Clergy Coaching

A United Methodist  colleague introduced me to this clergy coaching network.    While I haven’t had a chance to fully explore all this particular network has to offer, I endorse the concept and hope to see more coaching networks emerge to support clergy in struggling, transitional urban churches.  I have come to believe all clergy, especially those involved with transitional ministries, need a coach. 



“In the future, all pastors will be coached and will become coaches.”

  • Leonard Sweet“Everyone needs help from time to time. A Coach opens new pathways, creates new possibilities and brings out the very best in you.”
  • David Meyer


My mind began to wander in worship.  The sermon was excellent!   Jim is consist in giving memorable, inspiriational sermons.  And I found my mind wandering while reflecting on the gospel ltexts from Matthew.   I wasn’t thinking as a preacher.  I was listening from the perspective of a congregant sitting in a pew surrounded by some really neat people.  I was listening to this scripture from the number of times I had heard these words before;  the times I have been exposed to these sacred words for the past fifty years!


Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

The Parable of the Yeast

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with* three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Three Parables

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Treasures New and Old

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

I first heard these sacred words as a pre-teen when living in Aurora, Colorado.  My home church was the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.  CVR DeYoung and Bob Meanor were the pastors.  A few memories from 40-50 years ago:

I remember hastling my dad, the fifth grade Sunday School Teacher.

I remember running with friends exploring various rooms in this church building.

I remember youth fellowship.

I remember singing in the choir.

I remember taking piano and voice lessons from church staff.

I remember confirmation.

I remember helping as a worship leader in reading scripture.

and I remember the funeral of my dad.

More than anything else, I remember worship.  I remember singing sacred hymns and listening to sacred scriptural texts now lodged deeplyh in my bank of memories.  I remember these parables from Matthew — I recall one day going home and returning to these verses in wondering “why the heck God would want these stories in the Bible?”

Yesterday, while sitting with my wife in worship in Saginaw, Michigan in the year of our Lord 2014, I found myself reflecting on worship from almost a half century ago.   The scripture is timeless.   We were singing the same hymns I sang as a teenager.  Aha!  The Apostles Creed!   How many of us Presbyterians have this creed memorized?   For all these years God has been working with me.   A foundation was laid that lead to the decision to become a minister.  And now, fifty years later, I am to sitting in a pew worshipping God with my wife.

I am now on disability.  My dealing with health issues have become my top priority.  After many years of preaching, I am back to listening to God’s Word from the perspective of the men and women and children sitting in the pews.  I am watching the children come forward for a children’s message just as I used to come forward to listen to these messages — and just as I used to give these Children’s messages.  I wonder where these children will be in fifty years?

I am back in the pew.  I love being with my wife surrounded by wonderful friends discerning, together, what God has planned for me/us.

Back to the scripture from Matthew:  The message I took away from this service:  God works with the smallest of things in this world–the smallest of memories–in doing some pretty great things.   God is still with me giving me a small glimpse of the Kingdom here on earth that is beyond anything else I can imagine.    This greatness that comes from God after all these years in pradticing ministry is as awesome today as it was when a teenager making a decision to become a disciple of our Lord.

The world has changed.   The various ways I think about the sacred tools we have been given to know God have not changed all that much.  God’s Word is timeless.   And I still thank God for the Presbyterian Church.  I thank God for those who continue to faithfully preaching God’s Word.

From back in the pew, praise be to God then and now and forever.



I am struggling and disheartened with the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza.    It’s time for a cease fire—both sides.  Too many innocent women and men and children are dying.   Too many people are being injured—especially in Gaza!   From my perspective all this violence from both sides of this conflict is an in insult to God – even an assault on everything we believe God wants for humankind.

I was disturbed to hear this week reference made to Israel as an “apartheid nation”.  I don’t want to carry this image of Israel in my mind or heart.  Yet isn’t there some truth in applying this label to what Israel is doing?  One such reference came from Dr. Allan A. Boesak who delivered a sermon this week at a (SCUPE) Congress on Urban Ministry in Chicago.  He spoke out against apartheid using his people’s experience in South Africa and the Gospel imperative of standing with those who suffer.  While I personally will not go so far as to label Israel an apartheid nation, it sure seems like Israel is reinforcing walls/barriers that will continue to separate Palestinians from Israel making any chance for co-existence or a lasting peace impossible.  With the large number of casualties in Gaza, all this bombing is escalating into an irreconcilable conflict.  The bombing must cease!   Smart people with a longing for a lasting peace must decide whether they are willing to talk.

I continue to join with the voices of neighbors from around the globe in praying for peace.  We must continue to be compelled beyond prayers in speaking truth to power on behalf of the poor and oppressed.




Thoughtful article by Raafat L. Zaki published this past week prior to Israel’s ground  invasion of Gaza.  Let’s keep the dialogue open in discussing this conflict between Israel and Palestinians who live in Gaza.   Raafat is the Executive, Synod of the Covenant.  This article contains excellent links that contribute to this discussion.


We need to care for the children of the world as though they were are own flesh and blood.   Enough with the political games.

As required by “Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), unaccompanied children must:

  • Be placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child;
  • Not be placed in a secured facility unless they are a danger to themselves or others or have been charged with a criminal offense;
  • Receive legal orientation;
  • Have access to counsel;
  • Receive a child advocate;
  • Have their asylum or other relief from deportation applications considered using procedures that take into account their specialized needs as unaccompanied children; and
  • Be in contact with federal personnel who have had specialized training to work with unaccompanied children and identify children for trafficking victimization and asylum or other special immigrant relief.

As the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA has said in a letter this past week:

Anything less than these standards will place children at risk of being returned to dangerous and exploitative situations. Our country cannot take away these vital protections when there are so many vulnerable children in need of them.

