Category Archives: Faith

Fall Reflection Pt 1 – Small Groups from Church of the Resurrection Downtown

Small groups where people develop their faith have been the bedrock of Methodism. We began not as churches but as a movement of small groups.

Today less than half of our churches have small groups. Why? One reason is that we are too busy in committee meetings. I experienced this recently when I was told that a church with which I was working did have small groups-they were called the Trustees, SPRC and the Ad Council. I smiled. Committees can certainly be places for community, but their focus on running the church and this is fundamentally different from small groups whose work is to grow people.

I’d love to move back to a small group model, but how? Those who are working to address this are finding it isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. So what is working, especially in non-suburban contexts?

I have thought about this and one of my key takeaways from this fall’s COR Leadership Conference is around small groups.

At Church of the Resurrection, Rev. Scott Chrostek shared how they have tweaked small groups on their campus (Downtown).  They use a Community Group model which is a feeder to a more in-depth small group experience.

Here is how it works: Every two weeks a new entry point (Community Group) is offered. This could be a one-time event or a 4-week course.  The topics are taught by laity who are excited to share what they know.  Past examples have included: The Enneagram, Parenting Teens, Living a Health Lifestyle, etc. These Community Groups offer a fun, interesting and limited way to connect and learn.

The benefit? If you are new to the church, you are never more than a week away from another group.  This enables people to get connected and find friends early.  It takes seriously that when people first attend, they are looking to get connected.

At the end of the Community group, small groups are offered.  These follow a set curriculum (for the first 6 weeks) but then move into more age-level, interest area, materials. You could join one with your new Community group friends, attend another Community group (maybe you aren’t ready for a small group or don’t connect with those in your group). Either way, new comers are meeting new people, learning and getting connected.  And, Community Groups aren’t just for learning, they can be a service opportunity as well.

Scott shared that they had tried other models (like putting people in small groups right away) but that didn’t work.  He also shared that this was a model that reflected their being about 200 in worship but that it could be adapted (for example, you could start a Community Group model every month or every 3 weeks).  And, since the groups are lay-led this model has the added benefit of growing leadership and connecting new people to laity and not only clergy.

If you are looking to begin small groups this fall, you might want to start with the Community Group model and see if it works for you.

Next Week: Helping new Christians (and others) grow in their understanding of the Bible.








Developer 05 – Six Core Competencies of Pastors

My Mother wanted me to be a professional photographer. She thought I had a good eye for photography and she loved how passionate I was about it. I took classes starting when I was 16 and spent long hours in the darkroom trying things out. I like to think that some of what my Mom saw in me when I was in high school is part of me today: I am a developer.

The metaphor of developer is a good one. In photography a developer takes what is hidden on the film and brings it into the light. Ministry requires developer skills.

Developer is my fifth Core Competency for pastors and not just because I like photography.  Like Connectionalism, Communication, Focus, and Professionalism, Developer is a key competency for today’s clergy leader.

Don’t relate to the developer metaphor? You can substitution your own – maybe for you it is the sculptor who by carving away the marble lets the art emerge, the gardener who tends the soil so seedlings grow big and strong, or the parent who sees the giftedness of each child and cultivates it forward.

Much of what good pastors do is uncover treasure that is hidden. Like the developer uncovers the photo hidden in the film, pastors uncover the Christ within people, communities and churches. It may be buried, damaged or forgotten but pastors are called to bring it into the light through:

Developing others – developing disciples & leaders (of all kinds).

Developing teams – for the work of ministry (both within the church and the community).

Developing community – both within the church and beyond. (This would include knowing the community so if you don’t know about missioninsite you need to check it out!)

Developing our own gifts —so we grow and expand who God has gifted us to be.

So are you a developer? How can will you give time to this core competency? These are important questions – because without the competency of developer a pastor may have ideas or vision about what could be but will lack execution.  And, what could be in people, communities and churches will remain hidden.

So, what and who are you developing these days?

Six Core Competencies of Pastors 04: Connectionalism

I didn’t grow up in the United Methodist Church (UMC). But when I was in college I fell in love with the UMC and I especially fell in love with what they called Connectionalism.

