matters.

Perspective matters.

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Getting Right Sized

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Last week I was standing on the sand of the Pacific Ocean. While children played in the sand and surfers tried to catch a wave I watched as the sun began to set in the western horizon. The noise of the ocean was deafening, repeating the same cadence over and over. As I stood on the beach of this vast body of water with my family I couldn’t help but feel small.

I can’t remember who said it, so forgive me for my lack of precise citation. But the words of someone more wise than I once said that the purpose of art and beauty is to make us feel small in all the appropriate ways. That quote came to mind in that moment. I wish it was original, but its not.

Along side that quote came another quote, the citation of which I do recall.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat.
(Psalm 19:1-6, NLT)

This Psalm is attributed to David, who would have been quite familiar with the grandeur of creation. In his observations of the beauty of the earth he saw the greatness of God and the smallness of self. Creation, beauty, and art all have the ability to keep us right sized. For some it’s a piece of music or poetry. Others see it in a painting or a photo. Like my experience, many find it beside the ocean, atop a mountain range, or within a well manicured vineyard, or the face of a child. This greatness keeps us right sized, but not in the sense that we are worthless and of no value. These images and experiences remind us that we are something in God’s eyes, but that we’re not the only thing God cherishes. Each of us is part of something bigger than ourselves. I, for one, need that reminder.

When all we look at is our neighborhoods and possessions we eventually look only at ourselves. That which is close and common become our points of comparison and the basis of how we determine whether we’re winning at life. If my income is a bit bigger, my car a bit newer, my house a bit larger, and my kids GPA a bit higher then I become self congratulatory in the “bigger barns” I have built. Our lives become wealthier, but our hearts become smaller, and we become smaller in all of the inappropriate ways.

The solution? Get right sized. Intentionally put yourself in places with perspectives that remind you of who you really are in the context of God’s universe. Let me quote King David once more.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
    Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You gave them charge of everything you made,
    putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds
    and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
    and everything that swims the ocean currents.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (Psalm 8:1-8, NLT)

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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How I Read the Bible

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During my years of pastoral ministry I committed to read the Bible through, cover to cover, every single year. And I did, without fail. I had always believed that any pastor worth their salt should do at least that much, given the responsibility of teaching and preaching the text each week. In many ways it was a self imposed legalism that I couldn’t break free from no matter how hard I tried.

Now that I’m no longer in the pastorate my thinking has shifted. I still read the Bible on a daily basis, but I read it more deliberately that before. Here’s the daily routine that I’ve settled in to over the last year.

First, I read for Worship. I begin my daily reading with one chapter from the Book of Psalms. I enjoy the language of Psalms and it helps me focus on God and align my heart with his. In this manner I read the Book of Psalms two times each year.

Second, I read for Wisdom, meaning I read one chapter of Proverbs each morning that corresponds with the calendar date. One the first day of the month, I read Proverbs one, and on the second day I read Proverbs two, and so on. I feel that the practical wisdom from Proverbs is helpful, and this practice enables me to read the Book of Proverbs 12 times each year. If I feel the need to switch it up, I’ll exchange Proverbs with Ecclesiastes, which is my favorite book of the Old Testament.

Third, I read for Witness. By that I mean that I read one or two chapters from the Old or New Testament that helps me see how the biblical cast of characters interact with God and one another. This year I’m focused on the New Testament, taking a deliberate walk through the narratives in such a way that focuses on the context of that day. The stories aren’t just stories. By and large they are about people(s) who are trying to apprehend God and apply their understanding of God to their everyday experiences. This deliberate approach permits me to focus on what people of the Bible did what they did and why they did it, it also helps me see myself in them and ask myself what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. This past year has yielded a new appreciation for Jesus and his interactions with the people of the secular world of the first century.

I’ll probably never read the Bible through cover to cover in a given year again. But hopefully I’ll read it faithfully in a more meaningful way than before. My questions today are different than they were a year ago. And I’m enjoying connecting with God as never before. There’s a wonderful freedom that comes in faith when you’re doing something for no other reason than because you simply want to.

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Over the course of 36 years of ministry I’ve performed a lot of wedding ceremonies. Scores of them. The first one I did was for a high school friend at the mature age of 21. Since then I’ve seen a lot, from traditional ceremonies in churches with white dresses and black tuxedos to cowboy themed betrothals and even a Scarborough Fair themed event in a city park where the groom led the bride in on horseback.

My favorite wedding, however, was the one I just performed last weekend for my son and daughter in law. It was a destination wedding held at Lake San Marcos, California, and in my highly biased opinion was absolutely perfect. When my son announced the wedding date and location it was assumed that I would be present, but I didn’t assume I would be asked to serve as the officiant. When my son asked if I wanted to perform the wedding, I told him I would be honored to do it, but equally honored to be the father of the groom seated beside my wife. Which brings me to the first tip I would offer anyone in ministry whose child is getting married: Be a servant to your child first and foremost. There are two kinds of ministers at this point. One is the minister who is the parent of a child getting married. The other is the parent of a child getting married who happens to also be a minister. I chose the second scenario. I approached the wedding as a parent first, not a professional. This approach, by the way, creates a different set of values and expectations which more more aligned with serving my son and daughter in law, versus a set of values and expectations that expected them to align their vision for their special day with my vision and expectations.

The second tip I offer is to be flexible. Weddings should be about serving the bride and groom and the wedding party. My responsibility was not to be in charge, but to help them achieve what they wanted the way they wanted it. For example, if they want brevity, give them brevity.

Number three is to be inclusive. Before I had the chance to meet my daughter in law’s parents in person, I Face Timed them and asked for input. I had the opportunity to have the microphone, whereas they did not. I interviewed them, asking them what they would wish to say if given the opportunity. I heard anecdotal stories at the rehearsal from members of the wedding party. I tried to incorporate their insights into the ceremony so that the ceremony felt whole room and not center stage.

Fourth, make it personal. This is the only wedding ceremony I’ve written from scratch, start to finish. I felt my kid deserved more than the traditional, canned ceremonies that are generally heard on such occasions. I spoke from the heart, with the heart and to the heart. Making the wedding personalized allowed me to connect with the happy couple in a way that engaged them instead of them spacing off the tired, hum drum routine.

Finally, and most importantly, relax. It’s not about you. There is no need to upstage the couple, as if that is even possible. As tempting as it may be to draw attention to yourself, don’t. Just because you’re the parent doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act professionally. But you and your child get one chance to do this together. Make it count.

Categories : Uncategorized
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