Letter from Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons:–protections-children/



Bound and Nurtured in God's Love

Are our PCUSA foundations cracked?  I sometimes feel the church is ready to collapse under the weight of numerous issues.   Is our polity working for us or against us?   Is our desire to always do things “decently and in order” get in the way of reconciling our differences?   What has happened to our celebrating diversity acknowledge we are not always going to agree on all of the issues?  Are the foundations, that have always held us together as a denomination, failing us?

So back to basics.    It’s been a long time since I took a formal class on church polity.  After forty years of ministry and regular use of the Book of Order, I would like to think I had a pretty good understanding of all three sections of our Presbyterian Church Constitution. 

Wait a minute!  Did I say “Three sections” to the Book of Order?  There…

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Are our PCUSA foundations cracked?  I sometimes feel the church is ready to collapse under the weight of numerous issues.   Is our polity working for us or against us?   Is our desire to always do things “decently and in order” get in the way of reconciling our differences?   What has happened to our celebrating diversity acknowledge we are not always going to agree on all of the issues?  Are the foundations, that have always held us together as a denomination, failing us?

So back to basics.    It’s been a long time since I took a formal class on church polity.  After forty years of ministry and regular use of the Book of Order, I would like to think I had a pretty good understanding of all three sections of our Presbyterian Church Constitution. 

Wait a minute!  Did I say “Three sections” to the Book of Order?  There are now four sections in our constitution.  With all the work we did in approving the (NFOG) New Form of Government, how could I miss the fact that we added a fourth section to our constitution?  The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote a pastoral letter this past week  (July 10, 2014) reminding us once again of these “foundations” – to quote Dr. Sorge: 

The former Book of Order identified features of our foundation here and there, but did not lay them out anywhere in order  Our revised version now identifies our foundations as one discrete section among four, each identified by their first letter.:

  1. F – Foundations of our life together
  2. G – Governance of our life together
  3. W – Worship as the core practice of our life together
  4. D – Discipline that insures the ongoing integrity of our life together.

 Aha!   There is one quote I have used often in referring to these foundations.  Having served an urban church struggling with the decline in membership and resources we affirmed often:

The Church is the body of Christ,. Christ gives the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body.  The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world (I Corinthians 12: 27-28):  The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.  F-1.0301

It’s time for me to check out the rest of these “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity”.   In outline form:   

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity

Chapter One

The Mission of the Church

F.1.01 God’s Mission

F.1.02 Jesus Christ is Head of the Church

F.1.03 The Calling of the Church

F.1.04 Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit


Chapter Two

The Church and Its Confessions

F.2.01 The Purpose of Confessional Statements

F.2.02 The Confessions as Subordinate Standards

F.2.03 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Church Catholic

F.2.04 The Confessions as Statements if the Faith of the Protestant Reformation

F.2.05 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Reformed Tradition


Chapter Three

Principles of Order and Government

F.3.01 Historic Principles of Church Order

F.3.02 Principles of Presbyterian Government

F.3.03 Foundational Statements

F.3.04 The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Defined


I end this blog with the words of Dr. Sorge who said in his pastoral letter:

In a time when some folk wonder whether and how our beloved church can weather some storms we are currently facing, it is critically important that we consider the sort of foundation that can keep us strong all the way through.  Understanding the storm is important, but attending to our foundations is what will cause us to survive and to thrive today and tomorrow, to the glory o God.”

 Entrusting our lives to God alone,  

Amen NEW FUTURE FOR AN AGING CONGREGATION An Alban story about the northeast Dallas Gaston Oaks Baptist Church.  Mostly white with the average being 83, this congregation has found a way to move forward with dwindling resources.  This is a story of revitalization and transformation.  I have been preaching this for years:  small, struggling churches have options other than to die!



This phrase has been rattling in my mind since I heard it on today on the car radio. “Those Who Are Us”. This phrase was used in reference to citizens of Murieta, California blocking three bus loads of immigrant families being transferred from Texas to California. The buses were re-routed to San Diego.

It’s hard for me to comprehend all these immigrant families and their despair in discovering this “land of the free” is filled with so much hatred. One women from Murieta said, “We can’t start taking care of others if we can’t take care of our own,” (protester Nancy Greyson, Desert Sun newspaper, 7/2/14) I can imagine those who might say, “We really don’t hate these people. We don’t want them in our community! We love these people as long as they’re not in our neighborhood!” What really disturbs me is the fact that over 52,000 of these immigrants are unaccompanied children. That’s more than all the people who live in Saginaw, Michigan.

This immigration issue is an infected sore festering and ready to burst. Our congress puts very little money into solving this problem. Obama can only do so much without the support of a congress that refuses to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. At the same time the United States continues to send billions of dollars to Iraq! I can hardly stomach this disconnect between our global commitments and the needs of people suffering within the borders of our country.

Imagine for a moment what’s going through the minds of these immigrants:

What are they seeing? What are they hearing?
How do they feel about our country now?
What kind of world have they found in the United States of America?

And this question that bothers me the most:

What will they have to celebrate on he 4th of July?

Coming from a world of oppression and fear for their lives, these immigrants have entered this land of the free? Most of us were at one time immigrants! We were once families longing for what these families want!

As people of faith: what has happened to the welcoming love God calls us to offer the poor and distressed who enter our land? Where is the gospel of love and care and hospitality I preach? Where is the compassion I would hope for my children if I were a sojourner from a foreign land?

The poem from Emma Lazarus comes to mind:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

When we learn and behave as the gospel commands:

You shall love your neighbor as much as you love yourself!