“Pastor, You’re So Busy”

As a pastor, I hear people tell me all the time: “You’re so busy.” 

Objectively, this is true: I lead an accidental multi-site church with about a dozen part-time staff, while getting another Master’s degree. I’m married and love to prioritize time with my wife, and every once in a while would like to see my family (many of whom live nearby) and some friends.

So, yes, I’m busy. But I don’t think I know many people who aren’t. People younger than me are still in school and starting their careers; many people my age have families—which means soccer and baseball and homework in the school-months; many people older than me are working hard and running after kids and grandkids. Heck, a lot of the retirees I know are busier now than they were while they were working!

So, yeah, I’m busy—but I hate it when people apologize for taking my time. It’s my least favorite thing, especially from the people I pastor. I understand where it’s coming from: they care about me and don’t want me running ragged. That said, I’m busy because I say yes to giving my time to the people I care about. 

In other words, here’s what keeps me busy:

  • Sermon and teaching prep—either for this coming Sunday, or looking twelve or more weeks down the road;
  • Meeting with paid and unpaid staff—helping them figure out how to overcome an obstacle, solve a problem, and implement a new idea;
  • Spending time in one-on-one’s for counseling, encouragement, and guidance;
  • Intentional time making disciples of a handful of leaders who, when they ask, always get a “yes” if I can make it work;
  • Doing marriage and pre-marriage counseling; it’s not unfair to say that out of 52 weeks a year, we’ll spend 40-45 with someone on our couch getting ready for marriage, or trying to make their marriage work;
  • Visiting folks in the hospital, and occasionally in their home; sorry, Richard Baxter, but meeting people in coffee shops and where they work is the new house-to-house thing;
  • Grabbing lunch or coffee with other pastors, especially the handful I’m honored to call friends. It’s important to me to walk beside someone doing similar work with a similar passion;
  • Attending to commitments I’ve made to the Annual Conference (our supervising agency): attending pastors’ meetings, coaching other pastors via the phone, and attending to the business of being part of the tribe;
  • Responding to and initiating dozens of texts, emails, phone calls, and more—sometimes to solve a problem, to check in, to set an agenda, or to pray… Come to think of it, a lot of my phone calls include prayer.

Look at that list and you’ll notice a few things: first, I’m never in my office, because my office isn’t where my best work is done. People who are looking for me shouldn’t start at my office, because I’m probably with somebody doing the very thing you’re looking for at that moment.

Second, there are people who get first-dibs on my time. There are a handful of people—my staff, and a few key leaders, and some guys I’m discipling—that when they ask, I’ll move mountains if I have to. Everyone is equally important, but some few are more strategic than others. Where there’s a fire, I want to add fuel with my time.

Third, and more importantly, what keeps me busy is my people. Spending time with people isn’t an interruption to what I do, it is the very core of what I do! I choose to invest myself in people every. time. Sometimes that means sermon prep happens on the weekend, and while I don’t like that all the time, the reality is: given the choice between people and anything else, this extrovert will choose people every time. 

So, if you’re part of what I’m doing, do me a favor: stop feeling bad about asking for my time. Don’t begin your sentences with, “I know you’re busy.” Instead, begin with: “Hey, I would love to connect about {insert topic here} — when would be the best time for you?”

A ground-breaking text for me, way back in my Moody days, was in 1 Thessalonians 2:8,

We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.

I’m not here to not be busy; let my self-care be my self-care (and if you want to know about that, and how to make sure I’m taken care of, maybe we can do another post on that). Instead, let me be your friend.

A Prayer Entitled, “Worn Edges”


Today is a worn-edges day:

energy is hard to find

a full-tank is a fond memory

joy is a far-off friend.

Worn and frayed, a scarecrow without its stuffing am I.

Then there’s YOU:

always strong

always full

“in YOUR presence is fullness of joy.”

Remind me that today is just that, a day. 

That this week is just that, a week.

Teach me that there are new morning mercies,

even at 3:19PM. 

Clothe me in YOUR strength:

which neither frays nor wears.

Feed me with YOUR food:

which is to do YOUR will.

This we pray in the NAME of JESUS:

who leads from strength to strength,

and shares with us the fullness of GOD.


An Open Letter to My Church in a Pivotal Moment

Dear Church,

In the New Testament, there are two words for time: chronos, the time we measure with clocks and stopwatches and “how-many-more-episodes-of-Parks-and-Rec-can-I-watch-before-bed” time; there’s also kairos, time that is less measurable but no less real.

A woman whose water just broke is now experiencing kairos time—she’s experiencing a special moment. Moses had a kairos moment when he found the burning bush on the far side of a desert; Peter had a kairos moment when he looked at a beggar and said, “Stand up and walk.”

We’re in the midst of our own kairos moment, one of those times when God grabs you by the collar and says: Pay attention! Look! I am up to something! 

