Dear Pastor, What You Do Matters

Dear Pastor,

What you do matters.

You know the drill. It’s Sunday morning. You’ve been up since before the crack of dawn, letting the words of the sermon make their way into your bones. There’s a message for someone today—the pressure is high to minimize distractions and maximize impact.

Then they start to come. The ones who call you “pastor.” The ones with whom you’ve shared laughter and loss, friendship and enmity. It’s a slow trickle at first . . . the ones carrying doughnuts or children’s Sunday school materials. Then the wave. They’re coming to be in the place where meaning can be found. They’re coming to be in community with fellow seekers.

You? You’re the one holding the space for them.

Then it begins. It may be the roar of the pipe organ in a grand cathedral or the strum of a guitar in a rented space. Worship. You’ve been preparing all week for this moment. You’ve been preparing your whole life for this moment.

Your people, God’s people, gathered there. It will never quite be the same gathering again. It’s the right people for that moment. The prayers, the scripture, the music—high or low—there’s energy. Even in what may seem the stalest, coldest room. Everybody wants to meet God there. To be inspired. To remember there’s something deeper and more profound than the daily grind.

You stand to preach. They’re looking at you. Folks who were once strangers are now family. You’ve stood with them to pronounce them husband and wife. You’ve been there when they laid their loved one to rest. And so many moments in between. And now, a word from God. For this moment. From the only one who could deliver it.

It doesn’t matter if today’s sermon was a homerun or a dud. You know you’ve got both in you. What matters is this—you showed up. You did your best to speak truth.

But it’s not all about you. No, you merely hold the space for those who come your way on a Sunday morning. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to move, inspire, prompt, and guide. The building, the music, the liturgy, and yes, the words of your sermon so carefully considered—merely space holders for the greater work of God.

So pastor, whether you’re on top of the world thinking there’s no better profession or you’re wondering if you might be better suited to sell used cars, remember this: what you do matters. At the end of a long Sunday, your energy spent, you wonder if all of your efforts were in vain—remember that you held the space for Spirit to meet your people. What a gift.

What you do matters.

Empower West Louisville: More Than a Meeting

Something big happened this week. I only recognized it in retrospect. I woke up Wednesday morning thinking about the press conference in the morning and the event later that night. Only in retrospect did it register with me that, together with multiple collaborators, we launched an important new initiative called “Empower West Louisville.”

In my mind, the event, “Empower West: Church-Based Summit,” was simply an extension of the dialogue happening weekly between leaders of Simmons College and local pastors. “Here’s what we’ve been talking about,” would be the topic at hand, followed by, “Here’s what we hope to do.” And while that’s exactly what happened during that meeting on Wednesday, September 23 at St. Stephen Church, it was far more. The headlines helped clue me in, like WDRB’s “New coalition of churches to empower west Louisville,” and Baptist News Global’s, “KBF, historically black college, join forces to fight poverty.” Something big was happening. More than a dialogue. More than an event. “Empower West” was a bold new enterprise. By God’s mercy, grace, and imagination, KBF got to have a seat at the table.

What does this mean for KBF? Time alone will tell. For now, here are some ways KBF, our churches and individuals, can participate in bringing God’s kingdom come to Louisville’s West End:

·      By employing our missional strategy of Asset-Based Community Development, a strategy shared with Simmons College of Kentucky.

·      Through equipping West Louisville residents and Simmons College students to be leaders in the ABCD strategy.

·      By supporting West Louisville businesses with an “Angie’s List” type of directory.

·      In supporting West Louisville entrepreneurs through a micro-loan project called “S.E.E.D.”

·      By building relationships through church-to-church partnerships, lunch and dinner groups, and book clubs.

·      Through capacity building mission projects.

·      In annual summits and collaborative MLK day worship experiences.

·      Through promoting relocation to the West End—finding partners committed to capacity building urban renewal.

·      By advocacy, including our continued battle with predatory lending.