Connectionalism (or Connexionalism) is a funny word. In the UMC we use it to talk about the relationships churches and pastors have to other churches and pastors and to the worldwide UMC. Connectionalism means we are not alone, that we are connected both locally and globally.

“What is connectionalism?  It’s a peculiarly Methodist understanding of what it means to be the church.  According to connectionalism, the church is defined not by formal structures or doctrine or lines of authority.  It’s defined by connections between people: connections between pastor and pastor, between pastor and laity, and between laity and laity.  When The United Methodist Church claims to be a connectional church, that means that we hold such interpersonal connections in so high a regard that we understand them as the essence of the church.” David W Scott “Connectionalism as a Basis for United Methodist Unity”

I love these words from David W Scott, they speak of connectionalism at its best. But we are also familiar with it at its worst – this is when we dumb down this essential way of being church to local church paying apportionments (giving to the larger church) and pastors and laity serving on Conference committees.

At its best, connectionalism is worthy of being a core competency for pastors. Like Professionalism, Focus and Communication, Connectionalism moves the life of a pastor out of personal kingdom building toward a bigger understanding of ministry.

I think we may need a new vision of connectionalism. Our connections feel weak these days. Maybe this because of the stress of ministry and the call of individualism which seduces us to believe that as long as our little church is doing fine who cares what happens to the larger UMC?

What could this new vision of connectionalism took like? Here is what I am thinking connectionalism could look like in the 21st century. I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

1.Connectionalism looks like pastors serving based on gifts. You are great at pastoral care and I am great at administration? We work together and build each other’s ministry. A third pastor in our community is a great preacher? She preaches several Sundays a month for us and we carry the administrative and pastoral care load those weeks.

This would call pastors to know each other and put aside any competition we might feel with one another.  It would also call us to be more accountable to one another.  If pastors were appointed to a Mission Area (smaller groupings of churches to which every UMC in Cal-Pac is assigned) based on gifts instead of to a local parish, this would be a major shift in our connectionalism.

2. Connectionalism looks like Mission Areas doing church assessments, and when needed, recommending closures and vital mergers. The best wisdom is the wisdom of those in the community so lets use it more strategically.  This would include having a key role with the District Superintendent (DS) in deciding how the funds from the closed property would be strategically used to build ministry in the Mission Area. Funds would be used for new starts, building updates and staffing.

Sharing this responsibility with the District Superintendent might not work in every context, but in those in which it  did a DS would benefit from the wisdom of a strong Mission Area. (Note: some of this has started to happen.)

3. Connectionalism looks like Conference staff deployed to districts on a rotating basis at least 50% of the time. This would include staff being housed in the district (a guest room  and space at the District office) so they really get to know each district and its needs. This could include staff from: Justice and Compassion, New Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, Camping, Age Level Ministries, Finance and Human Resources.

In today’s mobile world, Connectional Ministries staff spending the bulk of their time in Pasadena isn’t the highest use of the staff’s ability to resource. I’d love to see Mission Areas invite Connectional Ministry staff in regularly as a way of educating them on the real needs of churches. (Note: some of this is already happening too!)

Historically, connectionalism has been a core competency. Today it needs to move front and center again. As I look around I see too many pastors forsaking the connection due to a lack of time, energy or interest and I wonder how a renewed focus on connectionalism could enable us to lead more boldly and with less loneliness.

What place does Connectionalism hold in your ministry?

Six Core Competencies of Pastors 03: Communication

If I could change one thing about pastors and church folk it would be that they would give each other the best possible interpretation of every action. For example…

You forgot to return my email? You were busy, not negligent.

You didn’t talk to me at coffee hour? You were dealing with an emergency not snubbing me.

You forgot my name in the list of ushers who served last year? That kind of thing happens to me too – I know you weren’t discounting my service.

That kind of thing…

But since I don’t have that ability I will put forward Communication as my third Core Competency.

Communication is huge for pastors. Ministries and churches live and die on the communication skills of pastors, staff and leaders.

Communication falls into two big buckets for pastors. Personal Communication, which is that one-on-one or small group communication – that day-in-and-day-out work of leading, encouraging and doing ministry. And Public Communication, which is worship leadership on Sunday morning, newsletters, websites, social media and other public communications. Both matter as Core Competencies.

