Monday, July 28, 2008


Since I began the lead pastor thing, I've noticed that by Monday morning my brain is fried. Yet, I come into the office anyway with great expectations - if I'm not stepping on Dicken's long buried toes - and through much persistence I'm able to get a little bit accomplished. However, the creative juices don't usually start flowing again until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Reading and prayer usually help me to re-energize, yet cultivating a fruitful imagination while engaging in a draining life in ministry is becoming a challenge. I was just wondering if anyone has suggestions for overcoming the Monday haze - or the ministry haze that sometimes captures more than our Mondays. What habits or practices keep your imagination engaged and growing? What enables you to maintain focus and clarity? I'm even willing to try some off-the-wall ideas as long as it doesn't involve anything illegal ; )

Have a enlightening week! Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Monday, July 21, 2008

Super Pastor?

It seems that standing in front of people to preach the Word on a regular basis gives some folks the impression that one might have superpowers. I suppose that could be because we talk about things that are often beyond our ordinary everyday experiences or it could be our insights into a foreign world. To be quite honest, I'm not exactly sure where the idea comes from but there are many who perpetuate the myth that pastors are super human.

Please, for the sake of all that is holy in the nerds fantasy world, stop! It is such a destructive and counterproductive ideal.

Contrary to popular belief, all the pastor's that I have met have been of the human variety. I should know, because I am one and many of my friends, acquaintances and enemies are also pastors. If I ever come across one that is from another world I'll let you know. I've had my suspicions from time to time but upon further investigation they turned out to be your garden variety earthling.

You see, the reality is that I've never felt more human than the moment that I became a lead pastor... I've never noticed my finite limitations and boundaries more... and those limits are constantly stretched and tested partly because of the "super pastor" myth. Oh, and believe me, I know that pastors perpetuate this myth as much or more than our parishioners... they are often more than aware of our limitations than we are. There is a bit of an ego boost involved in thinking that we are somehow special, chosen, that we are super... and maybe just a little better than the rest of our race. Unfortunately or fortunately, I know the truth about myself so I've never been able to believe that myth.

Yet for some reason I try to live up to the mythic expectations of others. I'm not sure why. Maybe it is simply the desire to please others... maybe the drive to succeed... wherever it comes from, I know it is not a good thing. I've only been doing this lead pastor thing for a short time but I already sense the super pastor pressures and know that they will ultimately lead to fatigue, burn out, and a joyless, bitter ministry that bears little to no fruit. Lord save me from myself.

Don't get me wrong... I serve a wonderful and unique congregation where most people understand human limitation. I feel very fulfilled in ministry here. But there is always that possibility of becoming a quivering mass of availability - a result of ignoring our limitations... believing that we can somehow fix every problem and touch every need, while maintaining a healthy marriage and family life. What a crock.

I've decided that I'm not going to try to be a super pastor... but that it is okay to simply try to be a faithful Christ-follower, a good husband, a good father and a good pastor. That is what success looks like to me. Now... could you let the others know? I would appreciate it.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Allegiance Thoughts

As Independence Day approaches, I'm often reminded of the importance of our allegiances. It is certainly something that Jesus discussed - to whom or to what do we give our lives. What deserves our honor, our commitment, our allegiance? This was a common source of discussion with friends during Seminary and I've found it to be more convoluted and complex than we often make it.

It is not completely clear to me what the separation of Church & State means for the citizens of my country. How do we bifurcate our personal allegiances? If our lives are wholly given to God, how then do we reconcile our subsequent commitment to our country?

It seems to me at times the two commitments may coexist in harmony with one another, yet is also seems apparent that there are times when the two come into direct conflict.

This question about displaying flags is a symbolic representation of that deeper question regarding our allegiances. Who or what takes primacy in our lives. I'm posting some thoughts here from Hoyt Hickman - I don't necessarily agree with his line of thinking or conclusion (I'm not sure that we can neatly bifurcate Church & State), but I'm posting it simply as a discussion starter. What do you think? All of this is becoming even more complex as our society becomes increasingly pluralistic. Should Christians display flags?

