2006 Web Writings

Some Blogging from 2006

I blogged some in 2006, and here are some blog entries from back then:

January 1, 2006 (blog)

The Name of Jesus

I am once again using the prayer books, For All the Saints, for my daily devotions. I got the set in seminary when I had a stipend for books- they’re a bit spendy – but haven’t used them for a few years. Time to make good on my investment. I like it because it’s daily, it includes prayers, readings from the Older and Newer Testaments, and readings from the Christian tradition.

January 1 is always The Name of Jesus Day, the day, a week after Christmas Day, when we celebrate Jesus’ circumcision and naming. Luke 2:21 – “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. ” The name Jesus, or Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew, means “God is salvation.”

I think it’s pretty cool that in the Christian calendar, New Year’s Day is the day we remember the naming and circumcising of the infant Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, Son of God. This evening, my wife and I watched some home movies of our children when they were (really) young. They reminded me of how precious a one week old baby is, and how much of our children’s personalities go back to when they were very young.

January 2, 2006 (blog)

The second reading for today is from Ephesians 4. Here is a key passage for me in my call to Grace Lutheran Church:
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

The key point for me is that my task as a pastor is not to do “the work of ministry” for the rest of the congregation, but “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Of course, I have ministry work to do, as do all members of the church. But my specific calling as a pastor is not to take someone else’s ministry and do it for them, but to encourage, train, and empower others for ministry, to help mobilize the people of God to do God’s work in the world. When pastors try to do it all themselves, they burn out. There is just too much to do. When pastors do what they are biblically mandated to do, their burden is shared, and the ministry is multiplied.

On another note altogether: Check out the Cost of War website. It reminds me of Jesus’ admonition to count the cost before you undertake any project, including war (Luke 14:28ff.).

May 9, 2006 (blog)


Two views on theologians, by musicians:

First, Johnny Cash in The Man Who Couldn’t Cry:

The man who couldn’t cry experiences the extremes of suffering – from viewing “napalmed babies,” to losing his wife, to losing his arm in Vietnam. He ends up in jail, where he is abused, and still not a tear. Finally, ‘experts’ are called in to examine him:

Doctors were called in, scientists, too

Theologians were last and practically least

They all agreed sure enough; this was sure no cream puff

But in fact an insensitive beast

So, he is shipped off to an insane asylum, and he finally learns to cry. In fact, he dies of dehydration from crying. In heaven, everything he lost is restored, and the theologians? In heaven,

The theologians were finally found out.

Wilco has a song called Theologians. It begins:


They don’t know nothing

About my soul

About my soul

I’m an ocean

An abyss in motion

Slow motion

Slow motion

They seem to be talking about theologians of glory. Pretending to knowledge of invisible things, calling evil good and good evil, judging the souls of others from a supposedly superior position. The intellectual supporters of Christendom, they are as impotent as Christendom is dying – or dead.

May 19, 2006 (blog)

Faith and Doubt

In today’s blog entry by Thomas Adams, there are two quotes, one by the Roman Catholic Cardinal Newman and one by the Protestant Paul Tillich, on the question of faith and doubt. Here is my response:

Good discussion!

A question I have is this: What does Newman mean by “deliberately” entertaining and pursuing a doubt? If it is true that doubt is an experienced reality for all people of faith who are not fanatics, as Tillich persuasively argues, then how much doubt is allowed by Newman before faith and grace are lost?

I love Buechner’s discussion of faith and doubt:

“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Again, as a good Protestant, I claim “the liberty of doubting the truth” of any fallen, finite human being or organization. Along with “Inheritor of Heaven,” I see faith as a relationship with God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do doubts ever arise? Of course. They are a bite in the pants, a wake up call to question, to seek, to grow, to pray, that no submission to someone else’s answers should stifle or cut short. Even when Jesus appeared to his disciples in Galilee in Matthew 28: 16-20 and they were worshipping him, “some doubted.” But there is no mention of Jesus casting those doubters out. Instead, he gave them a commission and a promise too. Even when I doubt, Jesus has work for me to do, and he has promised to be with me always.

May 27, 2006 (blog)

The Da Vinci Code revisited

Last night, I saw The Da Vinci Code with some pastor friends. I suppose everyone’s commenting on the movie and book, and I went expecting the worst – especially because of the bad reviews the movie has received.