I came back from a conference just a couple days ago and I was all hyped up on ideas (and caffeine) and just left some really great conversations with our team and now we’re seeing all sorts of possibilities and opportunities and kairos moments and I just wanted to say:

Pay attention. Look! Jesus is up to something. 

We’re processing how we can best disciple the next generation, how we can keep up with the demands of a growing, multi-site church, how we can have systems that bear the weight of not just the growing, multi-site church we are now, but what we will be. 

There is so. much. here. and I just don’t want us, in the midst of it all to miss Jesus. I don’t want to talk about Him like He’s not in the room; I don’t want to build something that isn’t entirely, utterly dependent on His presence.

I’m not trying to be over-spiritual; I’m not trying to minimize the important work we’re doing, but hear me on this: if Jesus isn’t at the center of every conversation about, “How do we get enough volunteers so we don’t burn anyone out?” and “What clear, compelling language do we need to express this?” and “What system gets us organized and moving together in the right direction?” we’ve done nothing more than waste our time. 

It’s terrifying that we can do God’s work without much need for God—it’s awfully scary that we can expand a kingdom that isn’t the Kingdom Jesus came to give us.

So, a few things: pray like you’ve never prayed before. This is a moment when we have to get moving and stay still at the very same time and the only way we do this is through prayer—for leaders, for the mission, for Jesus to be known and made known through our efforts.

Take care of yourself. Get sleep, eat good food. Hug your kids, tell your spouse you love ’em. Learn to say no so you can say ‘yes’ to the best stuff. Get in the face of Jesus (see above) about all of this.

Have the hard conversation. These are the moments when the Enemy can derail us with a word heard wrongly, or a conflict left unresolved. Ask the hard questions—ask for forgiveness.

Don’t forget about who this is all for: all our efforts are unto Jesus and for the person who’s not in the room yet.

We’re in a kairos moment, and Jesus could do anything. But for now: pay attention, look! Jesus is up to something. 

It’s my highest honor to love you, and be called,

Your Pastor

On Planting a Church, Two Years Later


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)


Two years ago, we did something crazy: we planted a church. Let’s be clear about something: while in college, I had dreamed of planting “my own” church, doing it “my own” way. My closest friends and I used to study at a Caribou Coffee, tucked into a quiet corner apartment building along the river, and we’d talk about what it would look like to plant a church and how we’d do it (and, yes, do it better than anyone else).

But by the time I finished grad school, that dream had gone by the wayside. First of all, I didn’t want to have to raise my salary while trying to plant a church. Second of all, it started to feel like a lot of church planters I knew of just didn’t play well with others and had to go it alone. Third, and maybe this is connected to number two, most church planters I knew were miserable.

So, through a surprising series of circumstances, we ended up back in my hometown, in a United Methodist Church, tasked with starting a new worship experience for younger generations. It took me six months to figure out, to my horror, that even if I wasn’t planting a church in any official capacity, I was doing the work a church planter does.

It took me another year to accept that this calling was my calling, and not a gift God had meant to give to someone else, but I walked into the room and opened it on accident, so there I was, stuck with it.


There’s this book I read once, something about the ten most common mistakes church planters make. By the time I read it, I’d already made four—and by the time we launched, I think we got close to seven or eight.

We had originally planned an Easter launch, but I begged off, because if we had launched then, I think the attendance would have been two: my wife and I. We moved the launch to the Fall, and in the intervening time, we went to a thing called church planting boot camp.

It was intense.

There was a guy who’d been planting for a while, who got up and left the room for a minute because he already knew all the things he wasn’t doing and couldn’t handle hearing it again.

I was jealous he was brave enough to leave.

We put together a plan, with post-it notes and butcher paper, and put together a plan that was hasty at best, crazy at worse.

“You’re going to have to work your ass off,” the facilitator said.

She was right.

We left boot camp, took a quick trip to Arizona to see my parents; I ran off to licensing school so I could be, you know, a real pastor in the UMC, and then we went to our Annual Conference. We came back, and had our anniversary dinner—our second anniversary dinner, at one of our favorite restaurants in town.

We finished dinner, and I said to Steph, “OK, let’s go plant a church now.” We went to get ice cream, holding hands in the car. Looking back now, we may or may not have been holding on to each other because, well, that’s about all we knew for sure—just her and me and this calling that seemed like a sweater two sizes two small.

We went to ice cream, and bumped into a friend from high school and her fiancee. At boot camp they’d said, “Tell everyone you meet that you’re starting a church.” So we did.

Two years later, this couple is at the very center of what we’re doing—they would later become the first people to step across the line of faith in the work we did.


So, we followed the facilitator’s advice, and worked our asses off. There were some really, really hard moments along the way. Moments when Steph would be praying in the middle of a worship song that there would be more people in the room behind her than when we started. There rarely were. Moments when someone you thought was with you just…wasn’t anymore. (And that’s OK, seasons change. It’s just hard when someone else’s season changes, and yours…won’t.)