Should We Have Flags in the Church? The Christian Flag and the American Flag
by Hoyt Hickman

The following response to a request for help with the issues of placement of the American flag and the Christian flag in the sanctuary was written by Hoyt Hickman when he was a staff member of the General Board of Discipleship. We post it here as a resource for your church.

Answer:Thank you for your inquiry concerning the use of American and Christian flags in church sanctuaries.

Common as this practice is, there seems to be no way to display both flags together that does not dishonor one flag or the other.

The Christian Flag gives the background of the Christian flag and the reasons why it should always have the place of highest honor when it is displayed. It is not a denominational flag or a church flag, but a symbol of our allegiance to Jesus Christ, who is above all others. It is a cardinal tenet of our faith that our loyalty to Christ comes above all earthly loyalties.

On the other hand, The Flag Code (United States Statutes at Large, Seventy-seventh Congress, Second Session 1942, Volume 56 — Part I, Public Laws) states in Section 3 (k): "When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the [American] flag should occupy the position of honor and be placed at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the congregation or audience. Any other flag so displayed in the chancel or on the platform should be placed to the clergyman's or speaker's left as he faces the congregation or audience. But when the flag is displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium elsewhere than in the chancel or on the platform, it shall be placed in the position of honor at the right of the congregation or audience as they face the chancel or platform. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the congregation or audience as they face the chancel or platform."

(Editor's note: See the updated Flag Code in a downlodable file from the U.S. House of Representatives' web site. )

Both in The Flag Code and in the Bible, it is assumed that placement on the right signifies higher honor than — and priority over — placement on the left and that higher placement signifies higher honor than and priority over lower placement.

One might reason that the Christian flag could be placed in the chancel on the clergy's right, with the American flag on the floor level of the congregation on the congregation's right, or vice versa; but this inevitably means that the flag in the chancel is higher than the other and thus has the higher place of honor.

A further difficulty arises from the fact that in many church chancels the clergy presides from various places during different parts of the service — pulpit, lectern, Lord's Table and baptismal font. The way many chancels are designed, placing a flag to the right of all the points from which the clergy presides would mean placing a flag so far to the side that it is obviously not being accorded the place of highest honor but is shunted off toward or into a corner.

It is important to remember that the Christian flag originated almost a hundred years ago in churches that usually did not display a cross in the sanctuary other than the white cross on the blue field of the Christian flag. Today, of course, most United Methodist churches have a cross in the sanctuary in what is obviously intended as the place of highest honor, on or above the Lord's Table. Since this cross serves the same function as the Christian flag, it renders the Christian flag unnecessary. It also places any American flag present in a position of relatively lower honor. Given the provisions in the U.S. Flag Code and the fact that a cross serves as a symbol of allegiance just as a flag does, I do not see how we can properly display the American flag in the chancel if there is a cross there. Because of its central and higher location, the cross plainly has a place of higher honor than the American flag.

The same difficulty arises when the American flag is carried in a processional at the opening of a service and the processional cross goes first, as Christians agree it must.

There is still another difficulty in displaying the American flag in the place of highest honor during worship. It is one of the oldest and most universal Christian understandings of worship that when we gather around the Lord's Table for worship, the gathering consists not only of God and the visible congregation, but also includes (even though invisibly) the whole universal church of all times and all places, in heaven and on earth. Even if everyone visibly present is an American citizen, most of those invisibly present are not.

To sum it up, we in American wisely separate church and state. As American Christians, we honor the cross and we honor the flag; but we keep them separate. An American flag used in the worship of the universal church is no more appropriate than hanging a cross in a civil courtroom used by Americans of all religions.

"Should We Have Flags in the Church? The Christian Flag and the American Flag" copyright © 1993 The General Board of Discipleship. Permission is granted to print this article or quote from it as long as you post the following copyright and permission line:

"Should We Have Flags in the Church? The Christian Flag and the American Flag" copyright © 1993 The General Board of Discipleship. Used with permission. The United Methodist General Board of Discipleship, P. O. Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003; telephone: (615) 340-7073; Worship Web site

Editor's Note You might also want to read "The American Flag in Methodist Worship: A Historical Look at Practice" by Karen B. Westerfield Tucker.

What do you think, is the matter that simple? Until next time ~ Blessings in Christ ~ RLS