For what my opinion is worth, I think the movie was better than the book. People seem to forget that the book is no literary gem. When good literature is put on screen, we often say, “That was a good movie, but it’s no substitute for the book.” A good novel always contains more than can be captured in two hours on screen. I did not feel that way with this book and movie. There is no depth, no overflowing of meaning and detail in this book that was missed on screen. The movie can be faulted for not being very exciting or fast paced, but listening to the book on tape (unabridged) and then seeing the movie, the movie captures the book very well, and transcends some of its cheesiness.

Here is what I wrote about the book in a comment on my Easter sermon:

I agree about Mary. The sexism that crept into the early church did not originate in Jesus! Mary was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and friends.

In one of the non-typed parts of my Easter sermon, I commented on The Da Vinci Code – how could I not, given the Bible text and the upcoming movie? My problem with the book is not that it gives Mary Magdalene a place of prominence. It would be cool if Jesus had been married, common law or otherwise (from what I know, legal marriage in the Roman empire was usually reserved for Roman citizens) – as a married Protestant, I would not be part of a conspiracy to silence the ‘truth’ about Jesus and Mary’s marriage. There just isn’t any evidence for it – and why Jesus’ first century followers would hide the truth of Jesus’ marriage is beyond me – they weren’t celibate priests. [let me add – Peter seemed to have been married.] There are lots of historical inaccuracies in the book – such as arguing that it was the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century who deified Jesus. If Jesus was only a human, then he was deified by his followers in the first century. The manuscript evidence for the Newer Testament and the early church goes way back.

The Da Vinci Code also borders on incoherence, using the old skeptic’s argument that Jesus was merely (or only) a human, while making Mary into THE GODDESS. I’d rather lift up Mary as Jesus’ close friend and the first evangelist – the story does make it difficult for people who wish to limit the place of women in the church.

Most importantly, though, The Da Vinci Code is not a very good book. Reading it (listening unabridged on tape), I got the feeling that too much happened in the book in one night. In one night, the main characters went all over Paris searching for clues, while being chased by the police; then they flew to London, and chased around some more; then went to Scotland and- from what little I remember – they solved this mystery of the ages by dawn, and fell in love at the same time.

Part of the cheesiness of the book, in my judgment, was the whole made-for-American-moviegoers-two-main-characters-thrown- together-by-events-and-falling-in-love-in-a-day cliché. From what I recall, there was lots of innuendo between Langdon and Neveu, and the book ends with a promised sexual ‘retreat’ together. In the book, a big part of Langdon’s experience of ‘the sacred feminine’ happens through the sensuality and anticipation of sexual union with Sophie. Is that really a liberating message for women? That is one area in which the movie transcends the book: the sexual innuendo is replaced by a healing touch, a growing friendship – there is no hint of a weekend of lovemaking in their future.

I am not denigrating sexuality, attraction, erotic love. But I would argue that the pagan focus on the sacred feminine and woman as ‘grail,’ bearers of the seed of man, have not always been good for women. From the book and movie, you’d get the picture that Roman religion was kind to women, and then Christianity came along and overturned that. Actually, something of the reverse is true. The earliest followers of Jesus were pretty radically egalitarian (see the place of Mary Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and many women who had leadership and a voice in the earliest church), but as Christianity spread in the incredibly patriarchal Roman Empire, it ‘adapted’ to the sexist culture by limiting the role of women in the church. Christianity took on a negative view of women precisely from paganism. And, sexism can easily coexist with a focus on the sacred feminine: it’s amazing that the book and movie ignore the Roman Catholic Church’s veneration of Mary, the Theotokos or God Bearer, the Mother of God. Some in the RC Church even consider Mary the Co-Redemptrix, the co-redeemer with Jesus. How much more ‘sacred feminine’ can you get?

One more point: I am no expert on the apocryphal Gospels, including the Gnostic gospels – in fact, it’s been years since I read them. But, there is no secret to them – you can search for “Gnostic Gospels” (look for the Nag Hammadi Library) and “New Testament Apocrypha” on Amazon.com and find them. They also don’t seem to tell us much about Jesus, but more about the Gnostic sect.