Like I said, it took me a year to accept that part of my calling was to be a church planter. That year ended when Jesus finally asked me, “Are you just mad at me because I never asked you if you wanted this? Or are you mad at me because I put you in a position where you have to trust me more than your brain, your skill, or your personality?”

The answer was: “Well, both.”

But there were some beautiful moments along the way, starting at a slow, slow, slow drip, but now starting to come at more of a steady, if narrow, stream. 20-something guys at my house until 10:30 on a Thursday wrestling through the book of Ephesians. People learning to sing with a worship band for the first time. Little kids running in the hallway and babies making their baby noises while I preach. People inviting their friends, their parents, to watch them get baptized.

Oh, yeah, the baptisms. That’s when it all came into focus: as I’m standing in a water tank with the lid cut off by one of my closest friends, also a church planter, the water making me shiver, as I ask:

Is it your testimony today that Jesus is your highest treasure, and that you’ve come to a place where you’ve stepped across the line of faith, trusting only in Him for life and salvation. 

Then, the person getting baptized: Yes, it is. 

In that moment, Steph and I, her outside the tank with a towel in her hand for when this person gets out of the water, and I inside the tank, while I watch this person I’ve prayed for before I knew their name go down into the water and come out—in that moment, Steph and I think, as close as our hands clasped in the car two years before, “I’d do it all over again.”


Jesus says that the Kingdom is only found, and obtained, at great cost. The Merchant found a pearl, after some time of looking; and then purchased it, even when it cost The Merchant everything.

I have a children’s book of Jesus parables, and in the story, The Merchant has a floppy, feathered hat that’s his favorite. When he goes to buy the pearl, he’s short a few dollars, and the guy selling the pearl offers to buy the hat to make up the difference.

And, the story says, the merchant laughed. He laughed because even his favorite, floppy feathered hat is a price he’s willing to pay because the pearl is just that valuable.

I have learned a great deal over these last two years. I have learned to preach and teach and train and share my faith and how to persevere and to strategize and counsel and marry and do pre-marriage and have what are, hands down, some of life’s most challenging conversations.

But the most important thing I’ve learned is this: I’ve learned how to laugh. 


A Prayer Entitled, “Cross-Shaped Eyes”

A prayer prepared for public worship on July 10, 2016—a tough week (another tough week?) for us all. 

Lord Jesus,

Our mothers used to warn us: “Don’t watch too much TV—your eyes will turn to squares.” As adults, we wake to find our mother’s words ring true.
We have televisions and tablets and iPhones and Androids.
And they have, indeed, given us square-shaped eyes.

The blue light of our devices glazes our eyes, and slowly blinds them.
Though they bring us bad tidings of great sorrow for all people,
We cannot see them. Seeing, we do not see. Reading, we do not read:

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Brent Thompson
Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Krol and Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith.

The names pass our eyes like the ten million images we see each day.
Though we know we ought to be stunned by sorrow and confused by chaos,
we realize, to our surprise, we are numbed to pain.
The blue light of our screens have dulled our feelings: there is nothing there.

Like the lepers You healed of old, like the paralytics You commanded to rise,
our hearts, like their limbs, are without sensation: dull, lifeless, unfeeling.

Then there’s You.
You, our Suffering King, are acquainted with grief.
You, our Slaughtered Lamb, know what it is to be stricken and afflicted.
You, our Yahweh, He-Who-Is, know pain.

(deeply, intimately, profoundly)

You come to us, eyes squinting with pain, shoulders hunched by the weight of your griefs.
You spit in the dirt, and make mud.
You rub the dirt-You-made-on-the-dirt-you-made,
And suddenly, we see and we discover:

Square-shaped eyes cannot see what we must see. Only cross-shaped eyes can do that.

Like the lepers You healed of old, like the paralytics You commanded to rise,
our hearts, like their limbs, start to tingle: the stir to life, and we find that we feel.

So, we pray: open our eyes, heal our limbs, speak our hearts into feeling.
For you have shown us what is good, You have told us what you require:
to act justly,
to love mercy,
to walk humbly—and falteringly—
on legs newly healed, with eyes freshly opened.

We pray this in the name of our cross-shaped God.
His name is Jesus.

The One Thing in Ministry No One Can Prepare You For

I have been doing vocational—OK, paid—ministry for five years, and I received some of the best training available that any of us crazy enough to do ministry for work can find. I went to Moody and learned the Bible and how to preach; I went to Wheaton and learned how to make disciples that, you know, are actually disciples. I was mentored and coached by dear, dear people who were and are tremendously fruitful in ministry.

But there is no class, no book, no seminar, no sermon, no conversation, no Tweet, no Bob Goff Instagram pic, no conference, no anything that can prepare you for how hard it is to persevere in ministry.

