The Flower Blooms Anyway

I have a black thumb…not a green thumb but a black thumb. When people bring me plants, I feel bad for the plants because I know they will certainly face an early demise. When I lived in Raleigh, I tried almost every year to plant flowers at my house.  There is something about the spring that makes me want to plant things but by the end of June, often earlier, they were dead. And while I usually killed off any hanging baskets I purchased as well, the soil at my old house was not conducive to growing things. It was rocky with a lot of clay and the sun never hit the house just right either. I know I sound like I’m coming up with excuses, but it is true.

Last year, I had great hopes for my new house. My plan was to wait and see if anything popped up in the backyard, something the former owners had planted. As I looked around the neighborhood, it seemed that these were people who planted for the future. I was certain lush plants were going to come out of the ground.

Something did start coming out of the ground.  It was just green though and I kept waiting weeks for something to flower or blossom, or even for the green to seem to take shape. It wasn’t happening and I began to think that the backyard, which seemed to be calling me to plant things, had nothing planted in it but weeds. I decided before I could plant my new flowers, I needed to kill the weeds that seemed to be coming up.

Only they weren’t weeds at all. I hadn’t given them enough time to start blooming, which of course they did just days after the leaves began to look burnt from the weed killer. These beautiful day lilies began to blossom in the midst of the fried, yellow leaves I’d tried to kill. Since I’d harmed the leaves, the flowers didn’t stay very long. They’ve never fully gone away, just stood as a half-living reminder of my attempts to kill the “weeds.”

But I’ve kept watering these plants every night (after watering my tomato plant and hanging basket that I am keeping alive, thank you very much), hoping the water would flush out the toxins in the dirt. Last week I noticed a few new green leaves growing and then this happened…IMG_0781

Right there in the middle of burnt dead leaves, a little bright orange flower popped forth.

Sometimes as leaders, we think we know what is best for an organization and we work hard to kill something we don’t feel is the best idea. And often, leaders have to kill something for a different thing to begin blooming, but sometimes we try so hard to kill an idea or a ministry and it just keeps coming back. Theologically and in regards to best ministry practices, we are right about wanting to kill it off. Sometimes even in the middle of the dead, one thing just keeps coming back. And often it causes more damage than good to try to kill it off again. You just have to let it bloom and know that as your nourish the soil, other good things will come with it. It takes real wisdom to know what is just an annoying plant that does not seem to be producing flowers as quickly as you want and what is really a weed that will cause damage to new growth.

So, pray for wisdom to know the deadly weeds from the misshapen, or slow to grow plants. Keep watering the soil and then celebrate what grows. When that flower that you kept trying to kill keeps coming back, find a way to enjoy it. Most importantly, find rest in the fact that you don’t own the garden but are only given the task to taking care of it for awhile.

VBS…Some Good Ideas…..

The good ideas I’ve seen in our churches will probably be spread out over a few blog posts because there were many ideas.  If you haven’t already seen them, check out the pictures from my VBS tour posted at our Virginia Baptist Childrens Ministry page on facebook. It is always helpful to see how other churches set up their Vacation Bible School and see crafts and games in action. I hope these lists of ideas will be helpful planning your next event, including VBS.

* Share resources with other churches. While there are some copyright issues you want to investigate, I saw a lot of churches sharing their resources with one another, especially when it comes to decorations. One childrens’ minister said it was also helpful to spend a day visiting another church doing the same theme to see it in action. Churches shared volunteer resources as they helped each other put up and remove the decorations. Some areas have even gone to doing an area wide Vacation Bible School with other churches in the same area.

Special Sixth Grade Class. For one church that does not include sixth graders into the youth ministry, VBS provides an opportunity to give them a view of things to come. They attend XBS (Extreme Bible School) which includes special activities and access to the youth room facilities during free time.

* Pastors Getting Involved.  I saw pastors doing everything from dressing up in costume and taking on a Biblical character to doing crazy dance moves. It means so much to children and their families for the pastor to be so accessible and involved. It gives kids a great connection to the pastor as we want the kids and their families to continue in the future of the church. It is also great for connection with youth and young adults as the pastor serves along-side of them.

* VBS as Outreach to Preschoolers. This year had many churches scrambling to reschedule VBS to a later date in the summer as a terrible winter pushed the start of vacation past their traditional VBS dates. One church with a weekly preschool used this as an opportunity to reach out to families of the preschoolers. In the now extra week between when the preschool closed and the public schools were getting out, the church did a special preschool VBS. This allowed for the leaders to tailor worship, crafts and activities to the preschoolers. It gave the leadership of the church the opportunity to connect with the parents of the preschoolers that are only connected to their preschool and not the church. It also freed up more volunteers for the VBS done later for the older kids.