I just reread the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene). It elevates Mary as one whom Jesus loved more than the other disciples (which I have no problem with, based on John 20), and it puts in Mary’s mouth a secret message from Jesus. But the message is typically Gnostic – anti-flesh, anti-desire, anti-incarnate life, forming an elite group who are ‘in the know,’ while the rest of humanity is lost in ignorance and tied to the flesh. Mary is even anti-feminine in a sense – at one point, she says, “[Jesus] has prepared us and made us into men.” The Jesus of the Bible is much more earthly, much more human, much more life-loving than the Jesus of the Gnostics, in my judgment – and so is the Mary Magdalene of the Bible.

June 14, 2006 (blog)

“Read the Best Books First”

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Henry David Thoreau

In May, we had a wonderful visit from old friends and scholars from our days in Princeton, Ivica and Matthias. They encouraged me to read, and gave me some good advice on what to read. So, I have begun to read some of “the best books.” My problem is that I tend to read a book, or part of a book, and move on to something else, forgetting what I have read. I am like someone who looks at herself in a mirror, turns away, and forgets what she looked like (James 1). So, I propose to keep a reading journal here on this blog, as a way for me to re-member what I read, digest and assimilate it, and share.

September 2, 2006 New Proclamation comments

Eric – Thanks for writing. In the rural Lutheran congregations I have served, there is little knowledge of our Lutheran heritage. I see it as a challenge and an opportunity to go back to the basics, the Small Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, and – actually first rather than last – the Bible. People will find an identity, or piece one together from bits of tradition and popular culture. How much better it is to find our identity in the Gospel, in faith, in Christ. That’s what our Lutheran tradition at its best offers – not just a human tradition of does and don’ts, but a heart-full relationship with the living God.
Peace, Eric Lemonholm

Harvey – please don’t go so soon.  I, for one, had a couple week’s vacation in August, and then, of course, returned to get ready for the fall and the beginning of the nine month school  year of church activities.  I also have appreciated your poetic take on the lectionary texts – thank you.  It is my hope that this web community will grow – being still in its infancy, and having only begun in July.  With the summer doldrums coming to an end, I am committed to being a part of the discussion, reflection, and mutual encouragement of this site.

Now, in regards to the epistle lesson.  It is certainly true that Luther was not fond of James.  Here is a quote:

Dr. Martin Luther: That epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest. Up to this point I have been accustomed just to deal with and interpret it according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures. For you will judge that none of it must be set forth contrary to manifest Holy Scripture. Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did.– This sentence is in German. The preacher of Kalenberg, when visited by the duchess, heated the room with the wooden statues of the apostles. The statue of James was the last and as the preacher shoved it into the stove he exclaimed, “Now bend over, Jimmy, you must go into the stove; no matter if you were the pope or all the bishops, the room must become warm.”[1]

It seems that James was (and perhaps is) easily misused to terrify troubled consciences about being ‘good enough’ for God’s grace.  Keeping in mind Luther’s cautions about how we preach and teach James, it is still a worthwhile book; as Luther elsewhere writes, “there are otherwise many good sayings in [James].”

I recall Kierkegaard’s reflections in For Self Examination, where he writes about looking into the mirror of God’s word, seeing ourselves there – perhaps in the law and in the gospel? – and then not turning away and forgetting what we saw, but acting on it.  Does scripture speak of justice and righteous action for the orphans and widows, the poor and alien?  Then do it.  Does scripture call us to faith, to following Jesus from the heart?  By grace, follow Jesus.  When the word of God speaks to our hearts, when the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts through the hearing of the word, then we must act in faith – how can we not?

October 12, 2006 – New Proclamation comment

First thoughts on law and gospel in this week’s readings.


Amos  – Seek the Lord and live… or else!  The elite of Israel violated their covenantal obligations toward the poor.  Injustice, individual or structural/communal, is a violation of the law.  We can have thousands of Ten Commandments monuments on our courthouse lawns, ten thousands of Decalogues posted in our schools, but if we do not have justice for the poor, the Lord will break out against us like fire.

Hebrews – the word of God judges our hearts, our intentions.  We are all naked before before the searching eyes of the law.