Communication like all Core Competencies is something that we can develop – not only at the start of our ministry but throughout. Yet, because this competency can feel so personal, so central to our identity as pastors (and people) we often ignore the signs that our preaching and leading is falling on deaf ears.

Ever been told your preaching isn’t great? Most of us have. But what we do with that comment matters.  This leads me back to why Professionalism is the first Core Competency because Professionalism offers us a growth mindset– this is very different from blaming (its them, not me), discounting (my last church loved my preaching) or ignoring (who do they think they are?). Professionalism helps us think through our initial defensiveness.

Two communication priorities strike me as I visit churches: excellent preaching and communicating a welcome to newcomers. A recent article reminded us once more that when people are looking for a church (mostly when regular church goers move into a new community) they look for a church where the preaching is great and the people communicate friendliness. How good the sermon is on Sunday matters and how we communicate welcome is key.

One last thing, a plea of sorts. Please do a quarterly survey on how you are doing as a communicator. A simple survey can give you feedback about preaching, leadership, and other areas where insight on how it is going is gold to pastoral growth. We often fool ourselves here and we need the wisdom of others. Survey Monkey is a great tool and is easy to use for any pastor. So do it. Because communication matters.

Missed Part 2? Missed Part 1? 

The Six Core Competency of Pastors: Focus (Part 02)

I am a high-energy person who thrives on new ideas so the Core Competency of Focus was a challenge for me.

But a couple of things happened that got me thinking…

  • Leading house churches gave me a new perspective on what mattered in growing faith.
  • Working in New Ministries showed me many declining churches being busy but not fruitful.
  • My own development made a sharp climb when focus moved to the center.

And, all got me thinking about why focus matters so much. Especially today.

When Focus is not a core competency:

  1. Pastors waste their time and energy (energy is a huge issue here).
  2. Pastors feel scattered and ministry feels unsatisfying.
  3. Pastors experience doubt, fear, vocational turmoil and even burnout.
  4. Ministry potential (vitality and growth of churches) is not realized.

A couple of tools help in thinking through what focus looks like:

  • Jesus – his life and ministry is clear and focused. Read it from this context and look for these lessons.
  • Essentialism” by Greg McKeown. This is a great read to get you thinking about what focus might look like. I loved the audio book and the author is always on podcasts .

Focus looks very practical in my life –

  1. I figured out where I want to go. (Note: this is ongoing.)
  2. I align how I spend my time with the results I desire.
  3. I am honest with what I can do and commit to it.
  4. I admit what I cannot do and get help.
  5. I simplify everything so it is light weight and low maintenance (hence the title of my blog).
  6. I reflect on how I am doing and make adjustments.

I started my 6 Core Competencies with Professionalism. Professionalism gives a foundation from which the other competencies grow and without it some of the Core Companies aren’t fully realized. This second competency is an example because without Professionalism, Focus could become a justification for pastors to do what comes naturally instead of what is necessary.  Professionalism grounds us as we make the choice to focus on the essential, on the important.

One more thing on figuring out where you want to go (#1 above).  I wonder if the times in which we live (social media, always connected) stop us from doing the deep work of figuring out where we’d actually like to go? Everything is so instant and it is natural for us to focus on today.  Focus as a Core Competency can reacquaint us with this important (bigger picture) work.

What is your second core competency?

The 6 Core Competencies of Pastors (Part 01)

What six core competencies does a pastor need? I would imagine you could ask ONE hundred pastors and laity and get FIVE hundred answers. 🙂

Here are my thoughts. I share them not because I KNOW what the six core competencies are (that would take a lot more work and insight than I have) but so that you might also do some work and wrestling with this too. My sense is that it matters.  It matters what we believe is core to our work as pastors and the make necessary changes to focus there.

Where does my list come from? My list comes from my experience.

First is my experience in the local church where I have been blessed to serve churches that have taught me what I have needed to pastor successfully. (And yes, this has certainly looked different in different churches!)

Second is my experience as a lifelong learner. I love to read, attend trainings, try things out, make adjustments, reflect and discuss to learn what works in today’s world.  Learning and teaching has always been (and will probably always be) my passion.

