Practically Pastoring in 2022

I spend most Mondays at 11 a.m. in a very similar fashion. I open up Facebook and watch “The Morning After Ministry Show” with Andrew Larsen and Timothy Miller. I’ve been watching their web show for quite a while now and always enjoy the way in which they communicate authentically with each other as friends and as fellow pastors who live in the Tampa, FL area. They’ve got a great chemistry together and their show always delivers laughs, insights, and thought-provoking material. It doesn’t hurt that both of them have their own unique sense of humor, so they play off each other really well. Whenever I can watch, I always enjoy the show and their hour always seems to fly by. Its not uncommon to hear my wife ask on Monday evenings, “Hey did you see the show today?” and then we talk/laugh about whatever was shared.

These two friends are also part of a group of 5 pastors who host the “Practically Pastoring Podcast”. Jeff, Delmar, and Frank the other pastors in the group who share their real-life situations, cultural commentary, and theological conversations in a way that’s always relatable and enjoyable. So, when this group of 5 pastors announced in 2021 that they would be hosting the first ever “Practically Pastoring Conference” in February of 2022, it didn’t take long at all for me to register, book my flight, and wait until the day arrived.

That day was 2 days ago, February 21. I’m sitting in the Tampa International Airport waiting for my flight and while the whole experience is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d put down some details; really for my own benefit (thanks a lot, zero memory power), but also in hopes that perhaps these reflections might spark something in you, whether you’re a pastor, an atheist, a student, or anyone else with a pulse.

If nothing else, this conference–albeit brief–was definitely true to its name and DNA: it certainly passed the “practical” test. Every conversation, presentation, and piece of content was practically helpful in some way. It was either directly related to my life and ministry or it was something at least worth tucking away to stew on later. I was honestly concerned that my backpack (my lone piece of luggage) would never fit all the books we were given. Not to mention the transparent, helpful, thoughtful words that were shared during each session. So that’s my first kudos to these 5 pastors: they created a practical experience that I trust will prove helpful in the lives and ministries of those who attended.

I’m the type of person that has thoughts triggered by listening to others but sometimes those thoughts have precious little to do with what I’m hearing while I’m listening. Anyone else? Just me? Is that weird?

Let me give you an example.

(By the way, I doodle when I listen. So here’s a doodle I doodled while listening…) We were discussing ministry in context and I began to think of ministry OUT of context. That is, what does the ministry of fostering spiritual community look like regardless of the “who” and the “where”?

As a pastor who’s lived through and survived the last 2 years of the madness and mass exodus of countless Christians trying to navigate spiritual community in the context of a global pandemic, I have definitely and repeatedly revisited the “why” behind everything we do.

In this instance, its a questioning of why we do things and what we do and when we do them.

When we as a people (the Church) gather together, there are two primary objectives. The first is to lean. That is, to find strength, comfort, welcoming, acceptance, inclusion, and fellowship. Certainly it can happen virtually. And it does. But the better method is physically and in person. Is it inconvenient? Mundate at times? Perhaps even predictable which for some equates to boring? Sure. But that makes it no less imperative. I am fully convinced that you cannot grow spiritually in the way God designed and desires apart from spiritual community. And authentic spiritual community is best delivered through the discipline of leaning. When we lean, we find that those around us are also leaning and lean-worthy. None of us are perfect, but all of us are perfect candidates for the beautiful community God invites us all into.

The next objective when we gather is to learn. Please understand that I do NOT mean that this is the only time when you learn and grow spiritually as if there is a day and time to your spiritual nourishment. None of us would feed our physical selves once a week or even twice a week, so why would we think that a weekly meal of whatever the pastor is serving will be sufficient to sustain our spiritual health and vitality? The idea of learning when we gather is that we maintain a hunger for God’s Word, for clear instruction, for holiness, and the interweaving of our journey with that of others who are also following Jesus. These are all ways in which we learn.

The right outcome of all this leaning and learning is that we are launched into the rest of our week ready to love and to lead. So, let’s flesh out in simple terms what that might look like.

You likely have certain responses to the word “love”. You might think a wide variety of things in regards to what love looks like. For our purposes here, we will embrace God’s definition of love that was penned through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Since you’re not perfect and neither am I, we can always, always look at this standard of love and see where we stand. With God’s help (and you don’t need much help here), we can see clearly and instantly where we fall short in terms of this standard. Ask yourself practical questions like…

When and with whom have I been impatient?