Mark – First, Jesus lays out the second table of the law, which provides boundaries for our life together in community.  If you forget for a moment the commandment forbidding coveting (a sin of the heart which Jesus skips – intentionally?), we can deceive ourselves that we can keep the second table of the law by our own strength.

Then, however, Jesus essentially lays down the first table of the law.  Who is the rich man’s god?  In whom or what does he trust?  Can he give away his source of self-sufficiency and self-worth?  Can he answer Jesus’ call to follow him?  We don’t know what happened to the rich man after he went away grieving.

Growing up in a more fundamentalist denomination, I remember hearing the bogus explanation of Jesus’ saying about the camel through the eye of a needle: the (non-existent) ‘eye of the needle’ gate in Jerusalem, through which a camel had to kneel down in order to enter.  I remember being told that, therefore, it really wasn’t that hard for a rich person to enter heaven (though Jesus says the kingdom of God), so the rich don’t really have to give away their wealth.

The needle-eye gate myth, of course, makes nonsense of the disciples’ reaction of great astonishment: “Then who can be saved?”  If the rich just have to kneel down and crawl through the gate of heaven, big deal.  I’d rather crawl into heaven than dance into hell.

“Who can be saved?”  Jesus’ words sting us with the law, because most of us can relate to the rich man.  On some level, and relative to someone, every member of my church (including me, of course) is rich.  We are challenged to examine our relation to our wealth, whether it is money, property, or status.  In what or whom is OUR trust?  Could we give it all away?  Is Jesus asking US to do so?  If we follow this law of Jesus, and take on a life of poverty, will we then be saved by our obedience to Jesus’ law?

That leads us to the GOSPEL.  “For God all things are possible.”  “Seek the Lord and live… it may be that the Lord… will be gracious.”  Salvation belongs to our God, and to Christ, the lamb.  We have a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses.”  We are invited to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Frederich Buechner wrote: “A clenched fist can do many things. It can hammer a nail.  It can grasp on and hold tight.  A fist can be used as a weapon to lash out.  But the one thing a clenched fist cannot do, is reach out and receive.”   (Ann Newgard-Larson pointed this quote out to me in our text study)

I do not want the gospel message of God’s salvation to obscure the law of the clenched fist – that if our faith is in our stuff, then our faith is not in God.  The rich man walked away from Jesus, grieving.  Jesus gave him no easy out.

Well, these are my first thoughts, at least – I am once again starting my sermon late!  How will YOU preach the law and gospel this week?

November 3, 2006 – Prayer and Politics

An oft-quoted statement by Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984):

“When they came for the communists, I was silent, because I was not a communist; When they came for the socialists, I was silent, because I was not a socialist; When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest, because I was not a trade unionist; When they came for the Jews, I did not protest, because I was not a Jew; When they came for me, there was no one left to protest on my behalf.”

Niemoller was speaking, of course, about the Nazis.  During the summer, I happened to hear (not by choice), on ‘Christian’ talk/hate radio, this quote misused against proponents of gay rights – as if  people who support gay rights are out to get anti-gay, ‘pro-family’ people; as if gays and lesbians were not one of Hitler’s targets in ‘pro-family’ Nazi Germany; as if gays and lesbians are ‘anti-family;’ as if it is ‘pro-family’ to deny equal treatment to gays and lesbians or tear their family bonds apart.  It is a typical tactic of religious right: use a statement of tolerance and courage in the face of oppression to advance an intolerant, oppressive objective.

But the misquote got me thinking, and reading.  While the religious right is out in the public square and in your face, we progressive Christians are often silent.  Of course, when we do speak, we are often ignored by the media – it seems that a thoughtful progressive statement by, for example, Bishop Mark Hanson of the ELCA (and president of the 60 million member Lutheran World Federation) is not as sexy as the latest stupid thing to come out of a televangelist’s mouth.  Another example: October 15, a Guinness world record was set by the Stand Up Against Poverty campaign for the most people to stand up for one cause on one day – 23,542,614 – and yet it did not seem to be covered by mainstream media.