And third is my experience as Director of New Ministries in Cal-Pac where I have the privilege of working with a wide variety of pastors who show me what matters in ministry and what (may) not.

join us forSo let’s begin with my #1.

Professionalism – For me professionalism includes:

  • Continuous Learning:
    •  Ongoing systematic retooling of (especially) preaching and leading. (Because what worked in your last church doesn’t necessarily work in the next one.)
    •  Learning about new methods & new generations.
    •  Learning how to work with community partners.
    • Learning from those within the faith community (earlier generations included).
    • Sharing, experimenting and building on learning with others (so the learning circle widens).
  • A Strong Work Ethic:
    • Making and keeping commitments.
    • Returning calls and emails.
    • Being faithful in administrative work.
    • Putting in the hours to make it happen.
    • Organizing my schedule for high impact and not for comfort.
    • Being ethical, honest and having the courage to make the tough choices.
  • Personal Credibility:
    •  Living my faith daily through spiritual practices – which includes prayer, Bible study, service, worship, etc.
    • Living in relationship with others in a way that honors differences, keeps confidences and respects boundaries.
    •  Tithing my income & using our financial resources in such a way that if they were public I would not uncomfortable.
    • Ongoing accountability to a small trustworthy group of people who know my BS and will call me on it.
  •         Flexibility:
    • Having an appropriate sense of give and take with others.
    • Being able and willing to change and adapt to people who see the world differently than I do.
    • Having a sense of humor & not taking myself too seriously which includes knowing when to move on and doing so without anger or regret.
  • A Deep Love for Christ’s Bride (the Church):
    • A deep and abiding belief that the church is one of God’s key tools for the redemption of the world.
    • A love, compassion and care for the people in the church and a desire to serve them and to build community among and with them.
    • A commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world which includes meeting, building community and working with people outside the church.
  • Self-awareness:
    • Working to know myself through assessment and other tools.
    • Reflecting daily – look for patterns, noticing where I am frustrated and where I feel most alive.
    • Setting goals and working to complete them (using a coach when needed).
    • Excellent self-care with includes morning and evening rituals.
    • Asking for and receiving feedback from my accountability group and from others in my field.

What is your #1 Core Competency?  I’ll share my #2 shortly –


The Six Core Competencies of Pastors (Part 0)

core_competencies_imageMy husband, Dr. Jeff Luther,  is the director of a medical residency program.  That means he trains new medical school grads on how to be amazing Family Physicians. He has done this for over 20 years.

I like his world.  I like hanging out with those who run the larger hospital and hearing how they focus their people, assets, and knowledge to make a difference for patients and for their community.

Last year we were in Kansas City at the bar of the historic Rieger Hotel and Jeff was talking to me about the “six core competencies” for physicians.  These are the core behaviors in which they train new physicians so when their three-year residency ends, they are ready for the world in which they will serve.

The core competencies for physicians from the ACGME are:

Professionalism– Carrying out professional responsibilities, including acting ethnically & caring for a diverse population.

Patient Care– Providing care that is compassionate, appropriate and effective.

Medical Knowledge– Having strong medical knowledge and applying this knowledge to patient care.

Communication– Effective communication with the patients,  families, other providers (nurses, doctors, etc) and the larger system.

Practiced Based Learning and Improvement– Embracing an ongoing commitment to evaluate care in light of new and evolving evidence through lifelong, self-generated learning.

System Based Practice- Connection with and commitment to the larger healthcare and community systems and the use of their resources with a focus on providing excellent value.

I have thought about what he shared since then and it has me thinking…what are the core competencies for pastors in today’s world?

Coming up with core competencies (CC) is nothing new.  Just google it.

Here were a couple lists I liked:

Core competences of future global leaders: Creative Direction, Inspiring Commitment, Effective Decision Making, Empowering Others, Continuous Self-Development.

CC for leaders: Social Intelligence, Interpersonal Skills, Emotional Intelligence, Prudence, Courage, Conflict Management, Decision Making, Political Skills, Influence Skills, Area Expertise.

Over the next couple weeks I will share what I see as the six core competencies for pastors. I invite you to come up with your own list and share your thoughts too.




