a bit monkish.
I received an email today from a brand new, still in the plastic-wrap seminary graduate and new pastor who I've known for several years in the local church and as a seminary student. As she enters full-time pastoral ministry, she's contacting seasoned pastors and asking them to give her just one piece of advice.
Here is my response to her:
I wish I had your wisdom when I first entered ministry. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was too embarrassed to ask anybody for help. Maybe it was a ‘male ego’ thing. More likely it was just simple human pride at work.
You ask for one piece of counsel, so I’ll only give you one. It’s about watching your language.
I encourage you to lose all aspects of Seminary Speak. You know what that is. It’s the language of a seminary community that seemed so important to us at the time. It’s the language of a subculture that exists practically nowhere outside of theological higher education.
Remember all those years ago when you learned to find prime numbers in math class? They were numbers that were only divisible by 1. We have to find the prime ‘words’ in ministry. For example, instead of using the word ‘soteriology’ in a sermon, talk about ‘salvation.’ Instead of eschatology, talk about ‘end times.’ Instead of demonstrating to congregations all of your inductive Bible work and examples of ‘inclusio,” just show them the verbal ‘book ends.’
There’s a time and place for Seminary Speak, but a Sunday morning sermon is not one of them. Generally, the people-in-the-pews don’t care about these deep, complex words. They just want to know how to live faithfully for Christ when they go to work on Monday mornings or when raising their kids.
Our task as pastors is to take profound, complex theological truths and be able to explain them to an 8th grader. Actually, 8th-10th graders are my sermon targets on Sunday mornings. If I can keep their attention and explicate Scripture so they can understand it, there’s a good chance most folks in the congregation will be able to follow along, as well.
I’m certainly not wanting pastors to dumb-down the Gospel! You know me well enough to know that I cringe at such thoughts. We must be able to simplify the message of Christ so people can understand it, but without watering it down like adding water to ketchup so there’s no flavor and it just runs all over and makes a mess.
I’ve discovered it’s easy for people who don’t know very much to sound like they know a lot. It’s much more difficult, however, for people who know a lot to sound like they don’t know very much. Although I have two doctorates, the last thing I want to do in the local church is preach and teach like I have two doctorates!
Sometimes pastors want to impress people by using words they think will impress people. I’ve discovered over the years that what ministers to people is a pastor’s ability to speak to them in ways they can understand. Remember - we’re not in ministry to impress anybody. We’re in ministry to connect people with Jesus. If that means we humiliate ourselves in the process, then praise God. If that means people aren’t impressed with our seminary diplomas, then Hallelujah. That just makes Jesus look all the better.
So there you go: lose the Seminary Speak. You’ll be amazed at how approachable people will find you and how effective you’ll be at communicating the beauty of God’s truth. People need Jesus today. It’s our responsibility to share the truth of Jesus in ways people can understand.
Deep peace in Christ,
Recently, I was sent an 42mm Apple Watch Sport to review from the perspective of how one might use it in a ministry setting (Note: I didn't pay for it). I've worn the watch for about a week now and feel I'm able to assess how it assists pastors and others in ministry.
Before receiving the Apple Watch, I had some fears, particularly about the screen scratching. I've read reports that despite the hardness of the glass, wearers noticed significant scratches on the watch face within the first couple of days of use. So far, in a week's worth of wear, I haven't experienced any scratches. Perhaps it's due to extra care I've tried to take. Give me a couple of more weeks when I forget that I'm wearing a $400 computer on my wrist, and who knows where I'll smack it.
Despite worries about battery life, I've worn my Apple Watch all day, every day, and have yet to register below 35% battery life. That's actually better than I anticipated it would be.
Out of the box, the Apple Watch started rapidly and without much fanfare. I was somewhat expecting the watch to greet me with the customary Apple multi-lingual "Hello," but it just went to the watch face. I found it easy to place the sport wristband on my wrist and it felt snug. The watch itself is very light, and I sometimes forget that it's on my wrist. The screen is bright, the text incredibly crisp, and the watch faces are semi-customizable, albeit a bit boring.
My initial thought regarding the watch is that it feels chained to my iPhone. In reality, it can't really do much if your iPhone is outside of bluetooth range. I've read people's report that the Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone and that's exactly the case. What happens on your iPhone happens on your Apple Watch. The only native app I've noticed (besides the watch and the heart rate monitor) is the music player, which can hold a few gigabytes of songs. This comes in handy when you're working out with bluetooth headphones, as you don't have to lug your phone with you.
I've spent a week wearing the watch around the church I serve, and I've noticed that the Apple Watch can be an annoyance. For example, I was in a meeting this week and forgot to disable the sounds on my Apple devices. My phone, iPad, and Apple Watch all rang at the same time when I received a phone call. It was more than a bit embarrassing! Turning off the alerts can solve this, but if the alerts are disabled, why are you wearing an Apple Watch?