* Keep Connecting to Families. This same church states that there goal for VBS is to connect families in the community. They planned a family oriented event to be held in the weeks after VBS. As the children were leaving the week of VBS behind, the event gave the ministers a reason to contact and follow up with the parents and gave the families another opportunity to connect with the church.
*Be Organized.  As a visitor, I was so impressed with churches that had walky talkies to communicate with other leaders, charts to show where each group was at all times and maps of the church. This was helpful for me as a visitor and I think would be comforting for any parent who is visiting your church. We forget sometimes that today, even in our smaller towns where we feel like we know everybody, it is a huge deal for people to trust us with their children! We need to do everything we can to show them up front that we take their child’s safety very seriously.
Come back next week for my ideas….  In the meantime, any ideas you would add to the list?

Vacation Bible School Visits

I work in the area of leadership development with our Virginia Baptist churches, specifically spending most of my time with those in associate positions including our age group ministers and volunteer leaders. One of the fun, and tiring things, I’ve done in this position is to spend a portion of my summers visiting Vacation Bible Schools around the state. I’ve logged a lot of hours in the car but it is a great way to meet ministers, volunteer leaders and children around our state.

I love visiting with the children! My favorite story is still from last summer. I was visiting in a preschool class, my favorite to visit, and as I knelt down to see what a four year old boy was creating in craft time, he looked excitedly at me and breathlessly said, “I watched Star Wars last night.” We began talking about the movie and I asked him who were his favorite characters. I asked about Darth Vader and he immediately put his hand over his mouth and started breathing heavy, immitating the sound Vader makes, and then he said, “Luke, I am your father.” Best moment ever. This summer I was again in a preschool class and knelt down to a boy during snack time. I noticed all of his goldfish were already missing and commented that must be his favorite. He shook his head and then opened his mouth to show me the mush bits of all of the goldfish he had crammed inside at one time. I love to see how excited the children get, the ones who ask, “Can we do this again next week?” I love to hear children answer questions about the Bible and missionaries, amazed at how they are growing in their faith.

I love visiting with the volunteers. It is amazing to visit with older adults who have been volunteering with VBS for decades. They come alive for this week. I believe that VBS time in our churches can really be our churches at their best. I love to see teenagers working along side adults and senior adults in ways they normally would not. I love to see the creative side of our church members as they take a theme and run with it. I love hearing about their heart for the kids and hearing stories about VBS throughout the years. I love seeing teenagers shining in their first opportunities to lead.

I love seeing our church leaders in action. I admire pastors who are willing to dress up for Bible story time or to lead silly action songs. I love seeing volunteer leaders step up to organize such a huge event in our days of ever-shrinking staff. I love to hear leaders who are asking good questions about the effectiveness of VBS and about the best ways to use their resources of people and money. I admire leaders who take the craft ideas that come with the curriculum and spend hours searching the internet for less expensive ways to find supplies. And the charts…it seems every good VBS has a carefully thought out chart showing where each age group is at all times. These charts are so organized they rival any kind of government strategic plan.

To the churches I visited with this summer, thank you for letting me walk along side you. Thank you for letting me sing and dance with you and adore your children with you. Thank you for telling me stories about your children and the ministries you love to be involved with.

For pictures and description of these visits, go to the Virginia Baptist Children’s Ministry page at Stay tuned for a series of posts that will share some ideas and some questions from these visits. My hope is that these will help us as plan for ministry.

The Shock of Suicide

It was a Sunday night, and as a good Southern Baptist, I was in church.  I was sitting in a pew towards the front because I was about to play a piano solo. Someone got up at the beginning of the service with a special prayer request. One of the teachers at an area middle school had committed suicide. I was a freshmen in high school at the time, but I had loved Mr. Stout, my eighth grade North Carolina history teacher. He was a little cranky and sarcastic, but in a way that you knew he cared about you. He had great stories but many of them were laced with memories from Vietnam. As the gulf war was ending, living in a military town had triggered his ptsd to a point where he took his life. Unfortunately just a few weeks later, one of our classmates copied Mr. Stout taking his own life in the same way. James hung himself just days after finishing his freshmen year.