Too often, progressive Christians are silent in the face of injustice, racism, militarism, and other demonic spirits in the world.  We seem to have lost our voice – or at least I have, to some extent.  This is partly due to my calling as preacher: partisanship in the pulpit is a misuse of pastoral authority.  I can advocate a partisan position as a citizen and as a Christian individual; I can share my political beliefs in private conversation or forums.  But given that Lutherans, at least in Northern Minnesota, are too polite to publicly disagree with their pastor when he or she is preaching, partisanship inevitably turns the pulpit into a bully pulpit.  That is not to say that a sermon should always be apolitical, for that is frankly impossible.  Whether you are silent in the face of evil or injustice, or you speak out, you are being political.  Failure to take a stand is still a stance.

As I have often noted, Bonhoeffer wrote that the Christian has two tasks in the modern world: prayer and righteous action.  Through prayer, we communicate with God.  Through righteous action, we communicate God’s love, peace, and justice with the world.  We must be both grounded and fruitful.  Both tasks are political, as Jesus knew so well.  I propose to take a break from uploading my sermons to this weblog, and reflect on both tasks.

A college professor of mine, Dr. Stephen Bouma-Prediger, defined wisdom:

Wisdom is sound judgment based on

            keen discernment informed by

                        cultivated memory developed over time into a

                                    habitual disposition and aimed at

                                                knowing and doing the truth.

I propose to seek Christian wisdom in this pregnant age by (re)turning to the source, to scripture, informed by some wise contemporaries: to cultivate a deeper memory of Christian thought, informing keen discernment, to guide sound judgment, for the purpose of forming a habit of knowing and doing the truth.  I do not come to this as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, of course.  My choice of wise contemporaries will reveal as much.


Eternity, by William Blake

He who bends to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

November 11, 2006 – New Proclamation

Thank you all for your reflections.

It’s a tough issue for us middle class preachers, isn’t it?  I remember in my old church on the Iron Range, I suggested in a Bible study that the tithe is a matter of Christian freedom rather than a law to be enforced regardless of individual circumstances.  We had a lot of retirees on very small or non-existent pensions from the iron mines in that church, and I suggested that there were some people in the church that I hoped would NOT tithe, because they needed the money for rent and medicine.  Then, however, a faithful church member and retiree living on a low income disagreed with me, and she shared how she was blessed as she lived a little more simply and contributed her 10% to the ministry of our congregation.  She loves her church and freely supports the good work it does, and she felt good to give.  Of course, she did own a small home and had enough food to eat.  She was not the widow coerced into giving her last pennies  to a corrupt institution.

In my current small congregation, we have just finished a new addition to our building, doubling its size; we have also just finished a ‘Pony Express’ stewardship drive, to help fund our church’s ministry and pay our mortgage.  We now have functional, useful space in our building and land.  The challenge we have is to be good stewards of this property, which means putting it to use for the sake of our neighbors.  As a member of the mutual ministry committee put it, “If we only use all this space on Sunday mornings, then we’ve wasted $600,000 and tens of thousands of volunteer hours.”  One example: our church is across the street from the middle school and an elementary school, but we do not (yet) have an after school program for children and youth.  It is an exciting time, because we have a very active, sizable core of volunteers who have built this church and want to see ministry happen here.

This was perhaps too much information.  My point is only that, if you have good things happening in your congregation, and people have ownership in the mission of the church, then they can give with joy as they are able – with money, talents, or time.

November 12, 2006 – Blog entry

Prayer and Politics, Part 2

I need to get back to this theme. I have been reading Obery Hendricks’ book The Politics of Jesus : Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted   

It’s a wonderful book, and I’ll write more about it soon (promise!). For now, however, I shared some of the facts in the book in my sermon today, on the Widow’s Might. It’s an example of being political in the pulpit, in the sense that Jesus took sides on political issues – siding with poor widows against rich scribes. It is simply a factual and historical error to say that Jesus was concerned only with individual sin and private piety. When you read the gospels’ accounts of his last week in Jerusalem (and the rest of the gospels) in the light of what we know about 1st century Israel under Roman rule, Jesus’ very political and economic critique of structural injustice and inequity becomes clear.

November 16, 2006 – New Proclamation & blog

This is a post I made to NewProclamation.com about this coming Sunday’s scripture.  It’s a way of sharing first thoughts on the lessons with a community of preachers.