What I have found helpful, though, is the ability to see one's next appointment on the watch face. It's not necessary, of course. I found myself thinking, "Wow, I just saved three seconds of my day because I didn't have to take out my iPhone to look at my calendar!"
The Apple Watch health activity functions are what I like the most about this device. The watch reminds the wearer to stand up if the person is seated for more than an hour, it tracks steps, calories burned, and how much exercise one is getting each day. I've used health trackers before, but this one is the best.
The Apple Watch is so brand new that its full capabilities are yet to be known. Right now, I can see the Apple Watch being useful for Apple Pay, airline boarding passes, LED wireless lights control, and even unlocking and locking automobiles or home alarm systems. As developers discover creative uses for the Apple Watch, the number of apps will increase significantly. Apple says a software update is already being prepared for a fall release, so at least the company is aware of initial issues that need to be resolved.
My final thoughts? I hardly see a reason how the Apple Watch is going to help pastors minister to their congregations more effectively. In fact, it might (in the spirit of Methodism's founder John Wesley), do harm if church members see their pastor with a $400 gadget on his or her wrist. What kind of financial stewardship might that model? However, an Apple Watch received as a gift might be a fun diversion from stressful ministry.
After all, pastors can still like gadgets, can't we?
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
A couple of weeks ago, our youngest child graduated from high school. If that's not tough enough for her parents, she's attending college 1000 miles away - and joining her brother there. It's tough to think of us being "empty nesters" because that means the nest is empty. The baby birds have flown away.
Many parents want to keep their grown children close. Giving them wings so they can fly away is the last thing they would ever want to do. Other parents give children wings to fly away from the nest, but only if there's a tether attached to their ankle.
In some ways, we wish our daughter would attend college closer to home. Perhaps that's just our desire to keep her close so we can protect her. Yet from birth until they're adults, we parents have a primary task: Building wings for our children, attaching those wings, and then allowing our children to fly away.
Parents build wings for their children from the foundation they give their children. Parents who are grounded in life know what tools to use to build those wings, and what needs to be used to build those wings. Wing-building tools may be life modeling, moral teaching, spiritual mentoring, and unconditional love. The materials used to build the wings consist of faith, morals, confidence, service, love, and other values. With these tools and materials, parents can make wings for their children that will last more than their lifetime, but for eternity.
As children grow, parents discover that it's time to slowly attach the wings they've constructed for them. We attach wings to our children when we teach them what the wings are for. As our children see us use our own wings, we show them how they can be used to fly through life. We also show them how to use the wings effectively - not as a means to fly wherever we want to go and whenever we want to fly, but to use them to fly to the heights of where God is calling them.
Sometimes we give our children test flights with their wings. This comes in the form of sleepovers, weeks away from home with friends or family, or time away at summer camp. They're able to see that they can venture away from the safety of the nest, yet they know they're still part of the nest.
As they grow older, the test flights become longer and more adventurous. They might get a driver's license, for example, meaning they have new freedoms to drive anywhere they desire. A part-time job gives them an identity that is separate from their parents. This only serves to prepare both parents and children for the final step: allowing them to fly away.
This is, perhaps, the most important task we have as parents, and the most difficult. Yet this is the goal of parenthood: to become empty nesters. God created our children not always to be our little children that are bound to the nest, but to live independently from us so they can build their own nests.
What's difficult for parents is that for eighteen or so years, our task has been to protect our children. Their safety is our greatest concern. It's difficult for us to switch suddenly and allow them to fly away from the nest, for we can't always know where their wings are taking them. However, if we've crafted the wings well and attached them securely, our children will know the responsible way to use them. Yes, we worry about them, but we don't need to.
In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about this when he says we shouldn't worry. "Look at the birds of the air," Jesus says. "They do not sow or reap or store away supplies in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them (Mt. 6:26)." Did you catch that? It might be a twist in our traditional understanding of Jesus' teaching here, but he says that our Heavenly Father takes care of the birds. Our birds. The ones who have flown away from the nest. This is the same Heavenly Father who says that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Is. 40:31).
We don't have to worry about our children when they fly away from the nest, because before they're our children, they're God's children - if they've given their lives to Christ (remember that introducing them to Jesus is part of the wing construction and attachment process).
Teaching our children to fly means they can always fly back, but they fly back on their own. If our relationship with our children has been positive, healthy, and grace-filled, they'll always know the home nest is open to them to visit.
The successful parent produces grown children who know how to fly on their own. When children don't want to fly away, or if we don't allow them to fly away, family trust may not be in God, but in the security of each other.
The greatest fear of being a parent is allowing our children to fly. Yet the greatest joy of being a parent is watching our children fly.
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts
Here's our landing. Fantastic job by pilot Melissa Cowan! We were only 2 fields away from the landing target.
I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime to take part in a hot air balloon race. It was part of the 2015 Brass Band Festival in Danville, KY. Below is a short video of my inaugural flight.
NOTE: Be sure to watch it in 1080p!
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.