Even now as I type this, I cry over these two. How could we have missed the signs? Years later, in my first year as an intern in campus ministry at UNC, September 11 happened and in the wake of that tragedy a rash of suicides and suicidal attempts spread through campus. My mentor, Bob Phillips, said the same thing happened when the vietnam war started. Students not knowing how to deal with the trauma looked for a way out and then many others followed.  It was in these days that I found myself visiting one of my students who had committed herself to the hospital. She had tried to commit suicide the year before and could not handle the pressure of the times.  I remember walking into the psych ward once they had buzzed me in, her mother grabbing hold of me and holding me so tight. I had come as her minister and in that moment, in the face of the tragedy and grief, I was the presence of God for her mother and she was clinging to me tightly. Being just as overwhelmed as the mother, I remember thinking clearly, “Look, I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know what to do here.” Luckily that student got the help she needed and is now a healthy young woman, married with a young child.

In life, especially ministry and leadership, we find ourselves faced with the demon of depression all around us. Often we don’t know how to step into this space with those in need. I still don’t have all the answers now but I can still remember the overwhelming sadness I felt as a freshmen and want to help anyone I can on the journey dealing with depression or those helping those dealing with depression. I’ve spent the morning compiling a list of what I hope can be helpful articles. I hope they can be a resource to you if the death of Robin Williams has triggered something for you or to pass along to someone else. I hope that if you are in ministry and/or leadership, you can find helpful information that resources you as a leader.

White Middle-Age Suicide in America Sky-Rockets

What Can We Learn From Comedian Robin Williams’ Suicide

Robin Williams and the Mask of Humor

The Six Reasons People Attempt Suicide

How You Can Help Teens With Mental Illness

Ministry and Mental Illness: 8 Thoughts to Help Hurting People

Where is God in Mental Illness

What Will It Take for Us to Get Serious about Helping the Mentally Ill?

5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety

Mental Health a Christian Perspective

4 Issues to Educate Your Leaders On

Mental and Emotional Illness in Small Groups

The Spoon Theory

A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma


“Ministry in the Digital Age” by David T. Bourgeois- A Book Review

“So we are at one of the great inflection points, I would argue, in our history. I think this is going to be as big as Gutenberg when it plays out.” – Thomas Friedman

digital age book cover

Going back to the technology that allowed for the creation of roads early in the history of Christianity, David T. Bourgeois recounts the ways in which technology has been used by Christians to spread the message about Jesus. He travels through time with the inventions of the telegraph, the radio, the television and the internet. He argues that while lots of money is still being put into web-sites by ministries, we are living in a post web-site world. The web-site is important, but he argues “The question should change from ‘How do we make our website better?’ to ‘How do we integrate into the digital habits of our audience?'”

This is a very simple to follow book that would be ideal for a staff team or a team of lay people considering the digital presence of your ministry. Bourgeois gives some very easy step by step instructions about how to develop a digital strategy for your ministry. As he says, “Many people within organizations think they have a strategy when, in fact, they have simply decided that they are going to use Facebook and start a blog. This is not a strategy.”

The figures and tables give helpful information that will be easily accessible in the future when planning conversations with other leadership of your ministry. The additional information in the many asides in the text outline practical tools. The format in which these are all included makes this a good resource to return to in the future.

The book is simple and does not try to solve the issues around having a digital presence but it simply provides a great outline for conversation and planning. While this book does not give specific instructions on how to develop or use current technology, I would recommend this as a strategy guide for any minister, ministry team or lay team that is looking to create a dynamic digital presence for their ministry.

Always Blooming

I have a tree in my little front yard. I am not sure what it is. I thought it was a dogwood when it first started blooming in late April, even though it seemed late blooming for a dogwood. As the blossoms developed completely, it was clear the flowers were not dogwood flowers even though it seemed to be cousins with the dogwood at least. It was very pretty as it began to bloom and because it is right outside my front door, I get to walk under the blossoms every time I come in and out my front door.

The problem is that the tree still has the flowers. There are two other trees in the neighborhood just like it, and examining them, I see that the petals should have fallen off by now. Instead they are just turning a little brown and the leaves that are competing for the nutrients and water seem to be more shriveled. I don’t know what to do about it, but it is clear that the turning flowers are no longer a sign of health and possibility but a sign that something is very wrong.