Where has kindness been visible in me?

Who am I jealous of right now and why?

How has pride manifested in my thoughts and words?

Have I thought or done anything in an effort to place someone below me?

Where is selfishness showing up in my daily life?

When have I too easily gotten angry this week and why?

Against who am I holding a grudge right now?

Is my heart currently embracing and living in truth?

Who in my life needs protection?

Who am I trusting fully?

What am I hoping and who needs me to share hope with them?

What we’ve done with these few lines of scripture is we have translated them into practical, more measurable goals. Not as a legalistic checklist for our own egos, but for reaping the benefits of seeking to love others as we are loved by God.

Lastly, an outcome of our spiritual community is that we lead. I believe the concept of leadership is quite tainted in our time. We have defined it quite narrowly and therefore have inadvertently exempted those who do not view (or value) themselves as what pop culture considers “leaders”. What if anyone who claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord were to also accept their place of servant leadership in their own everyday world? What if we embraced the opportunities for initiative and influence that surround us continually? We may be inclined to dismiss this thought because the opportunities seem too small or insignificant, but I would say that there is no such thing in the Kingdom of God. In fact, from a biblical standpoint the case could be made that the places, and tasks, and people that culture might consider “small” or “insignificant” are exactly where Jesus loved to hang out. How can we so simply decide for Him that our obedience won’t matter simply because we deem the opportunity too small?

In what ways do you need to reframe and redefine your understanding of what it means to lead? You there–you mother of those toddlers, do you think you’re not leading right now? Seriously? You there–the high schooler who’s still floundering to find a sure faith footing. Do you think you’re not making an impact on your school community as you simply love Jesus honestly and carelessly? Of course you are. And what about you–the one who has found themselves working a job you didn’t count on and perhaps don’t even want right now; do you really think you’re not a force of leadership among other employees? Indeed you are. And what about you, the widow(er)–are you resigned to coast the rest of the way simply because things aren’t as they were before your spouse passed on? Have you reckoned yourself without influence and ability to lead because of the grief you bear? With all due respect, this is hogwash. Or perhaps I should look at you–the one who feels broken, used, hurt, damaged, or disqualified because of past decisions and shame. Do you really think there’s no room at the Table of God’s Grace and therefore God’s gloriousness usefulness for you? You couldn’t be more wrong.

There are scads of other doodles and thoughts I’ll be taking away from these last 36 hours in Tarpon Springs, FL. But I’ll need to do some more processing before I can share those. I hope that you’ve read something here to make you smile, make you think, make you mad, or make you change. If I’ve triggered anything in your mind, I’d love to know that. I always leave the comment section open and I love to hear from those who read my blog.

As I close, here’s a photo I took this morning with Andrew and Tim. I’m honored to now call them more than just those 2 guys who are on that show that I watch. I’m proud to call them friends.

A Love Story

I wasn’t a stellar student in high school. I liked my classes and teachers for the most part, but only as long as they didn’t interfere with all the other parts of my life; namely my friends and spending time with them. I was a slightly above average student–hold on–you know what? Let’s just say I was average. In a graduating class of 225 students, I was ranked #101. So when I say slightly above average, that’s really quite literal, if perhaps a little generous.

So you can imagine my utter shock (and my parents’ utter delight) when 2 admissions counselors from a teeny tiny school called Pinebrook Junior College in Coopersburg, PA sat in my living room and were apparently wanting me to attend, starting that coming fall. That I was wanted by any school at all was a mind-bender, if I’m being honest. Like I said I wasn’t anything special, especially not academically.

That conversation in my childhood living room was a game changer though. When those two folks walked out, I was all but a signed and committed Pinebrook Panther. And the outlook of my life would never ever be the same.

I seem to recall my parents walking a few inches above the ground when we stepped foot on the Pinebrook Junior College campus. The thought that their youngest and only son, in all his averageness was actually heading off to college, was clearly filling them with glee.