On The First Day of Your New Appointment

Over the last 3 years I have spent a lot of time in our churches. I have heard stories which have taught me what is working and what isn’t-as new pastors begin. Here are a couple quick thoughts (cause it’s a busy day) on the first day of a new appointment.

1. You were not sent there to fix them. Even if the church is in crisis and they know it (which most don’t) don’t start with fixing what is wrong. Attendance down? Money down? Building falling down? You will be tempted to jump in, but don’t. Why? Honestly, you don’t know enough to know what to do. If you jump in to fixing them you will build anxiety, do the wrong thing (see #2) and start your new appointment on shaky ground. Turn to key leaders to fix things that must be given attention in those first months, let their wisdom, not your history, guide you.

2. This is not your former church. Sure, it may be in a similar community and yes, it is a UMC but it is not the same church as your last appointment. You will need to learn who they are before you can do anything genuinely helpful. And, don’t say, “At my last church we…” -no one wants to hear it. This is not your last church and much of what you know won’t (sadly) work here. The upside is you will get to learn new skills and grow!

So what can you do?

3. Spend the summer getting to know them and letting them know you. Have opportunities to gather together. Have fun. Laugh. Ask them friendly questions. Share your story and show them you don’t take yourself too seriously. Build relationships and make a good first impression. Even if this move wasn’t your idea don’t let them know it. Be positive, loving and above all trust in God’s unfolding. Keep a list (you will use it in #5) of your learnings as you listen, listen, listen.

4. Pray and Focus on the Basics. Begin with a renewed focus on the basics, including prayer. For churches to become more vital they need to be places of spiritually growing people. Sadly, the reality is many of our churches are not grounded in the basics. Start here not only for them but for you – prayer will ground you as you begin in a new community. Use your own prayer and Bible study time this summer to process any grief, regrets and learnings from your previous church.

5. Schedule a Fall Staff and/or Key Leader Retreat: Some folks will ask about your vision for the church. Let them know that you are spending the summer listening but that once fall comes you will be gathering with key leaders to put together a plan for the following year (for this year that would be 2017). During your summer of listening you will figure out who needs to be at the retreat and what some of the issues are. New Ministries can help by sharing demographics and helping you assess the church, just email us at

It’s July 1! May God’s great love in Jesus Christ open hearts in the church and community for a long and successful ministry!


Who Are You Mentoring?

Who Are You Mentoring?

As I visit local churches and hear their struggles, one thing I hear consistently is: “we don’t have enough leaders.”

Is there a lack of leadership in our local churches? Yes and no.

Yes, it is true that as churches get smaller there are fewer leaders. If a church had 100 people in worship a decade ago but only 50 now, fewer leaders would be one result.

But as I have listened, I have realized that it isn’t just having fewer people that fuels a decreasing pool of leadership. My hunch is that a contributing faction in our leadership decline is that for the past 10 years most of our current leaders haven’t apprenticed new leaders.

Recently I visited a church where every leader was over 70 years old. There were younger members in church but I was told they were too busy or uninterested in leadership. Maybe. But maybe there was a bigger issue – the church leadership didn’t have a process of mentoring.

What is mentoring? Mentoring is an approach of raising up a new generation of leaders. It requires current leaders to prioritize their time toward teaching upcoming leader.  In other words, it requires a leader who will invest in someone else and then let them do the ministry in the new leader’s way and style.

Mentoring matters.

How do you mentor? I like Mike Breen’s work on this – he uses the visual tool of a square to teach the concept, which has four steps.


The key to understanding this process is to start at the top with L1 (Leader at the beginning of the mentoring process) and D1.  “D” stands for disciple as discipleship is about training up new leaders for ministry. Here is how it works:

L1/D1: When a current leader notices a bright eye person who is not yet in leadership, the L1 leader recruits him or her. Early on, the leader is directive in their leadership style.   That means the L1 leader needs to give clear direction saying, “do this,” “this is how you…” etc.

This can be a challenge for many since this style of training may feel bossy or domineering. But the reality is, strong leadership is needed early on. Weak leadership at this early stage slows down the mentoring process. Early on the D1 newbie feels confident in their new role (they don’t know enough to know the complexity or challenge) yet they are incompetent – meaning, they don’t know how to lead the ministry. This is where we begin.