Our ministries have a lot of flowers that are still hanging around. We see them on the tree and it reminds of us the good days when the blooms first started to come. We remember the first kids in Sunday School, the GAs earning their badges, the large youth group that volunteered around the building, and the list goes on. The problem is that some of these flowers are no longer blooming. They are hanging onto the tree because we just cannot let them go.

The problem arises when those flowers keep other new life from growing. We cannot develop small group ministries in homes because Sunday School is a priority. We cannot add new music or experiential aspects into worship because we have to sing the songs we sang as children. We cannot go out into the community and volunteer because we have so many leadership roles within the walls of the church. Our pastors cannot reach out to the community because they are spending so much time with those that have already been a part of the church. All the while, the flowers are still there, still hanging on and if you squint just right and look from the right angle you can see the beauty they once had, but no new growth can happen.

Just as the flowers appear for a season and a purpose, so do the ministries within our churches. We can easily see the need for the changes of season but somehow we want the same blossoms in our church all the time. There is a time for the blossoms but there is a time for green growth, there is a time for fall and the leaves to fade away, there is a time for winter and a time for rest so there can be renewal and rebirth. We cannot hang on so tightly to the flowers that we harm the tree. We cannot mistake one type of growth to be the only kind of growth.

Now…can anyone tell me what to do about my tree?

It looked better on the rack

I recently had the privilege or spending time with a few talented younger women in ministry and amongst the thousands of other things we discussed, we talked about the challenges for women moving to higher level positions. Many churches are willing to hire a female minister in the area of youth, children, or other jobs seen as entry-level jobs, especially if the position is part time. The challenge comes when female ministers are looking for their next position and it is only increased by the fact that often in higher level positions, you are competing against other women, even against your friends. The question was asked, “How, in that environment, do you create community and support for other females in ministry when you are often competing against them for jobs?”

I believe, most importantly, it would help if we each knew what our gifts were and how to present ourselves. Each of us who reads a job description, sees what we want in the words. So, obviously, it feels like we are all “competing” for the same jobs. But, what if we each knew our “specialty.” What if we knew our talents, our passion and our vision in ministry? What if we knew, as Parker Palmer states it, what it is we cannot not do? What if we could represent ourselves well, having something like a brief statement or elevator speech about our “specialty”? Then we could leave the interview, submit the resume, etc. knowing that if this was the right job for us, if it was the job we had read and dreamed about, we would get it.

I was once sharing with a former coach about how hard it was to be rejected in the dating world. It made me feel like I was not enough, or too much, or something was wrong with me if the guy decided he didn’t like me enough to pursue something more. He helped me reframe he experience with an image given to him from one of his former coaches and said, “It’s like if you go shopping. You see a sweater hanging on a rack and you really like it.  You try it on and it just doesn’t look right. You take it off and hang it back up and it still looks good, you still look good, you just weren’t a fit for each other. It looked better on the rack, as we always say. Nothing wrong with you, nothing wrong with the sweater.” He went on to extend the analogy to dating. You have to “try people on” to know if they are a fit. If it doesn’t fit just right, you can hang it back on the rack, or find yourself back on the rack, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with either of you, you just weren’t a fit together. You, as a couple, just looked better on the rack.

Since this conversation, I’ve expanded this image to applying for jobs. (which I believe is much like the dating process but I’ll save that for another blog post) When I apply for the job, I describe why I believe I would be perfect for the job. I share my experiences, my vision, my gifts, etc for the job description as I read it. If they don’t choose me, it’s because it just wasn’t a fit. There’s nothing wrong with me, nothing wrong with them. I know what I look like on the rack in terms of applying for a job. I know that I have to try things on. Women know that with each item you try on, you have a better understanding of what is going to look the best, what is going to fit. It is the same with applying for jobs, with each one I get clarity about my calling, my gifts and what I’m looking for. With each person they interview, they get clarity about what qualities and experiences they are looking for.

I wrote in my last blog post about this idea of churches having a specialty and I think women must embrace this idea. They have to know what they have to offer a church, know how to communicate that clearly. If five of my friends, all women, are applying for the same job but each of us knows how to describe our gifts and strengths clearly, we are each presenting something different to the interviewers. Then we aren’t competing against each other, but the church or organization is just picking the one they know will be the best fit. It’s not that those who did not get the job are less than, it’s not that there is anything wrong with the church or organization, it just wasn’t the right fit.

What is your specialty? Do you know how to confidently present yourself in an interview process? Do you know what it is you cannot not do?

….I’ll be blogging about this more in the future but would also encourage to contact me or another coach if you are interested in developing answers to the questions.