The campus was miniscule but at the time I had no recognition of that. I had no point of reference, so the size of the school was inconsequential. What I remember most about that move-in day was when from across a parking lot I saw a group of students who I would later learn had been there for a summer term so were already connected and settled in. And in that small group of faces I saw the one that would have my heart entranced from that moment forward.

When I use the expression “love at first sight”, I sometimes get eye-rolls and general disbelief. But the best way I can describe seeing this young woman (I was just shy of 18 years old at this point), was the good gift of God in the form of neon arrows that only I could see hovering all around her, pointing to this absolutely stunning woman. Scoff if you’d like but my eyes, my heart, my spirit, my soul, and all my attention were completely fixated on this one I had yet to meet. In a word, it was “over”. And remember, this was my very first day of college.

I soon got to know who that young woman was. Her name was Merritt Medlock and even now as I type her name my heart quickens. So you can imagine that as a young man, just barely out of boyhood in many ways, I simply could not stop thinking about her. I still can’t.

The thing was–that “love at first sight” thing? It was only a one-way street at that point. This woman I was gob smacked over didn’t really seem to reciprocate. But that minor detail would not deter or derail what I was convinced was the script of heaven when it came to my future and who I’d walk through life with. So needless to say, I had some work to do but I did it with utter confidence of impending victory.

Over the coming weeks I did my dead level best to woo her. Or at least wear her down. I think it was a combination of both. A little over a month later, a month filled with daily walks after class and hours spent talking and getting to know one another, we found ourselves at a concert with some friends when I “officially” asked her to be my “girlfriend”. It’s a term I still apply to her today.

We dated all four years of college. That cute little junior college where we met is no longer on the map because within a couple weeks of us arriving it was announced to us that that would be their last year in existence. Financial woes, apparently. But a wonderful college in New York by the name of Nyack College showed up as if out of nowhere and a small army of Panthers would agree to transfer to Nyack College at the end of that academic year. Thankfully, Merritt Medlock and I BOTH planned to transfer to Nyack College. And that next fall, we moved to Nyack, New York right on the bank of the Hudson River just north of New York City.

Most if not all love stories have a bit of turbulence. Ours did, but I alone am fully responsible for all of it. After 4 years of dating and at the beginning of our senior year of college, I broke up with her. I will never forgive myself for the pain that caused her. I don’t even have a good reason for that decision. I think I was seeing the oncoming train of real life after college and just freaked. I know I will never be able to sufficiently explain my thought process there because I don’t fully understand it either. But I know that I hurt deeply the one I loved most. On the night I should have proposed, I ended it.

We spent some time apart and from the moment that time started, I was in agony. My heart hurt and I had no one to blame but myself. I had wrecked the one person that meant everything to me. Over a period of time we began to speak again. It was the first week or so in October now and I was headed to Ohio for a quick trip to be in my cousin’s wedding. While I stood there in that ceremony, all tuxedoed up and watching them exchange their vows, I again felt the full weight of the colossal mistake I had made in hurting the woman I love.

The next day I returned to Nyack College and asked Merritt to take a hike with me up nearby Hook Mountain. It was one of my favorite spots, overlooking the beautiful Hudson River. We hiked to the top and sat on the cliff’s edge talking. I was so glad we had reconnected but I was so much more than ready to show her how deeply in love with her I was (am) and only one question would do that.

We sat, ate some snacks, and were getting ready to head back down. We were sitting on the ground, so I suggested we stand up for a hug before heading back down the mountain. When she stood, I dug into my pocket to where I had tucked the tiny box with the tiny diamond ring. In my recollection, I was stunningly awkward, nervous, and even though I was on one knee and thus low to the ground, I felt like I was shaking so much I would likely fall over. I looked up at her, this beautiful woman I loved, and asked the question:

Merritt….. Will you marry me?”

Her response in that moment was the most glorious, beautiful, slowest of slow motions. And I was glad for that because I wanted to savor every single moment of this question/answer exchange. So sweetly, so carefully, she bent down to be eye to eye with me, kissed me softly and said:


The time it takes a human to stand from kneeling isn’t in my mind because before I knew it I was standing upright again embracing my fiancée. We walked down the mountain, hand in hand, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I still can’t.