I’m a full-time pastor doing what I love: I get to preach and make disciples and lead and cast vision. I planted a church at 26 and have been a lead pastor for nearly two years—and now I lead not just the church I planted, but another beautiful church as well. I really am tremendously fortunate (or even blessed) to do what I do each day, and be gainfully employed to boot.

Here’s the thing:  some people read that sentence and thought, his life must be great. I know this because I look at other pastors’ lives—pastors who are doing great work and making real progress and, can you believe it, helping people far from God discover Jesus—and I think, her life must be great.

Then you get to know them, these ministry wizards, and you find out that church ministry is hard, and it’s hard for all of us. It’s hard because, as a pastor, you are constantly scrutinized by the people you serve. It’s hard because you’re constantly torn between managing status-quo expectations and calling people to live beyond themselves. It’s hard because people you thought were right there with you drop out, or even worse, go for your Achilles tendon and disappear. It’s hard because you watch people take huge steps forward, and then take enormous steps back. It’s hard because there’s a million books and conferences out there telling you how to do it better (which implies you aren’t doing it well at all). It’s hard because you dump your heart and soul into this thing, and far too many people just. don’t. really. care. 

I look at Steph all the time and say, “You know what I would tell my sophomore at Moody self? I’d say ‘buckle down, because this is so much harder than you can even imagine.'”

That’s the thing no one can prepare you for—how you have to stick to it, how you have to press in and, if you really want to see good Kingdom work done, press in without ever leaning back. It’s beautiful, yes—tremendously, wonderfully, awe-inspiringly beautiful. But it’s also hard.

But the truth is, and this is important, we don’t do ministry because it’s easy—or get out of it because it’s hard. Or, at least we shouldn’t. We do ministry because we’re called to do it; we do ministry because (and this is something I learned in a class) it’s the only thing we can do, and because it’s the only thing we can do, it’s the only thing we want to do. So, yeah, it’s hard. But it’s also what we have to do because Jesus has asked us to—and if what He says about Himself and the universe and us is true, well, what else could I do with my time that really feels meaningful?

So do yourself a favor: get off the hamster wheel of “the other guy’s got it better than I do.” Stop loving the church you could have if you could do what book you just read said to do, and quit loving the people you might have if they would only, well, you fill in the blank. Instead, choose love, choose contentment, and yes, choose to buckle down. It’s going to be hard, but what’s worth doing that’s easy?

*   *   *   *   *

For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ~2 Corinthians 5:13-15

On Publishing a Book—Four Years Later

In 2011, high on being a college senior, I was invited to write a book for my college’s publishing wing on some research I’d been doing on social media and spiritual formation.

I. Thought. I. Was. Amazing.

On paper, it was—I wrote a book at 22, got it published, and get a check from royalties every six months. (Let’s just say it’s usually enough for my wife and I to have a meal at the local diner. I’m not talking Scrooge-McDuck-swimming-in-money royalties here.)

To be honest, I’ve not read the book since it was published. When I try, I usually can’t handle more than a paragraph, because it induces that feeling I get when I listen to an audio recording of my voice: ew. 

Today I spent a couple of minutes Googling the book, and did what I shouldn’t do—read some reviews on Amazon. Here’s what I learned.

Taylor Swift is right: haters gonna hate. Seriously, people are nasty online. Good reviews are even a little tepid: “It was OK.” When it’s a bad review, I sound like a luddite ogre who thinks far too much of himself. Writing a book is hard—getting feedback is harder.

Once the book is done, it’s done. I look back and sometimes feel like people are right: I do sound like a luddite ogre who thinks far too much of himself. When I wrote the book, I was proud, I thought I was all that. I was a second-semester senior at a school of over-achievers given a chance to achieve big when I was given the contract. So of course the book drips with a sense of certitude. The problem is, I would write it differently now, but I can’t. Books are weird because they so reflect where you were in that particular stage of life, and the tone seeps through. Now it’s just awkward because people think of me as the me I was four years ago, not the me I am now: (hopefully) more nuanced, humble, and measured in my opinions.

Writing a book isn’t that big of a deal. People are publishing books all day, every day. What was once a stellar accomplishment, achieved by only a few, is now something any guy with a computer can do. So while writing a book feels like a big deal, it’s not. So if you’re an author, simmer down. If you’re a wannabe author whose blogging like crazy, don’t let a published book be the goal post. Because it will hit the shelves, you’ll cash the advance—and you’ll still be you.

Let’s be clear about something: I am tremendously, deeply grateful to those that picked my book and made it their project. But it didn’t change me the way I thought it would, and I’m still me—living my life, which is a mixture of up and down and great and OK and, sometimes, not great.

But every once in a while, I get a check in the mail and take my wife out to dinner at the diner down the street—and it’s always a good date.