·      Through partnering—always partnering—with those committed to these same goals.

To be clear, KBF is not leading this initiative; Simmons College of Kentucky leads this charge. Our role is to come alongside, to offer the best of our skills, expertise, and love, in a way that empowers West Louisville residents and institutions. This kind of effort requires creativity and patience. This kind of effort requires listening more, talking less. This kind of effort resists the arrogant, “Let us show you how it’s done” mentality. It’s a question rather than an answer: “Show us how we might help?” versus “Let us show you how we’re going to help.” This is nothing new to us. This is what we do.

Friends, I must confess, being back among you has renewed my ministry and my spirit. This project is a big part of that personal renewal. These are exciting days for KBF. And this initiative—Empower West—is nothing less than the Missio Dei, God’s mission here on earth. I, for one, am glad to be a part.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” -Jesus
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We’re building an Empower West page on our website—
keep checking for ways you and your church can get involved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empower West

I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it.

Just like I remember where I was when I heard about the World Trade Center. Just like I remember where I was when I learned about the space shuttle. Folks older than me remember where they were when they heard about JFK and MLK.

I was in Dallas at the CBF General Assembly when I heard about the shooting in Charleston. Something in me changed. 

Racial hatred is alive and well in our nation and in our Commonwealth. Its venom pulsates throughout our national identity. Sometimes we have to admit that if we're not actively working to alleviate this disease, perhaps we're part of the problem. Sometimes we must confess, like the prophet Isaiah standing before a holy God, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." (Isaiah 6:5)

My friend, Dr. Kevin Cosby, would say I have "white guilt." He'd be right.

What I've learned from Dr. Cosby over the past couple of months is that "white guilt" may be more of a curse than a blessing to the African American community in America. It has prompted often well-meaning efforts that have hindered instead of helped black progress. "White guilt" has made room at the table for a few talented black individuals, while the masses of African Americans struggle to find their way in a white-dominated culture.

That's why I'm excited to participate in "Empower West," an event hosted by Dr. Cosby at the church he pastors, St. Stephen Baptist Church in Louisville. Co-sponsored by Simmons College, recently named an historical black college, this event will feature some of our Louisville pastors as well as pastors from local Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches. The dialogue will help us understand the problem that hinders black progress, then we will discuss simple ways we, as Christian brothers and sisters, can help empower African Americans living in West Louisville. 

This is one of the most exciting efforts Kentucky Baptist Fellowship has undertaken. No one knows where it will lead, especially me. But I am humbled and honored to join a dialogue that, little by little, may lead to transformation. While yes, this may be about my "white guilt," my greater hope is that this will be about God's "kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven."

Not Alone: Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis

And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19 NIV

I was happier last week. Like much of the Western world, last week I was comfortable in my ignorance, enjoying the view from my spot on Headinthesand Lane. Then I saw it. The haunting image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the sand, washed ashore after the small vessel he had been on capsized, killing him along with his mother and five-year-old brother as his helpless father battled the sea to no avail. Aylan’s parents made the excruciatingly difficult choice to leave behind their homeland and everything they knew and loved in hopes for a better life for their two boys in light of the war in Syria. Like countless others before them, their hopes met a fatal end in the waters of the Aegean Sea.

When I saw Aylan’s picture, I realized under different circumstances, he could have been my son. He could have been your son.

It’s not that I was unaware of the global refugee crisis. Karen Thomas Smith and others opened my eyes to the crisis a decade ago when I visited her and some of our partner churches of the Protestant Church of Morocco (EEAM) who work tirelessly to aid Sub-Saharan refugees in Morocco. Karen helped me see how I—how we—could respond practically to aid these children of God displaced due to war, famine, political unrest and the like. So I knew about the global refugee crisis. I also had some sense that it was getting worse.

“What can I do?” I asked myself despondently. “I’m just one person.”

That’s where I was wrong. Dead wrong.

