My Next Horizon

So, I realize I have never actually announced this to the general public, but in case you haven’t heard:

I have accepted a call to be the next head Pastor of Washington New Church in Mitchellville, MD.

For those of you unfamiliar with that church, it is in the area of Bowie, Maryland, in Prince George’s County. It’s about half an hour east of Washington, DC and around forty-five minutes south of Baltimore, MD (well, on a good day, anyway). They have one worship service on Sundays, operate a school, and have been meeting continuously in their current location since 1965, with roots in the Washington DC area that go back to 1846.

I am very excited to be taking on this new role, but I will also miss the many friends I’ve come to know in my three years serving Glenview New Church here in Chicagoland. When I had to close New Way Church in Austin, TX, I finished my ministry there worn down a bit and needing to rebuild my mental and emotional reserves. Church planting is an intense crucible for the soul, to say the least; I loved pastoring in Austin, and love all the people I met there, but trying to build a church from the ground up and maintain it took absolutely everything I had. So pulling back a little bit from that level of responsibility and coming to Glenview to be an Associate Pastor in a larger, well-established congregation was the right move for myself, and for my family. And the people of Glenview have been amazingly loving and welcoming to me and my family. I will be forever grateful.

And now I’ve recharged, and I’ve learned a ton from serving this group, and it’s about time to step back into a primary leadership role. I have served as an assistant in three congregations that ran schools, and I have been the lead pastor of a church I planted myself, but this will be my first time stepping into the lead role in an established, “school society”, church. Anyone who knows me really well knows that I live to learn. I am an expert beginner and an avid explorer of new experiences and competencies. So this is going to be a great adventure.

The plan at this point:

Michael Gladish, the current Pastor there, officially retires on June 30th, and I become the new Pastor on July 1st. In mid-June moving trucks will pull up to the house my family is curremntly renting and haul everything off, probably some time between June 17th and June 20th. Then I, my wife, and my kids will drive to Maryland, to our new home. I will then fly back to Illinois to preach my final sermon for Glenview on June 23rd, and then drive our second car back to Maryland by myself. Before all that, though, we need somewhere to move TO, right? Well, on May 10th I will be flying out to close on a house Gillian and I are purchasing, and to coordinate with contractors on some work we want to get done there before we move in.

In the mean time, I am using as much of my personal time as I can scrape together to go on a crash-course deep-dive to prep for my new role. I’m pouring through budgets, pastor’s reports, strategic plans, bylaws, and other such documents from the last many years of WNC’s history. I’m also rereading a couple of books on pastoral management that I think will be relevant to my new situation, and trying to plow through a stack of about three to six new books on leadership as well. And finally, I am doing a reading survey of teachings in the Word that are relevant to the purpose, function, health, and leadership of churches. That may sound like a lot of work, but actually it’s what I think of as fun. Yeah, I may be a bit broken, but at least it’s in a potentially useful way, right?

One final thing: I am looking at this as an all-in, long-term, heart-and-soul move for me. When I came to Glenview, I had no idea how long or short my stay was here, and could really make no commitment beyond a couple of years. Likewise, when I served in Pittsburgh and in Bryn Athyn, I knew I was signing up for a likely short stay. But this move is different: churches need senior pastors that aren’t looking around for something “better”, and deserve leadership that is all-in. And there are a lot of studies that show lead pastors tend to become most effective in their roles after seven or more years with a group. My aim is to stay with this group as long as I am useful, so long as they will have me. How long is that? I have no idea. I’m not thinking in those terms. Basically, I’m not leaving until either I’ve lead them to a place where they need a different style of leadership, or until I annoy the heck out of them and they ask me to go. The former could easily take a decade; the latter…well, that’s for them to decide I guess. 🙂

So it will be goodbye Polishes, hot dogs dragged through the garden, and Italian beefs, and hello (again) Wawa, and who knows what else. I’m not certain, yet, how good the barbecue scene is in Maryland, but I intend to improve it when I get there. And when the Flyers play the Caps, I’ll be there.

So that’s my news.