L2/D2: We all know D2 even if we have never heard the term before. D2 is that place when the new leader feels overwhelmed & out of their league. They want to give up. The D2 mentee is starting to see that there is much to learn, that they are truly at the start of that learning, and that this will take their time, commitment and focus. The L1 leader, responding to the overwhelm and the anxiety of the mentee speaks of the larger vision. This might look like the outgoing finance chair sharing what God is doing through the income the church receives and manages. Or the new small group leader learning not only how long it took the outgoing leader to feel confident but what God had done in her heart as she grew in leadership.

This is often the place we stop mentoring. It demands so much time, energy and vulnerability on everyone’s part that those being mentored may give up and the one doing the mentoring may not make the time needed to really invest in the new leader. Clearing one’s schedule and spending time together makes the difference here – we need to believe in each other and what God can do through our willingness to surrender, to grow and to step into leadership.

L3/D3: If we invest the time and energy, we will begin to see fruit. The mentee disciple feels a growing confidence (“maybe I can do this”) and the L1 leader has a chance to encourage a more consensus style of relationship (“how would you improve this? What are your ideas?). Here the new leader takes on more responsibility as the outgoing leader shares responsibility. A shift is happening.  The outgoing leader needs to begin to let go and trust the new leader.

L4/D4: Here the mentee becomes the leader. She has confidence and skill. She has come through the anxiety of seeing her own lack of wisdom and has learned to lean into God’s. She is not only ready to lead but she is ready to mentor.  She has someone to turn to when things get tough and she sees the wisdom in the mentoring approach.  The outgoing leader is able to step back.  He trusts that she is ready and knows that even though leading will be done differently, that is part of the process.

To summarize the flow – it begins (L1/D1) with “I do, you watch.” Then (L2/D2) it becomes, “I do, you help.” As we round the corner (L3/D3) it becomes, “You do, I help.” And finally (L4/D4) it becomes “You do, I watch.”

Want to know more? Watch. Read. Share your wisdom.

Optimize the Core

This week I listed to a short and intriguing podcast on “The Good Life Project.” In this week’s episode, Jonathan Fields shared something I know nothing about: bicycling. For those of you who ride you already know that the lighter the bike the faster you go.  People spend lots of time, energy and money-making everything lighter and quicker.

Jonathan says,  “When we think about performing better, whether it’s at work, in sport, even relationships,  we often focus first on the things that are easiest to ‘tweak.’ Without fail,  those things are less about the “core of the matter” and more about ‘optimizing the margins.’ And, if we can do it by buying our way to better, investing in higher-end gear, apparel, equipment, supplies, materials or technology, we try to replace work with money. Thing is, that’s often the least effective way to get where we so desperately want to go.” –from “A Faster Path to Peak Performance: Optimize the Core”

Jonathan offers another way to go, calling us to spend time on the core, not on the margins. But this is harder.  Sometimes much harder.

For the bicyclist, it means losing weight and getting in better shape instead of the new, faster bike. For a musician, it means hours of practice instead of a new guitar pedal. For the artist, it means experimentation and risk instead of new, more expensive paints.

In my life, I can relate to working on the margins instead of the core.  I do it when I tweak things in my life instead of making  the time, energy and commitment to change the real thing that needs my attention.

As I think of the church I see how often we tweak what is instead of addressing the core.

The tweak might mean updating the bulletin or slides & bringing in a guest musician or two. It might mean using an outside program (Adam Hamilton ) to tweak programing. The problem isn’t the tweaking, oftentimes the tweak is beneficial. But the reality is that these tweaks often take time and energy away from the core.  And strengthening the core makes the long-term difference.

So, how do we strengthen the core? Here are things I have seen:

+Church leadership making daily prayer their priority, including prayer for the church, the pastor and other leaders.

+Churches starting their meetings with 30 minutes of seeking God as a community, including prayer and scripture, instead of jumping right to the business.

+Church leadership making welcoming the newcomer a priority and organizing the church to do the same.

What have you seen? I’d really love to hear what has strengthened your and your church’s core!

During Holy Week it’s good to remember that it is not the shiny new thing which will strengthen our communities—-it is strengthening the core.