Ministry tip #whatever: caffeinate before afternoon visits

I do my best creative work and writing in the mornings. For me, ideas and content flow effortlessly before noon.

My brain starts to get mushy after lunch, so that’s when I need to get out and do something else. So I use my afternoons are better for visiting folks at home, in the hospital, in nursing homes, for wherever.

There is a part of my brain, however, that suggests that I take a nap after lunch. Sometimes I do that. But I try not to do that when out for a visit. That’s where caffein comes in. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m slamming a tall Pike before a visit to a homebound member.

You see, I’ve been visiting this person for a long time. After a certain number of monthly visits, I’ve heard most of the stories. However, I must listen to them again. And again. And again. That is when active listening becomes difficult, my eyelids begin to feel heavy, and I start to get very, very sleepy…

It’s embarrassing to do that little head jerk when a blink of an eye turns into a few seconds and suddenly your mind yanks you back into reality. To fend that off, I’ll try flexing my biceps and quads, squeezing the arm of the chair, and sitting forward, leaning in to listen more attentively.

Oope. I probably shouldn’t have revealed that. Some who read this may notice the tightening of my arm muscles or me leaning forward with my arms on my knees. You’ll see my hands clench on the chair and you’ll know I’m trying as hard as I can to stay awake.

Here’s the thing. Some of the folks I visit don’t often have someone to talk to. Even the married ones. So they have many things to say. Many things. And they have mastered the art of weaving their story together into one long, continuous sentence that is very hard to interrupt. Those who are good at this can go thirty minutes or more, as each part of their story reminds them of another person or another place that leads to other memories and details that connects to yet further events and recollections from the past.

I listen as best I can. I really do. Someday, I know the tables will be turned and I will be starving for someone to talk to, and I will keep my guest as long as I can by weaving together a complex tapestry of the story of my life to keep them there just a few more minutes.

Occasionally, I get caught with my eyes shut. Uh-oh. That’s embarrassing. It’s just a moment, but I got caught just the same. Graciously, my visit-ees usually say, “You look tired, pastor.” I guess you could make sure you have some coffee on when I come to visit. Just remember it’s got to be strong, black and hopefully not Maxwell House or Folgers.

So, for those who aspire to ministry that includes the care of souls, here my tip number whatever: caffeinate early and often.

There’s no coffee.

As I finished up the first worship service last Sunday and walked out the front door, I was greeted by a great friend of mine who said in a subdued voice, “We’ve got a little problem.” Usually, if someone says we have a big problem, I don’t worry about it too much. Such situations are generally blown out of proportion. Conversely, if you tell me we have a little problem, you’ve got my attention.

“We’ve got a little problem. There’s no power in the kitchen. So there’s no coffee.” What? This is serious. Everyone know that’s one of the signs of the apocalypse. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. How in the world are we supposed to do Sunday morning without coffee?

We did just fine, but it made me wonder, “Why do we have coffee on Sunday morning?” When did that tradition begin? Who first had that idea to serve coffee on a Sunday in conjunction with gathering for worship?

I’m straining to remember what it was like in the church where I grew up. I don’t know if they always had coffee, but I do remember our youth group sponsoring a coffee 1/2our from time to time to raise money. My mom drank a lot of coffee, so maybe it was even her idea. I didn’t drink much coffee as a young adult, so I can’t remember if it was available at my church in New Jersey. At my first call in Connecticut, I remember sometimes having to unplug the pot Monday morning. I don’t know if we ever got that on-all-night-burned-to-the-bottom taste out of the pot. We also all tried bringing our own mugs so we didn’t use as many styrofoam cups. In Iowa, the elder on duty prepared and plugged in several giant coffee pots. Try as they might, they just couldn’t get that duty removed from their job description.

I think we’ve had coffee on Sunday mornings most of the twenty-two years I’ve been at my church in Florida. Some of it was pretty good. Some of it was horrid. Every volunteer barista had their own recipe. Some used a whole one pound can to make a forty-two cup pot. Others would only use a cup. Some thought it frugal to use the grounds someone had left in from the previous Sunday. From time to time, someone would forget to put coffee in at all. The water still came out brown, it just didn’t have any taste.

Since I’m still preaching full time, I don’t get to visit many churches. But I’ll bet you won’t find many worship gatherings without available coffee. Trying to discontinue the custom can be dangerous, as described in this article. If it gets people to slow down and talk to each other rather than sprinting to their cars to see who can be the first one out of the parking lot, I guess it’s a good thing for the church.

The pros and cons of reading an analog Bible

img_9267.jpgBy analog, I mean a Bible printed on paper rather than the (digital) bible app on my phone or computer. I’m thankful for each. I also thankful for having the Bible at my fingertips in any of its forms. Remember, just five hundred or so years ago, virtually no one read the Bible. Until the Reformation and the invention of the printing press, few actually had one.

On my phone, I usually read from my Accordance app. On the computer, I also have Accordance, and I’ll often go to Biblegateway.com.