When I read about Pope Francis challenging each church in Europe to take in one refugee family, that’s when it clicked. That’s when I remembered, “I am not one person . . . I am a hundred people! I am a thousand people! I am ten thousand people!” Why? Because I am the church! And so are you.

It’s true—I can’t do much on my own. But together, we can make a global impact. And we do, through working together as Kentucky Baptist Fellowship:

  • Through our partnership with the Protestant Church of Morocco (EEAM), we provide assistance to refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa, many in dire circumstances.
  • Through our partnership with Steve Clark and Annette Ellard, we minister among refugees from Burma living in our own state.

When you see those images of refugees flash across your screen and you ask, “What can I do?”--know that you are not alone. You are ten thousand people and more because you are the church. You are responding. Thanks be to God.

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Want to do more? Here are two practical ways:

  1. Sign up now for Relay for Africa, a 10k relay sponsored by Lexington Avenue Baptist Church in Danville, on September 27, 2015—proceeds benefit the refugee ministry in Morocco. Click here to learn more about this ministry.
  2. Learn more about the work of Steve Clark and Annette Ellard with the Karen people from Burma here, or pledge now to support their work here.

 

 

Room at the Table

As a younger minister, I served within a denomination in which I began to realize I was not welcome. There was no room at the table for a woman seeking ordination. Though painful, I knew I must leave my mother church and set out for new lands with freedom to be the person I believed God was calling me to be. I soon found a new table big enough, brave enough, to include me. Its name: Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.

It’s been over a decade since I first sat down at your table. While I immediately felt welcomed, I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering when the radical inclusivity would end, causing me once again to set out for the freedom I needed. The radical inclusivity never ceased. It remains alive and well to this day.

Since I found my way back into your fold as coordinator of KBF, I am heartened to discover that there’s still room at the table for me and women like me. Moreover, it seems your table—our table—is growing more diverse. It’s a sign to me that we’re on the right track, living into God’s desire for us. As we joyfully welcome new congregations to our table, we must also welcome new ideas and ways of practicing faith. I’ve described KBF as a “big tent”—our congregations vary widely on matters of theology and praxis. That’s the beauty, and the challenge, of local church autonomy. It will take courage to sit at table together. Radical inclusivity always requires courage. I am convinced we are up for the task.

Recently I watched members of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky Class of 2015 cross the chancel at Georgetown Baptist Church. The class of six was male and female, black and white, first career and second career. The first BSK class to graduate under accreditation serves as a microcosm for KBF life: diverse but united. Chalice and paten in hand, they stand ready to share the bread and wine with a hungry, thirsty world. So must we.

So come to the table! Let us learn from one another. Let us seek to understand. Let us move beyond mere tolerance and live into the radical inclusivity that defines our life together. Let us work tirelessly to maintain room at the table for all—even you—even me. 

Never Better!

It’s great to be back in the Commonwealth! I am loving seeing old friends and making new ones. As I learn about the work you’ve accomplished while I’ve been away, I must tell you, I stand amazed. You completed your tenth Extreme Build. You strengthened your partnership with the Protestant Church of Morocco. You collaborated and produced an outstanding worship resource. You discovered and welcomed new clergy, churches, and colleges. You lobbied in Frankfort on behalf of the least of these. The list could go on. I stand amazed.
 
One of our outstanding pastors told me this week, “There’s never been a better time to be a part of Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.” I’m convinced he’s right. I am honored to join you on this train that’s headed some exciting places . . . places I wouldn’t have imagined eight years ago.
 
As I get started in my new role as coordinator, my first priority is to connect and reconnect with our people. I have set a personal goal to be in all 60+ churches within one year as a worshipper, speaker, or preacher. I want to hear what’s happening in our churches. I want to understand how KBF can support the good work our churches are doing across the state. I want to strengthen ongoing efforts and discern new directions together. 
 
I am delighted to be back among you, especially since there’s never been a better time to be a part of Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.