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Slow Down, You Crazy Child

Whether through societal conditioning or as a function of innate human nature, people have a general tendency to assume that if they don’t know the answer to a question, then they don’t know the answer. Testing in schools focuses mostly on measuring whether a certain collection of facts is easily recalled. Intelligence in public discourse is evaluated in terms of whether or not participants have immediate clever responses. Value in the workplace assumes busyness is an indicator for efficient productivity.

But the deepest answers come only after long thought. Wisdom often requires listening followed by protracted times of silence. And improvements in the workplace often only come at the cost of having a worker spend time staring out the window and wondering how things could be different.

Slow down and really observe yourself working, if your world lets you. Spend a week—or a month, or a year—on a single question. Allow for pauses in your most important conversations, and seek out people who will do the same.

There are plenty of people running at full speed all around you. And there are plenty of times you should be, too. But there are too few who will sit with a question long beyond the first response their mind offers; and there is a difference between solving problems and getting work done. We need both, but unless we solve some of our biggest problems, the work we do may just make things worse.

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Four Questions and Two Propositions for a Healthier Mind

A quick video I threw together at work this morning:

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Je Suis Parisien

Student officers display a US giant national flag on the Trocadero square with the Eiffel tower in the background during a solemn tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2011 in Paris. Several commemorations are held in France today to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks which killed almost 3,000 people in NYC and Washington and plunged the US into an era of war. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Stay strong, friends.

Caught in Writing Before It Fades

I write what will turn out to be my final email, to my mother. In it I describe how I would often bring people together in my home to play jazz and the blues together, stealing riffs from a pair of old books. When I am done, I realize that I hope she and my sisters will some day share this with my young son.

It is then that I understand that the flight I am about to take is the one that had crashed with no survivors. Don’t ask why we’re re-flying it. All I know is that I am meant to be on that flight, so I feel honor-bound to get back on it. I hug my mother, then walk to my destiny.

The plane is small. I open the hatch to the cabin and see the rest of the passengers, strapped in, waiting. There is a pile of cash on the floor near the one remaining empty seat. My mind is racing, trying to figure out how I will explain my continued existence after the plane goes down without me on it. I can think of no ruse, and am emotionally preparing to fly to my death. I look at the money, scoop most of it up, and walk back up the small white concourse away from the plane, looking to donate the handful of bills to some good cause so that it does not burn up, wasted, when we inevitably crash.

Walking back from the desk where I left the money, I am still torn about whether to go through with it and get on the plane that I had been meant to die on, or somehow escape my fate. For some reason the death seems noble.

I choose not to die.

I find myself elsewhere. Possibly the other passengers are there, too–or at least some of them. It is a clinic of some kind, in a technologically advanced near future. In this future, going through procedures to genetically modify oneself is the norm. I’m not that interested in changing, despite the slightly manipulative voice being beamed into the room I’m passing through, suggesting that the only way any citizen of the future can ever catch the eye of a gorgeous genetically modified movie star is by also being genetically modified to be perfect.

I get to the front desk. Everyone’s clothing is odd: hand-me downs and burlap sacks, everything with neck holes rough cut into them regardless of how they’d been originally tailored. Someone who works there and who is guiding me hands me a pair of sheers, and one to the woman who came in next to me so we can cut the collars off of our own shirts and then cut a notch down the front from the neck, like some medieval tunic. It occurs to me that this way they can launder everyone’s clothes and then not worry about who gets which shirt the next time.

As I struggle through cutting the fabric of my shirt with the dull scissors, do I want to contribute a nickel? I drop a nickel into the plastic container being shaken in front of me. Something about being “nickeled and dimed” runs through my head, but leaps out of reach before I can fully resolve it. I continue to cut. This place seems oddly money-oriented, for what it is. Whatever it is.

Eventually I have my makeshift pullover tunic made. I struggle to pull it over my head; maybe the hole isn’t cut right? The alarm going off confuses me: so strange to be simultaneously getting dressed while also struggling with whether to even wake up.

I wake up, still wondering how I will escape, and how I will explain to my loved ones and to the authorities that I was unable to go through with my planned, appropriate, noble death.

(And no, I did not make up a word of this.)

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