Anyway, here are the pros of an analog bible:

  • You can underline, circle, highlight, make notes, and draw pictures on the page for future reference. I can’t do nearly as much marking on my phone.
  • It’s easier to catch the context with a couple of pages right there in front of you. Scrolling through the text on my phone is more difficult.
  • Spill coffee? No problem with the printed version. Panic time with a phone. With an analog bible, it’s a badge of honor. Yep, I was up reading my bible this morning while I was drinking my coffee.
  • It’s easier to focus. My analog bible never interrupts my reading with texts, weather alerts, or phone calls. Yes, I could turn all those off, but I rarely do.
  • It slows you down a little. It’s good to slow down and think about what I’m reading. I can read much faster on my phone. I set the font larger, so there are fewer words on the page, and I can really zip along as I scroll through a passage or book.
  • I can actually look up passages more quickly with a printed bible.
  • No one has a problem with someone paging through a bible in church. Everyone is suspicious if you claim you are using your phone’s bible app in church!
  • Battery life is never an issue with an analog bible!

The cons of using the analog bible are also the strengths of the digital form:

  • It’s slower. I can read on my phone much faster. When I want to, I can really cruise through scripture.
  • With a printed bible, I don’t have the resources at my fingertips that are on my phone or computer. In the digital world, I can immediately see a word in the original language, read a passage in another translation, find a word or phrase in other verses, read a commentary, find out where a place is, or find out who a person is. I can find all that info in some books I have, but it takes a lot longer. A study Bible is helpful, but I can’t fit it into my pocket.
  • I like a larger print bible now, and they aren’t as easy to find as the ones with minuscule font on extremely thin paper. The footnotes and cross references are even smaller. On my phone, I can really ramp up the text size so I almost don’t need my glasses.
  • After a while, all the pages are marked up, stained, folded, torn here and there, and falling out. Some pens and highlighters bleed through the pages. It takes a while, but it eventually happens to all my bibles. I never have to duct tape the binding of a digital bible.

So, for me, it’s a tossup. It depends what I am doing. I always use an analog bible for preaching, teaching and visits. I always use a digital form for preparing sermons and bible classes. I use both for my daily devotional reading.

That’s one of the things that has changed in ministry. When I started, everything was in a book. Now just about everything is online. In act, I can even have Alexa or Siri read the bible to me! Pretty cool.

 

Just drinking coffee. Period.

IMG_7949A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in Starbucks, in between appointment, drinking coffee and scrolling through some Reddit stuff when — get this — this guy came in, sat down, and did nothing else other than enjoy his coffee. That’s right, no phone, no book, no tablet, no computer, no friend to talk to, nothing. He just sat there and sipped his venti whatever. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen someone do that before. There were plenty of other people there, some like me focused on a smartphone screen. A few were engrossed in their laptops. A couple of friends were talking.

I began wondering, “Would Starbucks even exist if we didn’t have our electronics to amuse us and their wifi to connect us as we drank lattes and ate scones?”

You do it and I do it. Whenever we sit down – in the car, in church, in the bathroom, watching TV, at concerts, at work, in a restaurant, at the pool, at the gym, stripped naked waiting for the doctor to come in – we pull out a phone to find out what’s going on. I’m sure sociologists and psychologists have a field day with this behavior.

I think I may have seen another guy do this at a bar. He was just sitting there drinking a beer. He wasn’t doing anything else.

I might have to try this. I’ll let you know what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

For some, this is church (part 2)

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Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

For me, the “church” has always been church. But there are other gatherings that function as “church” for them and their families.

It was quite a while ago, but I vividly remember a conversation with some visitors to our church. They only came the one time and wouldn’t be back because their children were involved in a youth hockey league. But they were OK with that, because in their words, “Hockey teaches our kids the same things as church: teamwork, loyalty, sacrifice and hard work.” For them, the hockey experience was church.

In another conversation, an on and off attender explained that they got more support, inspiration and fellowship from their lodge than from the church. Church for them had been filled with conflict, controversy, and contradiction. Their lodge encounter was everything that they thought the church should be. For them, that was church.

Yet a third person found church in a group that met at a coffee shop each week. There they could talk openly about their struggles, and the others would listen. There was no condemnation, only affirmation. The group was loyal, dependable and supportive. Since they found everything they needed right there over a cup of coffee, who needs church. Their coffee-shop group was church to them.

Mark Zuckerberg claims that Facebook can provide the support and purpose that people seek through online groups and communities. His mission is to bring people — 1 billion people — together in this way.

I know that the church is about more than just a support group. But why do some churches seem unable to provide the connection, support and therapy that many desire and find elsewhere?

Maybe Satan doesn’t care if you invest your time and energy into a team, a lodge or coffee. But he’ll do his best to make your church seem like the last place you’ll find what you are looking for.

 

Coffee crisis

Coffee maker crisis. The most annoying thing in our lives right now, at least first thing in the morning, is our coffee maker. We’ve become totally dependent on a Keurig one cup coffee maker, which has developed a mind of its own.

Here’s the problem: you never know how much coffee will end up in your cup. Sometimes it is a normal 8 oz. serving, exactly what you expect. Other times, the coffee maker holds back, giving you a couple ounces of really strong stuff. Still other times, you get more than you expected, more than will fit in the cup you have. I’ve cleaned it, de-scaled it, done everything I’m supposed to do, and we still can’t get the one thing we really want to work in the morning to work in the morning.

I know, this really isn’t much of a crisis, especially when people in Haiti don’t have water to drink and plenty of people in the world have no food much less a cup of coffee. It just shows how easy it is to get hooked on a convenience. This morning I reflected on the olden days when we had to get up and actually brew a cup of coffee, a process that could take 10 minutes. Now we call that roughing it.

There are lots of coffee makers on sale right now, so we’ll probably just shop around for a new one. Then my mind can move on to bigger and better things.