Here is a poem by Rainer Maria-Rilke, which someone posted on a Yahoo group:

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Translated by Robert Bly

In our local text study group, we noted the two (or perhaps three) categories of people who shall awake from the dust of the earth in Daniel 12:2.  Some shall awake to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt, and some, perhaps, shall not awake at all.  This is a text that raises the specter of uncertainty: to which group do I belong?  Am I damned?  What must I do to be saved, to find my name in the book of life?

Our text group would agree with Dumke: the Hebrews 10:11-25 passage is a word of comfort to us who have heard a word of judgment in Daniel 12.  It’s not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us.  We can “approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith” the sanctuary, the holy place.  We can enter the Holy of Holies through the curtain of Jesus’ flesh, not through our own worthiness or sacrifice but by the divine self-giving of Christ.  I love the first person plural ‘hortatory’ subjunctives in this passage:

Let us approach… in full assurance of faith

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together… but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

There seems to be a biblical logic of gift and gratitude.  Salvation is a free gift given to us through Christ regardless of our worthiness or work.  THEREFORE, let us live a life of gratitude and love toward God by serving our neighbors.  The author of Hebrews challenges us first to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”  Second, we are challenged to continue to meet together regularly in the fellowship of believers and encourage one another, “all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  As Christians, we live in an in between time, between the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.  We need to encourage one another with the good news of God’s salvation, and we need to exhort one another to live faithfully in these end times.  Whether the kingdom comes tomorrow, in a thousand or a million years, or at our physical deaths, it seems that the Christian life is both urgent and placid: urgent because we see the Day approaching; placid because we have “full assurance of faith,” we have “hope” in a “faithful” God.

December 7, 2006 – Lincoln and Pastoral Leadership

I’m about halfway through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln’s leadership genius.  Lincoln is a fascinating role model for pastoral leadership.  Here are three points that strike me about Lincoln so far:

  1. Lincoln deeply immersed his consciousness in the founding documents of our nation.  I would not be surprised if he knew the Declaration and the Constitution by heart.  The spirit of the founders animated his spirit.
  2. Lincoln’s style of leadership is not accidental; it is intentional, thoughtful, steps back and takes time to see the forest.  He saw the big picture, and usually spent time in thought before he wrote or spoke.
  3. Lincoln knew people, understood interpersonal dynamics, needs, and conflicts.  He was able to recruit and mobilize a functional “team of rivals” and keep them together to run the nation and win the war.  He encouraged a diversity of opinions and ideas; he encouraged his subordinates to disagree with him directly if they thought he was mistaken (do you see a contrast with recent leadership in the US?).  Lincoln wrote letters, kept connections alive, and expanded his sphere of influence.

For me, the application to pastoral leadership is clear:

  1. Immerse yourself – and your congregation – in our founding documents: the library of books that comprise the Older and Newer Testaments, not just for theoretical knowledge, but to inform practice.  We cannot begin to follow Jesus today if we do not know the story of Jesus and Jesus’ context in history and scripture.  Often, pastors get stuck in the details of ministry tasks and lose the compass of scripture.  We fail to plumb the depths, and thus become shallow.
  2. Step back and discern the big picture.  What is the history of the congregation and community?  What is our context?  What needs can we meet in our community?  What should our map of ministry look like – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and beyond?  How can I as pastor leverage my time and influence to help form the map/plan, and mobilize teams to accomplish the plan, to go where the map directs?  If I don’t get the big picture, I can get lost in administrivia or chaplaincy, need-meeting compulsion.  I know of a pastor who’s monthly reports consisted of lists of worship services presided over and homebound/hospital patients visited, while people stopped coming to church because of all the unnecessary, dictated changes in worship and church life made by the same pastor.  He may have got some of the trees right, but he missed the forest completely.  Visitation and presiding over the sacraments are good and necessary practices, but not sufficient – there is more to church leadership.
  3. Know people.  Nurture them.  Be aware of conflicts and personality clashes.  Have a big picture of the ministry teams in the congregation.  Map out a clear vision and job description for each ministry of the congregation.  Keep in touch with people.  Know their interests and needs.  Communicate clear responsibilities and train and support.  Praise and show gratitude.  In the context of the church, in this area we mention the essential element of the spiritual, our relationship with the living God, our life together as the body of Christ in the world.
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