That day was over 28 years ago and while my memory won’t let me recall every moment of those 28 years, I can tell you unequivocally that I am the happiest man there is. I was given by God the greatest gift of a woman that I couldn’t even have ever dreamed of. But then when I completely screwed that up and had no one to blame but myself, that woman still stayed. I’ve said on many occasions and to many people that to me, Merritt Medlock IS the greatest reminder and representation of God’s grace in my life. Everyday I wake up is another day to love her in a way that seeks to show that I know I don’t deserve her.

I’m so in love with this woman. I’m convinced that I have indeed been given as my bride the most incredible woman I could’ve ever dreamed of. She is so loving, so wise, so giving, so gracious, so strong, so hilarious, so caring, and so beautiful. And I love her with all I am. And that’s our story…so far.

Slip Slidin’ Away…

This may not be an earth-shaking confession, but I’m a Paul Simon fan. In fact, “Live Rhymin'” was one of the first CDs I ever bought as a teenager. Not sure if that qualifies me as an “old soul” or not; that album was recorded the year I was born. There’s something about his style and eclectic approach to music and collaborations that I really enjoy. Songs like “Duncan”, “The Boxer”, “Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard”, “American Tune”, are songs that always bring a smile. And don’t even get me started on “You Can Call Me Al” and “Kodachrome”. For me, those songs have pure lift.

Another Paul Simon great is “Slip Slidin’ Away”. I can’t help but think about how life works and how time really is slip slidin’ away. Mathematically speaking: the more I live life, the less life there is to live. If that’s true, then the less of life I have to live, the more living I ought to be doing. As far as I’m concerned, that demands a deep and honest assessment of what actually is real and true. Calibration is really the only right outcome.

So how do we do such a thing? How do we accurately assess and qualify what registers on the scale of important and what doesn’t? Then, how do we assure that our lives are continually calibrated to live accordingly?

Let’s start by entertaining this thought: Whatever lasts longest matters most.

What in your life are you investing in that will be around long after your life is over? This might include business endeavors; like if you’re wanting to establish a family business that can be passed down to your children and their children and then to their children–a generational impact. It might include a benevolent effort that impacts the community around you. Maybe you see a clear need in your community and you can’t rest until it is addressed. So you go through the channels (or go rogue) in order to meet the needs of the underprivileged, or the marginalized, or the overlooked, or the exploited, or the malnourished, or the victims of injustice. There are dozens of people groups surrounding you right now that could benefit from a benevolent effort that not merely hands them a fish, but hands them a fishing pole. Maybe your life’s goal is to usher in the eradication of the needs of a particular people group in your own community, and THAT continues long after you’re gone. Maybe you’d rather take this “generational” thing far more literally and you look to your own children and pour all your attention and effort into them, their future, and their well-being. What can you do for them today that will establish the greatest likelihood for their success in the future? What blessings/lessons can they see in you that they will pass on to their own children and grandchildren?

Whatever lasts longest matters most. I suppose its an arguable statement, but in a general and very real sense, it can also serve to calibrate thoughts in a helpful way. I don’t know of many people who have as their aim to daily waste as much time and as many opportunities as they possibly can.

There’s a great verse in the bible that says this:

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:18

I believe that no matter what your worldview or spiritual persuasion may be, these are words to consider seriously and deeply because the ramifications here are profound. If we only gauge our own sense of purpose and success on the results we see (especially immediately as we are prone to do), we will soon end up deflated, discouraged, and struggling to see the point in any of it.

So what would fixing our eyes on what is unseen look like? Here’s a crazy exercise: Examine and inventory what you can’t see as you go about your day. What if you saw yourself as a planter or a waterer in the growth process of others as opposed to seeing each day as merely a list of tasks you have to complete while other humans get in your way and slow you down? I believe that’s a great place to start seeing what is unseen and investing there. Why invest in what is unseen? Because what is unseen is what will last. And what will last is what is worth living for. For every person you see, there is a story you don’t see.

A wise sage once uttered these poignant words: “Life is like a roll of toilet paper: the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” My friends, THAT will preach.

So what will you do today to fix your eyes on what is unseen? And what changes might need to be made in order to bring your daily life into calibration with what is truly important rather than that is merely urgent?

I don’t think Paul Simon meant for me to take this song the way I’ve taken it. I suppose that’s the upside of art: we can all take it differently. At any rate, here’s the man himself reminding you that we’re “slip slidin’ away”…